Thursday, September 04, 2008

diaz of guns and roses

Avoidance. If it were a college course, I would get an A+.

I have only two immediate tasks: (1) get the house ready to put on the market, and (2) take some serious steps to work on my Spanish. I have been doing neither.

What I have been doing is studying Henry Bamford Parkes's History of Mexico. The book is a good read. Parkes writes well and manages to turn one of the world's most complex political systems into an easy-to-understand tale.

My friend, Juan Alvarez, makes fun of historians like Parkes. He claims that the classic description of Mexican regimes that switch from liberal to conservative to liberal simply misses the poignancy of Mexican government. He says: "There is no historical cycle. It is a carousel of tragedy."

But that is not the point that caught my eye tonight. Parkes expends appropriate page space in describing the presidency of Porfirio Diaz in great detail. (That is the presidente pictured above -- looking like the grill of a Mercedes-Benz touring car.)

There is no doubt that Diaz is one of the most tragic figures of Mexican history -- a leader who pulled Mexico into the modern age while creating a budget surplus and creating ever-poorer peons. By the time he fled office, a small percentage of Mexicans were extremely rich, and the overwhelming majority was poorer than when he stepped in to save the economy.

During the Diaz presidency, foreign investors were encouraged to invest their money in Mexico. As a result, most of the industry was owned by foreigners, along with large tracts of real estate.

In that context, Parkes notes:

The foreign colonies lived in isolation, reserving all the more responsible and highly paid positions in their industries for men of their own race, accumulating wealth which they proposed one day to take home, and openly voicing their contempt for the nation which they were exploiting.

Is it any wonder that Mexicans look at Americans and Canadians locked in their gringo ghettos with contempt?

Now that I have inadvertently offended someone, I will return to my task of avoiding doing what needs to be done.


Islaholic Trixie said...

Sounds like a good read. Now get back to the task at hand!!!LOL

Michael Dickson said...

Oh, Steverino, you are so, so very wrong. Mexicans do not look at Gringos with contempt, no matter where they are. They look at them with envy, amazement and resentment, each emotion separately or all grouped together at once.

Speaking specifically of Gringo Ghettos, a popular example of which would be the gated community, almost all Mexicans would move into one of those gated communities in a nanosecond if they could afford it.

Gated communities, by the way, down here are primarily inhabited by Mexicans.

Steve Cotton said...

Brenda -- But the flesh is weak.

Michael -- I suspect you are correct. Interestingly, "envy" was exactly the word my Mexican friend Irma used in describing gated communities.

American Mommy in Mexico said...

Yes, we are a Gringo Family in a Gated Community. With young children, we were just not comfortable with not being in gated area. Although we are only really gated on the non-beach area since beach is public.

Since we are on beach and we are in a rented villa (apartment) complex, there is some recreational visiting here (but it actually very, very quiet.) It appears that most owners and visiters are Mexican. I have yet to meet anyone from USA or Canada. All the people we encounter speak Spanish.

I am still trying to figure who actually lives here. I suspect these are vacation villas for Mexicans.

jennifer rose said...

Replace "foreigners" with Spanish, and you've got the same scenario a hundred years and more before the Porfiriate.

Put that book down, Steve. Very slowly.

Bob Mrotek said...


There is another book on Mexican history that I think you would enjoy. I found it to be very thorough and informative. It is
"The Life and Times of Mexico"
by Earl Shorris
Publisher: W. W. Norton 2006
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0393327671
ISBN-13: 978-0393327670

Steve Cotton said...

Bob -- I have seen the Shorris book, and took a quick look at it. He is an interesting writer, but not really an historian. Even when I disagree with his essays, he makes an interesting argument. I should take another look at it.

Jennifer -- I should be putting most of my books down. But I just got another shipment in yesterday -- and I was thinking of doing a post a la Rose. Interestingly, one group that Portofiro Diaz relied upon to expand trade was Spanish merchants -- the very people that were a major cause of the Independence movement.

American Mommy -- This may be cultural with me, but I have never quite understood the concept of gated communities. I know that the Mexican rich love them. And, even here in little middle clas Salem, they are starting to appear. Of course, this comes from the man who regularly not only forgets to lock his back door, but to close it.

Michael Dickson said...

Keep in mind, Steve, that most Mexicans live behind walls, me included. "Gated communities" simply have nicer houses behind the walls.

The reasons Mexicans live behind walls is because they inherited the tradition but, more importantly, because they do not trust other Mexicans. This lack of trust is, to a great extent, justified.

I suggest that, before (and if?) you move to Mexico, you break your habit of leaving the door flung open.

Steve Cotton said...

Michael -- There are many habits I need to attend to before I transition south, but I agree that one is to simply learn that doors close and lock. At one point, I was going to buy a large walled home in Barra. I had this brilliant idea that I would show movies on the white walls and invite the neighbors to join me. My realtor looked at me with horror in her eyes and informed me that such things simply are not done. Close friends: maybe. But not the general neighborhood. I think I am starting to learn why.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

We have a high wall around our house, I like it, no nasty useless lawn in front sucking up water and energy.
I could never live in a gated community, not the privadas that they have here. The moms worry about keeping up with the other moms, the kids all seem to wear name brands. I am afraid of those people.
I was talking to my oldest daughter, she said that youngest daughter wanted a soccer mom but instead got the weird mom in a red barn coat. Sigh, she probably lives in a gated community.
Steve, you have to learn to lock your doors, here most crimes are crimes of opportunity. Think of it as a sin, by leaving your doors open you are leading someone into temptation. We used to live in a place where we left the car keys on the dash in front of the house,then we moved "to town" and had our car ransacked because we forgot to lock it. Now we live in a place with bars on the windows but it's actually safer!

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- Perhaps I have read too much Robert Frost, but the very concept of walls chills me. I know they have purposes. And you may have a good distinction. There are walls of comfort and walls of fear. My visceral dislike of the border wall may be bleeding over. But I will close and lock my door.

islagringo said...

I totally agree with your feelings about walls. Where is the view? Where is the fresh air? I dislike them, but, let me tell you. If I ever acquire another house in Mexico, it will either be walled with broken glass all along the top or I will have bars on all doors and windows. And do start locking your doors! Don't give an otherwise good boy and opportunity to go bad.

Steve Cotton said...

Wayne -- If anyone has good arguments in favor of security walls, it is you and your experiences on the island.