Monday, May 18

a shout out for Mexico

Two important issues to me are breaking down global bounderies, and debunking media biases. So I was glad for Linda Ellerbee's article sent to me by a friend. I've included most of it, but you can read the whole thing over here.

We loved Mexico (back in 2001). We witnessed the corruption and the generosity, the mundane and thrilling. It's a place to which we would like to return.

Oaxaca market



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You would have to be living on another planet to avoid hearing how dangerous Mexico has become, and, yes, it’s true drug wars have escalated violence in Mexico, causing collateral damage, a phrase I hate. Collateral damage is a cheap way of saying that innocent people, some of them tourists, have been robbed, hurt or killed.

But that’s not the whole story. Neither is this. This is my story.

I’m a journalist who lives in New York City, but has spent considerable time in Mexico, specifically Puerto Vallarta, for the last four years. I’m in Vallarta now. And despite what I’m getting from the U.S. media, the 24-hour news networks in particular, I feel as safe here as I do at home in New York, possibly safer.

I walk the streets of my Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night. And I don’t live in a gated community, or any other All-Gringo neighborhood. I live in Mexico. Among Mexicans. I go where I want (which does not happen to include bars where prostitution and drugs are the basic products), and take no more precautions than I would at home in New York; which is to say I don’t wave money around, I don’t act the Ugly American, I do keep my eyes open, I’m aware of my surroundings, and I try not to behave like a fool.

I’ve not always been successful at that last one. One evening a friend left the house I was renting in Vallarta at that time, and, unbeknownst to me, did not slam the automatically-locking door on her way out. Sure enough, less than an hour later a stranger did come into my house. A burglar? Robber? Kidnapper? Killer? Drug lord?

No, it was a local police officer, the "beat cop" for our neighborhood, who, on seeing my unlatched door, entered to make sure everything (including me) was okay. He insisted on walking with me around the house, opening closets, looking behind doors and, yes, even under beds, to be certain no one else had wandered in, and that nothing was missing. He was polite, smart and kind, but before he left, he lectured me on having not checked to see that my friend had locked the door behind her. In other words, he told me to use my common sense.

Do bad things happen here? Of course they do. Bad things happen everywhere, but the murder rate here is much lower than, say, New Orleans, and if there are bars on many of the ground floor windows of houses here, well, the same is true where I live, in Greenwich Village, which is considered a swell neighborhood — house prices start at about $4 million (including the bars on the ground floor windows.)

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Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that — noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.

Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, "Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?" or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.

It would be nice if we could put what’s going on in Mexico in perspective, geographically and emotionally. It would be nice if we could remember that, as has been noted more than once, these drug wars wouldn’t be going on if people in the United States didn’t want the drugs, or if other people in the United States weren’t selling Mexican drug lords the guns.

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9 comments:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. The media has done a lovely job of demonizing an entire country over the terrible deeds of a few and panic-mongered the swine flu virus into something of Armageddon-ish proportions. As a result, we help to perpetuate the cycle of 'third-worldness' by fatally wounding their tourist industry which so many of the everyday people in Mexico rely upon.

    I never cease to be amazed how fingers are so easily pointed at others yet a closer scrutiny of "home" would turn up much deeper and more insidious issues....

    Thanks for this

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  2. I've taken a leave of absence of media the last few months.
    I know that's not a popular thing to do, and no doubt many would shudder or point at me shouting "ostrich!".
    Oh well.
    The swine flu thing I rolled my eyes at from the beginning. (of course I know very little about it, not watching or reading about it.) Not because I didn't think it was real (as any dis-ease is real) but that no doubt people would blame people and things like Mexico, and not consider that putting 85 living creatures in two square feet of space isn't a good and healthy idea.

    Besides that, I truly believe that you can't get sick enough to cure others of sickness, and you can't be sad enough to bring others of sadness.

    So I acknowledge the wisdom of my wise brother Albert's theory, and decide that I live in a Friendly, and a not Hostile universe.

    I choose Joy, and do my best to support it in our world.

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  3. Interesting stuff. I totally know much of what we hear is blown way out of proportion but when you never hear anything the contrary, it's hard to take it with a grain of salt.

    I remember reading from the Free Range Kids blog that NYC has the same crime rate as Provo, UT.

    I think our issue is we are so interconnected thru media, web etc (not saying that's bad!) that we tend to hear every little thing that happened and think that's ALL that's happening. We become bombarded with negative news. Just like the "Stranger Danger" hype when most kids are actually hurt or kidnapped by people they know (and too ashamed to say so because no one talks about friendly dangers).

    Wouldn't it be great if every news story told had to end on a positive note? Or they had to share two positive things for every one negative. Maybe then I'd watch the news. (Okay probably still wouldn't.)

    ~Tara

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  4. I agree.I don't believe the "media" either.

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  5. I love Mexico, and it's nice to hear someone defending it. I've only been twice for short periods, and both were in very touristy areas, but you can still notice the culture seeping out. It's a beautiful place with beautiful people. I've always wanted to go back and get into the heart of the country, but, unfortunately, my husband has no desire to go there (maybe because of the media?).

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  6. yea, I had heard a piece similar to this on NPR too, pointing out the media hysteria...of course, look how swine flu has been handled too - that first week of diagnoses, it was 24/7 images of people in face masks, talk of mass quarantines, etc. bottom line is, it's about whatever gets the most eyeballs, and fear works...

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  7. I'd just love to go to Mexico. It's one of the destinations I most want to visit.

    It's a shame that the media has to resort yet again to generating hysteria (predictably - it's all about moving those papers and magazines isn't it?).

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  8. my feelings echo mel's above. thanks for posting this article!

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  9. We travelled through Mexico in 2004. Loved it. We were robbed, but it was our own fault. Never felt threatened at all. We found it a very different place to the one portrayed in films, TV and newspapers.

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