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Understanding Mexico and its People.

Updated on February 28, 2011

Only tourists get treated to the big hats and the drooping moustache.

"Hay, hay, hay, hay, pero, no es cierto!" The Mexican image a-la Hollywood is long gone.
"Hay, hay, hay, hay, pero, no es cierto!" The Mexican image a-la Hollywood is long gone.

The Language and its Nuances

Although Spanish is becoming a necessary and respected language in the USA, understanding the brown brothers just to the south has lagged behind the linguistic skills of many. Although the Mexico and Mexicans of Hollywood legend have been largely discounted: they are not lazy; don't spend all day under the sun in a large hat; don't all get legless on tequila, don’t wear six-shooters with crossed bandoliers and don't say "Hay, hay, hay," all the time. In fact, as are all the peoples of the world dictated by evolution, they want the same basic things out of life as gringos: 3 squares, a solid abode, a job and a family.

But having been under the thumb of cruel oppressors for 300 years - the Spanish and the Church - and more or less controlled by various dictators posing as elected politicians ever since, the Mexican does have many different nuances and shades in his personality which visitors do well to understand. In this hub, I am going to address some of them, based on my residency there for 20 years; my marriage to two Mexican women, and an overwhelming love for the land and its peoples (So much so, I have "Viva Mexico" tattooed on my right arm).

I said "love," so we will start with a few words on that very subject; one that is viewed with no little suspicion and cynicism "south of the border."

Love, Mexican Style.

Mexicans are probably a tad more realistic about love, and falling into such, than gringos. (Please note, I use the sobriquet "gringo" because it saves the confusion over saying Americans, or North Americans, because Mexicans are both, too, as well as...well, "Americans" as in Yankees).

Mexicans see love as being much more destructive than we do (Anglos). To love, in past times, exposed them to all sorts of harmful emotions: jealousy of their Spanish rulers and the rich Meztizos. And the proclivity of many women to follow power and money at the expense of spouse and even kids left them disenchanted.

They see society in general as sceptical of love and ready to punish those who fall under its spell. Mexican men use passion and romanticism to a dizzy height when attempting to seduce. They will often refuse to take "No" for an answer, even kidnapping the object of their desires and arranging a hasty marriage after the maidenhead has been torn asunder (ass-under?).

Curiously, this swashbuckling approach often has the desired affect in the young wife, who responds with passion and love herself, instead of calling the cops, as a woman in our society would probably do. Even the "in-laws" often approve, saying "Bueno, dices lo que dices, el es muy hombre!" "Say what you like, he is a real man."

This approach is not so common these days, but probably still goes on among the poorer sectors of society and where the man has some property.

The "big" love in Mexican society is within the family: the father for his sons (less for the daughters); the mother for her children and her mother. The wife takes on some of the characteristics of a chattel after the necessary passion has been expended. The man of the house may go on to acquire a lover (so might the woman, but danger lay here, traditionally...Mexican law even today gives more license to the adulterous man).

Mexicans are less prone to associating love with sex and shy away from becoming dependent on their mate.

There is a tendency for foreign men to be exploited by Mexican women (it's the only way they can justify the affair). And Mexican men will expect sex - and often money - from foreign women, who they may view as adventurers.

The Cabrón, (Goat!).

One of the most versatile words in the Mexican language is cabrón. It is also to be used with extreme caution by outsiders.

A man "wearing the horns," or cuckolded, is a "pobre cabrón!" (a poor old goat). In the past, a bloody revenge was expected by a jilted lover in this position. Close friends may call each other "cabrón." It took me all of ten years before I became comfortable using the term; I still do so diffidently, (along with "chinga tu madre!") the equivalent of "mother-f-----r" A “cabróna” is a strong word for a “bitch” And those who have a lot of cheek, or are asswipes, are “cabrónes.”

It has a few other nuances but the problem with cabrón, one never knows whether it is being used with grudging affection or a major slagging, so leave it out for the first ten years! Same advice applies to “chingada” (f---k) in all its guises (“ching, chingar, chinge, etc) and “puta” (whore) which also can be used as an expression of surprise, or in a derogatory manner.

The Charros

These are Mexico’s peaceful equivalent - and forerunners - of the gringo cowboys, or rodeo stars. They date back to pre-Colonial days in grand old Spain and came to Mexico with Cortez. When the cruel conquerors arrived with horses, Indians were not allowed to own or ride them for 100 years! Death was the penalty for breaking this rule. This gives you an idea of how they remained under the thumb of the Spanish overlords. Spanish men born in Mexico, the Criollos, became gifted horsemen, developing colourful attire, still used by the Charros today.

