Mustache Rides in the Big Taco Electing El Presidente, Surfing the Virgin Mary, Crossing the Border
Redneck ranchers from Texas and Arizona are hunting illegal immigrants along the U.S./Mexican border. It beats cow-tipping and chicken-choking, I suppose, gives the hounds some exercise and the boys an excuse to sport those attractive Wyatt Earp-edition, silver-plated side arms they bought on the Home Shopping Network. In southern Arizona, cowboys caused a stir last month by distributing brochures throughout local trailer parks, inviting loyal American land yachters to park their recreational vehicles across from Mexico and join in moonlight track-and-bag forays in the name of demographic solidarity and the sanctity of national borders. It's a dude ranch/big-game safari hybrid that, according to local newspaper reports, has resulted in thousands of mostly Mexican immigrants being detained until the gringo Border Patrol can pick them up and send them back home to those much-afflicted United States of Mexico (check out http://www.americanpatrol.com for a preview of the Northern United States' next big civil conflict and a potential key election issue for Señors Gore and Bush).
Back home, Mexico is poised for big changes and perhaps even a cultural renaissance of sorts. The sexennial presidential election is a dead heat, with the very real possibility that it will result in an end to the seven-decade-long reign of the PRI, a political institution as deeply ingrained in modern Mexican culture as tacos and tequila. PRI stands for Partido Revolucionario Institucional (the Institutional Revolu-tionary Party), a mixed-up and politically compromised-sounding name that reflects the nature of a body that came to power through the support of peasants following the Mexican Revolution and has maintained a tight grip on all levels of Mexican government since then by acting as a corrupt tool of the ruling class. The PRI also does a good job of propagating its own sprawling and hideously inefficient bureaucracy.
The outcome of the election probably matters very little to the average Mexican going wetback al norte to join over 20 million citizens and residents of Mexican origin who live in the U.S. and who sent more than US$6 billion of their hard-earned money back to Mexico last year. He or she is more likely to look to a higher and more reliable power than the government for protection against the "Mexican-hunters" (Caza-Mexicanos), as the press has dubbed the vigilante ranchers: maybe a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe that they be welcomed into the U.S. economy as She once welcomed Mexico's Indians into the Catholic Church of their Spanish conquerors. Or else a quick invocation of Pancho Villa before following a hired guide through the polluted rivers and filthy tunnels that separate the dry scrub and desert of Northern Mexico from the dry scrub and desert of the Southern U.S. Pancho Villa is a favorite historical figure in Mexico, in part due to his victorious exploits during the Mexican Revolution, but mostly for a murderous expedition into the U.S. that left 17 gringo civilians dead. Villa subsequently eluded the U.S. cavalry's Punitive Expedition for almost a year as they tracked him back across the border, adding greatly to his renown. Ever since Mexico was forced by the U.S. in 1847 to relinquish the territory that later becameCalifornia, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, the idea of making gringos look foolish has filled the average Mexican with a vengeful joy.
More than 350 Mexican immigrants died making the crossing north last year and more are expected to perish this year. They drown in rivers or are lost in the desert under that pitiless sun. Some are abandoned by their guides or separated from them when the ranchers or the Border Patrol bears down. Gruesome news footage on Mexican television a few weeks ago showed two Mexican men drowning in an attempt to cross the border; members of the U.S. Border Patrol were shown standing on the north bank, doing nothing to save the immigrants, idly scratching their (presumably) de minimis sacs. Transport of immigrants has become such a big business that operating alongside the drug cartels now are wetback cartels: murderous human-trafficking gangs that battle each other for control in the major border towns. An indication of how the flow of immigrants has increased since the economic crisis that hit Mexico in 1995 is the change in the slang name given to the guides that bring immigrants north. They used to be called coyotes because of the way they would slink across the border, trailing their charges. Now they are referred to as polleros (chicken keepers) because of the way they pack hopeful workers into trucks to haul them to the northern markets.
Imagining an exhausted, newly arrived Mexican farmer caught in the halogen glare of some hick's searchlight ("Now ye jes' hold it right there, son, comprendy?"), one can't help but recall the bitter summary of Mexico's historic plight, as attributed to President Porfirio Diaz: "Poor Mexico?so far from God and so close to the other United States."
