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Mexico        Rêve Mexicain en français
 
 
 
Mexican people
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
 
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Introduction

From a historic point of view, being Mexican is a relatively new race. The Conquistadors, their paternal ancestors, fathered them with Indian women who have been populating this part of the world for several thousands of years : Aztecs, Mayas, Tlaxcalans and others. As their name says it, the Conquerors tended to take possession of everything they wanted without considering the rights of the first inhabitants or their wishes; and their children couldn’t feel more affection to them than their mothers. Besides, the Mexicans invented a name to call the discoverers of New Spain, the name of Mexico at the time of the colonization. This name, gachupín, came from an Aztec word meaning « the-man-wearing-shoes-with-pins »; the Aztecs never saw spurs (nor horses) before the arrival of the Spaniards and didn’t have a name to describe them. Later, the war cry « Muerte a los gachupines ! » (Death to the Gachupines!) was rallied on a regular basis to their descendants during the bloody battles lead by the Mexicans to cast off the Spanish yoke.
Los gachupines, on the other hand, looked at their mixed blood progeny as livestock, highly proud of the pure Castellan blood in their veins, even if it was not purer than any other past, present or future European blood. The repeated and incessant humiliations derived from these superior/ inferior relationships and the establishment of the peonage (and its reinforcement by the big ground Spanish landlords), as well as thousands of other circumstances, reminded the Mexicans that they were only one degree above the Indian slaves and erased every pride of race that they could have had.
But this same Mexican, once he was successful in getting out of the scrape of misery and the ignorance where so many other “mestizos” lived forever, was the first to pride himself on the castellan pureness of his ancestors, blaming the tropical sun for his dark skin. However, he couldn’t pretend to be a Gachupin; he would have had to be born in Spain for that claim. But, he was satisfied with becoming a criollo, meaning a « pure » race person, born in New Spain and then he was dignified enough to despise the inferior race of the half-blood, or mestizos and even more the Indians, his ancestors.
mexican with sombrero Obviously, everything changed but we can’t say that there are no more differences of caste in Mexico; the gachupinismo still exists but in a different way: It appears with the pride of the family name or legacy. Everyone carries this tendency : it is normal and reasonable. But now, the more important values for the Mexicans, the ones they are proud of, are the Mexican values deep-rooted in the native ground and not imported from Spain.

Talk to a Mexican about his " puro castellano" blood and you will hear him asking you about the pureness of your own blood ! With the generations, other blood from Europe, Africa and Asia began to run in his veins. The result is the « puro mexicano », a race as pure as any other one —this race doesn’t include the few million Indians living in Southern and Southeastern territories of the Mexican Republic. The forest is so thick there that, four and a half centuries ago, young Indian girls could escape the advances of the Conquistadors. So, these indigenous people don’t consider themselves Mexican but Chamulas, Zoques, Huaves, Totonacs, Huastecas. They speak their own language, deal with their own business, wed among them and don’t deal with other Mexicans. Mexico is proud of its Indians and their cultural contribution but don’t support them. It was the reason for the Zapatista Revolution in 1994.




With different ways of expressing themselves, a Mexican could make you believe he would fast abjure his citizenship. In fact, they are only showing the different ways of belonging to their country. If you ask: « Are you Mexican ? » to a Veracruz citizen, he would probably answer: « No, I am jarocho »; and if you seem confused, he would explain that he is from Veracruz (veracruzano). And a Mexican native from Guadalajara would say as well that he is tapaño, or jalicense — from the State of Jalisco. A native of Jalapa is a jalapeño, his wife a jalapeña, and so on. In fact, if Mexicans are doing all these distinctions, it is because the adjective mexicano could be confusing you since it refers to the citizens of Mexico City (Mexico D.F, for distrito federal), as well as to the citizen of the country. The inhabitants of the state of Mexico, whose capital is Toluca are called mexiquenses, the ones of Mexico D.F. are called chilangos.


Mexican behavior

A Mexican isn’t in a hurry to mix with the first foreign person he meets, and even less in a hurry to open his house. Even when he befriends someone, when he goes out, has a drink or dinner with him, it doesn’t mean he is ready to introduce his wife or to open his door. Inviting someone to dinner is not an ordinary act. Outside of his house and privacy, a Mexican would be the best friend in the world : he would be polite, generous and proud to do national honors. This attitude is changing and the tendency for separation between family and friends is less strict.

