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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 ».
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Cárdenas, worked towards the same goal when he expropriated
the gringo exploiters who invaded the country in the thirties.
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.
is a « gringo » ?
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.
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
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 ».
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.
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.
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
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.
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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