A Refreshing Approach to Living

For most Americans, Mexico is a vacation playground. We jet into Acapulco or Cancun, where we are pampered in Holiday Inns, get a great return on our dollar, and are effectively walled off from the “other” Acapulco or Cancun. Poverty is always extreme and ugly in native sectors of resort cities.

To experience the “real” Mexi­co, one has to leave the tourist traps behind, get on a bus and head for the interior. Away from extreme polarization, one begins to see that poverty is not always ugly—far from it—although, in this gilded age, one needs to re­train one’s eyes to see it so.

For example, I have a friend who has been studying in Mexico for three years now. She is amazed how well a Mexican girl dresses with just a couple of skirts and blouses and a few colorful scarfs; or a Mexican boy with a pair of nice jeans and two or three shirts. The Mexicans have style, she says, tenderly. They make a little do a lot.

But the beauty of modest pover­ty goes much deeper than style. Poverty lives close to the earth, close to the sweat of hard work, close to death. How easily the rich forget their mortality, as if their possessions, their savings, insur­ance policies, positions in the firms, etc. were a protection even against dying. But when you walk with the Mexican people, you are right away aware that life is more fragile than you remembered.

For example, my American friend (who initially intended to stay in Mexico only six months) was recently walking in Mexico City, when a little girl was hit by a car and terribly injured. To my friend the strange thing was that the Mexicans, when they saw how deeply she was hurt, seemed to consider the girl already dead. There was no urgency to get an ambulance; no medevac helicop­ter was flown in. Not that the peo­ple weren’t brokenhearted and sobbing; simply, they knew her life was over.

In a rich country, we would spend millions to save this one life, even if she were to live as a vegetable, so frightened we are of death, and so often we disguise this fear as compassion. But a poor country has no resources for such heroic delusions. People hurt beyond healing are tenderly let to die. Wheelchairs, old folks homes, orphanages, etc., are rare in Mex­ico. People have to “make it” within their own means. Death is always closer.

But isn’t the old saying true: the more aware of death one is, the more aware of life, thus the more alive. Mexicans make a lot out of the individual day, because that day is life. Savings (i.e. saving up for tomorrow) are a luxury of rich people; and the Mexican, without savings, albeit less secure, is not trapped in the illusion that tomor­row will be better. Or that tomor­row will necessarily come.

This summer, in Guanajuato, where my friend lives, I was re­laxing in the town square, observ­ing an American family eating dinner in an outdoor restaurant. Before the meal was finished, the husband got up from his table to read the menu at the entrance of the next restaurant over. The wife looked bored; the kids were pok­ing each other and complaining about missing their TV programs. In contrast, the Mexican family at a nearby table was animated in conversation and laughter, ob­viously enjoying a special night out. And the Mexican children playing in the park were in fine accord with the simplicity of the evening.

The moment made me realize that of all my delights in Mexico, the children are the greatest. Even in rags, they play so joyful­ly. I have never once seen a Mexi­can child bullying someone small­er; perhaps because neither have I ever seen Mexican parents berat­ing or swatting or yanking around their children. If correction is needed, they give it from bended knees, and with a little humor to take the edge off.

It would seem to make sense that the child with the higher standard of living would be the happy child; but Mexico dramati­cally teaches me this is untrue.

One morning my friend and I were walking in the mountains ar­ound Guanajuato. In a high valley, we found a waterfall and were sit­ting on the rocks above it when we heard a score of Mexican children surfacing over a distant ridge and descending. When they reached the pool under the falls, they excitedly stripped down to underwear and began splashing in the water.

One little girl with crossed eyes wouldn’t go in the water because she didn’t have a bathing suit and felt too old to go in her under­wear. My friend, now at the pool’s edge, was trying to convince her, finally stripping down to her own skivies and plunging in the water. The children squealed to see such a sight; and as I watched from above I realized that my friend would never come home to live again.


  1. Eugenia

    I liked the comparison of the Mexican family with the American family. Good analysis of people who have too much and the others who don’t.
    I have always observe that poor people know how to live in a reached way.
    Excellent article.

    1. jamesralston@hotmail.com

      Thanks for the thoughts, M


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