About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mexico: U.S. Totem

The United States desperately needs Mexico, and I'm NOT talking about trade and labor.

This week two things happened to get me thinking about this idea of Mexico as a sort of totem for the modern U.S.

1) My son came home with an Enrique Camarena Memorial Red Ribbon from the Texas Combined Armed Forces. My son has no idea who Camarena is/was or who the men are that tortured him. Yet there was my five-year-old with Camarena's ensign pinned to his chest and it came as a device for a discussion on drugs (putting aside that I have to talk to my kindergartener about drugs!!!). I decided that the United States needs a hyped-up sense of violence and narcotics in Mexico to simultaneously avoid the painful cultural upheaval that would happen if we truly addressed our narcotics problem as a health issue BUT STILL talk about an issue we might otherwise sweep under the collective carpet. With Mexico, we have some outlet for discussion.

2) Day of the Dead. Texas is far crazier about Day of the Dead than California was. Again, the hyped-up sense of openess about that "last step in life" in Mexico gives Americans that moment to think about death in a way that we don't usually do - and to confront our own fears about death.

And while it didn't happen to me this week, I consider the general U.S. obsession with Mexico as a place to get cheap and easy sex and booze as serving as something of the same function as Carnival serves in Latin America. Americans take a few days to blow off some steam before returning to the norms of society - at least in their minds. Once more, the pressence of an "outside" entity allows U.S. citizens to consider themselves more saintly at home than they really are, letting them address issues of consumption and sexuality they would otherwise be unwilling to address.

Of course there are exceptions (probably for most people) and just because I say "totem" it doesn't mean that it truly serves the long-term good of the society. It also doesn't mean that there aren't some deeply flawed notions of nationalism and racism involved. And finally, I haven't even started to address what sort of totem the U.S. is for Mexico... .

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