Misplaced Mexican

I AM A MEXICAN? I don’t think so.

Two bloggers this week have put emphasis on my alienation. One, Billie Mercer, steered me to a series of her ever-excellent photos, taken in Houston’s Sixth Ward.

I miss Houston. I felt at home in Houston. I lived there 15 years.

The other, Kim G, is taking a road trip from his home in Boston — destination Mérida — in a rattletrap pickup truck. As I write this, he is in the Old South where I was born and spent 96 percent* of my life. He headed to New Orleans today.

I miss New Orleans where I lived 18 years. I felt at home there.

cottonFourteen years ago I abandoned not just the Old South, which is quite different from the rest of the nation, but the United States itself. I did it for no political reasons.

I was not angry about anything. I just wanted an adventure, and I got it. Full bore.

I married a Mexican. I became a paperwork Mexican. I built a Mexican home. I learned Spanish pretty good. I have a feed bag of Mexican relatives. They all see me as an alien.

And I am.

Lots of Americans — Gringos, we call ’em — have moved to Mexico, retirees mostly. They all love Mexico so much, but they all head back over the northern border frequently “to visit.” I don’t do that, and I don’t love Mexico, though I find it very interesting and a good place to live, really, especially in light of America’s sad, ongoing disintegration.

I enjoy walking around the plaza, sitting at a sidewalk café, hearing a foreign tongue, living in a land where the government pretty much leaves you in peace. I love the lower cost of living, the superlative healthcare system, the roasted chicken.

I even like tacos.

But where is the rustle of leaves through Spanish moss as moonlight peeks through the pines? The gumbo, snap beans, creamed corn, genuine friendliness, fried okra, jambalaya, mint juleps, fields of peanuts and cotton, red clay roads and bluebirds?

Long gone … for good … for me.

* * * *

* The other 4 percent was spent in Puerto Rico and California.

34 thoughts on “Misplaced Mexican”

  1. Very interesting post. Seems to be very honest and insightful. Provides me with a point of view to reflect on. I have a woman who is now U.S. citizen but from Mexico and we have talked about returning to Mexico at least for part of the year. No need to post this entry, just wanted to thank you for the honesty and insightfulness. Thanks.

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    1. You posted it yourself, Eric. Only first-time comments and uncertain passers-by are moderated. Others go straight to press.

      But no problem.

      There are plenty of pluses to living down here. However, I think it is incredibly difficult to make a real transition to a totally different world (and Mexico is certainly that) unless, perhaps, it’s done in childhood.

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  2. Hmmm, I notice that most of the things you listed (“Where are the…”) were food items. I bet with just a little effort you could gather all those items for a genuine Southern feast — and invite the relatives in! LOL

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    1. Christine: Certainly, grub plays a big role. The Mexican diet is very narrow (though they like to think not), and the locals tend to turn up their noses at new things. Outside of huge places like Mexico City and Guadalajara, and Gringo-infested locales like San Miguel de Allende, opening a restaurant with a foreign accent is a recipe for going broke. And quickly.

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      1. I, too, am Mexican by choice, and this is the first time in my life that I have actually be proud of my passport and my country. I’m proud to say that I’m Mexican, even if I have gringa written all over me. I no longer feel connected to the EUA, but I didn’t feel particularly connected to the EUA when I arrived on New York shores not speaking a lot of English. I didn’t feel particularly connected to Iowa, because I didn’t resemble the natives there, either. It’s been three years since I’ve set foot in the EUA. There are plenty of other venues I would rather explore.

        As for restaurants serving foreign food in Morelia, I can tell that restaurants serving Cuban, Argentine and Uruguayan food are thriving.

        And you buy okra pretty much all of the time at Superama.

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        1. Ms. Shoes. I too am very proud of my relatively new passport and country. I believe Mexico improves by the day. And I think the U.S. (EUA to you) is on a downward spiral, and I’m not proud of it at all. It’s a shameful mess, but I do feel connected to it though that pride diminishes by the day too. As for international restaurants in the state capital, yes, there are a few. I like the Cuban. It did not bowl me over, however. Haven’t been in the Argentinian because it’s oriented toward steaks, I believe, and I am not really a steak fellow. Didn’t know about the Uruguayan. When they open a Vietnamese joint or Thai (there is one, but it opens late and we entered once and found the people disagreeable. That matters. Plus, it’s pricey.) then I will rejoice. And some real Southern cooking is nowhere to be found.

          I’ve never seen okra in Superama, but I want good stuff served to me in restaurants. If I have to do it myself, well, I can be lazy.

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        2. P.S. The Argentine restaurant, if I am not mistaken, is aimed at the Beautiful People and Juniors. Probably the Uruguayan too. We are of humbler origins. What I yearn for is red-eye gravy and grits.

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    2. I just counted. While you are correct that most of the things I listed there at the bottom are ingestible, they only outnumbered the others by one. It was five to six. And if you counted fields of cotton and corn as two things, not one, it would have been even-steven.

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  3. What? You are having second thoughts about living here? After all these years?

    Count your blessings, amigo. Make some sweetened ice tea and some ham and beans with cornbread and you’ll feel better.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

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    1. Don Cuevas: Not having second thoughts in the slightest. In the first few years, I did, but not anymore. Just stating the facts as I feel them.

      I’m a fish out of water, and so are you whether you admit it or not.

      Never been a big fan of sweetened ice tea, but it’s pretty good. Prefer sugar-laden lemonade. And my wife makes cornbread on a regular basis. Really good too.

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        1. But I do not love the feeling. Never have. If you love it, I rather question the characteristic’s depth in you. You’re far too social a fellow. It’s contradictory.

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  4. Felipe, I can relate. When I was living in Mexico I missed certain things terribly. (Good Chinese or Indian food, going to a clean American mall that had items I wanted, not being woken up by rude neighbors roosters or kept awake by their LOUD music late at night. Etc.) usually a trip above the Rio Bravo cured all those things at least temporarily. So come on up and set a spell with us Yankees. We’d love to sit & enjoy a beer with you!

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    1. Mike: American-style malls are not hard to find, thank God. They just were not in that part of Mexico where you lived, I guess. We have some real doozies in the nearby capital city, and I enjoy going there. My wife often says she feels like she’s in the United States there.

      As for the loud music and noise in general, I have grown accustomed to it. It did take a while. When really bad, I use silicone earplugs.

      I would love to come up and sit a spell with you. Lord knows when that will happen. Haven’t been above the border since the last Bush administration. With luck, I will leapfrog entirely over Obama’s America.

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  5. So now I know that I can bring down my next crop of okra for you. I got use to the slimyness of it years ago and now love it in several dishes. Funny that I don’t miss much of the North, probably because I moved out of the city to the burbs when I got too much of the life and wanted the country. I love the country here, simply because it is still rural and won’t get a mass exodus like places did in the US.

    We do visit just to be sure that we still value what we have down here and make some old friends very jealous. Now that you mentioned it, I think a trip to Felix’s on Iberville will be a goal to return to in the next 18 months. Our last trip to the Big Easy my wife was banished to a dark hotel room for the duration of our trip due to bad airline food.

    Perhaps we can make it our collective goal, I am sure Mrs. Zapata would enjoy the town.

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    1. Tancho: While I appreciate the thought, don’t even think of bringing me okra. Like tacos in Topeka, okra is out of place here, and I never liked it slimy. Only fried does the trick, and that’s not very healthy.

      Actually, much of Southern food is bad for you.

      Ah, Felix’s on Iberville. I remember it well, and lots of other joints too. And yes, my bride does like New Orleans. We’ve been there twice. Once before Katrina, and once right after. Before was better.

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        1. Ms. Shoes: As mentioned earlier, I don’t want to cook it at home, and I sure don’t want to grow it. I want it served to me in restaurants. Anyway, I likely should not have mentioned okra because it’s not high on my love list. I included it mostly because it has firm Southern connections. I’m not a watermelon man either. Yuck.

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  6. Rattletrap truck LOL… So far that “rattletrap truck” is performing amazingly well.

    As for feeling foreign, that’s one of the things I enjoy about Mexico. I love being the only gringo in the room. I love being the exotic foreign one. But then I haven’t lived there either. My longest spell SOB is about 4 weeks. And yes, certain things can wear on you.

    I too have felt out of place most of my life, but the feeling is beginning to abate in the past couple of years. I’ve developed much more of an “I am who I am — take me or leave me” attitude, which helps a lot.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Edna, TX
    Which seems to be about the middle of nowhere.

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    1. Kim: The tourist’s feeling of foreignness here is to be expected. There are no two abutting nations in the world that are more different.

      My theme was somewhat different since I am a citizen and have lived here over 14 years. You’d think that one would have slipped into the clothes, so to speak, in that time. But I have not.

      Speaking of your rattletrap pickup, post a photo on your website. I think you did, way back before the trip started, but another is in order.

      As for your feeling out of place, it’s hard to overlook that little detail of your being, well, you know … That’s gotta play a big part.

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      1. I used to have an Italian boss, and he once said that America is the only country where you can become a citizen even if you were born elsewhere. Of course this is not so in the legal sense, as many countries permit immigration. Rather what he meant is that if you come to America, become naturalized and acculturated, people will treat you like an American. In Italy, this could never happen. You’d always be an outsider.

        It sounds like Mexico is more like Italy in that sense than like America.

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        1. Yesterday, I was buying a coffee at Juan Valdez, using my Amex card. I am in Bogota. Since the clerk wanted ID, I showed my IFE card. Then I glanced at the watch of the guy standing next to me to find out what time it was. He remarks that it’s Mexican time, glancing at my IFE card. Never mind that he and his wife were both about 6″ tall and guero. He tells me that I don’t look or sound like a Mexican. His wife notes that I am wearing Mexican Flexi shoes and a Maria de Guadalajara blouse; I note that she is carrying an Ikea shopping bag. He asks if I was born in Mexico but live in the US. No, it’s the other way around. They were from Tabasco. I tell them they don’t look like what Mexicans are supposed to look like either. We laugh.

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          1. Interesting coincidence. At one point about two and a half weeks ago, I momentarily considered canceling my Mexican Road Trip and flying to Bogotá instead. But here I am, on the road. And not regretting it one iota.

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        2. Kim: I think most countries are far less likely to welcome you with open arms than is the United States. It’s the tradition.

          Of course, one must ask permission first. And get a visa.

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  7. Kim, Chapinero has your name on it. You would’ve loved Centros Comerciales Retiro and Andino.

    Felipe, I had Mexican tacos for dinner tonight. The cochinita pibil hit the mark, and the Nortenos were just like the kind I grew up with: crispy tortilla, a smidgen of beans, sirloin chunks, lettuce, onion, tomatoes and avocado.

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      1. I couldn’t find a Chinese restaurant. Whenever I’m in a foreign country, I like to have Chinese once, just because. La Taqueria was next to my hotel, so I had to give it a try. Seriously, it was respectable Mexican food. The Mexican food I’ve had in some other countries was pretty damn weird.

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