By Mike Stoltz
Well, this will be my final column to you in the sad, yet well-reasoned, final edition of this publication. Hopefully, I can continue to share offbeat and sometimes irreverent misadventures of what it is like being an expat in Mexico in the near future. Stay tuned.
As for our leader, Travis Bembenek, I want to dedicate a part of this column to him. I only arrived in San Miguel just under a year ago and I haven’t known Travis that long. Yet, sometimes we cross paths with people with whom we feel a really simpatico vibe and from whom we can each gain some amorphous benefit. I hope I’ve given something to him as he has to me.
Like Travis, I’m a «glass half-full» type of guy, yet while Travis is an indomitable advocate for Mexico, its culture, and its people, I do like to disclose warts, and he unyieldingly gives me that latitude. I can show you my car repair receipts from replacing shocks due to this World Heritage Site′s status of permitting NO warning signs of the sea of topes (speed bumps) or describe the frustration of being stuck in traffic in Centro by someone super-old or a Canadian or how many times I have had to feign my fairly decent Spanish language prowess to reduce a fairly innocent driving infraction by 75% to aid in paying off what can only be considered a widely accepted bribe. Not to mention the daily frustration with Mexican services and businesses promising something will be completed “mañana” and learning that “mañana” never comes. El tiempo en México es muy elástico. Don′t get me started with being in a relationship with a Mexican as it relates to dietary awareness. The requisite “barbacoa” at 11 a.m. sharp when everything must be dropped in place in order to stave off some type of Latino tantrum that should be avoided at all costs is a moment not lost to my better judgment of cooperation. And what the hell is with all the sugar? We go through enough sugar in a week to feed a small country. But there are commonalities, too. I’m Italian and he’s Mexican. I partake in his barbacoa, and he appreciates my Bolognese, and we both kneel on Sundays at church.
As cynical as I can be about the culture shock here in Mexico, I′ve learned through these columns that I’m a better person and happier from my exposure to the Mexican culture and my haphazard daily experiences here. I initially left, not California, but the rest of the country, because I couldn’t relate to my country any longer. And quite frankly, I was a bit embarrassed by my country’s sliding so perilously close to a counterproductive, autocratic democracy hell-bent on making some people dumber and poorer and crooks and powerful people richer while striving toward mediocrity as fast as possible. I mean how many shootouts in elementary schools or places of worship does it take? This was a protest against what the U.S. was changing into, not some retreat to live a Beverly Hills lifestyle on an Encino budget like some of the expats here in San Miguel.
Being from Southern California, I saw Mexico only through my visits to Cabo and Tijuana. Imagine my shock to discover the closest thing to a small European city on our continent aside from Quebec, but with better weather. Moreover, San Miguel isn’t that difficult to get to with the two closest airports an hour away.
At Christmas I asked Travis if he received a nice Christmas gift from the Mayor for all his promoting, praising, and casting a positive light to «come one, come all» to the most beautiful small city in the world. His response was a dejected «no.» Huh? My follow-up was if he was asked for a meeting. And it was put forth that Travis would only strive toward a positive partnership with the press and leadership. But that underscores a huge flaw in the Mexican culture. I left my country because of the numbness of my friends, family, and countrymen to give way to a mediocre lifestyle and retreat to medieval times. I’d like to know when Mexico will put in place a value system that will reject cowardice and stop accepting corruption as de rigueur in its leadership.
When Travis and I met for coffee downstairs from the office, he was sober, but far from beaten. He was optimistic about the future with Mexico News Daily, which he bought a year ago. Its model is naturally much more profitable, with an average of a million hits per month and as many as 100,000 hits per day. He brought out a photo someone had taken of him and Claudia Sheinbaum, the Mayor of Mexico City, who just resigned to be able to run for President of Mexico. According to Travis, there may be as many as eight women running for President of Mexico. For 48 hours after our meeting, I started asking groups of my “macho” Mexican friends and employees only to discover that these «matadores,» thought it might be a good thing to have a woman leader. They cited benefits such as women are less susceptible to corruption; they may think of the «pueblito» first and foremost; they are concerned more with health and well-being; they understand how to manage a household and family. And my observation here in Mexico as it relates to the primary cultural difference between the two—the United States′ driving raison d’etre is you are what you do and what you have, and in Mexico, es la familia. Quién sabe? Stay tuned to Mexico News Daily.