The Mustache Factor Down here in the Big Taco?expat vernacular for messy, delicious, border-bursting, greasy and gassy Mexico City?the guy with the biggest mustache wins. Facial hair has serious implications?what accent is in England, what ancestry is in France. It's a socioeconomic signifier with none of the frilly style-guy optionality that in the U.S. gave rise to Ethan Hawke's Gen-X imperial (misnomed goatee) and is driving the resurgent pretty-boy, Magnum P.I. 'stache. The fool's parade of U.S.-directed men's magazines that I sometimes flip through at airport newsstands are padded with articles, essays and pathetically sincere Q&A's about facial hair, its maintenance, fun-guy-quotient and impact on women. In Mexico, there is no such dialogue, but rather there exists an unstated hirsute syllogism that goes like this: Indians are poor; Indians are not exactly renowned for their lush crops of facial hair; therefore, if a man does not sport some permutation of convincing beard or mustache, he is likely to reside somewhere near the bottom of Mexico's hundred-million-person human pyramid.
This has serious self-esteem and status implications in a country where a filthy rich minority is separated from the filthy poor masses by a very thin (albeit rapidly increasing) group of socially mobile, middle-class citizens. There are exceptions?the blue-eyed and fair-skinned generally go confidently mug-shorn?and I wouldn't hazard to encompass artist Frida Khalo's mustache in the syllogism. It does, however, go a long way toward explaining why you see so much fur on the faces of Mexican men, why just about every major politician, businessman, revolutionary hero and drug syndicate kingpin is bearded, as well as the persistence of so many wispy mustaches and beards adorning otherwise handsome darker-skinned male faces. The waiters at upscale restaurants in the Big Taco are generally required to be clean-shaven (servitude); the most serious wagers between Mexican men often result in the loser shaving off his beard or mustache (humiliation).
The upstart presidential candidate, Vicente Fox, has a wide and scraggly black mustache that hangs under his long nose like the ragged remnants of a snorted cat. When he smiles?and he is often smiling these days as polls have him neck-and-neck with Labastida?his twin bigotes take flight like the upbeat of a raven's wings and appear even longer and scruffier. Fox is a big man with a blunt and forthright manner. He recently raised hackles by vowing to help the 40 million Mexicans who are "fucked" ("los jodidos"). He's a shameless populist and borderline demagogue who projects an image that is a calculated blend of two modern Mexican archetypes: the charro (rancher, cowboy, upright and honorable citizen of the land) and the wily NAFTA businessman (he worked at Coca-Cola for 15 years, eventually becoming CEO of Coke's Mexican and Central American operations). Fox excels at informal campaign appearances where he likes to wear a big belt buckle and boots, both of which are usually emblazoned with his last name. He presents himself as the best of Mexico (blunt and of the earth, humble and straightforward) and the best of the U.S. (efficient, English-speaking, upwardly mobile). His main message is that a U.S.-style prosperity should be brought to the Mexican people, rather than the other way around. His symbol is a purple or orange pictogram of a human hand contorted into the peace sign; his slogan is short and punchy: "Ya!" ("Enough!" or "Now!"), as in "Enough already with this PRI that has ruled the country for so long! Now is the time for a change!"
Labastida's mustache, by comparison, is a clipped and neat subnasal trapezoid bifurcated by a stark septal stripe. It is a mustache that seems two-dimensional, almost stenciled, a fastidious salt-and-pepper Groucho. Labastida's campaign slogan is an awkward subjunctive phrase?"That the power serve the people" ("Que el poder sirva la gente")?that almost looks like it is missing a question mark. I spent a recent rainy Sunday afternoon comparing the relative size of Labastida's mustache on the billboards and posters that appear throughout Mexico (outnumbered only by advertisements for Internet companies?more on this nonsense later) to its size in newspaper and magazine photos of the candidate taken during his recent campaign stops. Labastida seems to have allowed his mustache to creep out a little higher along the top of his upper lip recently, and it also appears to have gained some width, although a sense of depth is still sorely lacking. Mexico's five-month-long rainy season has begun, so it might just be the humidity swelling his whiskers. However, given the primacy of facial hair in Mexico, I would not be surprised if Labastida's campaign team has counseled their candidate to counter Fox's increasing popularity with a bigger mustache. Should that fail, the Labastida partisans could always leverage a rapidly spreading rumor about Fox that has followed in the wake of the whisperings concerning Labastida's transvestite leanings: people everywhere are now saying that Fox has a micropene problem, that all his bluster, boots and belt buckles are in fact compensation for his being hung like a choirboy.
