One journalist's musings about the beautiful, bizarre world in which we live
“Being ordinary is already so taxing, and being ordinary takes all you have out of you, and though the words ‘I must get away’ do not actually pass across your lips, you make a leap from being that nice blob just sitting like a boob in your amniotic sac of the modern experience to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin and feeling alive and inspired at the sight of it … “
– Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place
Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s poorest states.
Although the poverty is mostly in the rural areas, the city of Oaxaca is certainly not immune.
There’s the mother who sits at the corner of Alcalá and Allende every night, lying her babies down on flattened boxes, waiting for the drunks to stroll past and give her a few pesos.
There’s the dirty child who wanders around the Zócalo in old Crocs™. I have never seen his parents. He looks for strange faces, asking for money from those who look rich.
There are countless old women and men who meander from restaurant to restaurant, asking patrons for a bit of cash; people in restaurants, no doubt, have more cash than these seniors.
Many restaurant-goers are white foreigners and tourists, praised here for the cash they bring in. Tourists can afford the luxury of travel. Tourists are rich.
In Oaxaca, people know I’m not from around here. My height, skin colour and odd clothing give me the name “guera” or “guerita.”
There are many captial-W White people in Oaxaca. They – I – use foreign money to live like royalty off of cheap food, low rent and sunny weather.
Who wouldn’t want that life? We who were born into it are very lucky. No wonder people think, I can make money in those cold countries, too – I can live that better life. Many Mexicans go abroad. They hope to send money back to their families. They want a better future for themselves and their children.
We don’t mind when a Mexican works for minimum wage, handing us our coffees at the local Tim Horton’s. We eat fruit they pick at our local farms. We sleep soundly in the beds they have made in our hotel rooms.
Still, how many “lazy Mexican” jokes have I heard? Have I made? How often do you complain about the immigrant population taking “good” Canadian or American jobs, when they step up from minimum wage?
My Spanish teacher lived in the United States for a few years. She said she faced a lot of stigma, as a single Mexican mother with two boys. She said her family’s fluffy white dog once went missing after being tied up in the front yard. A few days later, someone returned it. Or should I say, they returned its mutilated body.
She said she didn’t have the heart to tell her children. She just buried it.
Racism isn’t the only thing people face. It seems the carefully constructed Canadian social safety net is one we’d rather not share, eh? How often have I heard people complain of immigrants who come to Canada, only to take advantage of Canadian benefits?
Last year, I wrote an article about Old Age Security pensions for immigrants in Canada. A bill in the House would have given immigrant seniors minimal old-age payments after three years of living in Canada. During an interview, a Canadian politician against the bill told me something that sticks with me to this day:
“I don’t believe that we should be saying to the world, ‘Give us your — your poor, your weak, your old and let us pay for them.’ I, you know, don’t believe that. And I don’t believe that’s what the people in our area want either.”
No, we don’t want the poor/weak/old. Let’s keep them elsewhere, some place where we can’t see them unless we go out of our way to see them.
My Spanish teacher spoke with tears in her eyes last week, about young boys who were shot in a northern border town. Bang. Bang. Bang. Each boy was killed by men with covered faces.
“Como perros,” she said. Like dogs.
But out of sight, out of mind. And when we do feel like visiting, it’s a way to expand ourselves and learn – by watching other people’s misery.
I mean, isn’t that what I’m doing here?
Being there? That’s your choice. But, it is also a stone, not necessarily the destination, along your path.
It is pointless blaming average Canadians and/or Americans who are facing mortgage payments and bankruptcy because corrupt government and corporations, on all sides of the borders of NAFTA, have decided it is prudent to send the BIG work, which was union controlled, to a place that is nothing but a pit-hole of government corruption, influenced by corporate greed, and allowed to get away with it. If they have no recourse, desperate people will work for the minimalist of wages, just to make a pittance. You wonder where the anger and hatred comes from? It is directed towards the nearest perceived outlet. Perception is everything to anger, though rarely clear or correct.
Drug/guns/violence follow money, comes desperation, comes depression. This is totally under the control of the government. A government that is either in league with, or undermined by, the people they allow to control the situation at the public, corporate and self level.
Instead of looking out and asking “How can YOU, the rest of the world, change this situation for us (Oaxacans, Mexicans)”, the need for internal moral self-discipline is paramount. That entire premise must revolve around a new internal compassion directed towards their own citizens. Corruption and greed must be destroyed, abolished, put to rest for the good of the country, and I mean all of it, included those influences coming in from abroad, as well. Otherwise, Mexico – Oaxaca are nothing more than a money pit for adding to an already devastating problem. One that hurts so much more innocence than corrupt.
It must start from within, specifically, social programs directed directly towards the problems. As Canadians, we didn’t get where we are today by being fed a pile of money from others, directly into the people’s pockets, sorry to say. That doesn’t work.
There is so much hurt, and I can see you wanting to take it all away… What is that costing you.. emotionally? I don’t care about finacially.
I’ve told you before, if you want to change the world, you must be in the position to do so. You have the strength. But it is pointless trying to dig your way out, or the planet’s, from the bottom of the pit. Your strength is there to see you through the negatives. You have the voice. Your voice will lead the following.
When you, personally, do finally resurface, and you will, it is then, you will have the opportunity to find a position to develop and build ways that you can start pulling those suffering and in need out of the pit. Otherwise, it is a slippery slope that will suck you back in. Part of that is the education you could never have received in school.
You must visit the depth of hell to understand it, which is where you are. Pictures and descriptions just ain’t enough. But you have one thing that most of the people around you don’t have. An education. One that can be used to help those in need.