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WHY?

7 June 2011

Besides not writing much about daily political events, I really try not avoid getting into my personal life on this site.  I live in a rather isolated (intellectually and geographically) provincial city of no particular interest beyond a nice beach, sea lions and some famous criminals, which isn’t enough to sustain much interest over a long period of time.  I’m sure I could dig up some events (mostly in my checkered past) of more than passing interest to strangers (let’s just say I don’t understand all the fuss over photos of Anthony’s weiner — and no, I won’t expand on that remark!), but in writing about what is going on around me, I just don’t see much point in discussing  perfectly routine activities like paying the gas bill, or filling out some government form or going to a cafe or…

In other words, I live a relatively normal Mexican life for a (somewhat eccentric reclusive) guy in my position, and don’t see much reason to dwell on it among strangers.

Besides which, been there, done that and self-published:  there are plenty of other websites and self-published books with the nitty-gritty details of buying gasoline at PEMEX stations, or shopping in the local market, or getting a telephone installed, or any of the other details of living in a country not your own.  Some are actually worthwhile, and a few are worth reading on their own merits.

Useful as these websites (and my own badly-edited, written in a two weeks,  little book) might be, I’m — against my expectations — José Corporativo when it comes to publishing now. At least I insist that stuff be edited… and worth the time and money invested in publication.  At  Editorial Mazatlan we’ve preferred to to go deeper, having last year published Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado’s  “Magic Made In Mexico”  which deals honestly with the psychological and cultural adjustments she (and others) have made in order to live a full and happy life here, and we now have our reader/associate editor working through a manuscript on adjusting to the culture, and more aimed at those who will be expected to immerse themselves in Mexico (as workers or students) than those who just are living here (as retirees or “expat” residents).

Both are essential works (and I expect those of you who haven’t read Joanna’s book to go out and buy it today!) but neither can answer for everyone the most basic of questions, and the first one that should be asked by any emigre:  why?

WHY? is a question I’ve been forced to consider because of my routine life, and one that the answers to may have a profound impact on Mexican culture and historical trends — which at least makes it fair game for consideration here.

The house I rent is really bigger than I want, but I like the location, and the price was reasonable.  A bit more than I wanted to spend, but with a very large extra room (with its own bathroom), I quietly sublet it to foreigners, preferably to congenial, free-spirited, self-reliant types for several months at a stretch.  I lucked out last winter, getting a sub-letter who cyber-commuted to work every day, and spent her time with her own established circle of friends here (but was good company)… was good friends with my dog, and even better, cleaned her own bathroom and once in a while was inspired to cook up a big meal for all of us here!   Hell, yeah, I lowered her rent!

But, the “season” being October to March, I have to take who shows up… or calls.  And I need some extra cash to cover some unexpected recent expenses.  The latest tenant stayed two weeks (out of an expected month at least), and I’m still not sure why he was here.  He wanted to be near a beach where he could swim (I’m five minutes by foot), and… I supose that was enough for him.  But, the questions about where the WalMart was, why the supermarket within walking distance is so bleak (I didn’t realize it was) and whether the local restaurant prices were standard (Not sure what standard is, normally eating at home).

Ok, my place is cheaper than the hotels, and nicer than any hostel… and I’m reasonably fluent in English, so as a bargain for long-stay tourists, I guess that’s as close to an answer to WHY? as I’d get from somebody who appeared to be a permanent tourist (and, though I can’t say exactly why, creeped me out enough to consider his first month would be his last month).  Which means I needed a renter.

Anyway, I got a call this afternoon from the United States about the room.  The guy needed a place while looking for something more permanent here.  That’s not an abnormal sitution:  I had a Mexican-born, but U.S. raised guy here for a couple of weeks, scoping out housing for his U.S. family.  Oh, he had his somewhat unrealistic concepts of Mexico, mostly based on what he could and couldn’t afford on his salary here,  which is to be expected, but it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to ask the “why” question.  He was here because he could, or because he had to.

The guy who called today (from his accent and voice, I’m assuming he’s an older anglo) asked right off the bat, “What does it cost to live [in Mazatlan]?” which raises all kinds of  “WHY?” alarms.

When people start off their questions with “what does it cost to live?,” there are a bunch of more important question they should be asking themselves beyond the mundane ones of their needs and expectations.  “WHY?“… as in “Why here, why now, why is this your first question?”

I know, to my own satisfaction, why I moved here… call it a creative midlife crisis, or call it absolute terror at the prospect of minimal financial security in exchange for a unsatisfactory and mind-numbing career of writing endless iterations of “Press any key to continue” and conforming to the standards and practices of people I really despised.  Either way, not being retired, I certainly didn’t expect my financial condition to improve here (and anyone moving from the United States to Mexico expecting a higher paycheck is abolutely insane).

My sense was — given the guy’s other question was whether or not Mazatlan had changed in the last thirty years (Donno… wasn’t here… but my sense is that everywhere on Planet Earth has) — is that the guy is a retiree, looking to preserve a “lifestyle” on a pension that just doesn’t go as far in the United States as it once did.

I look at the websites for people planning to move here, and I’ve read more than my share of the literature, and this guy is not at all atypical of the huge influx of north of the border emigres.  And it bothers me.

My business, and my income (and my prospects of anything resembling financial security) depend on a continued interest in Mexico, and that interest is fueled in good part by potential emigres… a portion of whom will look at more than the cost of living. And psychologically and culturally adjust at least in part … or so I hope.

Otherwise, what the future holds is a cultural K-Mart, based on the economic law that states a widely available, even if inferior product, will drive the superior product out of the market.  Against the fear that Mexico is becoming for to many a  “good enough” version of whatever these people left behind, all I can do is to keep writing on our history, and the events that mirror our history, or are likely to change our history.  The culture I chose to adopt.

Mexican are not perfect, and this is not a perfect country, and it will change… but do I want it to see it morph into the culture I fled, or do I want to see it change according to its own historic rhythms?

And WHY?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. kwallek permalink
    7 June 2011 8:55 am

    Mexico is not the place I found 30 years ago, the roads are better, the hotels are better, food costs more, maybe a little better and beer has gone off the chart. I loved that cheap beer…

  2. Terry permalink
    7 June 2011 5:25 pm

    Very well put. I also sometimes get a smal return for a extra bedroom and have gotton the same questions put to me. The word WHY is not one I use here anymore. I will say why not a couple times a day. It took a little time before I realized that these folks do not have to live up to US/Can expectations. It is fun to greet a newbie with a cold one and no answers to their most unprofound questions.

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