Anyway, the average behavior of a Mexican towards a foreign tourist, as well as towards a fellow countryman or friend, is marked with probity. Indeed, Mexicans are naturally not complicated, so it is easier for them to be frank and honest rather than crafty and dissimulating. He needs to be hungry to steal. Otherwise, he works hard to feed his numerous broods.

Nothing is more wrong than the stereotypical picture of the Mexican peón, lazily dozing in front of his bad hut, a hat on his face. Nothing is farther from reality. The Mexican worker or farmer works hard from morning until night. He has no other choice to make a living. The average salary, even if it has never been so high and is still rising every year, cuts a poor figure compared to American or European salaries. In fact, Mexicans are among the most tireless workers in the world.

Nap time

Being a hard worker doesn’t prevent a Mexican from conforming to his precious ritual of siesta, every day after lunch. You would also adopt this habit when you realize that the majority of offices and stores close between 1 and 3PM. You have to know that the alarm-clock, buzzer or bell rings at 5:30AM (in winter as well as summer) for most of the workers and the working day ends not before 7PM in the cities. In the countryside, they usually forget the nap to take advantage of the daylight and they work in the fields from sunrise to sunset. As you see, this schedule doesn’t fit in with the picture of the self-satisfied peón but explains, in return, that the annual growth rate of the gross national product is one of the highest in the world. They have to spend sweat in a country that is richer in labor than investments and owning less arable lands than needed for farming and feeding the population.
In Mexico City, however, the institution of the siesta is not respected anymore. There is too much noise and excitement. The stores and offices close for lunch but the employees can’t go home for lunch because of the traffic and size of the city. If you need to make an appointment, try to have it late morning or late afternoon. Government employees, bosses and professional men don’t get up that early in the morning; they rarely arrive at the offices before 10AM and don’t run back there in the afternoon as soon as a subordinate reopens the doors.

Mexican courtesy

The average Mexican sets his heart so much on being attentive and is so anxious to help foreign visitors that he might give you the answer you want to hear without caring about the truth of the information. It is not to fool you with wicked pleasure but it is done in kindness. He will always stop to show you the way even if he doesn’t know the answer. Saying he doesn’t know would seem rude for him. He prefers, in any case, to show you any direction and then to accept your “thanks” as a perfect distinguished gentleman. In the same way, try to appreciate the kindness of the plumber, electrician, locksmith and handyman that is called for help. You would like him to come the following day, for example at 8AM. He would tell you “si, señor, con todo gusto, mañana por la mañana a las ocho”. He really means what he says but the problem is that mañana doesn’t mean the same for him and you. In your mind, it means tomorrow, meaning the day after today, the next solar day. For him, it means not tonight, later, tomorrow, after tomorrow, next week, next year… For sure, he is right and you are wrong. He is in his country and understands the words and their meaning. Try to really understand this if you don’t want to become mad. This advice is good for appointments, promises, oral invitations and set phrases like: « My house is yours ». It is pure courtesy. It is like « How are you ? », « nice to meet you ». Most of the time, we don’t mind the answer and would be worried if the person would stop and talk about his life. When a Mexican says that his house is yours, it doesn’t mean that he invites you in.
Some say that it is a heritage from the Spanish knighthood. Nothing proves that, quite the contrary. The knightly manners of the Conquerors (for the Indians and meztizos) were only the whip, gun, looting and the stake. The civilized manners of the Mexicans are really theirs, deeply rooted in the same land as them. If you plead that is shame courtesy and it is a long way from courtesy to cordiality, you will be right but you could say the same for every nation in the world.
If you take this courtesy for what it is, you would not blame the Mexican for giving you an appointment at 5 o’clock sharp at an office, or for promising you a delivery at noon con seguridad, or for telling you that you are the master of his house. Don’t be literal-minded.
From his Indian ancestors as well from the proud hidalgos who gave him their blood, the Mexican inherited a dignified air. This is shown even more in the less deserving areas of the lousy suburbs that are filled with peasants attracted to the city by the promises of the industrial expansion. The dignity of the women is impressive too: you could meet a drunken man snoring in the ditch with his wife looking after him. She would squat by his side, rocking a baby while brushing away flies from the sweaty face of her husband. With a lot of patience, she waits for him to recover consciousness to drag him home, with her baby and her gear. The campesinos get drunk mainly on Saturday night when they go out in the city. It is their only way of forgetting the dark reality of an ungrateful existence. As long as you don’t tend a flock of stinky goats from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, for two months in a row, amigo, you don’t know the aridity of this existence. But these men don’t always forget their responsibilities towards their family, their goats and the world and most of the time they can look at you with pride.
Even beggars have dignity in Mexico. They don’t complain or whine and the ones who do are not really beggars but professionals of tourist exploitation. The authentic Mexican beggar knows that you know that he would appreciate a coin. When you give one to him, he says « gracias ». Nothing more except maybe : « Dios le pagara ». God will return the favor. And it looks so much like a blessing that you would answer: «Thank you ».



