Mexico is a land misunderstood. Most of the impressions given to us are of a wild desert, teeming with poor citizens struggling to find their way across. Or cities besieged by the violence of the brutal cartels. And while these are part of the reality of Mexico, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of our southern neighbor.
My first experience with how varied the country of Mexico is came during high school. I went over to a friends house and he told us his mother had prepared dinner for us. I, along with a separate friend from New York, were expecting to dig into what we thought was Mexican food – tacos, burritos, maybe even some enchiladas.
Much to our surprise, we gathered around the table and I didn’t see anything recognizable. My eyes looked over a vast collection of meat and vegetables, immaculately arranged with an astounding array of colors and smells. When I asked my friend, “Is this like Fajitas?” he smiled (having obviously been asked the question before) and shook his head. He explained that this was native food from the Yucatan to which I replied “Where is that?”
And so my education began.
Years later, I traveled to the Yucatan for the first time. What I arrived to was not desert, but lush jungles and the light blue Caribbean Ocean. And in-between were large, bustling cities and small rural towns built outside of the the awe-inspiring ruins of the ancient Mayan empire. It’s descendants still present and influential, despite the perpetual myth that they are a people who simply disappeared.
I returned to Mexico just recently to the metropolis of Mèrida. A large city that reflects both the modern era and the colonial age from before. And I learned that like so many other cities, it was home to a diverse range of residents. Like a New York, it’s inhabitants journeyed from Syria, Lebanon, Korea and Japan in search of better opportunities.
Much like the United States, it’s a land forged through conquest. The conquistadors subjugated the indigenous population and brought with them slaves. These practices eventually influenced the activities in the north and even some of the terms we use to classify race such as the phrase “mulatto”.
But one of my favorite encounters while visiting Mèrida, was seeing man walking the beachside of Progreso. Carrying a backpack and pink ukulele, he was trailed by a fluffy dog that obviously once lived on the street. His ethnicity uncertain, but undoubtedly rich with diversity.
Every few feet the dog would stop, walk over to a vendor, and beg for a little extra food. The man would turn around and call the dog over. To which it listened about half of the time.
Eventually, he decided to pick the dog up and carry it over his shoulder. You could tell this canine companion was a big part of his family.⠀
He personified the uniqueness of Mexico but also humanity. That we all share the same need to love and bond with the life around us.⠀