Living in a small town in Mexico is quite odd. At times it is very tranquil, with just the birds chirping in the trees while the sun sets over the neighboring mountains. At other times, tractors and trucks are constantly passing, the roosters outside my window refuse to cease claiming their territory, and the gas, water, and tortilla salesman slowly prowl each street with their horns blaring (the tortilla ones aren’t so bad, they’re on motorcycles). The distinction between these two is quite sharp. Another interesting contrast is much more pervasive, and difficult to wrap my mind around. Particularly in pueblos (small towns) in Mexico, the family serves as the main social unit. We have all heard that Mexicans place more value in family, that their families are strong, but what does that all mean?
From what I have been able to tell, Mexicans spend A LOT more time with their families, in the sense that they do not have “friends” as we would signify them. They have neighbors and the people they hang out with on weekends, but the home is almost strictly reserved for the family. A non-family member visiting the house is a somewhat rare event, other than neighbors chatting about news in the doorway for a few minutes. The divide between our method of socializing, which I would consider to be through our interests1, whereas the culture here really spends the majority of it’s time with family, meaning siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, the whole clan. Generally, that tends to make the family much closer and even a little insular, which has made socializing difficult here.
There is, however, a dark side of this. Again, this is from my experiences so far and very limited point of view, that Mexicans don’t ‘get out’ much. Yes, they party, go the soccer game, go fishing, and go to work, but in the end, they probably spend a good amount of their time watching T.V. Mexicans don’t bowl alone, but they do only bowl with their family2. There is a strange privacy to the family, one that doesn’t allow other people3 It seems to have created a very cliquish family sphere, to the detriment of the overall community of the area. It is very difficult to be involved in any activity without having an in through a family member of someone already involved. For example I got onto the soccer team I am playing on because one of my coworkers brothers is married to a cousin of the coach, not even a joke. It’s just the way things work here. Also, it means the absence of the “normal” social groups that we as Americans are used to (see footnote 1). I can’t join a car club that doesn’t exist outside certain street, a rodeo run by cousins, or a reading club within a family4, without first having an ‘in’ to the primary group. The most difficult part, for me as an American, is that these groups are not advertised in any way that I know how to interpret. They are spread by word of mouth and “general knowledge” that that group of people does this activity.
In my opinion, this does not point out the insularity of the Mexicans, but a loss of community knowledge in Americans. We rely so heavily on other people telling us explicitly what there is to do (T.V. commercials, newsletters, radio advertisements, email listings, etc.) that we no longer have the ability to know our community. You might even be able to argue this is because we no longer have community in this way, that we have individualized community to such a degree that this type of knowledge is no longer even available.
Well, back to searching and asking for activities to do. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and will have a great Christmas! There was an earthquake here yesterday in the evening, 6.45 on the Richter scale. The motion was more up and down than shaking, so no major structural damage, but there were three deaths near the epicenter. It originated in the state of Guerrero, and lasted for less than a minute. The main worry is that because it felt so strong, it would be a repeat of the 1985 earthquake that leveled Mexico City, so there is a feeling of relief right now.
1For example, an American makes friends who share his/her hobbies, such as cars, painting, music, working, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, etc. Even the way we make our friends is highly individualized in the States!
2 Except of course for the women, who work almost all day cleaning, cooking, washing, repairing, and generally fulfilling every 1950s era fantasy of the housewife. And many of them also have work! It is a thankless and unrelenting job, as they get no breaks from it, not even for holidays. This, of course, goes for women all over the world.