Talking to my friends on their respective years abroad in The Netherlands, New Zealand and the US, I’ve realised that perhaps I’ve experienced more of a culture shock. It’s not just the smaller things that would be a big deal at home, like the fact that the roads can be riddled with potholes (the East Dulwich Forum would have a field day here) or that postal system is practically non-existent (parcels have been lost forever, postcards have been sent months ago and still not received).
There are bigger things too. Like the mistreatment and malnutrition of animals, or the fact that a decent percentage of people seem more than happy to drink and drive. The fact that a huge portion of income goes untaxed is interesting, it must be holding back the economy (though on the plus side apparently I could get an illegal job here, no worries). One of the biggest shocks, though, is that the presence of police officers makes me feel scared rather than safe. That may be the case for some people in Britain too, but the worst thing is that it seems to be how the majority here feel. And despite it all, said majority seem to get through all these things without whining (UK, please take note).
So, when I was given the homework to ask Mexican people how they felt about their country, what they liked and disliked, I thought I’d seen enough to have an idea of the responses. A lot of them were as I expected. Good: food, warmth of the people, creativity of the country. Bad: corruption, inequality, the lack of trust in the police, EPN.
Other responses were quite unexpected.
“Lo que me parece malo, y que puede sonar contradictorio (porque somos un país de contradicciones), es que México es un país que no tiene identidad. Nos sentimos orgullosos de la parte cultural pero a nivel social y político no nos identificamos como un solo pueblo unido, nos afectan las distinciones de clase, tendemos a pensar menos de los indígenas y nos sentimos menos frente a otros países. Esa falta de identidad deriva en una falta de autoestima; no reconocemos nuestro valor como individuos y por lo tanto somos un pueblo con mucho miedo. Tenemos miedo al compromiso, miedo al éxito, miedo a vivir en general y eso es lo que ha impedido que este país crezca.”
“What I think is bad, and that might sound contradictory (because we are a country of contradictions), is that Mexico is a country that doesn’t have an identity. We feel proud of the cultural aspect but at a societal and political level we don’t identify ourselves as a unified people, class differences affect us, we tend to think less of indigenous people and feel inferior in front of other countries. This lack of identity comes from a lack of self-esteem; we don’t recognise our value as individuals and therefore we’re a country with a lot of fear. We have fear of compromise, fear of success, fear to live in general and this is what has impeded this country to grow.”
When I inquired further, about what may cause this lack of self-esteem. My friend explained that he felt it was as a result of being a colonised country. I can attest having studied Mesoamerica, that Mexico had one of the most incredible civilisations. And yet, the great civilisations of Mesoamerica were beaten and subjected to the will of Spain. Arguably modern-day Mexico was born more from that period than any other, with the language, religion, food, music and so much more being changed and influenced by Spain. Feelings of humiliation and impotence haunt Mexico, along with other colonised countries.
One Mexican commentator, Jose Antonio Crespo, highlights that:
“No nos gusta reconocerlo, pero los auténticos padres de esta nación (no la patria) son Hernán Cortés y Malinali [La Malinche], que simbolizan nuestra cultura y etnia predominante mestizas.”
“We don’t like to recognise it, but the real parents of this nation (not the land) are Hernan Cortés and The Malinche, who symbolise our predominantly mixed-raced culture and ethnicity.”
Even with independence, the United States has affected its growth and development so completely, that many people still feel they’re being subjected to a foreign power. My friend explained that the people can’t seem to shake the idea that they have been constantly defeated. Leaving the general feeling as “Why win if I’m going to lose anyway?” It’s this feeling of inferiority, low self esteem and fear, he argues, that prevents the country from progressing and moving forward.
From my perspective, I feel a sense of shame for our role in the colonisation and subjection of peoples. However, I can recognise it must be a completely different feeling growing up with sentiments of defeat, rather than “Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves!” – despite how misguided that sentiment is.
I think what makes it different with Mexico, in comparison to Scotland or Canada, for example, is that there are so many problems with the governance that exist today. I think if there is a lack of recognition of individual worth, it’s due to the broken system that the people live in. Corruption starts from the top and works its way down. Every level of society loses out, except perhaps a very small elite. The lowest on the ladder lack a proper education, running water, shelter. The upper class are targeted, robbed, their children kidnapped and left with a police that are completely impotent to protect those they’re meant to serve. I’ve asked people “How could that situation happen, I don’t understand”, and it’s been met with “Well yeah, that’s just Mexico”. It seems like a horribly frustrating way to live, and yet the people seem to have a greater lust for life and a much greater ability to adapt.
There is still a positive message overall!
“Dicho eso, otra cosa que me parece positiva de México, es que reconocemos nuestros defectos y por lo menos existe la inquietud de eliminarlos. Me parece que eso es esperanzador. Y si hay una palabra que pueda resumir a este país es esa, esperanza.”
“Saying this, another thing I think is positive about Mexico is that we recognise our defects and at the least there exists anxiety to eliminate them. I think that’s encouraging. And if there is a word that could summarise this country, it’s hope.”