Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bubble or Box

Several weeks ago La Gringa in San Miguel wrote in her blog "Life in a Bubble" about ex-pats who move to Mexico to live in the concept of Mexico but they don't live in the reality of Mexico. They come to Mexico and bring their lifestyle, live in gated communities, have pools, and they don't learn Spanish. She compared that to the Mexicans who live conservatively with water and electricity and have modest homes that house extended families.

At first, after I read that, I was a bit indignant. That certainly wasn't us. We're living in a Mexican neighborhood, Ned speaks Spanish and I keep trying to learn Spanish. We don't have a big house.....well it isn't big for the USA but compared to some of our Mexican neighbors it might seem big. We try to live modestly. We walk everywhere and shop in the same markets that they do. We wave and speak with our neighbors.

But you know when it gets right down to it, the neighbors know we are different and we know we are different. We have a car. Only about 1/3 of them have a car. We have a computer and Internet. I would guess that only about 1/10 of them have a computer and Internet although all of them seem to use the Internet shops all around us. We have passports and can travel back and forth to the USA or almost anywhere in the world. I only know one couple around us who has a Mexican passport and can travel out of the country but I don't know that they have a visa to enter the USA. We have an automatic washing machine and dryer. They wash clothes by hand or with a wringer washing machine and hang them out to dry. We have a maid three mornings a week. I don't think any of them have a maid. We have college degrees but for most of them the educational level is probably about the 9th grade. The list could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

Could we change and live in a smaller house with a dirt floor, wash our clothes by hand, and cook in an outdoor kitchen. Maybe, but it would be incredible hard. Much harder than it is for them to move forward if they could obtain the economic resources and get a wringer washing machine and have a concrete floor.

So as I thought about La Gringa's article I finally had to admit that I did live in a bubble in San Miguel. And that started me thinking about how we lived in the USA. How much interaction did we have in our own neighborhood. We spoke and waved to neighbors but they were not necessarily the friends who came to dinner. Our house, our car, our friends and our family made up a world within the city. We lived in a box. The car was the worst box of all. With Air Conditioning, the windows rolled up and at 40 mph (or more on the freeways) you moved through space so quickly that there was just a smear of buildings and no connection to people. So many things went on in the city that we simply closed out. Ignored.

A bubble is transparent. You can see out. But a box? Box or bubble? I'll take the bubble and do my best to treat my Mexican neighbors with respect and kindness, conserve resources and learn more about the Mexican culture.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Billie!
May we all, whereever we live, realize our bubbles and fight to have a clear view out at the rest of the world.

wolverinemx said...

Your are very kind, but there are mexicans living with comforts... this country is very unequal, we have one of the most richest man in the world (Carlos Slim) and have many poor people. I think that you dont have to live without conforts to be part of mexico, you said...

I'll take the bubble and do my best to treat my Mexican neighbors with respect and kindness, conserve resources and learn more about the Mexican culture.

This is nice and very kindly...

Gin said...

Good analogy and true. We also live in a Mexican barrio and work among the less fortunate. There are times when I feel guilty when I see how the poor lives. It doesn't matter how much interaction we may have, we will always be "different".Example, I have a middle class Mexican friend, I can call her house and when her nieto answers he calls,"abuela, it the Americano". I explained to him that he can call me la senora or Ginger, explaining that if he called my house I would not refer to him as the "Mexican". I think any person living in another culture will always be seen as different.

I do understand where La Gringa is coming from as many Americanos who live in our town never venture outside the centro area where they all live and socialize together.

Cynthia said...

I love this entry, very thought provoking. I want to learn to be a good neighbor and a friend.

As you may remember, I have been looking for "our" house in San Miguel. Finally, I have found it. On Monday we close and I will be a half block from my girl's favorite restaurant, Ole Ole, and a full block away from the big pewter store on the corner of the artisan's market. (I can't stop buying Mexican pewter.)

Like you, I will be in a Mexican neighborhood and can't wait to get to know my neighbors, though part 1 of the Warren Hardy course doesn't allow me to say much. I am determined to learn the language!

We are very excited and wish that we had more time to spend in SMA, but that's still a year or two in our future.

Billie said...

Cynthia, Congratulatlions on finding "your" house. Now the adventure begins. If you are in SMA now for the closing don't miss out on the events at the San Antonio church this weekend. And look me up in the phone book and give us a call.

Emily, Gin and Wolv, thanks for your comments. Wolv I see a growing middle class in Mexico. This makes me feel good for the country but then when I go into the campo to help with Feed the Hungry, I see so many other children trapped with a limited education and little resources. These are issues that I keep thinking about and trying to understand and I'm sure I'll write more about them. Though I'd like to be more a part of Mexico, I doubt that at my age I'll ever really be assimilated into the Mexican culture.

Anonymous said...

For help with your Spanish try:

wolverinemx said...

Billie, I only can say 'Thank You', it is nice know that there are people helping us....

Is this the website of Feed the hungry?

I love mexico very much, for that reason, I am trying to help too.

I am a rotaract member (we are part of rotary International), our website is


--- Spanish ----

Billie, solo te puedo decir gracias, es lindo saber que hay gente ayudandonos.

Es esta la pagina web de 'Alimentos por el hambre'?

Yo amo mucho a mexico, for esta razon estoy tratando de ayudar tambien.

Actualmente soy miembro de rotaract (Somos parte de los Rotarios)

Billie said...

Wolv, that is the website for Feed the Hungry. I think they do a fabulous job in managing the money that is donated and so many people give their time to sack up the supplies for the school and then to drive them out to the middle of nowhere down terrible roads. But the good thing is that the children get enough food so that they can concentrate and learn. In some schools the children sometimes fainted when they were standing in line. You know what the problems are, in the the ranchos especially when they don't get enough rain. In so many of these villages there are few men because they have risked their lives trying to get to the USA to earn money and send it back to their families. I don't know about all the politics in Mexico or the USA, all I know is that many of these children are hungry. And I can help in some small way.

Here are some pictures I took at one of the schools where there is a kitchen.
Although it really isn't Feed the Hungry's mission to get in involved in the school other than the kitchen, A group of men here in SMA have been taking old computers and refurbishing them and putting them in the schools that can get internet. I would love to see the children have more books to read. How can you learn to read when you only get 4 or 5 books a year and for them to have more paper so that they could keep a journal and learn to write with ease.

The Rotary here in SMA sponsors eye clinics. I haven't worked with them but I think they do a really good job too. What is the project in your Rotary?

Deb said...

Hi Billie,

I just found this post (been off the blog for a few weeks now), and I was so impressed with your insights. It is people like you that make my work in SMA so interesting.

I LOVE The analogy to "life in the box," you've nailed life in suburban D.C., that's for sure.


The Gringa

Billie said...

Dear Gringa, I read your blog regularly too. I'm really interested in seeing more as you write about your interviews here. I know my view of SMA is one sided and I'd like to know some more about how the Mexicans see things.