The Charros, more than bullfights, or the gringo rodeos, are family affairs, both for the performers and audiences. You may see kids as young as 5 on horseback (or pony back). A big Charro festival should not be missed and there are competitions between Mexican states.

The Ejidos (Communal land).

Little has caused more problems or consternation in modern Mexico than the law regarding common land. Huge tracts of mainly useless land for agrarian purposes was deeded to the peons, with restrictions on use and disposal, after the Revolution and Civil War (1910-1921). The plots were normally 20 hectares and were seen as enough for a dwelling, some corn plots, a few animals; all providing a subsistence for a family.

The Ejido Plan worked, more or less, until the last half of the last century, when pressure began to be put on the ejideros (land-leasers) to form cooperatives, or to part with the land illegally for vacation homes. Many gringos acquired land for a song like this, only to become mired in the courts for years as the administration tried to take the land back from them. (The gringos often employed lawyers who uses a variety of devices for them to continue to use the land, including amparos and chicanas to impede the course of justice). The truth was the edideros had no right to sell the land, nor the foreigner the right to own it...but justice can be bought in Mexico and often was.

Today, laws have eased regarding the disposal of ejido land and the whole system has crumbled, rather like the excellent council house system did in Britain after the ghastly Thatcher decided to privatize the dwellings, leaving poor Brits with no affordable rental accommodation today..

The Gringo.

Many and fanciful are the explanations of how “gringos” got their name. It began after the American invasion of Mexico in 1847, and was a very derogatory term for 100 years or so - rather like the word “Greaser” for Mexicans along the border.

How it has changed today. United States citizens seem to take an almost perverse liking to be called gringos and even to refer to themselves as gringos (as). Mexican men call US females “gringuita” with affection (or buerita...blondie).

No one really knows where the term began, but the most probable explanation is that is was an old Spanish word meaning “nonsense” which is how earlier Mexicans heard the foreigner’s tongues. It almost certainly has nothing to do with the song, “Green grow the rushes, o,” or the name for Greeks...Griego. Could it have been an English-speaking Mexican who began the term, telling some drunken visitors from the north laughing at his big sombrero to “Grin...and Go!?” Probably not.

La Policia and the “Bite”

There is no doubt the Mexican police, especially along the border towns and in Mexico City (especially) can be real cabrónes!

My own findings have been they are easy-going, friendly and just trying to shore-up their miserable official pittance with a few bucks by means of “mordida” or “the bite.” (Officially multas...fines).

The secret of doing well when running up against the law is FORGET ALL DRUGS AND ARMS IN MEXICO. Otherwise, for minor traffic offences, you will be expected to diplomatically and secretly pay a small bribe...maybe 10 or 20 bucks, tops. That doesn’t mean waving a sheaf of bills in the officer’s face and screaming, “OK, I know how it works in the darned place, take what you want!” You say. “Desculpame, señor official, puedo pagar la multa aqui?” “Forgive me sir, could I pay the fine here?”

Some will say, get on your high horse and insist in going to the police station and paying any fine legally there. That’s the correct way, I suppose, if you have all day and are prepared to pay more than you would have, or the arresting officer is asking too much. I have always paid the bite myself, and we have parted with friendship and dignity. Remember, a police officer in Mexico City gets about the same as a fast-food kid in the US...less, maybe, so the mordida is a big part of his salary.

I have some amusing memories of paying bribes. Once, the police having returned a number plate they had taken when I was parked illegally in Valle de Bravo, put the wrong plate back on my car. Another time I was legless in Rosarita and they confiscated my car and sent me to the hotel in a taxi. I went back the next day expecting to pay a fortune in bites only to be told, “Senor Roberto, the Comandante reads you articles in the GG, here is your car, no charge“...they had washed it, too and removed my wife’s vomit from the rear seat!” That’s the brutal, avaricious Mexican police for you...and why I am passionately, irrevocably and hopelessly in love with the country and its quirky and compassionate people.

More on this in a later hub.









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    • NiaG profile image

      NiaG 6 years ago from Louisville, KY

      I worry about driving into the border. Did you drive in when you first moved there? Is that going to be difficult? I've researched a little but haven't seen much on it.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I NiaG. I returned the compliment in following you.

      Please check out my many hubs on mexico. I will be in la Paz, north of Cabo later myself.

      Why are you worried?? The only danger are the tequila shooters!

      Roberto x

    • NiaG profile image

      NiaG 6 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Very informative hub. I hope to move to Cabo for at least a year starting next year. This helps me in my decision making. I'm worried to death about doing it but I'm also excited about the adventure before me. Thanks!

