Edward Said and Defining Mexico

The Mexican is lazy, is hardworking, is prone to violence, is hospitable. He is dirty, clean, like to other hispanics, unlike other latinos, shares racial strengths with the indians, has inherited cultural decadence from the Spanish. He lives in an old country with old values, he finds it hard to adapt to new ways of life, he is itinerant, moving to new locales to leech off other peoples. “The Mexican” and “Mexicans” are a lot of bullshit.

When I sit down and slam out a blog, beer in hand, I take on a responsibility. All Peace Corps volunteers and all the expats like us do the same. When we write about our host countries and peoples, we define them, to ourselves and to our audience.

There’s a book about it.

This book

This book

Said describes the way that “Orientalists,” scholars of the nearer and farther Easts, created a body of ideas, papers, art, and literature, that took on more reality than the physical East. When making policy or business decisions, Westerners responded to this constructed pseudo-Orient rather than the real. I’m simplifying. A lot. But I’ll use Mexico as an example of the same.

The parts of this country that I have seen—massive pine woods, cloud-forests, alpine streamlets and freezing waterfalls, the chic-as-fuck city of Querétaro and its eco-cafes and burgeoning urban-hippy scene—none of it has anything to do with the impression I had of Mexico before shipping out.

If you think of all these things when I say Mexico, you're Mexican and/or a liar

If you think of all these things when I say Mexico, you’re Mexican and/or a liar

Where did my previous impression of Mexico come from? From the great American collective unconscious. Flashes of Speedy Gonzales combine with lectures on the Mexican Revolution and vague images from a trip to the Alamo. Cormac McCarthy novels blend into the Man with No Name and The Magnificent Seven. It’s a powerful mental image of white linens and sombreros, now overlaid with narcos and beheadings.


We think of this

Almost none of that conception has anything to do with the “Real Mexico,” just like the way the rest of the world literally thinks we only eat hamburgers and hot dogs in the States has the tiniest bit of truth (we eat hamburgers sometimes) while missing everything else about us. “Mexicans eat tacos right?” “Well yea, but they’re different than ours and that’s not the point.”

The image, the pseudo-Mexico of The Three Amigos and shitty restaurants, it is the Mexico that we respond to, as voters, vacationers, businesspeople, and politicians. You have to go somewhere to start to know it. I don’t know Mexico. I don’t even know Querétaro, or Jalpan. But I’m a sight further along than I was beforehand, enough to know that what I thought I knew, I didn’t. What you have to realize is that the false American idea of Mexico is all the Mexico there is for the majority of Americans.

Perfect, right


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Levantine Speculation

Anyone who’s following my Twitter, which Twitter informs me is ‘nobody,’ will know that all summer Maya and I have been having brief cynical discussion about current events, and there’s an idea that’s come up a few times now: Lebanon, conflict in. Maya put together a tight piece on the refugee population in that country (about one-third of the entire population, combination Palestinian and Syrian) and how they’re treated natives somewhere between inhospitably and with outright hostility, and that, since the populations are going to be there awhile (the Palestinians have been since the 1940s), the only sane thing to do would be to bring them into the socioeconomic fold of the Lebnen proper.

Thanks, David Roberts

Which, as I understand, looks like this

Her suggestion makes even more sense when you consider that unassimilated Palestinian refugees played a not-insignificant role in the Israeli invasion and subsequent civil war in the 1970s. Radicalized refugees got involved with Lebanese internal conflicts and made war on the Maronite Phalange, which yadda yadda simplification helped bring the Syrians in to ‘restore order,’ different refugees began launching attacks across the border into Israel, Israel invaded up to Beirut, dabbled in genocide under Sharon at Sabra and Chatila, more simplification, boom Civil War.

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I broke down, largely thanks to the personal writing of our friend Gebeily, and reactivated my WordPress account. Now I really am a Peace Corps Volunteer. My paperwork was in, my vaccinations done, all that was left was to start typing into the ether. Not exactly yet, though. My process, longhand to digital, has always been a little absurd, and it has recently gotten more(or less?) so. The first draft of this post was put together on a typewriter; there is no good reason for me to own one, but I do, and it looks like I’ll be trying to cart it down to Querétaro and beyond. If I really do end up in the sticks, there’s a chance it might come in handy, but I’d probably be fine with pen and paper. Either way, I’m trying to acclimate. I’m typing this shirtless on my porch in DC, letting July in the city sink all the way in. There’s at least one advantage of the Olympia  no glare on your screen. That and the machine is way over 100 degrees, and there’s no worry about overheats.

I'm an asshole

I’m an asshole

At this point, the blog is writing for the sake of writing. There were a few moments in June when I thought I had become unspeakably behind on my medical paperwork (and I had), but those are over now, and all that’s left is to buy my plane tickets, condense my life into a packpack, and wait for staging in DC on the 26th. Which at time of writing is 41 days away. Lent plus one.

I’m getting to be more excited about the trip. Those of you who know me, which is ostensibly all of you, know that my PC app happened on a bit of a whim, and that it was initially a match of convenience more than anything. But being placed in Latin America was a plus, especially since Mexican is an accent I’m familiar with. And the Mexico program has the option to stay with a host family for the whole term of service. Without exaggeration, my second host family was probably the best part of my stay in Spain, and I hope I’m lucky enough to get a group of people as loving on site.

For all that, it is weird to think that after next month, it will be more than 810 days before I can expect the convenience of a ready drink, and easy pack, or an available English voice. The first two will hit first, but I know that the last will be the hardest. I never quite got homesick in Spain, because I haven’t quite got a home, but the nearest I ever came was during a showing of The Artist (which is ridiculous, because nobody was speaking), when all that I wanted in the world was to heard somebody talking the mother tongue. Even the mild relief of my fellow students won’t be around in Mexico, although I imagine my colleagues on site will be industrious enough to pick up a little English, unlike my monolingual Spanish friends (Raúl Almendroval excepted).

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