But wait a second?did you catch the political disconnect? It's clear enough why Mexican men would want to cultivate a big, fat caterpillar of a mustache, but why would the majority of Mexicans (non-hairy men and their even-less-hairy mothers, wives, sisters and daughters) want to elect a mustache-twirling candidate? Consider that Mexico's indigenous people were brutally subjugated by the famously bearded and crescent-helmeted Spaniard, Hernan Cortes. Consider also that Carlos Salinas, a man with more hair under his nose than on his head, is one of the most reviled of Mexico's modern presidents, blamed for massive corruption and disastrous monetary policy that set the stage for 1995's "Tequila Crisis." Indeed, what reason would most Mexicans (approximately 40 percent of whom are reported to live in dire poverty) have to continue supporting the hairy-faced political and business leaders who have been running the country since the great Moctezuma was dethroned?
The answer that my Mexican friends offer is suspiciously simple: La Malinche, the Indian woman who became Cortes' translator and lover, and who helped the Spaniard organize other local Indian groups to defeat the Aztecs. She is reported to have conceived a child with Cortes and to have lived with him in a house that still stands in the old Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City (57 Calle Higuera, if you care to visit). La Malinche is a favorite subject for Mexican painters, making appearances in the murals of Diego River and Jose Clemente, often portrayed thick-hipped and naked, with a melancholy vacancy in her cold, black eyes. It is a great insult to call a Mexican a malinchista?a lover of foreigners, a social climber, a traitor to Mexico.
"We throw blame on that old bitch (perra vieja) but we all act like her too," a friend of mine tells me as we head to a party in the hip and revitalized Condesa barrio of Mexico City. "We get insulted if someone calls us malinchista, but we all are. What choice do you have? We don't know who we are or what we want and so we vote for assholes (pendejos) that we know don't give a shit about us, but at least seem to know what they want. There's this huge Mexican pride, but what does it even mean? To be a poor Indian? A rich mestizo? A malinchista that manages to cross from one side to the other?"
There's a pause and then he smiles at me and says with that good-natured malice that is peculiar to Mexico: "I mean, look at you, cabrón. Why the hell are you in Mexico? Why do we want you here? You see? We hate the gringos but we let them come down here and run our companies."
Our Lady of the Cyber Revolution So I've been running a Mexico-based Internet company for the past year or so?a fact I share in the name of full disclosure and as an introduction to my argument that what the Internet needs in Mexico is a repeat appearance of the Virgin Mary. I truly believe that only She can justify the hype surrounding companies targeting Spanish-speaking Internet users, return us to a market environment where companies like mine are worth billions, and thereby reward me, Her loyal and long-suffering gringo servant, by allowing me to cash in millions of dollars of stock options.
For those of you ignorant sinners heading for the burning pits of hell, an exegesis: the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, appeared in Mexico in 1531. It was Her first terrestrial appearance ever, although She later did a gig up in Lourdes, France (1858), and most recently in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. She made herself visible one morning to a poor devout Indian man who had recently been converted to Catholicism. This was just 10 years after La Malinche helped Cortes overthrow the Aztecs and seven years after the Pope's first emissaries (12 Franciscan monks) arrived in Mexico City to enlighten the natives. God's mom put on a light and music show that wowed Juan Diego and then She requested that a chapel in Her honor be built on a hill outside Mexico City (now well within the boundaries of the ever-expanding megalopolis that is the Big Taco). Mary's appearance had such a strong impact on the locals that only a few years later some five million Indians were reported to have abandoned their polytheistic cults (snake gods, human sacrifice, that sort of thing) to worship the quasi-polytheistic cult of the Holy Trinity plus Mary. Amazing what a little miracle can do?today Mexico has the second largest population of Catholics in the world, surpassed only by the faithful hordes of Brazil.
