22/03/2013 by Don Quijones
Yesterday morning, La Doña Quijones and I boarded an Air Bus A390 in Charles de Gaulle airport. Our destination: Mexico City, one of the world’s monster metropolises, a city that by all logic should not even exist, never mind function, or even thrive, in the crazy, haphazard way it does.
As the late, great Chilean writer and poet Roberto Bolaño, who spent most of his adolescence here, once wrote, it is a city that offers equal measures of hope and despair:
“Mexico City, which is the prolongation of so many dreams, the materialisation of so many nightmares.”
This trip to Mexico will be the fourth I have made in the last half-decade. During the lead up to our departure, I was seized with the usual pot pourri of conflicting emotions, from excitement and eagerness, to fear and foreboding. With its vibrant, colourful street life, perfect weather and great food, Mexico is, or at least should be, a perfect destination. Yet these days, when you tell friends, family or colleagues back in Europe that you’re visiting the country, a hushed silence inevitably follows, as if you’d told them you were embarking on a week-long cultural tour of Syria, followed by a few days’ backpacking in the Somalian outback.
“What about los narcos, la violencia, los sequestros, los robos?” As if that were all Mexico has to offer. After all, that has been the dominant narrative of the last few years, packaged and sold to us by our entirely faithful and objective mainstream media.
Take the press at its word, though, and you will likely miss out on one of the most beautiful, culturally rich and exotic destinations the world has to offer.
When I married my Mexican sweetheart, La Doña Quijones, little did I know that I was also marrying a country – for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. This, I imagine, is what happens whenever two people from two wildly different countries enter into marital union. However, in the case of Mexico, the phenomenon, for some reason, seems even more accentuated. The country – its fabulously rich culture, history and food, its problems and its people – is forever there in the background, just waiting for its chance to butt in and make its feelings felt, like an omnipresent mother-in-law.
As countries-in-law go, however, Mexico must be one of the more interesting and eccentric you can inherit. Its people eat lemon juice and chile with virtually everything, including fried worms and grasshoppers. The country boasts 69 official languages, hundreds of dialects and arguably the richest history and culture of the American continent.
In many ways, its ancestors knew more about the universe than we do today, despite our now vastly superior technologies.
Economically speaking, the country is a regional and perhaps soon-to-be global powerhouse. But, as always with Mexico, the true picture is riddled with contradictions. On the one hand, it boasts one of the richest “official” billionaires in the world; on the other, some of the worst income inequality rates in the Western hemisphere.
It also boasts a fabulous wealth of resources, ranging from oil, copper and gold to silver, coal and agriculture. Yet, as some have argued, such abundance has been as much a curse as a blessing. In its roughly 200 years of independence from Spain, its natural wealth has invited interference, incursions and invasions from a host of global powers, including France, Great Britain, Holland and, most recently, the United States, which occupied and annexed over half of the country’s original territory in the mid-19th century.
This audacious landgrab inspired then-Mexican President Porfidio Díaz’s famous quote, now a popular saying: “Pobre Mexico, tan cerca de los gringos, tan lejos del Díos!” (Poor Mexico, so close to the gringos, so far from God!)
Over 150 years later, however, the tide appears to be turning, as Mexico begins to punch its weight on the global scene. In Cemex, it has the world’s largest cement company and, in Bimbo, the world’s largest bread manufacturer. In recent years, the country has also established itself as one of the world’s most important car manufacturing bases.
So, the next time you read, hear or watch another news story about Mexico’s supposed descent into violence and chaos, remember that the real world is always far more complex than the black-and-white narratives we are often peddled by the mainstream media. That’s not to say that Mexico isn’t facing one of the biggest challenges of its recent history – just that it has a whole lot more to offer than the sensationalised horror stories we are continuously served up, in all their gore and glory.
Anyway, it’s time to call it a day; a combination of jet lag, altitude and Pacifico beer is finally taking its toll. For those of you who are interested, over the next two and a half weeks I will be writing from and almost exclusively about Mexico. I would love to hear your own opinions or experiences of my country-in-law, so please don’t hold back.