Thursday, July 10, 2008

... not like the others

Juan Alvarez chuckled. I told him about a fight that broke out on a Mexico message board over the term "real Mexico." At first, he thought someone had advocated the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. When he realized I meant "real" in English, not "real" in Spanish, he laughed again. "It wouldn't surprise me if there were some Mexican monarchists still hanging around. We seem to grow people who simply like fighting with one another."

Juan is a sage. He has one foot in Mexico and one foot in the States. As a result, he sees things that I would easily miss. But this "real" Mexico business really bothered him.

"We have a history of division. It seems every time we are about to get ahead, we start shooting at one another. What is the first thing we did when we got rid of the Spanish King? We created one of our own. Then we started shooting one another all over again. We finally got rid of a dictator and what do we do? We hire an Austrian to be emperor -- just like California today -- eh?

"It has been one set of angry men shooting at one another. Then we solve that by setting up a one-party state than ran almost as long as the Soviet version. The worst part is that when we started shooting at one another, you Americans, French, and Brits were all too happy to help yourselves to what we left on the dinner table."

Juan is usually not this introspective. When I asked him what the trouble was, he responded: "This darn drug war. To me, it looks like the same thing all over again. Some people think Pancho Villa was a hero. He was a thug. Just like these drug lords. We are going to end up drawing a line and choosing sides. And more of my Mexican brothers are going to die."

His reading of history may be a bit pessimistic, but you can see Mexico's divisions in its flags -- just as easily as you can see the American rift in the Confederate flag.

Three flags begin this blog. All three were republics that seceded from Mexico during the 1840s, and mainly for the same reason. The dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna suspended the Mexican constitution, disbanded Congress, and centralized power around himself.

That was more than Texas, some of the northeastern states, and Yucatan could stomach. They each formed republics: Republic of Texas, Republic of the Rio Grande, and Republic of Yucatan.

We all know what happened to Texas. They succeeded in seceding and eventually joined the United States -- just in time to get embroiled in the civil war.

Santa Ana had better luck in militarily defeating the Republic of the Rio Grande. Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas were reincorporated into Mexico.

The Republic of Yucatan had greater military success, but it could not withstand the economic loss that accompanied independence. It came home honorably and made a good political deal with Mexico City.

To this day, you can see an occasional Republic of Yucatan flag -- probably flown by the same type of guy who flies the Stars and Bars. But there is no doubt that the people in each region of Mexico see themselves as being a bit different that their brothers in other regions.

And that is not surprising. Ask people in Colorado what they think of Californians or what people in New Hampshire think of their Massachusetts neighbors. Then there is Québec and Ontario -- or France and Brittany (the region, not the singer). That does not make one region more real than the other.

Is Juan correct? Are the drug wars just another practical joke History is playing on Mexicans?

I hope not. Mexico is on the verge of overcoming several very bad episodes in its past. I am putting my money on the country developing into a mature liberal democracy based on a free market system. If that happens, you can stuff your Republic of the Rio Grande flag in the back of your closet.


islagringo said...

Once again, I have been educated about the country I live in. I have never seen that Yucatan flag flying anywhere though.

jennifer rose said...

Juan Alvarez is making a good point, even though the ex-president has been in his grave for a century and a half.

Steve Cotton said...

Wayne -- I understand that the flag shows up at certain football matches and at the homes of some old-time independence supporters.

Jennifer -- Close. So close.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

What cracks me up is how similar the Texas flag is to the Cuban flag.

Wayne, the next time you are in Mérida, look at every other car, you will see the Yucatecan flag everywhere, even though there is no official flag for the state. Also there is a bumper sticker that says orgullosamente Yucateco (proudly Yucatecan)that displays the flag.
Probably in the Cancun area so many people are from elsewhere that they don't do the whole Yucatecan identity thing.

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- Thanks for the additional information. I thought I had seen the flag before during my short forays in your part of the world.

Anonymous said...

Mexico is currently facing another grave challenge. This time it's falling oil production in the Cantarell oilfield, the world's third largest. In May, oil output dropped 37%, after having fallen less in the prior years. This is why Calderon wants to allow Pemex to hire foreign oil companies to help boost production. Otherwise, Mexico faces the prospect of either letting its crown jewel fade before its time, or cut the federal budget drastically so that Pemex may have the needed investment funds, or raise taxes dramatically.

Depending on the outcome of this decision, low-cost Mexico may well become less so.

Let's all hope they make the right decision.

Fond Regards,

Kim G
Boston, MA

Steve Cotton said...

You are absolutely correct, Kim. Even though I would usually not be caught dead quoting Nietzsche, he made an excellent point when he said: "While life needs the services of history, it must just as clearly be comprehended that an excess measure of history will do harm to the living."

We need to learn from history, but it can just as easily be a prison. It would be hard to argue that in modernizing Mexico, Porfirio Díaz came awfully close to giving away the Mexican birthright to foreigners. Lázaro Cárdenas is now a saint for "saving" Mexico's oil. That is the history Calderón will be fighting as he attempts to keep Mexico in the game. I wish him well. I wish Mexico well.

Babs said...

You absolutely see ALL the Texas flags to this day all OVER Texas. This is a PROUD state and to some still a Republic. Texas is definitely a "whole other attitude"........
and PS W may have carried the state in the last election but he didn't carry Houston!