Despite being from Mexico City and having moved from place to place as a child, she remarked that I’ve seen more of Mexico than she has. It led me to wonder if that’s really true.
I’ve seen some very touristy places in Mexico, places where you don’t need to speak Spanish, where you can pay in US dollars, where you only see other gringos, and where you hear the broken Spanish of European backpackers and the less melodic barking of Americans not really trying to be understood in any language. Would anyone native to this country want to vacation here? Would my Zacatecan relatives be caught dead eating a bagel sandwich in Tulum?
My Mexican friends tell me where to go while taking into consideration my sensitivities and sheltered background. Mexico Lite. I show up armed with a little more Spanish, pesos, a sense of humor, and patience (patience is key). I suddenly notice more Central and South American travelers, their emergence signaling a slight increase in authenticity. But does it really? My Uber driver snickers as he ponders the relationship between Argentineans and Mexicans (spoiler: no one likes Argentineans) before offering his thoughts on racial tension between Salvadorans and Mexicans in the US and Canada (the latter of which he lived for 20+ years). He’s got some opinions.
Slowly I make my way to the less comfortable places in Mexico feeling a misguided sense of superiority for “leaving the resort”. I struggle to be understood in Spanish and loudly sigh when my 500 peso note cannot be broken by the young woman working the tiendita. God I’m so spoiled.
I walk the streets with my small camera and shoot anything and everything. People often talk to me. Generally they’ve lived in the US at some point so we talk about that. There was this one guy who studied in Tennessee in the 90s. I asked him what it was like to be a Mexican in Tennessee in the 90s. “Exactly how you think. I’ll never do it again” he replied, before adding that Saskatchewan (where he had also lived) was a much friendlier place. Canadians are better than us, I admit.
“I’ve seen bits and bobs of Mexico” was ultimately all I could say to the Chilango before learning she also lived in Veracruz…Puerto de Veracruz to be specific. I began to ponder the gritty charm of that city, a place that doesn’t quite fit into the above descriptions. Perhaps my next conversation will be with a Jarocho…