Here I am living in a new world…and well, it’s not too new to me…I’ve been here for 7 years but it’s very different from where I’m from. Though I do have a habit of making myself at home any place I choose, those who observe me from the outside, can see that I am definitely from someplace else.
I started my life in Mexico on a small diving island that has a population of 100,000 (I say 100,000 because while I was living there, they built a Sam’s Club which requires that the population be at least 100,000 so that’s where I get that # from.) But on that tiny diving island, I was a diver and I worked at Carlos n’ Charlie’s where I was the token American who worked among about 100+ Mexicans…a job that gave me my papers, which made me legal to be in this country. I was there to support myself as I pursued my dream of being a dive instructor in what many consider to be paradise. I considered it to be a small price to pay at the time.
Then my road continued to Central Mexico, where I live now which is more like a city (not as big as Mexico City, but the population is about 6 million). While on my tiny diving island I was well known…the crazy American girl with the huge mermaid tattoo on her leg who worked at Carlos n’ Charlie’s so she could dive. I had my group of diving friends as well as my group of girls with whom I worked with as well as a boyfriend who I guess just gave me a place to call home. (He was also who brought me to Central Mexico…where I guess I felt like I was in a city similar to New York City, except that you do have to drive everywhere you have to go.)
But like New York City, here we have a lot of culture (museums, movies theaters, tons of restaurants and bars as well as universities and many, many schools). Also, here we have a choice of many supermarkets (there were three in Cozumel) as well as several branches of banks and shopping malls (of which there were none of in Cozumel). The education of the people does vary here and because there are so many bilingual private schools here, there is also a small population of American (and European) teachers as well as business owners from all over who have also found their homes here. Though many of them…if not eventually all of them…do tend to return to their native countries.
Today, I took an Uber to the mercado (where I now go to buy my produce…in an effort to more support the local farmers here) and it was with my driver I was chatting with, who kept asking me, why are you here? And regardless of what brought you here, why are you still here? That seems like such a simple answer for me…because I’m already here. I have made such amazing friends here…super passionate people whom I can’t imagine leaving to go anywhere. I have an apartment here and a dream to someday own a house here (though I guess I could own a house anywhere…). Still, I have made myself at home here…I have learned to speak a new language…something that certainly helps me while at the mercado. And something that I feel gains me a kind of respect from the people around me.
Today, after I had finished my shopping, I went outside to order my Uber home and got to chatting with this old guy (whose job I think it was to organize cars in their parking spots…a job that is held by many people in this town for a tip)…and I think he thought it was so funny to see me. And I think he was amazed that I spoke the language…as I was wearing a Brooklyn t-shirt to boot…though I’m sure he didn’t realize it or catch the irony behind it. And as people walked in and out of the mercado during my wait, many of them greeted me with “Buenas tardes” or “Buen dia.” And I felt even more at home than maybe I had earlier.
So why am I still here? Why am I not intimidated by this maze of fruit & vegetable stands with no natural light coming in from the outside? Where sometimes I wonder if I will ever find my way out of this labyrinth of vendors selling their produce that is propped up on crates and balanced against steel poles. Old women approaching me with baskets of avocados or containers of fresh honey. Why does none of that scare me or make me feel out of place? Maybe what I represent is that revolution that so many people here are hoping to one day witness. That gray area between the United States and Mexico that so many Americans are afraid to venture into.
Why? Because Americans always seem to be afraid of what they don’t know…anything that is different from them. And trust me, I don’t believe that the way I am means that I am brave. And not that I am living out of ignorance or stupidity. Quite the contrary, rather, because the people who surround me during my trips to the mercado are curious about me, maybe about where I come from. (And yes, I appreciate the economic benefits they must imagine when they see me approaching their stands.) To these people, I must seem like I am from another planet.
There was this old woman who had a blanket tied to her back, filled with her purchases, to carry them home…who I just want to stop and help. But this is her world, that is all she knows. She does not know from the grocery carts my mother used to push to the supermarket and then home again to save her back from having to carry her purchases by hand…or on her back.
And while I used to see myself as what the locals here may have considered to be a “foreigner” whose objective was to steal their men and their “goods” only to return home with stories about them…I now see that maybe they see me as the first of what they hope to someday be a norm. I represent the rest of the world, not invading their territory, but rather living it and enjoying it as I exist in that gray area. I bridge that gap between what Americans consider to be so different and what the Mexicans consider to be “foreign,” as I live and enjoy the soul of a country that I will always think was the world’s best kept secret. And I hope that this land never becomes filled with those ignorant Americans who are incapable of really appreciating a good culture of people who just don’t know any different but who would welcome them with open arms in an effort to be considered just people…not the monsters that the media makes them out to be.
I think I have finally answered that question!