It was 200 years ago today that a priest launched the battle for Mexican independence with the cry of “¡Viva Mexico!” These days, Mexico is battling negative images and stereotypes in a bid to get its tourism back on track.
Fewer Americans visit Mexico these days, some in fear of getting caught up in the country’s bloody battle against drug cartels, others to show their disapproval of illegal immigration.
Despite all of that, it remains the first truly foreign country that many Americans visit. It also has a sizable population of expatriates, mostly retired Americans. Whether as visitor or expat, their reasons for coming are as varied as they are.
They come for the lower cost of living. They come looking to jump-start their art, writing or photography in the mountain serenity of a place like San Miguel de Allende. They come for the hot beaches of places like Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Islas Mujeres and Huatulco, or the diving in Bahia de los Angeles, or to get up the colonial flavor of Taxco, Guanajuato and Zacatecas.
Others come for the tropical, mountainous beauty of Oaxaca, or the all the happenings they can find in the urban mini-state that is Mexico City. They come for the pyramids at Teotihuacan or the Mayan ruins at Tulum. They come for the food, the culture, the nightlife, the wildlife. They come for the five-star resorts and for the chance to raise a tent and roll out a sleeping bag in a cove miles from anything.
Among visitors south of the border, the easiest way to start an argument is with this question: “What is the real Mexico?” The most honest answer is that there is no one Mexico, but many.
In its geography and its climate, the country seems to have a bit of almost everything — mountains, deserts, arid plains, jungles. Not two, but four long coastlines, once you throw in the Baja California peninsula. Much of Mexico is beautiful beyond description.
But for me, Mexico’s greatest attraction is her people, who are as diverse as the land they live in. In my time working there as a journalist, they taught me a lot.
They taught me Spanish (Actually, they’re still teaching me Spanish!). They taught me the importance of relationships, that good manners still matter, that no amount of difficulty in life prevents or exempts you from being kind. That in its best and truest form, friendship is nothing casual. It’s for real, and for life.
Warm, proud, creative, courageous, loving, utterly devoted to family. They know how to work. They know how to party. Facing obstacles and challenges that would wither the souls of others, they just smile, shrug, and keep on going.
This country has known a lot of hardship, a lot of hard times, in its 200 years. It still does. But these are people who persevere, and manage to smile — and make you feel welcome — while they do it. It’s but one of the things that makes them, and their country, worth getting to know.
¡Viva Mexico! indeed.
Images by David Poller. Check out more of his work HERE.