This one’s for the future visitor or the return visitor who had such a good time the first time, they don’t remember being there. “There”, is of course, Mexico, the original homeland of the Aztec, Maya and Olmec along with a host of other Amerindian civilizations all pre-dating Spanish colonialism before the Spanish arrival during the western European expansion period some centuries ago.
The first thing the casual tourist needs to get a grip on is that Mexico is large, big, spacious, if Texas is big, Mexico is gargantuan, nearly three times the size of the State of Texas. We’re not talking some tiny island nation here, some loosely held Banana Republic or some obscure destination hidden from the real world. Mexico is large, almost two million kilometers large and something happening on the Mexico- U.S. border is about as relative to Los Cabos or Cancun as something happening in New York, is to Orlando, Florida.
And, no you aren’t going to drive from Cancun to Cabo San Lucas on vacation, or Puerto Vallarta or to Las Vegas for that matter.
Mexico is also considered part of North America, sometimes arguably defined as “Middle” America but it’s not in Central America and it’s not in South America, and it isn’t an island though its territorial rights include more than a few, among them the Island of Swallows, Cozumel, on the Mexican Caribbean. Mexico also borders the Pacific Ocean in the West and the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea in the East.
And, Mexico, has people, good Lord, it has people, approximately 110 million of them, honest to goodness, mainly hardworking people trying to earn a living, raise families, educate their children and generally make a better life for their children through better schools, government and medicine. The large majority of those people don’t ride burros, wear sombreros, eat Frito’s or wait in box canyons to rob people shouting out ”we don’t need no stinkin’ badges”.
Mexico is a melting pot of a vast array of cultures, modern Mexican cities like Cancun, a city built out of the tropical forest along the Caribbean for tourism, are a sampling of a multi-regional culturalism from all over Mexico with thousands of international citizens thrown in for good measure. It is also a culture with a large segment of Amerindian descendants. The Aztec and Maya didn’t disappear as a people with the Spanish conquest though Spain and other western European nations did their best to drive them to extinction, they live on, populating massive regions of Mexico today. Those cities and pyramids left standing today as monuments to archaeology, and often archaeology and tourism gone wrong, are the remnants of the vast highly developed cultures that preceded today’s Aztec and Maya descendants. In fact it’s estimated that as much as 30% of Mexico’s current day population is almost entirely of Amerindian descent with approximately 90% of the population having some form of their gene pool mixed with the original Amerindian inhabitants.
Mexico has a 1.5 trillion, yes, a trillion dollar economy, so we’re not talking a backwards Banana Republic here relying on the sale of coconuts to tourists to get by. Mexico has a government, a congress, a president, and a court system, it has a constitution and is more properly known in English as the “United Mexican States” in its federal republic. Sound a bit familiar, Mexico has 31 individual states all with similar governmental structures as the overall republic. Mexico is a republican democracy, elects officials to government and maintains a standing army, navy and air force.
Mexico also has religion, predominately Christian, mostly Catholic and most of her citizens speak Spanish with a surprising number quite capable of dual languages, either English, Maya or Nahuatl, or combination thereof. If you think learning a bit of Spanish is tough, try and get a grip on some Maya.
Nope, no banana republic, no island tourism special and no backwards nation waiting for foreign tourists to come to show them the way. No cannibals, no hordes of roaming banditos and no one waiting for modern baubles and beads handed out by tourists to make their lives easier. If you intend to tip for services in Mexico, and tipping is common, similar to the U.S., the hands down bottom line, is tip in the monetary form unless you’re handing out Flat Screens and Laptops.
Now that we’ve been through some basic geography, history and geopolitics, travelers and tourists to Mexico need to realize that your preconception has to be adjusted, in some cases radically when visiting Mexico. Mexico isn’t some slighted backward step sister of a nation, she’s a nation on the move, developing, learning as she goes, an equal partner in the North American scene. Her people are educated, industrious, and devoted to their families and religion. She has modern medical facilities, modern telecommunications, major institutions of learning, modern industry and above all a people every bit as worthy and equal as our own, wherever that may be. Is Mexico perfect, no, like every other nation on the planet there’s problems, problems that the people and her leaders are battling to correct to give the current and next generations a better life.
If any of this has sounded very familiar, it’s not surprising, Mexico and her people are very similar to people all over the world, your neighborhood, your house.
So, folks, long and short of this is, respect the people, respect the culture, and remember you’re a guest in their nation, a welcome guest but a guest nonetheless.
Oh, Mexico, I guess you’ll have to go….
Dangers…with apologies to all the Banana Republic’s out there