It’s always interesting to me to compare what is happening at home to what is happening here. Just as much chaos, as much fire in the streets, but still so different. I’ve been able to piece together some of what has been happening in Baltimore, and I can’t say I blame people for the direction they took. With the conflict between the police and every minority group, the level of arrests, murder, violence, and everything else I can see where the anger comes from. One thing I will never get used to is realizing how far away the conflict always seems.
One of the things about being a white male is that you almost never see it firsthand. I have never had problems with the police, even here in Mexico. Never. They are always polite, or direct, and I avoid conflict with them. It’s hard for me to imagine the difference if all that was changed was my color.
My brother once talked about a conversation he had in Ohio. It was an ordinary conversation, but it suddenly took a turn when the other guy decided to add “I hate n******,” to the conversation. My brother’s question was, “So if I was black, and we were having this exact same conversation, you would hate me?” I know it’s what they call white privilege when you find it just as offensive that they hate black people as they only like you because you’re not.
I’ve dated a black girl, the Dancer, and I started to learn about the little things that are kind of racist. Nothing big, nothing expected, just those little things that you take for granted, like when the Diplomat was surprised that they even see mayo without lime in it in the US. They are always just little things, but I wonder how those things expand, especially in a place where most of the minorities are also lower class.
In San Diego, I got used to being around “minorities.” I use quotes because the truth is most of my life there were more Hispanics around than white people. Technically they still count as minorities because the word refers to the power of a group rather than the size, but I never knew that then. In San Diego, many cops are Hispanic, and almost all of them speak Spanish, well, they probably require it now. But then we look to Baltimore where the minority is small, poor, and has a high crime rate.
I often heard that the problem with police is that they deal with the worst 20% of people 80% of the time, so they start to believe that 80% of the people are criminals. They lose perspective, and things get worse. I saw that the ACLU has an app so that you can record and instantly stream video to them in case of an incident with the police. It makes sure that everything is captured forever and cannot be tampered with, even by destroying the phone. I keep thinking of Orwell and the book 1984, where people feared being watched all the time. Now we go out of our way to be sure we are, first by social media, now out of fear of big brother. I wonder how he would have seen the irony.
The statistics can be found showing that show this has been going on for a long time, higher arrest rates for minorities, higher poverty rates, more severe punishments, but now that we can put everything on video, we have to start looking in the mirror of reality. America believes itself to be good, just, above the crime, racism, misery, and pain suffered in the rest of the world. We are Don Quixote, fighting windmills and dragons.
I love the story of the Man of La Mancha, a man made great by his madness, showing others that the world does not have to be what it seems, only what we want it to be. The truth of the story is that all he did is speed up his own demise, and he only really changed one life. A man changing another’s life for the better is a great thing, but a nation is far too complicated for that to be considered success.
We attack our own, rich against poor, police against minorities, race, religion, ideals, anything we can hold to we use to challenge others, simply because they disagree. We lose the ability to disagree, and more importantly, to lose with grace.
If I enter an argument, I don’t have to be right, or wrong, I just have to be able to think, to understand, and to accept that I may be wrong. It’s easy for me because I always treated words as a sparring match, a fight with no real winner. I am just happy to fight, so I take the opposing side only to see where the fight goes. This was one of the last deep discussions I had with my sister, that she hates arguing with me and my mother for the same reason, we’re both devil’s advocates. The only time I ever wished I wasn’t that way was in Spanish class. It makes it difficult to learn the rules of a language when you spend your life focusing on the exceptions.
So, we come back to the question, who are we really? In some ways I understand people wanting their privacy, wanting to not be on camera, their actions put online forever, but with the way things are going, I’m glad it’s possible. We have a mirror now, a glimpse into who we really are, and it’s getting harder to look away. In Mexico, they have some of the technology that we have back home, but the infrastructure doesn’t exist to make it work as well. The wifi never really works well, and the cell network is sketchy at best.
In the States, people are rioting and burning buildings because of what has been done to them as a people, sparked by the death of a few people. This weekend, Guadalajara was locked down, not by the government but by citizens. The story I heard is that the drug traffickers lost one of their leaders, and so they took buses and trucks, block the freeways, and set them on fire. There were a dozen or so around the city, well coordinated, well placed disruptions, and a few attacks on government buildings.