Male behavior

sombreros of MexicoThe study Mexican male behavior starts with the use of the word macho, which you will hear often. It was first a word that meant nothing more than virile, male, and sexually powerful like a ram or bull. A man who begets children was macho. But a man without children can be macho as well because the concept of machismo is not restricted to the reproductive function. The word macho involves — in addition to manliness — all the qualities of the male: courage, self assurance, the power of supporting himself entirely on his own, self respect, with a touch of bragging to complete the portrait. You can see the machismo in operation at any time on the Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City, when two taxi drivers enjoy passing each other in the stream of traffic. For neither one nor the other, is there anything to gain by competing and the chase could make the gringo passenger’s hair stand on end. But, the machismo will make them take as many risks as possible, even the risk of their own life as well as the innocent passengers and pedestrians. The winner will rejoice even if it costs him an aisle or bumper.

     Right picture : sombreros of Mexico

The machismo could also appear in less violent ways. If you go to the restaurant with a Mexican, he could act macho by taking the bill from your hands even if he knows it is beyond its means. If he succeeds, it is a proof of machismo. It is a non planned and non prepared but perfectly spontaneous act : a simple reflex for a Mexican who can’t help proving he is a man.


Religion

The Franciscans had no trouble in converting the Mexican Indians to the rituals of the Catholic Church because the Indians found in it, the supernatural and the magic they were used to. For them, Jesus was first the reincarnation of the God Quetzacoatl. The gold of the altars, the smell of incense, the liturgical songs, the peals of bells lead them to their new faith as much as the Spanish missionaries’ preaching. And when the Mexicans picked their own black Virgin in 1531, under the invocation of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Catholicism was really adopted in the country. Besides, the revolutionaries fought for Independence, later, under the flag of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

cemetery of Hoctun (Yuc)
While poor Mexican men look for evasion in alcohol, their wives look for it in religion. Centuries of clerical abuses of power didn’t weaken the faith of the humble people. When Benito Juárez became president of the Republic in 1858, he promised to be faithful to his modest origins as well as to his noble ideas dedicating his life to the destruction of what he called the « inauspicious power of the privileged classes ». During this time, the Church was one of them. It owned vast domains covering a big part of the Mexican territory and had a huge political power allowing doing and undoing the governments. Juarez fought for the nationalization of the ecclesiastical goods and established civil marriage, among other reforms, aiming to break the secular power of the hierarchy.


Left picture : cemetery of Hoctun (Yuc)

Whatever the repercussions cost for himself and the country, Juárez had a successful undertaking. Since then, Mexicans are free to have religious opinions but most of them are Catholic like before. For men, religion is a mere matter of form. Born in a church, he will be baptized, married (even if only the civil marriage is mandatory, the religious celebration will be always attended) and buried... After this, he would touch his hat in a respectful way when walking by a sanctuary without going inside. For women, church is the center of social life, her refuge and comfort when the burden of life is too heavy to carry. Juárez himself wouldn’t have an objection against both of these choices since they are free choices. He fought to give his people this freedom to expropriate the big ecclesiastical owners. Another great Mexican president, Lázaro Cárdenas, worked towards the same goal when he expropriated the gringo exploiters who invaded the country in the thirties.


