On Mexico or: How I Learned to Stop Living in Prejudice And Conquer It Instead
I’ve had the privilege of traveling a good amount in the past few years; visiting almost 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Some of those places I’ve had the opportunity to visit multiple times. In 2013 I lived in Egypt for three months and that taught me how to understand people that come from a very different culture than my own.
For the past two years I’ve lived in New York City and worked for a wonderful non-profit: AIESEC. This story isn’t my thoughts on leaving NYC because there are literally hundreds of stories you can read from people going through much more dramatic emotions than I did. New York was cool, it was fresh, and it was fun. But I’m happy with what I did there, all the great things I learned, and all the moments I was able to capture for Instagram likes. When it came time to deciding my next steps, I did what I now recommend everyone to do when faced with an open world of opportunities: Make the choice that is both scary and will allow you to challenge your prejudices.
I wanted to live in either Germany, Hong Kong, or Seattle. These are all great places I’ve been able to visit multiple times and have fallen in love with. I still would absolutely love to live in each of them and I hopefully will in the coming years. But I wanted to do something that was going to challenge me and put me in an unfamiliar place. I’m the kind of person that sees every decision as a chance to invest in oneself. I decided that I wanted a minimum of one year outside of the US in a totally new country. Buenos Aires, Budapest, Jakarta, Seoul, and Kuala Lampur were my choices. Each of them has a blooming startup market and presented a sense of wonder that I craved.
In April I had the delightful opportunity to visit Bogota and Medellin in Colombia. Let me tell y’all: Colombia is truly an amazing place and I highly recommend a visit especially considering that a round trip can be found from NYC for less than $400. I had very limited experience with Latin America and had really just visited the border towns of Mexico and Puerto Rico. But Colombia reminded me that, as much as I try to be a “global citizen,” I possess so many prejudices. Before visiting, I had many fears about Colombia that had been embroiled into my mind by TV and movies. But when I arrived and began to meet people, those prejudices washed away. Within a few days I was reminded that every group in the world has a common value that Americans often claim as our own: the constant pursuit of happiness. Most people are trying their best to live their happiest life. People don’t want to start wars or commit crimes. It is often the will of a few influential individuals that can guide people down a path to happiness ironically filled with anger and hate. It was this moment of clarity that made me consider how I felt about other places.
This all leads me to my guiltiest admission: I was afraid of Mexico. The definition of fear is: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. I didn’t think that I would die the moment I stepped foot in Mexico or that immigrants were coming to take American jobs, but it was small thoughts I had about Mexico and Mexicans. Small conceptions about the current state of security in Mexico or “how they do ____ in Mexico” or, simply, “why Mexico is bad at ____”. These are thoughts I had no right to have without proper perspective. It was this distaste on my tongue that only existed because I had allowed the hateful rhetoric of others to slowly and minutely poison my palette.
This is such a shitty prejudice for me to hold because I had grown up in San Antonio, Texas with a community that was nearly entirely Mexican or of Mexican descent. Mexico was in my schools, it was where I shopped, it was where I learned who I was. My family is of Mexican descent. The spirit of Mexico had permeated nearly every aspect of my life and, yet, I still had so many negative ideas about an entire 112-million- person country. No one should be allowed to pass judgement on millions of different people all on the pursuit of their own happiness. Was this a form of self-hate? Was this even about me at all? For the past few months that realization stayed with me; it festered inside my psyche. I knew that it was a problem and that I needed to fix it but I didn’t have a clear way to face it.
In mid-May an amazing entrepreneur that I had met at a conference in Puerto Rico posted about a job she was opening at her start-up in Mexico. The role was perfectly suited to my skill-set and it almost seemed like fate. I started a chat with her and we were able to Skype right away about the position. She and her husband (the co-founder of the start-up #powercouple) gave me an in-depth overview of what the company was trying to accomplish and how the role would fit into that vision. This was it. This was the job I was looking for. It was outside of the US. It would challenge me. It would be a year-long endeavor. The only problem, in my head, was that it was in Mexico. I didn’t want to go to Mexico for year. I would never support any of the racist policies by Donald Trump but I also wasn’t trying to MOVE to Mexico.
I was given a few days to think it over and consider the offer. That nagging, rotting feeling about my perceptions of Mexico poked and prodded my mind. Going to a country for one year wouldn’t allow me to understand the country as well as a native would. But, maybe, it’d open me up to new perspectives and ideas. After talking to the important people around me, listening to #LEMONADE, and asking myself WWRD (What Would Rihanna Do?) I said yes.
With a very complicated visa process behind me, I was on a plane to Merida, Mexico. Admittedly, my Spanish is very bad. But, after a month, I can get along pretty well. More important than the lack of felicity I possess when speaking, I have noticed an openness in myself to ask and explore versus inferring and assuming.
A small moment of understanding was noticing that my neighbor will set up a small food stand on the street and sell a delicious burger and fries combo that will blow your face clean off for only $50 pesos (about $2.80 USD at the time of this writing). I pondered why someone would work outside of their home from 6pm to midnight every weeknight to make a profit of, most likely, 25 pesos per meal. If one were to sell 10 meals, the profit would be around 250 pesos or less than $14 USD. To me, that seems like a awful amount of work for a low pay out. But, as a friend helped me understand, the opportunity found in those 6 hours of work after one has already put in a full day is representative of the spirit of Mexico. I don’t know this man’s story. I don’t know if he has kids to feed, a demanding day job, or is otherwise unemployed. Maybe he enjoys serving food to others and this is his way of relaxing. I may never understand where he comes from but I can respect that he does a good job at it and that it’s obviously worth his time. It isn’t my job to pass judgement, but to respect the splendor of human ingenuity.
Mexico is a beautiful country filled with so many vibrant stories and personalities. I am discovering what the pursuit of happiness looks like to the people in my new community. I am slowly unlearning all of the small prejudices that I held for far too long. I am learning to love people and, in turn, love myself.
I hope this story inspires you to try new things — especially that which scares you. But, more than anything, I implore more of us to critically question our prejudices and make moves to destroy them. That’s how we can make the world a better place.