Real life in beautiful and ugly Guadalajara.

Several weeks ago I paid a visit to a blog I really enjoy called The Bierce Account.  The writer, who calls himself Felipe Zapata, is a gringo turned Mexican and a master of ‘short and to the point’, a talent that amateurs like myself should try to develop and who knows why the hell we don’t.  But what really attracts me and surely many others is his direct, ‘don’t care if it makes you so angry you spit up on yourself’ free expression of opinion.  And anger some it’s bound to do, for it takes contemporary conventional wisdom straight to the chopping block.  If his intention was to simply spread negativity with venomous shorthand, as many likely see it, I would not be stinking up my own pristine site with a link to his.    Some believe he’s a pretentious dolt.  Pretentious, perhaps.. but the guy is genuine and seems to like a good philosophical scuffle.  And that makes him A-OK with me.

I really wanted to leave him a comment for his Feb. 5 post, for he discusses a pair of topics I’ve long been fascinated by:  racial & ethnic diversity and multiculturalism  (here’s a couple of others - 7/31/2010 and 10/19/2010).  His take on the matter is that governments that impose diversity are not facing reality  -  that our nature as humans is to desire what’s familiar to us.   Leaders in Germany and Britain seem to be finally waking up to this reality…  Sound racist?  Bigoted?  To some, it may sound that way, but I believe he’s right on the money.  Some will say he advocates a twisted fantasy of complete separation of cultures.  I don’t read it that way at all.  He’s simply pointing out the sad reality we live in.  It’s a reality we’ve brought down upon ourselves due to the way we’re naturally prone to perceive difference.

Though I enjoy living in Mexico the same as I like many of my fellow gringos, to overload Mexico with us neighborly folks from the north would lead to unfortunate consequences.. the success of Walmart, KFC, and The Simpsons notwithstanding.  It would take no more than one of you to counter with “Hell, we couldn’t possibly make it any worse than it already is!!” to magnify my point.  Mexico is certainly fouled up on many levels.  But don’t ever fancy the idea that you, as a gringo, or many gringos, will be able to make it better.  A gringo or any foreigner in Mexico that genuinely wants to improve Mexico had better become a Mexican first.. in his heart far more importantly than on documents.

So I was at a loss for a comment, for I felt I hadn’t much to add.  And then I spotted a couple of comments by Gary Denness.  Gary’s an Englishman who spent six years here and has just gone home.  He seems like a good bloke.   I could sit down and enjoy a couple of beers with him, I think.  Definitely at odds with The Bierce Account.  Though his desires for the world, concerning race and ethnic relations, are far more similar to those of Sr. Felipe Zapata than I believe he can imagine.  Their disagreement concerns what humanity must do for itself. And the disagreement is due to two differing methods of prioritizing our perceptions of cultural difference.

The following represents a couple of sticky pennies I dug out from underneath the cushions of the couch to toss into the matter.. a bit long.. as always, for a succinct comment under someone’s blog post.  But should you happen to make it over here, Gary, this is a rebuttal to your comments at The Bierce Account.  I’m with Don Felipe.  It’s likely to open a can of worms… I don’t mind, as long as they’re big juicy ones….

 

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

There’s an adult version and a children’s version. 

Almost everyone, including most adults, adheres to the latter. 

You can usually tell the adult version for its scant use of the actual word itself.  It represents little more than a vague side note to an individual’s observation, for it calls no attention to itself.  The adult version of diversity occurs on its own.  It needs not be defined for its own sake.  It needs not be constantly spoken nor strong-armed into existence.  It’s neither a means nor an end.  It just is.  The world in its basic form, free from our lower IQ methods of association that attempt to describe it, is a perfect example of diversity as an adult should see it.  But when it comes to diversity among people, most of us adults continue to understand diversity as a child does.

The children’s version focuses on all of diversity’s unimportant aspects, and then tries to force them into importance.  Think of it this way:  whereas an adult will buy a pack of M&Ms for their peanutty and chocolaty goodness, children will always divvy them up by the yellow ones, blue ones, reds, etc.  Among my childhood friends, the brown ones were never that popular.. nothing especially exciting about brown chocolate.  As adults, we’ve forgotten why the various colors were so important to us.  But not the producers of M&Ms.  They understand clearly that the child defines and responds to diversity (in this case the various colors) for diversity’s sake and nothing more. 

Also clearly understanding this are the typical intellectuals, political drones and media figures who somehow feel it’s their calling to manage public opinion. Their use of child stimuli, however, is a bit more nefarious.   First, they know that the children’s version of diversity is not limited to children.  Far from it.  It enchants minds of all ages, in fact.   They also know, as history and experience so vividly show, that using this children’s version to sway or polarize public opinion is as easy as convincing a class of third graders that people with brown eyes are superior to those with blue or green eyes, or vice versa (it’s pretty damn easy to do..).  That the child or adult would ever believe that such an insignificant detail could possibly matter is the fundamental flaw of the children’s version of diversity.   

