I’m coming up on a year as an immigrant to Mexico. A full year drinking in the beauty and the kindness, the colors and the unhurried ways. Reveling in the sacred lake and her white pelicans. Walking out my door for all my daily needs, using my own body for transportation. A year of absorbing the common cultural courtesies of greeting passersby on the cobblestone streets, of making friends with other immigrants and with my Mexican neighbors.
At the one-year anniversary of emigrating from my original culture, I notice that I have breathed into my days a new and gentler rhythm. I have seen myself change. I no longer live so much ahead of myself, only planning a few days at a time. I make plans with friends spontaneously, more often in person on the street than on the phone. Then, instead of counting on things happening as scheduled, I count only on something wonderful happening– whether it’s the thing I expected or a surprising something else. I am becoming more patient with myself and others. As I immerse in a culture of patience and affection and acceptance, I find myself growing in compassion.
I am immensely grateful to live in Mexico, where the values and expectations are ones with which I have wanted to align myself. Mexico has been my Teacher and her lessons have changed me. Her challenges have morphed into opportunities. Her humility and authenticity has chastened my sense of entitlement. Living outside of my native country for this past year has lifted and widened my perspective. As an immigrant, I have become more a global citizen than a resident of a single place. Even while my days are simpler, my concerns reach further in the world.
I sum it up for myself in the word, presente, translated variously as real, actual, true, or present. To me, it signifies an integration within myself. Mexico has put me present. Present for my interactions with others, present for my own emotions and experiences, present in my daily activities. As es. Doy gracias!
I’m different than I was when I moved here to Mexico six months ago. Living in the Mexican culture, imbibing Mexican values, I feel easier about everything. I don’t worry so much about how things go. If something planned doesn’t happen, I have confidence that something else will happen, and I’m often more curious than frustrated. If I’m not feeling well, I go to bed willingly and know the things I meant to do can wait. If a shop is closed, I wander about alert for unexpected wonders. When I get irritated about something, like the roofers occupying my patio with tools and tiles, I notice a bit sooner that I’m behaving irritably toward them; I realize they’re just doing their job, I stop taking it out on them, and it occurs to me to offer a bowl of cherries and a liter of fresh coconut water instead.
Besides more patience and acceptance, I feel myself growing in kindness to strangers, not a quality I saw modeled in my youth. So many people smiling at me on the street every day changes my longstanding sense of isolation into one of belonging, which is perhaps the place where kindness is born. In my country of birth, we speak of the kindness of strangers as an uncommon thing, but here it seems a norm. The Mexican mores seem to presume belongingness, and its offspring of kindness. So, wanting more of that in myself, I soften in that direction.
These are behaviors I am cultivating with the help of a culture all around me that supports them. I have never been someone who looks to ‘find herself,’ as I don’t believe there is any permanent entity to ‘find.’ I create and shape who I am on a regular basis deliberately. So I’ve always been a work in progress, but living in Mexico seems to be speeding up the blossoming. Feeling safe, unrushed, and trusting, I wish for you the same.
My friend Nicky writes me, “My hope for you is that the Mexican people you are in contact with, are above the kind of backlash towards Americans that is bound to happen as a result of these horrific policies.” To reassure Nicky, and other friends and family, that the country I am calling home is choosing to be above the backlash, I would like to quote the state of Jalisco’s Governor, responding to Trump’s tweet about the wall. The Governor said, “Dignity is not negotiable. We aren’t going to pay anything for a wall. You have both our repudiation from Jalisco, and a fraternal hug to the North American people.”
The same paper, The Guadalajara Reporter, has a front page article quoting the National Institute of Immigration (INM) Chief of the Jalisco branch as he “welcomed foreign immigrants into the fold.” He declared to the new recipients of residency visas, “The ceremony is to honor you for deciding to make Mexico your home. We want to assure you that all levels of government are committed to serving you, so that you may live well and safely in our country.”
But how is it, I marvel, that this country’s people seem so easily able to take the high road of kindness? I think it’s because their cultural values are prioritized for people, over and above power and possessions. Here is a comparison from Judy King’s book, Living at Lake Chapala, of how three different cultures rank the priorities of their lives. It highlights the differences between those of us here from north of the border, Mexicans, and the Huichol, an indigenous group that lives in the mountains in Jalisco.
Draw your own conclusions, and please comment if you are so moved.