Fred on Everything
When I got here eighteen years ago, to make a telephone call to the States you had to go down the late to Chapala where there was a storefront with maybe a half dozen booths. A clerk dialed the number for you from a central desk and you paid by the minute. Getting a landline phone in your house could take years. Now of course cell phones are everywhere and no one seems to want landlines. A 4G contract with unlimited calling to Canada, the US, and Mexico and enough data that we use it for music in the car goes for under eighteen dollars a month. Various companies offer fiber to the house for WIFI. And if you want 200 channels of awful TV with twenty minutes of commercials per hour, you can get them.
Much has not changed. There is the same corruption, the police are crooks, and the narcos kill each other in droves. The guns still pour in from America. There is still real poverty in places. Yet the middle class is now about half of the country. Over the long haul things have gotten better, but not at anything like the Chinese rate. A measure of the improvement is the decline in interest in emigrating to the US.
We live on the north shore of Lake Chapala, roughly an hour south of Guadalajara. It is a fairly prosperous region. Schools are decent. My stepdaughter Natalia attended two public schools in Guad, one here at Lakeside, and went to high school in Jocotepec, a berry-growing agricultural town on the west end of the lake. The latter two I have seen. They reminded me of American schools before the country went woke. Many schools in Mexico have uniforms, but here they dress neatly in jeans, shirts, dresses on the casual side.
The internet has brought massive changes since I arrived. Pre-internet, a farming town like Joco had almost no connection with anywhere else. There would be a few a.m. radio stations and maybe a minimal public library. That would be it. Guad was too far away for frequent visits. It was, you know, like the sticks. Really, really the sticks.
Then came the net, first dial-up accessible only to a few. Then cell towers appeared, smartphones, and WiFi.
Almost suddenly, kids were listening to Korean rock bands and radio
stations across Latin America and Europe and of course the US. This was
enormous. Flat screens proliferated and people were watching YouTube,
Netflix, opera, the New York Phil, movies both good and awful. Many
learned passable English from movies. Teenagers being teenagers, they
soon learned to “espofear los servidores,”
I remember when Natalia, then maybe thirteen, ran up and announced that she had just discovered a wonderful new kind of music. “Se llama Cone Tree.” Soon she knew more about Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton than I did.
Sex roles (that sound like something you would get at a doughnut shop) have changed greatly since I visited Saltillo in the Sixties while hippying around. Friends, engineers in their early twenties, told me that a woman’s place was still supposed to be in the kitchen, the church, and the bedroom. This version of male dominance was nothing like the venomous Moslem variety, and anyone who even thought about female genital mutilation would likely have ended up in a ditch, but it was restrictive.
By the time I got here, this was falling apart. Universities today are littered with girls, certainly the Universidad Marista where Natalia did her undergrad. It is not true that all Mexican doctors and dentists are women, but it sometimes seems so. At a recent quinceaños, a sort of growing up party for girls of fifteen, I met a bigger sister who had popped high on her math (Mexican) SATs) and been accepted in robotic engineering at (I think) the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico’s premier engineering school. It is of note that university education has improved immensely, though as best I can tell it is, with exceptions, only fair compared with American schooling before the country went woke. Today, if I had new children, I would rather send them to Mexican schools than American. Yet schools proliferate. The Tecnológico has campuses in thirty-eight cities, for example.
Mexico outside the big cities remains as it has always been since my arrival, and long before, which has its good and bad side. Violeta and I make a pastime of driving to towns within maybe a hundred miles of Lakeside, passing through scraggly green and dun growth that I much like. The pueblos, many of which I didn’t know existed, are variations on a standard theme, central plaza with gazebo in the middle as bandstand during fiestas, and church facing the plaza. They remain stubbornly Mexican devoid of such horrors as McDonald’s, not designed at corporate. Though the plan is the same, the execution is always different and often lovely. I don’t know how many of the residents are still believers, many I think, but the Church provides a commonality, a social bond, and everyone enjoys the celebrations of saints’ days. The Church, a common race, and common language provide the cultural stability that keeps the country from fragmenting under political problems.
These towns might be described as sleepy and quiet, but the latter only if you do not regard bird calls, the playing of children, and Julio Iglesias from maybe a car radio as noise. There is a localness, a placeness if that is a word, that makes them pleasant to live in.
The downside is a lack of dynamism. Mexicans in general do not have the drive of, say, the Chinese, being content with family and a placid life. You could do worse.
Our drives through the outback produce memorable moments. Recently on a narrow winding road through not much of anywhere, a buitre—buzzard—waddled in the middle. These birds are not made for walking, and do not do it well. It refused to get out of our way. We blew the horn. No. I yelled out the window. No. For what seemed a long time we paraded together at maybe two miles an hour, Honda CRV and ungainly bird. Finally it lumbered aloft.
Them is today’s thoughts. Now I’m going to get a beer and watch our hummingbirds. They don’t really need watching, but I do it anyway.