Sunday, November 27, 2016

The "Real" Mexico

This Thanksgiving my family traveled to Mexico. In the weeks leading up to the trip, anticipation and Kerouac gave me unbearable wanderlust. I wanted to travel anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to hop in my jeep and hit the road for a few months. I read excerpts from Mexico City Blues and Lonesome Traveler and On the Road and my need for an authentic experience became insatiable. Soon I was on a plane and then another plane and then eventually an airport surrounded by mountains in Cabos San Lucas.

As we were picking up our luggage we noticed an airport employee passing out local foods and drinks for the tourists. Pate being Pate, decided to pick up one in an attempt to seem cultured and quickly had it snatched from him by mom because it was actually Patron tequila.  We hopped in a van and drove for about 45 minutes through arid stretches of desert with mountains looming proudly in the horizon. Occasionally we'd reach a slum town with crowds of tired looking Hispanic men walking past tiny shops with Frida Kahlo emblazoned on the front. There were abuelos sitting outside on benches or tables laughing or playing cards. "This is the REAL Mexico" I remember thinking. Until we got to the resort.

We walked into the lobby and looked over the balcony to see a gorgeous beach, multiple pools, snack bars, and tons upon tons of friendly Mexican workers to cater to our every American need. And needless to say, I loved my trip. It was gorgeous, it was all inclusive, the service was impeccable and everything was fantastic quality. But part of me also felt limited, I had a great vacation but was it an actual Mexican experience? Probably not. Even going into town seemed to be Mexico for the American palate. It was full of shops and souvenirs, bars and timeshares. It felt lively and local enough to give me a bit of an experience, but not enough for me to feel like I actually got to experience Mexico.

What is the root cause of this situation and my feelings on it? Why do I feel the need to have an authentic experience like a stereotypical hipster? Is it over-stimulation of experiences in media? Postmodernism? Neo-liberalism? Cultural hegemony? The need to get out of my little ivory tower? Whatever the causes of the problem were, I started to think a lot about perception and experience. I had read and read about the experiences of Kerouac in Mexico. Him getting to connect with humanity at a deep level and finding empathy despite nationalities and race made me want to do the same. When I was in Mexico however I didn't find that. The only experiences I had with the Mexican people were in a service capacity, like they were genuinely afraid of displeasing me or my family.

What worries me the most is that I am not sure there is a way for me to find authenticity in an experience because everything is tailored to give me a premade experience. The resort gives me the nice elegance I desired of a tropical paradise while the town gives me the folksy rough and tumble that I desired after Kerouac. But both are commoditized and sold to me. And I realize that my reality is limited by my own perception and experience and I feel like I have a duty to expand that and to try and understand other cultures and nationalities but when I try to do that I am sold an illusion by neo-liberalism to appeal to my wanderlust which was given to me by Kerouac and postmodernism. Its all very confusing and I don't know what to do about it.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what to do about it either! But I think asking, "What is there to do about this?!" is probably the best first step.

    I have had many very similar experiences, and I think it DOES have a lot to do with living in the late age of Capital. Authenticity is, to some extent, always already a sales pitch. People who are living authentic experiences aren't "living authentic experiences," they are just living. So a "quest for authenticity" implies both a certain distance from life and from necessity. Kerouac, like Thoreau, DID have a warm home to go back to, if he ever so chose.

    Still, I love it. And we DO have those moments that, upon reflection, we feel were full of "the marrow of life." Usually, though, the beauty of those moments grows out of our ability to be present in them (mindfulness, anyone?) more than anything particular about the experience itself.

    That's my sense of it, at least.