A good friend Mike asked me recently if I felt safe living in Mexico and why. The answer is yes I do, and no I don't. If you want some context to that, then, of course, there’s a lot more to say. I can’t possibly define all of it here, nor is my intention. As best I can, I’ll simply answer my friend, but before I say anything, let me quote a sentence from the holy bible. We need to bless this babble. The Dude says "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man". Jeff Bridges The Big Lebowski 1998. This is just me telling you what I think, from where I sit at sunrise on the rooftop patio of our new house, sipping on a cup of Mexican hot chocolate. The sun is cracking over the horizon of the surrounding neighborhood and the world, momentarily at least is at peace. From the roof, I can get some perspective, and perspective is what we all need more of.
First up - correct me if I'm wrong here – In the US, sending your kids to school can get them killed by someone using a gun. True or false? In the US, if you or your friends go to the mall or a concert or a religious event, you can get killed by a person using a gun. True or False? Are those fair questions? Out of context, they probably are not fair, but not asking them at all ignores the fact that circumstance and context like this happen often in the US. So, as a comparison with Mexico, it is actually fair, because that stuff doesn’t happen in Mexico much at all. It happens, but not like in America.
However, I think I can confidently say there is no safe urban place to plant your feet anywhere in the world where you can count on living in a blissful bubble of peace and prosperity. In the US, that bubble was a Disney movie made from bits and pieces of the “white” version of the Eisenhower years and the dreams of yesterday, "All my troubles seemed so far away". The world is a dangerous place no matter what or where, and those who, in anger, compare today to yesterday, deserve all the benefits of living in yesterday. Whom we should blame is not a relevant question here. However, how we actually adapt to the reality is relevant. Adaptation is the foundation of evolution, so it’s on each of us to evolve to a higher level.
Second - The violence in the US is generally random, which is truly terrifying. The violence we experience and read about too often comes simply out of nowhere. We see it every day. Some of us have seen or experienced so much we stopped reading or we stopped watching the news. You know the routine. You almost become numb. Hell, our president has endorsed violence, and he blatantly promotes or invites it in the name of patriotism. This is old fake news. By comparison, in Mexico, a majority (generally) of the violence is very targeted. Dead on target. To be clear, it most often involves cartel and or drug-related issues of some sort. I know a person who runs a Facebook thread, and in one post she brilliantly provided a question and answer sheet to determine if you will be safe as an ex-pat or a tourist in Mexico. The first question was "Do you currently belong to a cartel?" The second question was "Do you produce and or distribute illegal drugs?" The third question was “As part of your business operations, do you use guns in order to make a sale?” You get the idea. Funny stuff actually. Deadly, but pretty funny stuff and a fair point. In Mexico, most of the time, the major violence is bad guys against bad guys and bad guys against government authority - targeted. The actual reported contextual numbers are beyond ridiculous/frivolous. Expats or tourists are not part of this stuff by better than 20 to 1. To be sure, violence against anyone is awful, but the correct context of violence changes the conclusion every single time. For instance, if you read an article saying 5 people died this month downtown, the story might make you nervous about going downtown to a restaurant. If the article continued and said those events involved domestic violence at home and heroin, your attitude about going downtown would change. Context matters.
Can you accidentally be in the middle of targeted violence in Mexico, or can totally random violence happen independently of all this? Certainly. We're not being stupid here. We're talking about the big picture presentation and context of current violent events in Mexico that people hear about in the US. Honestly, in my opinion, the US, with the government, the elites, the have nots, the corporations, and the almost universal virulent hate between both conservatives and liberals is in the long view of things, a far more dangerous place for its citizens, and after the election, no matter the result, I think it will be much worse. So, the majority of the violence is random and based on hate in the US - nowhere near as much in Mexico.
Third- One of the first questions taught in high school journalism classes is to check the sources of information. We need contextual factual confirmed information. Actually, I think that class in the US was canceled years ago - lack of interest. The fact is a lot of this bad guy stuff in Mexico makes for great Netflix mini-series material, and it makes money for the production companies. People in the US eat that stuff up, Narcos, Pablo Escobar, Breaking Bad, El Chapo, and all. And then there’s CNN and FOX News and conservative or liberal think tanks mangling the truth, and then there’s the Facebook weapon, and the Bezos bully pulpit of the Washington Post pushing hard for click-throughs, and the Russians load first the white dice and second the black dice. Misinformation rules, truth is the casualty, and we are the collateral damage. Time after time we’ve seen reports in the US about Mexico, and too often, when we actually do check the sources or look for context on a story about the violence, we find the truth was edited and then recreated for “Prime Time.” Where do you find the actual news today that would not make Edward R Murrow puke? Too often, I don’t see fair reporting in the US. Bad stuff can and does happen here, but the fact is what you’re hearing about Mexico in the US is too often a made for tv movie. Do you believe what you’re being told in the US by anyone? Really? Follow the money and check the sources of the information. Then answer that same question. So, the press in the US too often is not telling the truth, and the American public seems to be paying for their subscriptions to get that information.