Many of those who understand diversity the children’s way feel hard-pressed to address some of the foulest blunders of our human nature. Racism and ethnocentrism are but a couple.  They ponder the causes of socioeconomic divides and tension along racial and ethnic statistical lines all over the globe.  And they’re not off the mark when they point to the senseless fear, hatred and intolerance of anything that’s ‘different’ from one’s own familiarity as culprits.    But they get sidetracked with the idea that the solution lies in the proactive reversal of the fear, hatred and intolerance of the ‘other’.  Not that such causes are less than noble, but they fail to identify and attack the root of the problem.  There’s something about going from total exclusion of the black guy to mandatory inclusion of the black guy.. for diversity’s sake, that simply doesn’t wash.

The root of the problem, that so few seem able to identify, is found precisely in the belief that race matters; in the belief that ‘ethnicity’ is synonymous with ‘significant difference’.

It gets even more twisted when they confuse a) those who see diversity the adult way, with b) the racists, bigots and other idiots who can’t even spell ‘supremacy’, much less exude it.  This happens because neither a) nor b) accept the supposed standard solution that has been ushered in by the gallant knights of the children’s version.  That (b) would oppose such measures is obvious. But for so many not to be able to distinguish (a) from (b) in terms of ‘why’ is just.. pathetic.    

Those of us that comprehend diversity the adult way also blame the same senseless fear and intolerance for the virtually unstoppable human farce of ethnic and racial conflict.   We also wish it would stop.. that everyone could just ‘get along’.  We’re at odds with those who see it the children’s way, not because we’re intolerant or simply too stupid to acknowledge and respect difference, but because we focus more on the profound differences among humans than the superficial differences among races and ethnicities.  We understand one clear detail, the irony of which is too heavy for those of the children’s version to accept  -  Search every soul at fault for the senseless fear and intolerance toward the ‘other’… and you’ll find that every one of them also adheres to a child’s perspective of diversity… that troubled mentality that never stops mining for importance where there is none.

And so we have the reality of the world we live in today. In terms of race and ethnicity, it’s molded and dominated by a children’s version of diversity.  Aspects of our humanity that truly don’t matter have to somehow matter anyway because we continue to falsely believe that they matter. 

Until such nonsense ceases, don’t hold your breath for any realization of solutions.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

It’s a curious thing that a gringo, with a good number of his non-retired and pensionable working years ahead of him, would decide to make a life in Mexico.. and not be a fugitive… and not choose to live near a lakeside or beach, or even in a quaint, rustic village.. but rather to roll around in the noise, smoke, filth and grit of a city whose only sparkling miracle is that it doesn’t lose half its population each day to mutilating traffic fatalities…  Maybe there’s some sort of mental defect that drives one down this path that at times hardly seems to be a path at all.   But when inquired on the subject, I often say that I’m here for my little piece of the Mexican dream.  

And what the hell is that supposed to mean?  Am I joking?  Perhaps.  Go shallow or deep, and it’ll make little sense to create an illusion of a Mexican dream in the image of the world renowned, despised or beloved American dream.    

But it’s no joke.  This writer firmly believes in the Mexican dream, though a dreamer or a taker he is not.  You could no doubt spend a lifetime burrowing your way through endless mazes of literature explaining the country’s historical, political and cultural tendencies to failure.   I certainly won’t tell you it’s all false.  But there comes a point when you’ve absorbed so many differences between Mexicans and Americans that the similarities begin to become more obvious.  The Mexican dream really is no different than the American one, regardless of how little sense it makes.  Many people are living it.  Most of us are not.  Among the latter, most are cynical toward even the mention of it.  They hold most of their shares in emotionally secure stock, such as ‘the growing gap between the rich and poor’, ‘it can’t be helped’ and ‘what can we possibly do?’ arguments.  And as it is with all safe bets, they’re seeing very little return on their investments. 

Now you might be wondering if I’m referring above to Mexicans or Americans.  If so, you’re much closer to getting my point than you might think.

You also might be thinking that this ‘dream’ crap gets carried a bit far.  After all, surely by now in the 21st century we’ve philosophically matured enough to get beyond using such childish terminology like “the American dream”.   Need we drag it into the Mexican frame of mind?  Hasn’t the invasion of Walmart and McDonald’s and Santa Claus been enough?

You’d be missing the point.   

 

The idea of the American dream has been warped into an image of something it’s not.  It’s no wonder therefore that it suffers the ridicule and abuse that it currently does.  It used to mean simply the opportunity to fully live life through the pursuit and achievement of goals, however one might define them – the surest route to prosperity.  But back then the term ‘opportunity’ used to be far more closely tied to initiative.  Today, it smells more like incentive.  So be careful using the word ‘opportunity’ in a conversation, because people will get confused.  ‘Initiative’ maintains that the American dream is a serious concept.  ‘Incentive’ drags the whole idea off into a happy cloud of laughing gas that we deceivingly like to call hope. 