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Thanks, Qudsia: I bet you get there one day, the world is your oyster! Bob

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 7 years ago

      You bring a light and insight to Mexico, which is unheard of for the rest of us, who never have and probably never will visit Mexico.

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Thanks for kind comment, crystolite Bob

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 7 years ago from Houston TX

      Nice info that will be of great help to mexico non indigens to know how relate better with indigens.nice documentary.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Hi Genna. Su Español esta formidable! Si...pobre Mexico con su mordilones y rateros en el gobierno, pero la gente son felizes! Creo que voy a Baja este Noviembre..

      Viva Mexico!

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      I am not particularly overjoyed to confess the "avatar" is actually me! Can't do much about Father Time. Your Spanish is very good. There is a website called "Mexico Connect" that has a page showing how to get the accents from you keyboard using the numbers lock and the number keys from the right. For example, alt 164 is ñ the enya. If you can't find it, I would be happy to send the common ones.

      Viva la raza! Rx

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Si, senor Bob, hablo muy bien, pero no puedo escribir aqui con los " ' " chingaderas. Los markos de accentos, sabe?

      He estudiado la lengua in la universidad y en el pais. En una vez estabe sonando en espanol. Ya hace veinte anos y todavia recuerdo mucho. Vamanos a Mexico! Lo dejo mi esposo en Tejas!

      Well, maybe not, but maybe I can convince him to let me go back to Mexico someday. He's a stick in the mud. Strangely enough, his name is Bob also and he looks a lot like your avatar. White hair, longer than yours and I made him shave off his Santa beard. It made him look too old for me :-) (I'm actually 5 years older than him).

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      México le tiene una belleza que está siendo destruido por cárteles. Amo la lengua y la cultura. Deseo a México un mejor futuro.

      I hope my Spanish is not as bad as I think. Nice hub, dio!

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      A cruise ship in Cozumel! You have the life, no doubt about that. It's a shame so many in the North feel as they do, I love the USA as well, but it's a toss0up which country I prefer to live n...Bob

      Entonces hablas Español?

      Hasta luego,

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Mexico was once my second home. My brother still lives there. Being a gringa with golden red/blonde hair, I was always treated as royalty for some reason. Some thought I was a rich movie star. I'm not really sure why that is. But I learned to speak the language and traveled around the whole country mostly alone. I was never molested and never had to pay la mordida for any reason.

      I had one incident of a stolen wallet, but I had strep throat at the time and wasn't watching what I was doing. I was always careful enough to leave important papers and extra money hidden away in my hotel room.

      I have tons of surreal like memories of my travels in Mexico. I swam in a volcano pescina. I played chess in the plazas with old men. I visited secret beaches and jungles. I thought of Mexico as my private playground.

      I long to return, but my husband is almost violently against Mexicans because he doesn't understand the culture, language or relaxed life style. I tried to get him to Cozumel, he wouldn't leave the cruise ship.

      But I have my memories and they are precious.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Cheers old bean, thanks for the visit...Bob

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 7 years ago from New York

      This is a good account of Mexico and its people. I guess the drug lords have been wreaking havoc in especially Mexico City. But we cannot blame drug lords for the world's appetite for drugs. No druggies would equal zero drugs, so it is supply and demand I guess. Great hub.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      I left Mexico in 2003 and conditions are undoubtedly worse than they were. I must have led a charmed life, because I never had any real problems down there, despite being a general screw-up at times. Mind you, the last years were spent in South Baja in La Paz which is a low-key area. I was even caught with guns down there and just paid a $100 fine! But that was some years ago. I love Mexico and also the US, best part of the world. Bob

      My first wife was a Pan-Am stew and a drinking buddy of Ava Gardener in days gone by. the second was t5he girl-friend for a time of the matador, Antonio Lomelin. They were hectic times! Bob

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      My wife was born in Mexico (dual citizenship) and her father was a representative for Sears there in the late forties and early fifties. He and all the other Sears reps were arrested at gunpoint because they didn't have the proper permits (they actually did have them!) but were released with profuse and phony apologies when Sears paid the 'fee' (a mordida!)

      Mexico is one of the most corrupt nations on Earth, and any American who makes a mistake down there is dead meat until someone comes up with the money to bail them out. One poor guy from Arizona went into Mexico with a couple of .22 rounds (no gun!) forgotten in his glove box and spent a couple of years in prison before his wife raised his 'bail'.

      Until Mexico becomes a law abiding and honest state, most Mexicans will continue to live in poverty and despair, sneaking over our border for what they cannot attain in their own country.