Welcome to Mexico!

By Victoria Schmidt

The Help
(Re-Published by Request)

the help


A few years ago, a friend loaned me a book written by Kathryn Stockett, entitled The Help. Later this story was made into a movie. The story is set in Mississippi in the 1960’s and, as the title suggests, it is about the “colored” maids working in the homes of “white” employers. What did it feel like raising the children of white people? Cleaning their homes? Acting as if they were invisible? In the book, one of the community organizations is pushing for an initiative for the employers to install a separate bathroom for the help to use while working in the home. Remember, that this is the Deep South in the 60’s. “Separate but equal,” the leader of the initiative snidely chants as she glances sideways at the maid.

As I read this book, I was uncomfortable with the racism, and uncomfortable with our history. I grew up blissfully ignorant of this type of overt racism, having lived in a town where the only other race I encountered was one family from Asia. 

While watching the movie, I was appalled at how people were talking about the maids as if they weren’t even there. As if they couldn’t see, hear, and feel.

Days later, I sat at a restaurant in Ajijic discussing this with a friend of mine, but into our conversation, I began to pay attention to a conversation I could hear at another table. A woman was discussing her Mexican maid with her friend. As the Mexican staff waited her table, cooked her food, and could see and hear every word she said, she berated her maid, her work, and accused her of stealing from them. Now, this may have all been true. But she was doing what was done in the 60’s. She was blind to the fact that the Mexicans could see their body language and hear what these women were talking about.

I began to take notice wherever I went. At a restaurant in Chapala, during happy hour, I heard loud discussions of the expats and their thoughts about their Mexican staff, and even comments about the staff at that restaurant, discussing the “help” as if they were invisible.  I saw this behavior as a sad statement of how some of us see ourselves. 

I’ve heard people say, “You can never trust a Mexican.” I even had feedback from one of my columns when I said the only time we had anything stolen here in Mexico was by an American. A reader challenged me, even sounded insulted that I said it was an American.  But it was the truth.  Caught him red-handed.  But what I marveled at was this reader seemed to live in a world where Americans can do no wrong.

My experience in Mexico has been that the people here are very respectful and polite.  And while I am sure they have occasion to speak about the way some of the expats act, for the most part I have seen them keep it to themselves in public.

Shoes can be placed on the other foot.  Once, on Day of the Dead, friends of ours were with us while we were walking through the displays of alters in Chapala.  A group of teenage boys taunted me in Spanish… assuming I didn’t know their language.  I turned, shook my finger and said “Yo hablo Español!” And having been caught, in unison, they hung their heads in shame.

Just remember, though the indigenous population at Lakeside may not speak fluent English, but they know enough to understand.


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#2 Gabrielle Blair 2017-08-25 02:48
It is strange, but true, that many of us fortunate enough to be living our retirement in Mexico, and who are blessed with enough money to be able to afford the help of the local people, indulge ourselves in feelings of superiority. We should listen to ourselves as we speak about the Mexicans, hold up the mirror and take a good look at the person who is so ready to cast aspersions on the Mexicans, our hosts, who have graciously accepted us into their community. If we were able to really imagine being on the receiving end of our ungrateful, self-serving manners, observe what we do and hear what we say, we might shame ourselves into a bit of humility. It would seem that economic wealth, for some, encourages ingratitude and a desire to denigrate those with less. The master/slave relationship comes to mind.
#1 Linda 2017-08-10 23:25
Hello Mrs. Schmidt
I really enjoyed your article "the help". You focus on the issues that happen even though we're in Mexico how the gringos treat the help. It's not fair that I a Mexican American born in California and raised as a migrant child to parents originating from Jocotepec Jalisco and my whole life lived 6 months in Joco and six months in California see how they treat them.. I do in some cases get into arguments with some but not all because most gringo residents are very good to us.. but yet others think there still in America.. I know there what they call "closet Trump supporters", they feel there better than Mexicans but yet decide to live in our rich culture because it's a better way to retire and the money goes a longer way than in the USA. But it gives them no right to treat Mexicans or anyone in a shameful way. Not saying that we don't have bad apples in our group, we do just like any other race does.. but for the most part we are hard working honest people that welcome Americans, unfortunately they bring jobs and stability to our economy but it gives them no right to treat my fellow Mexicans that way.. I also agree that the young adults should always respect there elders and be carefull not to speak bad about others, but just like you caught them speaking things about you,should we not say something when Mexicans catch gringos whispering bad things about us?
Thank you.

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