A Journey Of Change
By Ana Rasgo
This is my journey of change. When I first came to Mexico, I had not yet become a world citizen. My world revolved around a U.S. lifestyle and language. I had traveled before moving to Mexico, but I still saw everything according to my heritage.
Since living in Mexico, I have learned local culture and customs, and I embrace the people and local ways of life. This change did not happen overnight. It has been a work of the last eight years.
But it only took a short time living in Mexico to realize my gringa ways were not sustainable. I am not pointing to the foods I ate or where I lived. I have learned emotional qualities are much more important than superficial physical needs.
The first change I had to make in my life was being surprised when someone did not speak English. In my early years here in Mexico, there were times I became frustrated that I could not communicate my needs. I wondered aloud why no one speaks English. (We lived in small villages back then.) Often, that frustration portrayed disapproval towards my Mexican companions even if not intended.
I learned to point to the object. Como se llama became an important phrase. What is it called? You see when I first came to Mexico with my husband; we didn’t know a lick of Spanish. The funny part, we drove from Texas to Chiapas without being able to read traffic signs or ask for, well, anything.
Our five- hour detour through Mexico City taught us how lucky we were to make it to our destination. Back then we did not have GPS or a cell phone.
The one saving grace we had during that trip was our willingness to gesture with a smile. By showing friendliness, many Mexicans tried to help us along the way despite the language barrier.
When we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, a friendly taxi driver came to our rescue. We had caught a ride in his cab and he watched us in the backseat try to decipher a guide to Mexico. We needed to figure out how much a taxi should cost. The amusement in his eyes was unmistakable. Then he spoke to us, in fluent English. He had lived in the US for many years and returned to Mexico to be home with his family.
He showed us how to pay for a taxi, how to ask for change, and explained that every taxi ride cost the same in San Cristobal regardless where you needed to go in town. They had a fixed rate. It is not the same in other towns and regions so don’t let local cabbies cheat us.
He explained we should never carry large bills in the taxis. Always use coins or 20 peso bills. Larger bills may entice cabbies to keep the change. He told us to not use big bills at the stores too. Try to stick with small change. If you show wealth less than honorable vendors in the large markets will charge more for their goods. Over the years I have still found this to be true. It is always better to stick with small change.
The kindness of this taxi driver still resonates with me today. He was an honest man trying to help foreigners. While it was obvious we did not speak Spanish in the worse way, he valued our attempts. It has been the same with others we have met over the years.
I have experimented with not trying to speak Spanish. I have found as long as I try to speak the language, Mexicans are friendly and helpful. Older Mexicans look at me in confusion as I hack a word into many unintelligible syllables. But most embrace I have tried and my favorite phrase, Como se llama, always helps.
By trying friendliness and rudimentary pronunciation of the language, I have made many friends. One young couple came to our place daily to teach us words. The wife while holding my first son, then only a year old, pointed to objects and repeating the name until we got it. Her daughters loved watching us mangle words and found our attempts as amusing as their youngest sister’s, then only three years old herself.
The point is we made friends. As we gave up our American-centered ways of thinking and tried to learn the language and culture, we were embraced. Being embraced by the locals in Mexico, or any country, is a unique experience that I recommend to every gringo and gringa.
Ed. Note: The title of this article now becomes the title of a brand-new column. Welcome, Ana!