Our little expatriate community could use the services of an anthropologist.
Margaret Mead. Or Claude Lévi-Strauss. If they were not so nconveniently dead.
Calling our foreign community "expatriate" skews the category. We usually think of expatriates as being people who live full-time outside of their home country (with the implication they will one day leave). The type of artists who sat around Paris tables smoking bad cigarettes and worse poetry.
Immigrants are expatriates who live full-time outside of their country and plan to stay where they are. We have both categories here. Despite the title of this blog, I am an immigrant. Now that I am rooted, I have no plans to live anywhere else. Visit? Yes. Live? No.
The categories then get a little trickier. The vast majority of the foreign community shows up here in the winter. Some stay a few days. Most stay for five or six months.
Words like "tourists" and "visitors" have a pejorative patina in these parts. Calling sometime a "visitor" can easily lead to an invitation to step outside to settle the matter. Let's just call that category "non-expatriates." I realize it is a rather ugly word, similar to the "non-Hispanic white" so beloved of the American census folks. But this discussion requires a bit of peace-making.
Even though the foreign community is made up of people from Asia, Europe, and Britain (my Brexit stance may be showing), most of us are either from Canada or The States. I did a quick survey of Mexican businessmen who service foreigners. Their best guess is the Canadian-American split in the winter is about 80-20. That feels about right to me.
Immigrants around the world pack up their culture with them when they move to another country. Language. Food. Holidays. What they knew in the old country, they try to replicate in their new home. But after a generation or two, the old dies out as children and grandchildren assimilate into the culture around them. One of my favorites, the Hanukkah bush, is but an example.
I thought of that last night when I joined a group of Canadian friends to celebrate their Thanksgiving at Papa Gallo's. With the exception of the tropical heat and humidity (and the obvious background of the Mexican Pacific), it would have been easy to imagine the group had assembled in Edmonton.
There were Canadian flags galore. Red and white table decorations. Plates filled with turkey, dressing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, mashed potato, and cranberry relish. We could have been first-generation Italians celebrating Ferragosto in East Harlem.
|No turkey for me, please.|
Because most of our foreign community will not be here long enough to create new generations, the social rites of the old country will remain carved in granite. Canada Day. The Fourth of July. Remembrance Day. Two Thanksgivings. Celebrations that have no parallels in Mexican culture. Because those holidays get repeated, they endure amongst us as appropriate customs. Even though they seem incredibly out of place in Mexico.
Anthropologists talk about the tension between assimilation and diversity, but they will also readily admit they categories are not contradictory. Only politicians seem to be comfortable treating them as immutable categories.
Immigrants eventually assimilate into their new culture while retaining some of their own traditions that are adopted by their new culture. Mexico is a perfect example of a culture that retains its own traditions while readily sponging up aspects of other cultures. The mixture of Night of the Dead and Halloween was probably inevitable.
The unease I feel at northern functions is exactly the same feeling I get when I hear foreigners complaining about barking dogs, crowing fighting cocks, cohetes, and garbage. (I have to raise my hand to that last one.) It is not the complaints that annoy. It is the oft-stated rational: "This would not happen at home." That desire to make everything like home (but with heat and the ocean) is what riles many of our Mexican neighbors. And they are right to feel that way.
If we were to be honest with ourselves, there is a word for that phenomenon. Colonialism.
It is too bad the term carries so much political baggage because it is an almost-perfect descriptor of how many of us approach our lives in Mexico. Foreign enclaves created to cater to northerners for six months out of the year -- where familiar food is served, there is no need to learn Spanish, and northern holidays can be celebrated as if they had sprung from local soil.
Do not get me wrong. That is not necessarily a criticism. If it were I would be a hypocrite because I indulge in the fruits of colonialism as much as the next northerner. And I celebrate some of those holidays knowing the manner in which we celebrate them may not only be in violation of Mexican law, but is probably offensive to Mexicans over-hearing the practice of our public rites.
But the Mexicans are not alone at taking offense at outside cultures. I hear Canadians complaining about Sikhs in their country. Or Americans eating tacos and whinging about Mexican flags at political protests.
We cannot live our lives by constantly modifying everything we do for fear of being criticized. (It only empowers bullies like the political correctness crowd. Take a look at Katherine Timpf's "Defiant Dave Chappelle" in the current edition of National Review.)
But we can be cognizant of the effect our lives have on our neighbors. Sometimes, speaking softly and carrying a branch is a far more alluring way to live our lives.
Margaret might put it: a little less Kipling, and a bit more Gandhi.