By Amy Eskind, Freelance Writer
The Mexico Study Trip gave me a new perspective. I assumed Mexico was a poor country, as so many find it advantageous to come to the U.S. to work for meager wages. What I didn’t know was that minimum wage in Mexico has just increased to $5 and change per day for a long day’s work. Now I understand why they come, and why the Central Americans don’t aim to stay in Mexico, but would rather come to the United States even at great risk.
Wages may be low, but I saw that Mexican people have dignity. I observed how hard-working the Mexican people are, and how proud they are to offer hospitality to tourists. Not one but three porters came to take my bag when I arrived, four waiters came over to our table open a bottle of wine, and an entire band serenaded us as we ate. At one restaurant, the waiter gave an exact number of days for the 4 ½ year-old-mole, and seemed to feel triumphant that their signature dish had made it that long.
From the guide for the street art tour to the people working in government and those helping deportees and returnees find their footing in a country they hardly know, we were given access to an array of people we were not likely to find on our own. And then there’s Eddie. Our very own guide, an expert in all things Mexican and pre-Columbian. A highlight for me was walking around in the National Museum of Anthropology and Eddie giving us a more accurate version of the history than that which was written on the wall plaques. And Jose, who picked perfect restaurants to give us an authentic experience, and whose love for his country is palpable. And Marta, who explained that Columbians might look up to narcos and their riches, but they don’t think much of people who do drugs. The buyers and users are in the U.S. (Which makes me think the U.S. bears some responsibility for those 33,341 murders in Mexico last year. If we dried up the market for imported drugs, would the merciless drug-related killings in Mexico stop?) And tour master Renata, who gets to tell the story of the day she hosted President Obama at Casa Azafran forever – because it’s a great one! – and who seemed to delight in our eagerness and endless questions.
Kudos to José and Renata too for putting together this group of participants, experts in business development, health care, city design and planning, government, and economics, higher education, religion, the needs of immigrants, and more. Their insights fueled deep conversations, and added to the mission of trying to understand Mexico beyond the current U.S. rhetoric.
We managed to find plenty of local flavors. Dozens of Mescals were on offer, as were worms, ants, ant eggs, cricket tacos, and, yes, that 4 1/2 -year-old sauce. We were strangers in a strange land, but with each passing day much less so. I was glad to feel safe, which was a primary concern from the outset; I will definitely return to Mexico City unafraid. Who can resist the cleverness of people who paint on walls to express themselves, and to stop people from littering outside their establishments?
The optimism in Mexico is palpable, and the Mexican people seem eager to believe in the promise of a more inclusive and less corrupt government. It’s an ambitious goal, and it won’t come easily, but President AMLO seems to be off to a courageous beginning. I came away from the trip wishing we in the United States were more connected to our southern neighbor, and that we would support their effort to transform. We are inexorably connected. Perhaps we can even take a page from their playbook and become more inclusive and less corrupt ourselves.
Did I mention Frida Kahlo’s house, La Casa Azul? Magnificent.