Respect Is The Key Word

By Kate Karns


mexico-respectMexico has a great tolerance for odd-balls. In Ajijic there are a few retarded native boys, young men really. They are neither institutionalized nor hidden behind walls. They are given the same respect and gentle acceptance that the Mexican people give all of us.

One lad is an extroverted, hard working bricklayer. Another does a lot of walking. In one day I’ve seen him in both Chapala and Ajijic, about five miles apart. He wears a favorite clothes pin, usually clipped to his ear and an unlighted cigarette hangs from his lips. He is very self-absorbed, but he is accepted. Another sings with savant accuracy, wandering from one performing band to the other. “Pechi” deems it his duty to empty the public waste baskets. “Buenos dias, Pechi,” the local merchants will say and he replies in a very business like voice as he makes his rounds from hotels to the post office, the weaving shops and boutiques.

A serious offense would be to make a defamatory remark. In Mexico, if you have nothing else, you have your honor and that is defended, sometimes, to death. And the old are revered. Thank God!

One old Gringa was recently hospitalized in one of the best hospitals of Guadalajara. She cussed the bumps on the new highway which the ambulance was trying to avoid, she cussed the ambulance, the new Cat Scan machine, so proudly in use as a new purchase by the hospital. She rang bells from her bed like the Swiss Family Robinson. She kicked over bed rails and actually hauled herself upright and saluted shouting, “God Bless America” as the nurse stroked her head and held her (other) hand, all the while soothing her with benevolent “Ya, reinita, ya. Está bien.” Translated, loosely, as “Now, little queen, it’s all right.” Maybe US nurses would duplicate this behavior, but I doubt it.

Most everyone knows about the fifteenth birthday or quince años party a young girl has in Mexico upon reaching that important year in her life, that marks the end of childhood and the beginning of young adulthood. It involves a preliminary thanksgiving mass with the priest asking for special blessing and guidance for the young lady, and is followed by a reception for family and friends.

We recently lent our house and garden for the party that follows the church ceremony. It was to the family of a young friend of my granddaughter who is fourteen. We could then see how it is done in preparation for her own rite-of-passage. Huge cazuelas of chicken mole were made. Grand bowls of fruit salad. Mounds of different kinds of breads and tortillas were on each table and a large specially decorated cake was brought in with pomp. The singing and music carried down the street and it attracted two North American men into the festivities. They were dressed in shorts, perfectly okay for resort wear, but not respectful of the occasion. In true Mexican hospitality, they were welcomed into the throngs of family and friends even though they weren’t invited -weren’t even known. One of the prettily dressed girls offered one of the men a plate of food. When he took it in his hands this is what he said: “I have a condom in my pocket. Wanna get laid?”

The girl didn’t understand English and smiled, assuming he was thanking her. I reached over and took the plate from his paws and dumped it over his lap, burning his “offering.”

“If you want to live,” I seethed, “get up quietly and walk out of here and don’t stop until you reach the border.” If the man had been heard and then shot, the incensed protector of the girl’s honor would have been pardoned. Mi casa es su casa, indeed!

I wish my fellow countrymen would learn how to respect our hosts. If Mexicans respect even the mentally ill, why cannot we learn to respect everything about them?

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