Thursday, July 05, 2018

not minding my own business

Boyé Lafayette De Mente needs a new chapter for his book. That is, if he were still alive.

You have probably read it. There's a Word for it in Mexico. De Mente wrote it is a dictionary to assist northern businessmen in their Mexican dealings. He not only defined the word, but did yeoman work in putting the word (or phrase) into a cultural context.

Such as the importance of properly executing the abrazo (embrace). Or why dignity comes first and the law last with personalismo. I always hear echoes of De Mente in Jorge Castañeda's writings about Mexican culture.

I wish De Mente had included a chapter on "No es asunto tuyo" (It's none of your business) -- a phrase I hear often and experience more frequently.

My neighbors are very private people. When I explain to some of my young Mexican friends what I write in my essays, they are surprised I would be so open with my life. (I usually retort that some of their Facebook postings are far more personal than what I write. They retort Facebook has a purpose -- to attract girls.)

I ran into the privacy attitude yesterday afternoon and today.

Last evening I was heading to a Fourth of July party when I noticed four children outside of my house. When I came out the front door, there was a pile of plant leaves. I did not think much of it until I noticed the children were pulling up my landscaping and tearing it into pieces.

And here is where I made mistake number one. Instead of stopping the car and asking the children not to molest the plants, I jumped out in my angry old white guy mode and asked what they were doing.

They are kids. They immediately lied claiming they had done nothing with the plants even though they were each holding the evidence in their hands.

I marched them to the apartment building next door where we ran into the mother of two of them. I told her what happened. She slapped the oldest boy across the side of his face. It was not the reaction I expected.

When I returned home, I had calmed down enough to realize I owed the children an apology for my outburst. So, again I went next door. The other older boy was there. When I started talking with him, his mother came out (not the slapping mother) and asked why I was talking to her child.

I explained what had happened earlier and that I was there to apologize. I told her, the children are free to play in front of my house, but they should not bother the plants.

I asked the boy if he would agree to that. His mother glared at me and told her son that he was to avoid white people because they will steal his organs. He immediately ran away. When I protested to her, she told me to leave.

Later that day, I talked to another of the apartment building's dwellers. I had heard that people in Central America believed that Canadians and Americans came to their country to take the organs of children for transplant. But I had never heard that calumny in Mexico.

Then it was clear. He told me she is from Central America and is living here illegally. She was afraid I was there to arrest her and her children and to deport them south.

There was so much to unravel in that story that I did not know where to begin. But I do know that food is often the universal language of reconciliation. I bought a dinner for her and her family today.

I showed up at her door with a grilled chicken dinner in my hands and a smile on my face. The only thing missing was a white flag.

I am not certain what I was expecting, but I was caught off guard when she pushed me away from her door and slammed it. I did get that message.

Not every story has a moral. But this one does. Had I minded my business and ignored the children's activity (my brother and I were guilty of far worse at that age), I would have had a different detente with my neighbors.

The unslapped boy now watches me with a combination of contempt and fear. My attempts at greeting him are met with stares that bear the seeds of revenge.

Is there anything particularly Mexican about this tale? Not really. Personal relationships do not lend themselves to syllogisms -- or even inductive reasoning. What happened here could probably happen anywhere (except for the odd organ thief motif).

In the future, I am simply going to take "No es asunto tuyo" to heart.

No comments: