Saturday, June 5, 2010

Living in Mexico: Lord of the Flies

I am reposting this article on the anniversary of the fire set outside our window on June 4, 2007, at 430am. This happened 12 hours after receiving a death threat via a anonymous email from Americans involved in the Gringolandia communities in Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.

Remember reading The Lord of the Flies when you were in high school?

"Lord of the Flies is a thought-provoking novel authored by William Golding in 1954. The book describes in detail the horrific exploits of a band of young children who make a striking transition from civilized to barbaric. Lord of the Flies commands a pessimistic outlook that seems to show that man is inherently tied to society, and without it, we would likely return to savagery."[1]

I've been wracking my small and insignificant brain lately trying to come up with a way of describing the colonies American gringos start in the Mexican towns in which they congregate. Mind you, I am operating under a tremendous bias lately and if I seem a bit hyperbolic, you will have to forgive me. I am thinking that perhaps I've had one too many threats and the fire, my Lord the fire, was what really has set me on edge about the whole thing. Let me say this in case you haven't been following my online columns.

I have been writing almost exclusively about American expat issue since moving to Guanajuato. I've also been writing about expat issues and how the dynamics involved affect the Mexicans in the communities into which Americans settle. I became so interested in this when I began to learn, from Mexicans, that not all is well on the American expatriate -Mexican relationship front. When my Spanish got good enough, the little woman and I headed off to an area where some academics are now beginning to focus their research: San Miguel de Allende. I wrote about the expats and got the typical vitriol one would expect.

However, dealing with the expats there through email never took on a dark and hideous nature. It did in Guanajuato, the city in which my wife and I have lived for more than four years. I began noticing an amazing thing that I've yet to hear anyone write about: How does a local Mexican community regard a gringo presence in their town, in their midst, when their livelihood is dependent upon that gringo tourist and/or expat?

How do the members of a Mexican town react to a gringo presence when their livelihood, their bread and butter, is not contingent on how well they treat the foreigner tourist or expat? An interesting situation to consider, wouldn't you say?

What I noticed in San Miguel de Allende, while they may take the gringo's money, smile, and be polite to them, they are not overtly rude or arrogant toward the gringos. I think if you surveyed the Mexicans, you would find they don't consider the gringo population as their friends, but realize their ability to make a living is dependent upon their treatment of the gringo tourists and expats. And, there are certainly hordes of gringos with which the Mexicans must deal. They may not like it, but it is reality.

The Mexican act accordingly. In the city of Guanajuato, where my wife and I dwell, it is different. The livelihood of the vast majority of the Mexican population is not contingent upon the gringos. Gringo tourists or expats do not make or break Guanajuato. This town has been a traditional Mexican tourist town and not a town often visited by foreigners, at least until the past few years. How the gringos are regarded is different than in towns where the Mexicans' livelihood depends on the foreign presence in the form of tourists or expats.

My mere mortal observations have been that Mexicans in the city of Guanajuato treat the gringo expat in one or more of the following ways: A kind of indifference where they don't even particularly notice you but are not rude or abrasive. An attitude that you are not even there. Some will not respond when you address them in Spanish on the street. They act as though they didn't hear you or look right through you. There are some, and it seems to be getting worse, who are overtly rude. They act like they would love for you to go away so they will never have to see your gringo face again. Some will not wait on you in a store or restaurant unless you become insistent. Now to complicate this, I began noticing, as did my wife, that those Mexicans with whom we would interact socially would tell us they have noticed the same thing-same treatment-toward them.

These have been Mexicans from different regions of Mexico who now, for whatever reason, live in Guanajuato. They are mostly from El Norte, the Northern States. They tell us that the gringos are treated better in those regions. But the amazing thing is that these NorteƱos noticed the same treatment at the hands of these central Mexico Mexicans that we noticed. Is that not something worth writing about? Is that not something newsworthy? In other words, there is a kind of "cultural regionalism" within the different regions of Mexico.

Some, of course not all, Mexicans might even treat their fellow Mexicans from a different region with indifference or even rudeness. We talked to too many Mexicans from the northern states who told us this for it to be a coincidence. I wrote about this and the gringos in Guanajuato have taken exception to this to the point of threatening me with violence.

Emails, messages from some email service called "Will Self Destruct"[2], and at least one (so far) face-to-face encounter on the street where I was told, in so many words, my name was mud and was going to get muddier for writing about these things. I was told I'd better stop. One guy threatened to come to my house, accurately stating where I lived, with a group of men to teach me a lesson. And all for what I've been writing. Though I cannot make this statement with any certainty about all of the Mexican towns in which there exists a Gringo (mostly I am referring to Americans) Expat Community, the one in Guanajuato seem to on the verge of a perfect example of "making a striking transition from civilized to barbaric[3]."

At the very least, they are demonstrating: "a pessimistic outlook that seems to show that man is inherently tied to society, and without it, we would likely return to savagery."[4]

Look, disagree with me, fine! I do not care that everyone agrees with me. All I care is that I try to write a reasonably constructed argument. If I am found lacking, why in God's name will not one of the members of this wild and crazy bunch of Gringos in this town answer me in kind? Is it not better to try and offer a well-constructed, maybe even bordering on logical brilliance, counter argument than to send someone threatening emails that keeps him up at night wondering who wants to harm him and his wife? Maybe not. At least you would think not from how they've responded to my observations.

I mean, really, what a perfect example of showing how man is tied to the restraints of society in which there would be enforceable laws regarding the behavior of some of these gringos here in Guanajuato. What an excellent study this would make for academics to see how and to what these group of mostly Americans return to, morph into, without the constraints of a democracy governed by laws. They are not a bunch committed, it would seem, to a pastoral Jeffersonian democracy.

In Lord of the Flies, there are two characters that stand out to me in my quest to explore expat issues: Ralph and Jack.

Ralph is twelve years old with blond hair, and is the most charismatic of the group. He is described as being built "like a boxer," and is initially chosen as leader due to his many positive qualities. He maintains a conflict with Jack throughout the entire novel, attempting to keep order whereas Jack isn't concerned with it. Ralph and Piggy together represent the struggle for order and democracy.

Jack is about Ralph's age, with a skinnier build and red hair. His freckled face is described as being "ugly without silliness." From the very beginning, he seems to harbor emotions of anger and savagery. At first, he is the leader of his choir group, who become hunters as the book progresses. Finally, his savage personality and ability to tell people what they want to hear allows him to overtake Ralph as chief.[6]

Both of these characters seem to explain the expat community in Guanajuato. Ralph, who represents democracy, seems to know that democratic rule is the only way to keep the order. For this to happen, the maintenance of order, the real Expat, the one truly committed to actual and real expatriation, does whatever it takes to be absorbed into the local Mexican community. He adopts and adapts to the culture through the portal of language.

This is how order is maintained in his life since he no longer lives in America. Jack, who represents all that is savage and anarchistic in man, seems to represent that group of American expats who, through a lack of linguistic ability, cannot possibly hope to maintain any sort of order in their lives, so are afloat upon a sea of anger and savagery. What else would you call the behavior of trying to suppress someone for expressing some simple and unassuming observations about his life in Mexico?

They don't offer a debate inspired by democracy in a marketplace of ideas, but rather, savagery in the form of profane threats and confrontations. And, is not the so-called expat community represented by the "Island" in Lord of the Flies? A microcosm representing the world.[7]That is exactly what the expat communities in Mexico are. They are a microscopic view of America gone amuck-a subculture is created-and anarchy reigns. It is a subculture without any rules.




[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

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