No great theologian, I learned all that stuff about the Virgin of Guadalupe by visiting one of her websites . Note that the address doesn't have the ".mx" country code?surprising since, if you visited the Big Taco these days, the impression you'd get from all the advertising of dot-coms (punto-coms) in the city is that there are as many Internet users in Mexico as Catholics, that everyone and their madre alternates between counting rosary beads and sending e-mails. The advertising carnival and hype-fest surrounding Internet companies came to Mexico later than in the U.S., but it is as manic and frenzied now that it has arrived. Just about every available billboard that isn't filled with the face of a candidate (the Mexico City mayoral elections are also coming up) is given over to advertising Internet companies. Those that didn't manage to raise money before the market cracked in April have little choice but to settle for the cheesy free postcards that are distributed outside public toilets, or occupying some of the less-visible roadside billboards. Companies that sold stock to venture capitalists or got off a bull-market IPO take up the prime billboard real estate and are filling Mexican television in equal measure with irritating high-concept spots and those commercials that make you chuckle, even if it's hard to remember later what company was being promoted.
Despite all the hype, the reality is that the average Mexican still feels as little affinity with the Internet as his Indian predecessors did with the Catholic Church before the Virgin's visit. Ask Don Pedro and Doña Maria about e-mail or e-commerce and they'll respond vaguely: "Sí, sí... Es de Internet" ("It has to do with the Internet"), the same way their ancestors might have one day talked about that skinny, bearded guy nailed to the cross having to do with Spanish gods. Only approximately two million of Mexico's 100 million people regularly access the Internet and most of that is done through office computers. Estimates of the number of home computers are as low as 500,000. What's more, because most of the biggest Latin America-directed Internet companies are headquartered in Miami, Buenos Aires or New York, the people in their television commercials tend to look very un-Mexican (tall, blonde, Euro-beautiful) and speak in the open-mouthed accent of Caribbean Spanish speakers or with the Italianesque pronunciation of Argentines. This further reinforces a widespread impression that the Internet is something wonderful, sexy, fun and full of limitless possibility, but that it is also something that has little to do with Mexicans, who tend to be short, dark-skinned and speak a rough-edged, singsongy Spanish.
This is where the Virgin would come in handy?one visit and She could bring all of Mexico online. She has shown herself willing to produce greater miracles in order to extend Her Son's dominion. Five hundred years ago She whipped up some Spanish roses for Juan Diego to prove Her appearance to the skeptical Bishop of Mexico City. When the faithful Indian let fall the roses before the skeptical Bishop Zumarraga, an image of the Virgin was miraculously left imprinted on his coarse peasant shirt?the New World's answer to the Shroud of Turin. (The image is still on display behind the altar in the new Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe?follow the signs for La Villa that appear everywhere in Mexico City.) Then there's that healing spring at Lourdes, not to mention that She made the sun dance around in the sky above Fatima so that people would take seriously Her request that Russia be converted.
As the CEO of an Internet company who would welcome a billion-dollar IPO, I clearly have selfish motives for requesting a repeat appearance of the Virgin. But I also think that there is a lot in it for the Catholic Church. By making another miraculous appearance and insisting that all Mexicans get online as part of their religious duty, the Virgin could help halt the encroaching secularism that plagues modern society and return some good, old-fashioned mystery to the world. Instead of standing by while souls are lost to the perfidy of "Married But Dating" chat rooms and Swedish kiddie porn downloads, the Catholic Church could make the Internet revolution its own by co-opting a technology that, like God Himself, no one really understands anyway. My business pitch to the Virgin, in the form of a novena, goes something like this:
First Day: Dearest Lady of Guadalupe, fruitful Mother of Holiness, the Internet has the potential to render the Mexican economy as frictionless as a sidewalk-stand taco passing through a Cancun-bound tourist. Is it not, O Sacred Heart, the perfect medium to realize the free-trade promise of the NAFTA?
