Tuesday, June 25, 2024

What about Mexico were you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I know, I know. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Mexico. It has a more than problematic (not to mention preposterous) history. Still, it’s a holiday I love for many reasons.

First, the food is delicious: sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole … everything’s a casserole! And man, do I love casseroles. And I’m all about the sides and happy to let a pollo rostizado stand in for the turkey.

Second, my daughter was born on Thanksgiving! This year, her birthday didn’t fall on it, and I’ve had quite the time, in equal parts exasperating and adorable, trying to make her understand why Thanksgiving day was not her birthday this year.

Third, I just love the fall and therefore any holidays that fall within it: it’s sunny days but with a cool breeze;  it’s hot chocolate-and-sweater weather, but my house isn’t an icebox yet.

I also see the day after Thanksgiving as the official beginning of the Christmas season, and as those of you who read me regularly know, there are few things I enjoy doing more than decorating.

Last but not least, I just think it’s lovely to set aside a day especially for reflecting on how grateful we are for all the people and circumstances and stuff we have.

So, in that spirit, I’m dedicating today’s column to what I’m most thankful for as an immigrant here in Mexico:

Lovely, generous people. People are just so nice here. And that’s good, because I have very little patience for meanies. A culture of politeness, of hospitality, and of service is, I think, what attracts a lot of people to Mexico, and those friendly formalities give the culture a kind of structure that I naturally long for. Even a spiky-haired kid with 20 piercings in his face will say “buenas tardes” back if offered the greeting. People here are friendly and accommodating as a matter of course, and even if I’ve had a no-good, bad, awful day, sometimes just a short, friendly exchange with a stranger can make things better.

You have to talk to people. Mexico is not (yet, anyway) at the point at which you can go about your business without having to face anyone. To get stuff done, you’ve just got to get out there, in many cases as if the internet didn’t even exist. For a naturally shy person like I used to be, it’s both scary and thrilling. It’s also a great chance to practice your language skills.

Luckily, it’s about as inversely painless as the incredibly painful experience of learning a new language can be: even if you totally butcher whatever you’re trying to say, most will try their best to understand and then compliment you on your sentence that made you sound like a half-asleep two-year-old. Is there any better way to practice?

The fact that kids are included in everything. Karmically, I 100% do not deserve the Mexican culture’s generosity with and acceptance of children. Before I had a child myself, I was one of those grouches that huffed on planes when babies would start crying and scowled when children were running around and making noise at mostly adult events.

Now that I have a child myself, I marvel at how I never got socked in the face for making my crappy attitude obvious. Here, kids are part of life and are pretty much accepted and expected everywhere: at parties, in restaurants, in public spaces. Adults are generally very generous with them, even when they’re behaving like monsters, and that’s something I very much appreciate now that I have a little chaneque (sprite-like beings from Mexica folklore) that comes around everywhere with me.

A lot of adults have been vaccinated, and even though cases are extremely low, people are still doing their best to protect themselves and others. I wrote about this specifically last week and got a number of emails predictably calling me a naïve tool at best and a promoter of dangerous levels of state control at worst. But none of those can get me down — I’m just so proud of where we are right now!

The best food, like, ever. It’s not just traditional Mexican food that’s good. I love tamales and mole as much as the next person, but have y’all tried Mexican xi? I mean, there’s cream cheese in it, people.

Mestizo is a word people sometimes use to describe themselves here, but I like to think of it as a cultural feature: a kind of flexible ability to take what’s good from other places and create something new and wonderful over and over again.

The fact that you don’t need a car. Taxis, buses, the Metro (if you live in Mexico City): not owning a vehicle is not a sentence for house arrest the way it is where I’m from. Most places in Mexico are incredibly walkable as well, so if you’re like me and frequently get cabin fever, just taking a stroll around town is enough to get yourself a whole new perspective.

Healthcare is still relatively affordable, and there’s a public system. I don’t know how long this will last, but I hope it continues. I can get immediate medical care from specialists for around US $40. I have my doctors’ cell phone numbers and can usually get in to see them within a day or so. Pet care is also quite inexpensive compared to the United States, which means that taking care of all of the mammals in one’s home doesn’t usually represent the level of stress that it does in other places.

Art and artesanías. I love to decorate, which also means I love to shop. The vibrant colors and the variety of tastes and techniques means that pretty much everyone will find something they like to beautify either themselves or their environment. In a time of globalization of just about everything, it’s nice to find nongeneric pieces made by a person who lives down the road. Live music is plentiful and easy to come by, and art festivals and permanent artisans’ markets abound!

A relaxed way of life. It’s not just that people don’t worry as much about punctuality (though that’s part of it): people are just less worried about ticking a certain number of things off the list in a certain amount of time, and generous with their assumptions about others’ manners when it comes to time. Somewhat of a list-ticker myself, I’ve definitely learned to chill out here.

A just-the-right-size expat community. As I’ve written about previously, sometimes you just need to hang out with other outsiders to feel both at home and understood. Having a mix of both local and foreign friends down here has given my life a richness that I don’t think I’d have otherwise had.

So color me grateful, Mexico. You’re awesome.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com and her Patreon page.

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