The thing is, they waited until a national holiday, a day when no one was a work. They are trying to make themselves the enemy of the government, not the people. It’s said they’re trying to be like Robin Hood, violence to empower the people. The government here is not helping prove them wrong either. Endless stories of bribery and robbery so pervasive that some parts of Mexico only allow police women to give citations now. Apparently they’re more honest than the men. Mass executions and disappearances have been tied back to the government, corruption so widespread that everyone has a story about it. There are always people trying to fight back, from within the system and outside, but there is too much money for criminals to give up easily.
I wonder what they would do with the mirror we have been given. I wonder if the people here would rise up against the system like is happening back home in Baltimore, Fergerson, and so many other places. One of my students told me that Mexico “has the government it deserves.” That everyone knows about what is going on, but no one is organizing to fix the problems.
Again we get back to the benefit of being a white male, even in Mexico. I get the added bonus here of being an American, something that allows you to teach English regardless of how good or bad you are at it. Even with all the fires, all the conflict, all the issues, all I’ve seen is ordinary life, and all I hear is stories. It’s like when you’re a child and you hear about the monsters in the dark. Even now there is something surreal about the violence, like I expect it to fade and disappear. It doesn’t help when I work at an American company where life continues with clean water and air conditioning, keeping us safe from the outside world.
I have often told my students that we wouldn’t allow the problems that Mexico has, that the corruption and death rate wouldn’t be tolerated. That’s true, to an extent. A few deaths and people riot in America. It takes dozens for the same reaction in Mexico. It also had to be students, not just anyone. Narcos die everyday, in mass, and are left for people to find, but students are something different. But in the States, we have had a series of mass killings in our schools, deaths of students, often still children, and we argue more than we act. What does it take for people to act, for people to see what is going on?
What can change the nature of a man? An old question, from a video game, but a question I have never forgotten. I once thought it was mostly choice, something we will. Sometimes now I think it’s experience, travel, time, but I’m not really sure. Some people are changed by everything, some people are changed by nothing. Is our nation any different now than it has been for the last century? Have we changed? Everything moves faster, people can connect to anyone from anywhere, but has anything really changed, or is it only the scenery on the road?
I left the States to start to see the world, but in a lot of ways I chose the wrong place. I chose a place to start that’s safe, comfortable, reliable. Part of it is because I had to, to get my degree I need to have wifi and a place I can start teaching, but is this place really any different from home?
The question for me has become one of who I am. I have been safe for so long that it comes easy, that danger is always somewhere else, someone else’s problem, a story of monsters in the dark. I know many teachers here have been robbed, some of them attacked, but with my size and training, that becomes very unlikely, if only because there are easier targets. But, if I want to see what life really is, how can I continue to stay safe, even when it comes so easy?
That is the worst part, to want to find the darkness. I know so many people would kill to have what I have been given. I know it’s stupid to abandon the life of comfort to seek pain, to find the problems in life. I know it would be best to end my adventure in Mexico and go home, live a life of plenty, find the marriage, kids, old age, and death that most people have. Solve the little problems which seem so big, making a life and raising children, but I don’t know that I would ever be happy.
I remember my mom telling me that if I stayed in San Diego some part of me would die, lost to the life of comfort. I know that’s true, but what part of me will die out here? What do I sacrifice to live in a darker world, to see the pain that people live in? I don’t know, and that always scares me. Every time I have changed, I have had to sacrifice something, usually something I didn’t need anymore, or something that would only cause pain. Pride, my foundation, guilt, fear, passion, love, comfort, friends, family,and so much more. When you’re broken, you can only rebuild once you strip out the broken parts. The problem is, every broken part takes it’s pound of flesh. Nothing I have relied on in my life has ever been easy to give up, and every time I think I might be done I find more to change.
This is always the problem for me, who do I become? To change the world you must start by changing yourself, to be someone strong enough to endure the pain of change. That’s the ideal, the final goal, but when the fires start and people begin screaming I realize I haven’t even begun to be tested yet. There are miles to go before I rest, and I can’t keep taking the road I’ve been on.