Do you believe Mexico is mainly a country of cartels and violence, corrupt cops and federales? A place of desperate poverty where people yearn to escape to the United States? Dusty villages with men dozing under huge sombreros against cactus trees?
Or perhaps you see beautiful resorts with gleaming beaches like Cabo and Puerto Vallarta and Cancun and say yes, that is the Mexico I am interested in.
All those things do exist in Mexico, but they are an insignificant sliver of what makes the country so warm and embracing.
I first visited Mexico in 1974 and have spent about eight years of my life there, traveling rough with a backpack in all thirty-two states, visiting most of the best-known destinations and hundreds of almost-never-heard-of towns and countryside. I speak Spanish fluently and know the culture and the traditions.
Being of small build and brown complexion, I’m able to come and go virtually unnoticed, privileged to view the scene without being it. Currently I live half of each year in beautiful and charming Mazatlan. I feel completely comfortable and at home there in contrast to a United States that each year feels more alienating.
A tourism economy means protection for visitors
Mexico has atrocious violence and a high murder rate. So does the United States. But the random gun violence we experience is unknown in Mexico. There, violence is related to internal cartel wars, localized to a number of high stress areas. The greatest part of the country is safe and unaffected.
As a foreigner, you are now a protected species because it is your dollars the cartels need. With hundreds of millions of dollars to launder, they buy hotels, restaurants and resorts. They do not countenance anybody messing with their patrons. If you are minding your own business and not going somewhere you know you shouldn’t be, you are going to be fine.
The government wants visitors safe, too, our dollars being the provision of hard currency. The days of shakedowns by corrupt cops and federales are in the past.
Pace, economy, culture, and geography converge
Mexico has backward and less-educated rural areas. So do we. It has dog-eat-dog city slums. So do we. Yet there are far fewer homeless in Mexico, where families take care of their own.
Urban Mexico is vibrant and sophisticated (and unfortunately everybody has cell phones). There are gleaming malls and cineplexes, spotless and excellent supermarkets, fine restaurants and humble eateries.
Mexico’s public transportation puts ours to shame and Ubers are also cheap and plentiful, while almost nobody has difficulty living without a car. Basic medical service is clean, professional and knowledgeable. It is careful and attentive. You can walk in or make appointments easily. There is no paperwork or bureaucracy, and costs are very low.
Life in Mexico is much slower, more relaxed and more pleasant than in our culture. People chat and call out to each other in the street. There are plenty of parks and squares. People do not rush around aimlessly. The street markets are colorful, bountiful and cheap. Gorgeous beaches, mountains and tropical scenery abound. Fresh fruit, produce, fish and seafood are omnipresent. The weather is much more temperate. You rarely or never see Mexicans yelling at each other, angry, or isolated in rival political factions. People are generally friendly, polite, respectful and welcoming. It is their culture.
Immigration as a last resort
One last important point. Would you want to leave your family, friends and community, food, music and culture, and sunny weather to make a difficult, dangerous and expensive journey to a cold and unfriendly place where you do not speak the language, where the natives are often unfriendly if not hostile, where you must live in fear of discovery, where the winters are dark and freezing and where you will never feel completely at home?
Of course not. The people who make this trip do it because they feel they have no other choice. They are desperate to make some money and provide for their families and children and are willing to work hard to do it. Most are homesick and dream of going back to Mexico. In any given year, more cross the border heading south than north.
Gracias por su atencion.
When he’s not in Mazatlan, Chuck Burton uses a home in Steilacoom as a base to launch his ongoing exploration of the world, which includes most of Asia, India, eastern and western Europe and South America.