Lessons in another setting

by Ivan Valenzuela


I recently spent the past weekend in Mexicali visiting some family and enjoying a country I love but still feel distant from in a nationalistic sort of way. I only go to Mexico during the summers as a vacation, but how do you vacation in a place you’re supposedly from? I grew up in Indio and I’m as American as apple pie (I don’t really like apple pie), but it’s nice to think that my existence goes beyond a touristic desert heat-land.

As far as the point I’m trying to make, along with the good feelings of walking through neighborhoods and appreciating the unique culture, there’s usually unsettling thoughts that accompany me throughout my trips. As nice as the people are or as cool as it is that every time I speak Spanish I pretend I’m in a Mexican Telenovela, being in Mexico gives me thoughts of dreams I fail to have anywhere else I am. When I had to go last year for my uncle’s funeral, I paid him a visit at the cemetery on the Day of the Dead. I wasn’t so much focused on the holiday as I was just trying to gather my thoughts.

I could’ve said something cliché like how maybe the only ones who are truly alive are the dead and that those who suffer in life are well compensated for their struggles. It would’ve fit well with the occasion to enjoy that idea. But maybe there isn’t anything afterwards and certainly the full healthy life I’ll probably have will be enough to satisfy what I’m looking for. I say that cautiously.

So what about those who live a less than desirable life? Where does that leave them? You see on my way back from this weekend’s trip I sat in my car waiting to cross the border. The wait isn’t great but my reasons for not being happy about the experience aren’t exclusive to that. It’s bothersome because of the people that stand in traffic to ask for help for issues that go beyond any answer I have for anyone. It isn’t rare to see amputees asking for change or the general homeless people who don’t seem to have as much hope for themselves as I want to have for them.

The first person that came up to my window that day was very elderly and wanted change. I had a bulk of coins in the holder of my car door that I use for parking passes; and yes, parking was the first thing that came to mind. Obviously I gave him and others all the change I had for the next couple of weeks, but I wasn’t going to pretend it was because I’m a good person. As much as I wish those coins could fix any issue, I knew that being a good person wasn’t going to get me very far in that situation.

Still, It isn’t that I look at my hopes as childish, although a child would probably be a better person in this situation, but there’s images that I don’t have to look far for, whether it’s in Mexicali or the great state of Sinaloa, where both my parents are from, that make me realize how good of a job I’ve done at ignoring the suffering that people go through from day to day.

Mexico is an incredibly well developed country in most ways, but it can be a sort of supernatural setting if you’re looking for the comfort you’re used to at home; but it isn’t that it’s more common. America as a country just does a better job at hiding unappealing aspects like poverty and distancing most inevitabilities such as death. I don’t have to think about these things in California. I know that as an American, issues of homelessness aren’t as important because my capitalistic individualism will free me of that guilt. That’s a really horrible and insensitive thought; and it really is why I loathe capitalism to a large extent.

The wonderful writer Grace Paley once said, “I am afraid of nature. Because of nature I am mortal… I lived in the city for forty years. In this way I escaped fear.” Along with those thoughts, I tend to ask that whether we put off thoughts of a life after death, or if we acknowledge it and hope for eternal happiness, how do both situations produce a population of the poor and the burdened? It’s true capitalism serves its good functions in certain ways and religious aspects can be good as well as bad, but how do two very different cultures produce the same issues.

Maybe I’m reaching too far for  a connection, but connections between religion and poverty aren’t always uncommon. It’s also farfetched to assume that a person’s inability to conform to a system of capitalism can give a sensible reason for his issues. Obviously, neither of these notions are the sole cause for these problems. As for now, I’ll keep having thoughts of the afterlife, but I won’t have anticipation for it. At the same time, I’ll turn off my T.V. and make notice of the realities outside my doorstep. Maybe in that way, my dreams won’t be as childish.

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