Fourth - Is it dangerous here? Of course, it is, and it’s a very serious issue. No question. There's corruption all over the place, some of the police can be involved or at a minimum not care about the petty little issue of your car being stolen. But to be fair, in the US, the police too often shoot unarmed black men, so the truth depends on where you look first. People do get robbed here, and there is extortion, just like in Seattle. Just like in your hometown. So, yea, it’s dangerous here.
Fifth - What can we do about it? Huge subject. I can’t begin to suggest that I have solutions. I can only tell you what I see here in San Miguel. Some ex-pats here actually don't feel they need to do anything except to scream in outrage. They get on Facebook all the time and say it’s the mandate of the local Mexican elected officials to provide security for Americans, because we are the firstborn of God spending our money in this country, and we are entitled to protection. These ex-pats demand satisfaction for perceived crimes against them. Right. That will work. No problem. Like Mexico even cares. So, some ex-pats expect to be protected because they simply demand it.
Sixth - But if I’m going to be reasonable about this, I have to say violence here does actually seem closer to the surface than in the US. To me, it does feel more immediate and more viscerally present. There’s a lot of poor people in Mexico and that can breed desperation. It would have to. Imagine growing up poor, young, and Mexican, knowing every day you could throw a couple rocks and hit the Emerald City just over the border to the north? What would that do to you as a human, and as a country? How would you and I handle it if it were reversed for us? I’m not so sure we’d be ever so polite and self-righteous.
I see wonderful caring and loving Mexican people everywhere. As a baseline, no question - this culture is far more polite and courteous than generally what has become of the US (I see it every day now). As a very small example - every time you meet someone in the morning in Mexico, the conversation always starts with “Buenos Dias. Como Esta?” (Good morning, how are you?). It’s just a small point, but the polite thing to do. At the same time, for a lot of the local people here who might be really desperate, if you provide an open opportunity and an invitation to take advantage of something, too often they might take it. For instance, if you leave your laptop on the seat in your car with the window open, there’s a better chance it will be gone when you get back in Mexico as opposed to the US.
A couple of times, we’ve also had crime happen in our large neighborhood in San Miguel. Beyond the obvious issues of installing working security systems, adding external lighting, creating neighborhood watch groups, developing relationships with police, and working with homeowners associations, etc, I think often simply altering presumptive behavior can help a lot (laptop on the seat example). So, we need to consider what we are showing the rest of the world and how it appears to the rest of the world. If we leave our door open at night, we need to assume that night things will come into the house. The math on this is pretty simple. “Guy goes into the doctor’s office and says Doctor, my arm hurts when I do this. The doctor says Don’t Do That.” Henny Youngman - Ed Sullivan Show 1973.
Seventh - I think the odds on a lot of these issues can be altered by simply not presenting ourselves as targets of opportunity. Are we setting ourselves up here? Are we inviting trouble simply because of where we are, when we are, how we act, or how we look? Some Americans come down here wearing expensive clothes, throwing around money with a ton of bling and huge cameras. Too often people from the US talk too loud and laugh too loud, and too often they make Mexican people feel like servants. Just asking here - how do we spell stupid? Simple questions to ask. Am I acting like an opportunity? Do I actually appear to be a plate of human dog food? If we do, don’t. On the individual human level, we need to change the odds more in our favor.
In conclusion Mike, we do feel safe, but we’re also trying to be smart. We’re as happy as we can be. Other than the odd fishing trip back to see good friends, I don’t think I’ll be back in the US. Time is short for all of us. I’ve now experienced both places, and to me, Mexico is as it says on their t-shirts, “The Fun Side Of The Wall.” For me at 73, fun, great company, great food, kindness, and compassion count for more. This is the view from where I sit on our roof at sunset. As I look to the horizon sipping on a small glass of Raicilla Mezcal, I like the odds, Mike. I supported my country for 70 some-odd years and I currently see a lot of progressive thinking that would reduce the hate and the gap between the haves and the have nots, but right now, "with autumn closing in" I prefer the civility in Mexico. My best to you my friend. I wish us all well.