The Mexican and politics

Even if Mexico fought hard to deserve the title of democracy, it was the democracy of a unique party until the late eighties.
The Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) “governed » the country alone for 70 years. Party-State, the PRI progressively integrated every social family in the country, from the farmer’s unions to the workers organizations. The whole social body is dissolved in infinity of clans forming the Party-State that thoroughly rules the 31 states of this federation and its federal district where the capital, Mexico City is. Ever since, the opposition is a barely tolerated fiction.
However, since 1987, under the action of Michoacán ex-governor, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of Lázaro Cárdenas, a democratic current grouping left and right wing parties or dissident democrats of PRI, became a party. This formation which presented M. Cárdenas at the elections of 1988 almost broke the unquestioned power of the PRI and his candidate Salinas de Gortari. Rumors of electoral fraud tarnished the image of a party which lost its representativeness to the profit of the rising party : « the party of national action » the PAN, right wing party whose candidate V.Fox won the elections of 2000. His election ended more than 70 years of « revolutionary politics » and showed lassitude of the people for the corruption and impunity of the PRI. This tendency increased at the last elections in July 2006 since the PAN got reelected and the PRI took the third rank behind the PRD) for the first time.
According to the Constitution, no one among the members of the government, from the president of the republic to the less important public personage, can stay in office more than the six year mandate duration. But the P.R.I. has been in power for so long, it is so securely and continuously supported by the Mexican unions and other electoral hordes that the supreme magistracy holder can without trouble step aside for his successor as well for his political and social program, so the line of the government is never reconsidered. And without any doubt, this continuity doesn’t harm the prosperity of the country or its march towards a promising future.

What is a « gringo » ?

It is time to be precise about the significance of this word that has a specific place in the Mexican vocabulary. This word can’t be translated. In the past, gringo was for Mexicans what Yankee was for Northern Americans after the Civil War. But, now it is simply an easy way for designating people living north of the Rio Grande (which is called Rio Bravo on Mexican maps). The word lost its strong and provocative meaning. Nevertheless, Mexicans from the old generation wouldn’t use it with gringos around in order not to offend them. They didn’t forget the old meaning and their native courtesy stops them from insulting people. For young Mexicans as well as for the many gringos living in Mexico, the word is in everyday use and perfectly harmless.
People would call themselves gringo and gringa, (for a girl) to show some friendship. Also, originally the word was quite honorable since it comes from griego meaning “Greek” in Spanish.
As the Mexican middle class comes closer to the average American standard of living on a social and economical point of view, Americans in Mexico have a rising concern. They have even started to pity their big neighbors who have so many troubles with racism, misery, drug, pollution and the rebellion of their youth.
These problems are not gone from the Mexican community but Mexicans think in an optimistic way that solutions will come with the expanded economy managed by well informed politicians. They think that the government is now working for the people. They are proud of the stability of their peso (based on the American dollar) in the world. It is a sign of confidence in Mexican economy.
There are other definitions of « gringo » : At the time of the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848, in reference to the green uniform of the American soldiers, the expression « green go home ! » was used ; In the same era, this designation was in reference to a song of the American army: « Green grow the rushes, O ».

Understanding others

Even if it is only to make your stay easier, it is always good to know the language of the country you are visiting. It will also help you to have a better understanding of the morals and customs. You could also mingle with Mexican people, which is a good way to learn about the everyday life and share your culture. And if you speak Spanish, you will be able to compare prices, bargain and save a little bit.

The Hispano-Mexican

A Mexican speaks a kind of Spanish. It is better to call this language “Mexican”, because it is different from castellan of Spain, a little bit like English from UK. The vocabulary, the meaning and the use of the words, and the pronunciation are not the same.

day of the death Having a smattering of knowledge about the laws in effect in Mexico could be helpful for the gringo visiting the country. In reality, the visitor learns it only out of necessity, meaning in the least pleasant way : the guest of a Mexican hotel could be shocked, perturbed and unpleasantly surprised to discover that he is also a guest of the Mexican Police without understanding exactly what happened.
The Mexican system is founded on the Napoleon code, meaning you are guilty until you can prove you are innocent, in opposition to the English speaking countries legislations.
That is what you should remember about Mexican laws while driving (your own car or a rental car) in Mexico. Third party insurance, even not mandatory, would save you many hours in a non welcoming police station while the person in charge in the village would take his time to figure out the liability of the accident. Many Mexicans, most of the drivers indeed, don’t burden themselves with such precautions and run away from the scene of the accident before the police arrive. Don’t do this ! You would be in real trouble.