And what’s wrong with hope?  Nothing.  Hope is by far preferable to despair.  But if you want to crush Americans, convince them that the American dream is synonymous with ole hopity dopity, so that when a political system that promises and promises to absorb the brunt of the people’s personal challenges, but alas, leaves them to slowly drown in a rotting bureaucratic mire, they´ll be left with no hope, and absolutely no faith in any American dream.   Don’t agree?  Try studying the last 100 years of Mexican History.  

This happens to people all the time.  Our logic gets twisted into bizarre pretzel shapes.  The church claims to be the embodiment of God and eternal salvation, and people buy it.  Then people find out how corrupt the church is, and thus spend their final years denying “God” and the evident pipe dream of eternal salvation… go figure.

But the American dream as it should be perceived is not based on hope for better futures and faith in bigger people.    

A very simple principle underlies prosperity wherever we might find it.  The evolution of human thought and wellbeing advances itself through the power of the imagination.  Converting that imagination into reality for the benefit of humans requires initiative.  There must be both in the same place and at the same time – and a hell of a lot of it.  Imagination discovers opportunity and initiative seizes it.  There’s no merit in making it out to be any more complicated.   Furthermore, there’s certainly no reason to believe that the principle is uniquely American.  The more imagination and initiative any society foments, the more prosperity you will find built upon it.

You find a lot of both here in Mexico throughout the population.  But like almost everywhere around the globe, much of it is abused and corrupted, mashed and recycled.  You can say it’s because of corrupt governments and poor education, and you’ll be correct.  But you might as well state that deadly floods occur because of weather.  Dig down a bit further and you’ll find that most of this abuse, corruption and mashing is self-inflicted.  A worthy education would slap us around enough to wake us up to the fact.  

But surely we don’t do this to ourselves, do we?  Yep… we do.  We lock up our imagination in some dark hole, with no room to move and no air to breathe, and doubly secure it on the outside with some trigger-happy guardian of conventional wisdom.  In fact we feel quite comfortable with the arrangement at any one moment or another.  It’s one of the downsides of our human nature… but how bloody unfortunate it is for any culture or society that nurtures it. 

Try just some of these simple, half-baked, refried and then re-half-baked issues below:

Would you ever sit in a Sunday school room full of devout believers and humbly point out what to you are clear fallacies of contemporary religious thought?  …and actually manage to engage in stimulating discussion?

Would you ever dare participate in a face to face global climate forum and list your concerns regarding the political and economic farce that’s poised to blow up in our faces in the name of saving our planet from manmade global warming?   …and get away with it without being labeled a stupid denier of the fact that changes in global weather patterns do indeed occur?

Would you ever stand in a room full of latinos, look them in the eye and tell them matter-of-factly that being latino means absolutely nothing, and that there’s no such pitiful thing as a latino vote? …and be considered a friend in the end rather than a racist?  (do it in Spanish, just for good measure.. and by all means, know exactly what you’re talking about!)

Would you ever stand up in a college lecture hall and correct a professor who’s painting the American dream as some fairy tale created to lure the lesser enlightened into the belly acids of some capitalist monster (talk about fairy tales..)?  …and actually come out of the ensuing fiasco on top? 

Would you ever, on your way into Mexico without a dime in your pocket, tell a Mexican who’s headed the other way in search of the American dream  – “Well good luck, amigo.  You’ll find that many of my gringo peers are not so optimistic.  On the other hand, I’m going to try making a life in your country because I believe in the Mexican dream”?

It’s okay if you answered ‘no’ to any or all of the above.  If anything, it shows that you’re a rational human being.  It also shows a lack of imagination and zero initiative in the face of conventional wisdom.

You can make up a zillion other questions like these. They don’t have to be cheap religious and political philosophy questions like the near clichés listed above.  They also don’t have to be dragged out for discussion on a first date either.  First dates are for kissing and getting naked, and should stay simple like that…

Living in Mexico is no cakewalk to prosperity.  It’s tough.  (the writer here cannot honestly tell you he’s made it…  imagination deficiency syndrome is slowly eating away his insides) In fact, many people here don’t believe it’s possible to get ahead without a lot of cheating and trampling, and there’s plenty of evidence in the white space between the lines of nearly every written law to back them up.   It’s therefore easy to identify with their reserved sense of indignation toward some gringo that comes along mouthing absurdities like the Mexican dream.   And yet there are millions of Mexicans that come from very humble backgrounds who discover and seize opportunities, and understand that it’s not the job of the government or teacher’s union to create them.  They’ve had to work their asses off, but they haven’t had to cheat, trample or shoot anyone.  If you’re inclined to suggest to them that their experience is freak luck in a country without hope, get in line with the rest of the idiots that are hardly capable of seeing they’ve long since been left behind.

Read this every time someone tries to convince you there’s no hope in Mexico… have the someone read it also.