Second Day: O Holy Mother, Most Gracious Virgin, Crusher of Snakes, please welcome the good people of Mexico into the digital age, so that they may communicate freely and cheaply with the 70 percent of U.S. Hispanics who are of Mexican origin, thereby creating a lucrative market for online money transfers and cross-border e-commerce.
Third Day: O Mary, whose Immaculate Heart was pierced by seven swords of grief, the upside for you and your organization is virtually unlimited. This is a unique chance to place your holy seal on the Internet experience for millions of Mexicans?a powerful opportunity to leverage the brand equity of the Catholic Church and regain your top-of-mind with a new generation.
Fourth Day: O Mary, conceived without sin, I come to your throne of grace to ask you to help promote e-commerce in Mexico, since the nice thing about e-commerce is that per-capita disposable income does not necessarily have to grow for e-commerce revenue to spike. All we have to do is redirect existing brick-and-mortar spending to online venues.
Fifth Day: Dearest Mother of Guadalupe, ever Virgin Mother of the True God, what I'm thinking is that maybe you appear to some poor children in the Big Taco, not little shepherds like in Fatima, but instead maybe some of those fire-breathing, juggling and back-flipping street urchins who beg at the stoplights, all grimy, barefoot and malnourished and often wearing rubber Carlos Salinas masks to humorous effect.
Sixth Day: Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Vocations, multiply priestly vocations, and while you are at it, maybe consider the possibilities of distance-learning for your priests through the Internet. Virtual seminary schools are just the start?what about direct deposits of tithes when online banking takes off among the faithful?
Seventh Day: O Lady of Guadalupe, Mystical Rose, you know best, but another option is that you could appear to one of those green VW Bug taxi drivers down here?one of those unshaven, chainsmoking, violent-looking guys who inevitably have a little statuette of you on their dashboards and who usually turn out to be quite nice, humorously resigned to life in the Big Taco and can talk politics for hours. Maybe you tell a taxi driver that the Internet is for him, too, sort of like with Juan Diego, that you desire everyone to check their e-mail at least three times a day, in addition to saying the rosary and wearing the brown scapular of Mt. Carmel.
Eighth Day: With my heart full of the most sincere veneration, I prostrate myself before you, O Mother, and ask you to obtain something like nine million Internet converts in the next six months, which would not be that aggressive, I don't think, considering how computer prices are falling and those free Internet services popping up all over the place. Have you heard about those Web appliances? They cost like a hundred bucks a pop.
Ninth Day: O God, you have been pleased to bestow upon us unceasing favors by having placed us under the special protection of the most blessed Virgin Mary. Grant us, your humble servants, who rejoice in honoring Her today upon Earth, the happiness of seeing Her face-to-face in heaven, or at least in a very tasteful streaming webcast, when and if broadband becomes widespread, which could take a few years at least in the U.S., I know, let alone in Mexico.
Mexico City is the New Prague On the other hand, maybe we won't need the Virgin's intervention down here after all, since presidential candidate Francisco Labastida recently came out with a read-my-lips promise to supply every public school with access to computers and an English education. When the press stopped howling with laughter, they gently pointed out to the PRI candidate that most of Mexico's public schools don't even have reliable electricity and basic teaching tools; some don't have roofs, chairs or desks. The press can be cynical. I, personally, applaud Mr. Labastida's intentions and vision.
After writing the above blasphemy about the Mother of Jesus, I felt obligated to go visit the Old Lady in Her basilica at La Villa this past weekend and make sure She knew I was just kidding around. Man, you just have to love the Big Taco on a happy Saturday. It was one of those cool but sunny mornings you get in the rainy season?wet, fresh-tasting air, with none of the smog stink that collects in your nose and throat as a purple/brown crust during the polluted dry season. There's a steady breeze and the sun warms your face in that powerful tropical way that warns you not even to glance up if you don't want to be blind forever. The sky is clear, but in the distance you can almost hear black rain clouds piling up beyond the mountains like hay bales thrown from a truck. The rain comes at lunchtime behind the breeze, sometimes hard and steady for a few hours, then stopping, sometimes in a massive sky-ripping spasm that declines and declines but never quite stops, with the drip-drip, plink-plink outside your window in the moonless night until you fall asleep.