     Right picture : day of the death

In order to help tourists in trouble or infringement the Mexican National Office of Tourism opened a consultations desk in Mexico City ; English speaking jurists are at the service of foreign people. You could also have recourse to embassies, in Mexico City and consulates in province.

Finally, if despite all the precautions and with the best intentions of the world, you are in trouble, try to pronounce the sesame magic word : turista. The tourist is considered sacred because they are a source of income in Mexico. The no polluting (at least from the chemical point of view) no-chimney-industry of tourism is given so much consideration in the country that if you are asked if you are a turista, it is to look at you as a wanted and respected guest of the country.

The Mexican woman

Mexico, in many aspects, is still a man’s world. There is no mistaking that the” piropos” (flattering compliments) do not hide the reality of the women’s conditions, which are not always enviable. They are not all Frida Kahlo, the emblematic partner of Diego Rivera, or Rosario Castellanos, the first woman ambassador !

Legal but not real equality

The Constitution affirms the equality of the citizens with the Law and the Civil Code (reformed in 1974), that guarantees at eighteen years old, freedoms like marrying, divorcing and disposing of one’s goods and wages. In spite of this, light-years still separate the good intentions from the reality that is lived by most Mexican women. These women stay basically in a state of dependence and submissiveness (non-emancipation), which often surprises the visitor. For sure, some women are State Secretary, deputies and governors. More and more women are taking up liberal careers, working in the city service sector (half the number of women’s jobs) or go to College but this still constitutes only exceptions and is not the rule.
The everyday life of most Mexican women is made up of poverty and violence. The women workers of the city-workshops (artificially built at the border of the USA) won’t deny it. In spite of a surprising semblance of emancipation and inverted machismo, they won’t let you forget that most of them have a very hard life.
The women of big cities don’t have a better life when they belong to a proliferating proletariat : nor do the Inhabitants of Nezahualcoyotl, the biggest shantytown in the world (with 2 to 3 million), neither do the Indians (maid or servant), called the « Marias ». They all would deny it. This situation is the result of a state of mind or a mentality generated by the ideological and specific Mexican Institution called machismo.

Casa grande y casas chicas

This cult dedicated to virility is worsened to the point of converting it as valor, a sign of power. Every man wants to prove it in the most “natural” way, meaning with the number of his children. There is in Mexico, an unbelievable tolerance towards male unfaithfulness to the point (unique in the world), that the Law even recognizes this conjugal deviation. On the side of the official home, casa grande, one or two parallel homes, casas chicas, could happen without restraint. Because of hard life nowadays, the institution tends to be rare, but remember that Mexico is a country of traditions. The Law authorizes the mistress to share the wages of the macho with the legal spouse. And imagine the debate around the gasto, the weekly allowance awarded to the spouse for household needs !
It goes without saying it that the males won’t share in domestic chores. Seeing the sad sight of their homologues
« gringos » plunges them into a profound confusion and triggers off a mordant irony.

A sure evolution


The Mexican woman, (even if she doesn’t always want to cuddle), is profoundly admired for procreating a boy. However, she is respected and sacred as a mother only when she is older. Everyone shares a common devotion to children. We have to admit that the conditions of women have changed recently in Mexico. The freedom of choosing the number of children is officially acknowledged even if it is diminished by the exigency of a common agreement in the case of contraception. This could explain why more than two-thirds of Mexican women are mothers before turning twenty-five. Divorce makes a timid appearance in the cities. The number of working women is twice the rate in Mexico City compared to the other part of the country. Young Mexicans, with more freedom and education than their mothers, have jobs that their mothers wouldn’t have dreamed of holding. The Mexican woman, despite all the obstacles and most notably the irresponsibility and volatility of her macho husband, remains the indispensable stabilizing element of the home. Whether the male outcry likes it or not, matriarchy is not dead !
Another colorful characteristic of the family is worth noting : the celebration of the fifteenth birthday of a girl. In a modest family, it is a small party with friends and family. In a well-to-do family, all the expenses are allowed: trips to a foreign country, cruises, a party in a luxury hotel.
This rite of passage or initiation to the consumer society is touching Trust them : they would give you lessons.

 

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