I am of Mexican origin. My grandfather was Mexican, he married a Texas beauty and my mother was born sixth of 8 children in Mexico City. My family has a place in the history making of Mexico, but I won't go into that here. It is suffice to say that my cousins had as priveleged a life, or more so, than I did in California.
Which led me to spend an entire summer of fun, living the big life and trying to figure out what to do after college. Then, I wanted to stay. A job opportunity came up for me, and a place to live where I didn't have to cook or make my bed or wash my clothes and I said, "this is for me!".
It took me a long time to find a job after teaching elementary school, where I was being paid under the table. I was always worried about immigration, I kind of stood out, and didn't want to get caught in Mexico without papers. And I couldn't get a job without an FM3. Several job interviews later, I sat with a friend of a friend of my parents and told him that if he signed my employment letter, I would be able to have one of the requirements for my visa. I got the job and 23 years later, Mexico is still my home.
After investing in a business, it was only a natural, and more convenient, to make my attempt to become a national citizen. It took me 2 years, but I did it and in 1995 became a Mexican citizen.
I had a great party, and it was a new beginning for me. As a Mexican national, as long as I show proof of my status, many doors have opened for me, and the expectation for me to speak Spanish and identify myself with the Mexicans was great. So I dove into the culture and learned about the politics, social sytem, economical policies and lifestyle as much as I could.
Mexico is vibrant, full of life, beauty, color, music and fun.
There is an ocean of opportunity to gringos like me with an American education and Spanish. I intended to make the most of it. I have enjoyed Mexico so much, it is an insanely wonderful place to experience life.
Mexicans live day to day, and by the week, they celebrate the now, not much hope for the future.
Complicated politics, lack of educational opportunities, punished by low wages, skyrocketing fuel and basic supply prices have given Mexicans nowhere to go but north or stuck in a lifetime of meager means.
Mexicans are faith and family oriented, celebrating life, embracing motherhood and caring for grandparents. They often stay near home, and return to their birthplace if they ever leave.
Entire towns help raise eachother and these communities are rarely abandoned, save for the young men who move their way north for greater opportunities, who eventually come back or send funds home.
Poverty has left a large wound in Mexican nationalism and family values. It has left them vulnerable to terrorist cells and drug traffickers. While crops wither from season after season of drought, soldiers are made by offering easy money and driven by a mistrust of the government they depend on so much for survival.
I have witnessed firsthand the unimaginable crimes that characterize the violent crimes often seen in Latin American countries. Only people with no hope, no sense of solution, turn to this sort of vicious act, taking one away from his family and leaving loved ones in utter despair for days, or months, on end.
The same opportunity that I found here is not available to everyone. Education, knowing the culture and managing two languages fluently created opportunity for me. But that is not so with the millions of people with only the minimal grade level of learning, writing and reading skills. For them it is labor, and labor they do with great strength and integrity. Mexico is a country stricken by monopolies which increase the gap between the rich and the poor. They live in two worlds right next to eachother and their life experiences are so different you would think that if it not for a common language, they would be individuals from different nations.
The haves and the have nots have not changed. What I have found in this desperate economy that while the haves no longer have, they still are haves in the eyes of the have nots.
Becoming a Mexican citizen was natural for me, although it certainly was difficult. Because my grandparents were married in Texas, the Mexican government did not accept their marriage certificate and so my mother’s birth certificate was considered a bastard child, and therefore not a true Mexican citizen herself. This took some sorting out, and in the end all was well. My grandmother certainly could not have paraded 8 children through church every Sunday if they were all bastards!
The same discrimination my poor grandmother suffered in Mexico decades ago, holds true even today. As a blond, American looking girl, I will always be an outsider, and for those who mistrust foreigners and feel invaded by our presence, it can often be quite unpleasant to face a nationalist, even today.
Elections were recently held for President and many governatorial races were battled throughout Mexico. Having been here during the established PRI leadership, and gone through the change of political leadership with the PAN, I realized a few things. The PRI has always been more established and powerful than any other party. Opposition leftist parties make a lot of noise, but they don't really have a plan. The PAN party lost allies in the business sector and the nerwork of towns that make up Mexico. They were the intellectuals that put into place many great programs over the last 12 years, but not enough to pull us out of economic and social trouble. Their combat with drugtraffickers left behind a 58,000 body count, and no party could survive that in these times. Fear of violence has shooed away tourism in drastic numbers threatening the 4th largest industry. Drought and disease have harmed our agricultural output and our dependence on a thriving US economy has not helped us at all. Despite that, Mexico has been pulling through and is healthier than the US in bank debt and natural resources. Our Mexican emigrants continuously send money back to their families, pushing currency exchange to the second most productive source of income for Mexico.
What is exciting for this country is that there is no where but up to go. The number of children making it through university has been exciting, allowing Mexico to enter into production of high technology and industry. There is a big change occuring in Mexico, and while the tides of violence are expected to recede, universities are being built all over the country and jobs will be created. A hard work ethic and education in a peaceful environment will make Mexico a powerhouse with unlimited resources and beautiful land to live in. It should all go uphill from here!
Becoming a Mexican and living in Mexico has been like placing my bets on a craps table. It's not been easy, but has not been a bad choice either. Its actually been adventurous, enriching and exciting. Certainly not routine! And the lives of my three children have been enriched by this experience. I would recommend young families to spend a couple of years here with their children. Retirees seem to enjoy it as well. I know that if I ever leave Mexico, I would sorely miss it.
Written by Maria Antonia Domenica Haase Icaza for Caras de Mexico. Click here to read more articles examining Mexican identity.