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Posts Tagged ‘Bi-Culturalism’

On Friday Ben & I are having a cocktail party, our first one as a couple and our first in our adopted winter home, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I hope to buy roses at a ridiculously low price, and scatter the petals in the two fountains in the courtyards of our rental home, just as our favourite restaurants here do. Tomorrow is the anniversary of our first date, and we will celebrate it by returning to the scene: the lovely Fabrica la Aurora, a turn of the last century textile factory, now converted to showcase and studio for many contemporary artists. In a town founded in the 16th century, you would expect history to be close to the surface, and indeed, it survives in the magnificent haciendas, treacherous cobblestone streets, and striking churches that give the town it’s unique colonial character.

During my first trip to San Miguel, the famously fabulous weather was horrid: cold, rainy and miserable, the only saving grace being the lack of snow. But even the need for boots and wool wraps could not diminish my enthusiasm for the live music, the variety of restaurants and the warmth of the people I met. Admittedly, most of my new friends were like me: travelers of a certain age from North America, looking for a little warmth and a few new experiences. San Miguel is an ex-pat paradise, with something for everyone, from the new age spiritualist, to the gourmand to the would be artist.

This time, with another year of Spanish lessons straining my brain, I hoped to delve further into the culture of San Miguel and even Mexico. I have traveled to Mexico several times, mostly to the Yucatán area, and was struck at how rich and unique the different regions of Mexico are, in terms of food (my passion), customs, costumes, and culture. So with that in mind, I attended a Literary Sala on Bi-Culturalism.

The panel had an equal number of men and women, and those from Mexico and the United States. (There are a lot of Canadians here too, but the Americans seem to dominate not only by numbers but by involvement and leadership in the community, at least as far as I have seen. There are so many visitors from Canada this year that a tour guide asked me if there was anyone left there. Nope I quipped: we have left Canada to the snow, the polar bears and the sled dogs. He was from Texas: there is an odds on chance he believed me!)

So what did this panel of writers and professionals have to say about the challenge of being brought up in one culture and choosing to then live in another? Not surprisingly, most had found their way across the border for love. So they were highly motivated, as least initially, to make their way successfully.

One doctor had followed her physician husband to the cold of Connecticut, having to do her residency again to meet the U.S. requirements. It was her observation that Americans work incredibly hard. For couples to be comfortable she said, they must both work, and they both work to exhaustion. And then on the weekend there is all the other work to be done: the shopping, the household chores, the yard work. Mexicans she said, think all Americans are rich, and have so many machines to help. But the lawn mower does not move by its self, nor does the vacuum cleaner. Her answer: Americans should have more domestic help.

Which of course if you live in San Miguel, or Mexico and have a reasonable income, domestic help is the norm. Our March rental home has a maid/cook and a gardener 6 days a week. It is expected, customary and exactly not what the mostly American audience was expecting to hear from a Mexican.

What good have Americans brought to San Miguel? The employment of locals in well-paying and secure jobs. Over 100 non for profit organizations  created and run by  energetic retired expats that support worthy causes like the splendid Library, the SPCA, the disabled, abused women, scholarships for student, and many, many more.

And the downside of all this pale skin and silver hair? Gentrification has forced house prices up dramatically. Consequently, it has become very expensive for the children of Mexicans to stay in San Miguel. (But as the practical doctor pointed out, the same thing happened in Connecticut when wealthy New Yorkers started looking there for weekend homes.)

One the American panelists was a journalist who had married a young man while he was still in high school. She expected that things might change after marriage, but no: they moved into the tight quarters of the extended family home where his grandmother still cooked his favourite meals and he still played basketball after school!  She definitely had the funniest tales of cultures clashing, mostly around too much sharing and too little privacy.

She also had one of the most telling stories of cultural differences: when her first child was born, she found herself suddenly thinking just like her Anglo friends back home, frantically wondering where the money for his Harvard education was going to come from. When she voiced her concerns out loud at a family gathering, her Mexican relatives turned to her husband with raised eyebrows and a familiar look that meant, something along the lines of  “what were you thinking, bringing this woman into our home?”

For as the grandmother patiently pointed out, or perhaps with exasperation, “”Every child is born with his own sandwich”. Loosely translated, this Mexican homily means that if Harvard is to be his destiny, his destiny will be provided for. Why worry about it now?

Also to be filed under the category of “I had no idea that you felt that way”, was the response from an ambitious and successful young Mexican businessman, who as a  teenager,  had regularly been smuggled across the border to work as a roofer in LA. When asked: “What do Mexicans really think of North Americans?”, he said, “They think you are all rich, spoiled and think only of your money. It’s what they see on Mexican television,” he said with a shrug and a smile. What else can you expect?   The not so benign influence of The Housewives of Orange County or Jersey Shore perhaps?

He also made one of the most sensible remarks of the evening: “I am not a gold coin”. It is another Mexican homily that sounds so much better in Spanish, as does most everything really. His point: we are all human: we are not all good, nor all bad. Please do not assume that all Mexicans are universally virtuous (or have no sense of time, or no ambition, or any other cultural generalization)  and we will not assume the worst of all of you, despite what we may see on television. An excellent foundation for successful bicultural relationships, here or perhaps even back home in Canada.

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