I was the only foreigner apparent in the crowded shrine complex?a collection of temples and pantheons at the base and top of the hill (Tepeyec) where the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego. It is packed on weekends with Mexican men and women visiting the complex, attending mass, mortifying their flesh by kneeling for hours on the rough flagstones while they pray and pray, rosary beads hanging limply from their hands. My driver, the ever-vigilant Lieutenant Sandoval, follows me at a discrete distance as I walk around the complex?that certain distance signifying a protective rather than a menacing or social association?until I notice and tell him to cut it out. Then he coincidentally wanders around in the same direction as me at a studied remove, stopping to examine cheap plastic religious icons whenever I stop, but always keeping me in sight, and so I order him to go back to the car and wait for me there.
"But, Señor, this place is full of bad guys (malones)," he mutters, gesturing vaguely to the crowds of faithful families singing hymns just outside the doorway of the main church. Lieutenant Sandoval likes to warn me about all the terrible crimes that occur in the city: the businessmen kidnapped and the cars robbed at gunpoint. It's not a ploy to get me to pay him more either; he really believes the city to be a nest of vipers. He trusts nobody. He is very thin, Lieutenant Sandoval, carries a big revolver, and he spends his non-vigilant moments while on duty practicing karate moves and making mean faces in the rearview mirror, but only if there are no other bodyguards around to poke fun at him.
Although the expat population of Mexico City has been swelling over the past year (DJs and models now seem to outnumber bankers and businessmen), tourism in the Big Taco seems to be at an all-time low. The gringo and Euro tourists who crawl all over Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile and Rio give a wide berth to the Big Taco?you can count on two hands the foreigners walking around Chapultepec Park or along Avenida de la Reforma. It's easy to understand why: there's plenty of beauty in Mexico City, but it is not the kind that you can access over a short vacation. It requires a detached, almost incidental observation of all the chaos, with no expectation of seeing anything worth remembering. And even then it is a while before you can discern the instances of beauty?the humor and fine humanity?of people who have lived their entire lives in the catch-as-catch-can disorder and piss-poor urban planning of the Big Taco. It's not like Paris or New York or other cities where beautiful buildings and beautiful people are consistently presented around every corner like the neatly ordered satin horse-show ribbons in some perfect girl's closet. In Mexico City, you drive by the same block for months before you see the beautiful old stone building sandwiched between hideous modern edifices that belong anywhere but on a cobblestone street.
Where there are crowds in Mexico City, there are vendors?the so-called mil-usos (thousand uses) of Mexico's unofficial economy?who sell everything from tacos to Italian ices to chewing gum, windshield wipers and religious icons. The vendors add filth, stink, smoke and commerce to the otherwise orderly and solemn religious complex at La Villa. The police tried to oust them last year in a Giuliani-esque call to order, and they even succeeded for a few days. But entropy is often remarkably accelerated in Mexico City, and after a few days, the vendors returned and the police withdrew. While some aspects of Mexican life (the PRI, homophobia) appear as solidly enduring as the great pyramids of Teotihuacan, other things tend to disorder quicker here than anywhere else I have lived. The great Bellas Artes museum at the center of the city is sinking to the ground; roads and highways buckle and crack months after they've been repaved; campaign billboards are brought crashing down by a sudden wind. Dead dogs on the highways disintegrate after a day of traffic, carried throughout the city in the treads of tires. Parties go on forever here, but the days themselves are atomized at an amazing rate?bright mornings, covered by clouds into night. Time just shrugs as some things come apart quicker than they should, while other aspects of Mexican life endure beyond all reason.
