The "Two Wolves" of Mexico
Photo Credit: First People*
When I was first considering moving to Mexico, two opposing ways of thinking co-existed in my brain. On one side of my brain were the biases of a person who had never experienced Mexico for more than an occasional incursion in pursuit of lobster shacks and a sense of greater freedom. Otherwise, Mexico was a land full of illegal or at least suspicious activity, roadside trash, and half-constructed buildings.
Strangely, the closer I got to moving there, the more susceptible that side of my brain was to even worse impressions, which one might expect when 50% of Netflix movies on Mexico seem to be about El Chapo or drug trafficking.
There is an old Cherokee parable, I am sure you have heard it, about the boy who feels like he has a struggle within him, one that feels like two wolves fighting, one evil and one good. The boy asks his grandfather which wolf was going to win. The grandfather tells him simply, “The one you feed.”
The evil wolf of Mexico gets plenty of food. Major outlets and even some minor ones claim they are just reporting the facts about Mexico. But the business of “reporting” has increasingly come to be that of stirring up our emotions. Delicious fare for the malevolent wolf, the side of the brain morbidly entertained by another country’s problems.
The positive aspects of Mexico do not make for such entertaining stories. In truth, those things that people who know Mexico love about the country are hard to verbalize well. Strengths and insightful comparisons get boiled down into a bland mush of platitudes about “great weather,” and “vibrant culture,” certainly nothing nearly as rich as a good narco story.
Every country, including the U.S. of course, has two wolves within it.
America’s wolves are every bit as vicious as Mexico’s are. We live in an age of massive inequality in our country. We live in a country so wealthy and yet so uncivilized as to seek to shred every social contract tax-paying citizens, humans even, should have a right to expect.
Fifty-year-olds in the U.S. are still paying off college debt. Pharmaceutical companies are charging over $500 for insulin pens for medicines that have been around for decades. Seniors have to worry about a ruling class that thinks nothing of forcing the elderly into ever more demeaning jobs regardless of how many wars they have fought and what social contributions they have made. Even working full-time, some Americans have to choose between food, rent, healthcare, and transportation to work.
In America, we live in a society where we are less and less willing to take care of one another, where selfishness has evolved to the point of obscenity. By my way of thinking, these characteristics have nurtured the wolf we should be most afraid of.
Mexico has its own set of problems as well as strengths. I have learned over time to live with the two wolves of Mexico just like I live with the two wolves of American life; the one characterized by are unchecked capitalism, racism and the need for too many guns, and the benevolent wolf, the one whose traits display American optimism, diversity, and boldness.
My two-country lifestyle would not be feasible without America’s penchant for innovation. Much of the wear and tear of living in two countries has been stripped away by American ingenuity and its preoccupation with convenience.
With a click of a mouse, every six months or so, a full-service storage company (Closet Box) takes away or delivers my personal belongings to my apartment in Denver. Car sharing service companies (Uber, Lyft and others), and secure online banking, if not actually required to make expat life possible, have certainly made it much more enjoyable and care-free.
I can order reasonably-priced meals from a meal subscription service any time I am in transition between countries and don’t feel like cooking. I can check when my health checkups are due and schedule appointments from Mexico on online portals. Having given up a car in the U.S. in light of my expat life, anything I need right down to a $16 set of steak knives can be ordered from Amazon when I am at home. I can stream Netflix movies from either country. Ironically, American innovation enables me to conveniently and happily live somewhere else.
Of course, there are intrinsic qualities beyond its knack for invention that characterize America’s good wolf too. It’s just that in our current environment, it is hard to remember what they are (other than maybe a good sense of humor).
People with an interest in feeding Mexico’s “good wolf” should have conversations and read more detailed accounts by those who live in Mexico, or at least have traveled there considerably. Those people I know who love Mexico as much as I do are those who have exposure to the country’s people, either through Mexicans they have worked with or Mexican friends or family members. They have spent enough time in the country to know both its wolves. The ones that know Mexico well are not apologists. They understand Mexico’s challenges as well as we do ours.
Maintaining all these wolves takes effort. While many are satisfied to feed theirs table scraps, we should consciously monitor the diets of all of them, the bad and the good. I do not get my American news from Facebook, nor my Mexican news from Fox Television. In a world of too-much-information, our challenge is not finding it, but rather appropriately curating it.
So here I am with this pack of wolves where before I only had my two. Is that a problem?
Psychologists say that it helps us when we learn to accept dualities. Accepting and accommodating conflicting ideas is a hallmark of emotional growth. Many people make the mistake of thinking they have to reject one idea to allow another. Accepting duality allows us to see both sides of the coin, without labeling either side. I remember having read some time ago that the hallmark of genius is being able to hold opposites together and transcend duality.
Perhaps that is why so many expats have commented that they believe they have grown by living in a foreign country. People who live in countries foreign to them often believe that the experience has helped them learn how to live with more ambivalence, and how to accommodate opposing viewpoints more comfortably.
Most expats have had to abandon some of their more rigid opinions about each country in order to thrive in a different culture. Challenging long-held beliefs is hard, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. It well may be that the more wolves you train skillfully, the stronger you become.
* First People (Firstpeople.us) is a wonderful educational website about native Americans and members of the First Nation. Its site has Native American legends, quotes, poems, prayers and items for purchase. Check it out!
It’s not only about the information we consume. It’s also about recognizing our existing biases for what they are. I even had some of them myself when considering moving to Mexico. - Ventanas Mexico
Eight myths about moving to Mexico - Ventanas Mexico
Most recent: House-sitting can be a great way to experience the part of Mexico you want to move to before commiting.
Coming up: How machista is Mexico and how much will it affect you as an expat?
About the author:
Kerry Baker is the author of two books. The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online is a curation of the best free language tools on the web, curated by skill being developed and organized into lesson plans. Many are sites and tools that you will never find on a Google search. Boredom with the same tool is a big reason people give up. These tools will help you form a new lesson plan every day.
If Only I Had a Place is a guide to renting. Renting is not the same in Mexico as the U.S. You have advantages and disadvantages in Mexico that you will never learn from a realtor. Read about how to do it in context of creating your best life in Mexico.