It's not yet my first full day in Guanajuato, a small provincial city in Mexico, but I've already had a lengthy conversation about violence and drugs, which pervade the society and spill across the border. What else is there to talk about here? Mexican writers and Mexican food, but drugs and violence are near the top of the list of topics for gringos to explore while they sip their morning coffee in the warm sun. I've been here before. I might be here again. It feels good to get outside the porous borders of the USA. In Guanajuato I don't see any of the bumper stickers I saw in Florida during the week I was there as a tourist. No "Make America Great Again" and no "Santos: He Won't Back Down." My host has lived in Mexico for two decades. I don't think he'll return to Northern California where he worked as a teacher. His dollars go further here than they would in El Norte. The ratio of dollars to pesos brings North Americans here in droves.
This morning while strolling near the center of the city it was easy to pick out the gringos from the locals. There's something about the way gringos walk and the way they move their bodies along with their inimical facial expressions. I'm not sure I could describe what I saw. Maybe it has something to do with entitlement. North Americans look like they are entitled to everything. They assume entitlement is their birthright. Not all of them, but many of them and especially when they're in Mexico and if they're middle class tourists.
My walking companion was a fellow who wouldn't call himself a tourist, not even if he was paid in dollars. He's been here so often that he knows his way around the narrow streets that are packed with pedestrians and shoppers. We sipped coffee and talked and watched mothers who gathered across the street and waited for their children to be dismissed from school for the day. It might have been in San Francisco where I have seen similar sights.
My walking companion and I talked about colonialism, economic and cultural, in Mexico, and wondered if the country had been thoroughly colonized or not. Coca Cola signs are ubiquitous, along with other brand names from El Norte, but Mexico also seems to be a place that absorbs all kinds of cultures from around the world and integrates them. Like the Virgin of Guadalupe, who has dark skin and looks like she might be an Indian. If you want to conquer a place it helps to take on some of the identity of the indigenous without being swallowed by them. Bakers here make croissants that look and taste like croissants from Paris, but sometimes they're called "cuernos" (horns).
I did not see any images of the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador,known as AMLO. In Morocco I saw photos of the king and in India photos of Modi, the prime minister. There's a spirit of independence here. Guanajuato is one of the freest and most labyrinth-like municipalities in all Mexico. Octavio Paz titled his book about Mexico, The Labyrinth of Solitude. One could easily get lost in Guanajuato. Nothing here is on a grid. Labyrinth-like tunnels borrow under the surface of the city and vehicles travel on underground passageways carved out centuries ago by the Spanish to plunder the rich veins of silver.
In the Mercado, the giant marketplace, my companion sat and ate a carnitas bolillo, which was prepared right in front of him. At a stand nearby I bought several different kinds of cheeses and a packet of tortillas, and at yet another stand a handful of bananas. I won't starve here. And I won't forget that Porfirio Díaz, the Mexican president/dictator, was fond of saying that "Poor Mexico was so far from God and so close to the USA." It was true when he said it more than one hundred years ago and it's true today, as true as any other grandiose statement.
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