I think this selective accelerated entropy favors the chance for a revitalized Mexico following July's elections. If a Fox victory is permitted to loosen the PRI's grip on Mexican government, it will also loosen Mexican history's grip on Mexican culture. It will be a fat scab flaked off, an anchor cut loose, a straitjacket lifted, thorny old growth pruned from a rosebush. The modern history of the Big Taco is one of old tradition's absolute command over current behavior?the ruling class' sense of entitlement, the lower class' sense of fatalistic despair, everyone's feeling that a corrupt government will always let them down. If the PRI loses?if that one great tradition is broken?I wonder if many other long-unquestioned traditions that once seemed as unshakable as the Aztec pyramids won't rapidly crumble as well.
Perhaps 20-year-olds from good families will move out of their parents' high-walled houses and try to grow up a little on their own, instead of staying with Mommy and Daddy until they marry some nice, proper girl or boy with their same narrow worldview. Combine a few more honest cops with Mexico's growing economy; unstifle natural teenage rebellion; increase the public recognition of Mexico's resurgent film and art scene. The combination of a little more prosperity and a lot less smothering tradition would be a powerful catalyst for the Big Taco and would, I venture to guess, result in a renaissance of this fucked-up and beautiful city?a city with one of the largest and youngest populations on Earth.
Maybe it has already started: two of the most popular films in Mexican cinemas over the past six months were, surprisingly, Mexican. Todo el Poder (All the Power), which is an hilarious movie about corrupt, criminal Mexico City and how one honest man gets even, just came out on video and I suggest that you rent it (the box cover features a cartoon of Mexico City's golden Angel of the Revolution holding a pistol). The other film, La Ley de Herodes (Herod's Law), is a stinging portrait of the PRI's evolution. Set in 1949, it follows the rise through corruption, murder and deceit of a PRI party member from small-town factotum to bigshot party boss. These two films, combined with last year's Mexican hit?Sexo, Pudor y Lagrimas (Sex, Shame and Tears)?and the recently released Amores Perros (Love's a Bitch), which won some prize or other at Cannes, together amount to a Mexican new wave. The soundtrack could be the music of Mexican bands like Molotov, Plastilina Mosh and Mala Vecindad, all of which have enjoyed crossover success in the U.S.
Then there is the Pope's canonization of 27 Mexican saints last month, a blatant and well-timed ploy by the Pope to give Mexicans more homegrown saints to root for (Mexico had previously only had one saint). No matter that justification for sainthood was fairly flimsy?25 of the martyrs shared credit for the one fairly humdrum miracle of curing a woman's breasts of cysts in 1993. The canonization adds to the mass of recent Mexican cultural achievement that is forming a solid foundation upon which to build a new and inclusive Mexican pride.
Judging by their numbers, Europeans seem particularly sensitive to the vibes of Mexico's impending rebirth and more arrive every day?English bankers quit their posts to become club impresarios, friends are called over by friends, tempting reports spread of cheap rents for fine digs, good food, excellent parties. Maybe it's that, historically, Europeans have been more receptive to the charms of Mexico (D.H. Lawrence, Malcolm Lowry), seeing foreign mystery where we gringos tend only to see an immigration problem; they look upon Mexico the way Americans do India?exotic, a little dangerous, a little dirty, alluring, an adventure. The usual colorful characters (updates from classic expatriate literature) have already assembled: drug-addled DJ's, hard-partying models, bitter journalists, bohemian businessmen, lickspittle diplomats, secret (DEA) agents with delusions of efficacy. It is only a matter of time before the place begins to draw young hipster gringos as well?postcollege artistes with their laptops and sketchbooks, their hidden guide books and flaunted dog-eared copies of Under the Volcano.
The Mexicans will doubtlessly gripe about another gringo invasion when it happens, but more expatriates can only accelerate the city's flowering, help open up Mexico's insular culture and transform the Big Taco into the cosmopolitan city that it must one day become. An influx of young gringos would also tee up a nice sociopolitical irony?imagine twentysomething gringos with expired tourist visas rounded up by the Mexican immigration authorities during midnight coffee-bar raids and then deported back across the border to the damp shadows of DUMBO and Willamsburg, Seattle, wherever. I'm just a pinche gringo myself, but even so, it's hard not to be bothered by the fact that it's always the Mexicans who have to shed the tears.