This post from its introduction concludes my series of excerpts from the fascinating book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001). I look forward to reading his newest book, which I ordered at the same time.
The Priista/licenciado is the modern version of the hacienda owner and the Spanish noble. He doesn’t return phone calls to anyone less important than he is. He is accountable only to those above him. He keeps those seeking employment waiting in his lobby for hours because he can. His shoes are too well shined to belong to anyone who really works. His sinecure insulates him from the higher standards the world demands, and from this he derives his inertia.
The Priista/licenciado culture remains an anchor around the neck of Mexico’s development. It assumes the superiority of those with power and thus is fundamentally unfair. Though clad in double-breasted suits, this part of Mexico remains emotionally stuck in the sixteenth century. It is the modern expression of the ossified top-down, hierarchical tradition left the country by the Aztecs, the Spanish, the Catholic Church, and the dictator Porfirio Diaz. This side of Mexico is hardly ready for the demands of democracy and the global economy. The very term licenciado is supposed to conjure up some kind of innate wisdom. The licenciado doesn’t need to prove his worth; he is entitled to more than his labor produces. The Priista is a Priista precisely because adhering to the state endows him with special rights. Mexico’s world-famous corruption has its roots here, and so therefore does Mexicans’ belief that their society is unjust.
I mention all this because this part of Mexico is what the world seems to know best. Certainly the press, other governments, and tourists are most aware of the official, elite, corrupt Mexico; the Mexico that won’t allow a poor man a chance; the Mexico behind the sunglasses. I’ve even been told by people, including Mexicans, that this is Mexican culture. But I know that’s not true. There is another Mexico.
This other side is vital and dynamic and is often found on Mexico’s margins. The other side of Mexico is not always pretty, but it is self-reliant and adventurous.
And this Mexico is what this book is about….
The emigrant stands for the country’s vital side. He uses his wits and imagination. He strikes out on his own, looking for a future. One emigrant does not require two people attending to his needs. Some twelve million Mexicans reside year-round in the United States. Many millions more have lived and worked there or spend part of the year up north. The United States is now part of the Mexican reality and is where this other Mexico is often found, reinventing itself.
Official Mexico holds their absence against them. Emigrants are resented for their daring. In official Mexico’s twisted point of view, emigrants must explain why they aren’t traitors to their country….
The country’s greatest modern catastrophe is that it has treated the emigrant poorly and thus been deprived of his dynamism. His absence is of greater consequence to Mexico than the nineteenth-century territorial losses of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Mexico survives today largely because the emigrant cannot bring himself to fail his country the way the licenciado so miserably fails him.
Much the same could be said for the Philippines and so many other major exporters of migrant labor.