I lived in poverty or scraped by barely making it from paycheck to paycheck for most of my adult life. I lost everything multiple times and had to rebuild. For years, my daughter thought we ate rice and beans almost daily because it was part of her cultura. She didn’t know until years later that it was all we could afford. In Seattle, I worked hard to make ends meet. I did ok and was relieved that when the bills came, I could actually pay them. My family’s lifestyle was incredibly modest; all our furniture was second hand as were the majority of our clothes. Our house needed many repairs, but it was home, and I loved it.
As a single mom, I felt extremely fortunate that I was able to buy a house in one of the most expensive cities in the US. Every day, I passed by people struggling with homelessness and living in tent cities. I also knew that if I lost my job and didn’t find another within a few weeks, we could very quickly end up on the streets too. There was no nest egg, wealthy family members, or trust fund to turn to in time of need.
Luckily the housing market in Seattle is absurd, and for once in my life, I was at the right place at the right time. Selling the house gave us options beyond my wildest dreams, and as soon as we crossed into Mexico, our privileged position loudly screamed. After years of struggling just to get by, I gave myself permission to live in luxury for a few months. I cannot begin to describe how uncomfortable I feel living in a gated community above the town where so many people live in poverty.
I feel and am more separated from the poor than ever before. People tell me that my good fortune was because I worked hard. Although I indeed worked my ass off to obtain my Ph.D. –if the real estate market hadn’t exploded, I would have continued to live paycheck to paycheck for the foreseeable future. The pay in my field is not great! It is by chance that I have this opportunity.
Now, I am trying to find my place in this peculiar and uncomfortable position of privilege. Like many of the affluent areas in the US, empty houses surround me. Some of the owners come only for vacation; others not at all. The disparity is mind-boggling. I do not for a moment, believe that I deserve to live in luxury, and others deserve to live in poverty. I understand the structures that created and maintain the disparity in the US, and now I want to understand the systems here. I also want to make sure that I am doing everything possible not to cause further damage.
Although I am painfully aware that I cannot single-handedly solve injustice, I commit to at the very least not cause harm. I am a guest in Mexico, and I want to experience all the beauty and culture it offers. I also want to be of service and am looking to connect where my skills can be the most useful. Unfortunately, many gringos here don’t seem to have the same approach. On online forums and in interactions, I observe the same entitled behavior and racism that I saw north of the border (NOB). Especially in the online forums, there seems to be a general overtone of superiority and an us vs. them mentality. People are continually writing comments about how locals are shortchanging them and trying to scam them. These comments are made with little to no evidence that their assumptions are correct.
I am not saying that bad things can’t happen or that dishonest people don’t exist in MX. I am saying that everything that people worry about happening here definitely occurs in the US too. Gringos also get frantic searching for the same brands as home, like “tide pods” (yes, really!). C’mon on people, you were adventurous enough to move to MX how about trying a different kind of detergent? They also bring with them their harried way of being in the world. Horn honking, huffing and puffing when waiting in line… What is that all about? Most of these folks are retired. Where the hell do they have to be that they can’t stand in line a few extra minutes for dirt cheap organic veggies bought directly from the grower?
In stark contrast, the locals are incredibly kind and welcoming. Everywhere I go, smiles and “Buenos Dias” or “Hola” greet me. I have not once felt unsafe or unwelcome. As an educator that works mostly with youth, I am blown away every time a teen looks me in the eye, smiles, and says “Buenos Tardes” as they walk past. That certainly wasn’t the teen behavior I saw in Seattle; friendly teenagers that WANT to talk to adults? Wow! And the children… they are often eager to try out any English words they know. Their smiles melt my heart. The vendors at the markets we frequent are also incredible. Today, we even got hugs and kisses from our favorite baker!
These delightful interactions make getting our groceries fun instead of being another chore on the to-do list. Even when I visit communities that people from NOB don’t often frequent, and I struggle to try to speak Spanish, people always respond with patience and kindness. Never once has anyone said, “SPEAK SPANISH, you are in Mexico” or shouted at me to go back where I came from. What if in the US “foreigners” were welcomed the way my family has been here? I think the people of Mexico have a lot to teach those of us from NOB.
I look forward to learning all I can during my time here.
Originally published at https://robinharwick.com.