Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pride and Prejudice

One of the interesting - and unexpected - aspects of this trip has been how much more friendly people have been once they find out that I am Irish, and not from the U.S. (as they tend to assume at first, reasonably enough, given my clothes). There's a distinct undercurrent of antipathy towards their neighbors to the north, which doesn't take much to surface.

A typical exchange would be the one I had the other day with the ladies in the don Quijote cafe, who make my life-saving one o'clock sandwich every day (without it I would faint dead away by two o'clock). Upon learning that I was from Ireland, several things happened. First, the volume of the ingredients stuffed into the sandwich has doubled ever since. Then, with suitable looking around and lowering of their voices, they proceeded to complain volubly - and at considerable length - about the perceived 'arrogance' of the U.S. students. Note that I say 'perceived arrogance', because - frankly - I think it is largely a matter of prejudice and perception. As far as I can see, the U.S. students are your average bunch - by and large pretty polite, with the occasional glaring exception.

But - further lowering of the voices - true vituperation was reserved for the students from Texas. And, in this regard, I regret to say that the cafeteria ladies were not the only ones to express frank contempt and hostility. I've heard it from sources as diverse as the waiter in the hotel restaurant, from the guy in the internet cafe, from the desk clerk at the hotel. So, I don't know what it is that Texas has done to Guanajuato in the past, but the rancor seems to run fairly deep.

All of which prompts one to an examination of one's own conscience about ugly stereotypes and potential racial prejudices. I'm not sure I should be particularly proud of the result. Because in my case the answer is that I didn't really have very many preconceived notions about Mexico or Mexicans at all before coming here. Which I suppose you could view as an admirable lack of prejudice. But which I think should be more honestly viewed as a kind of breathtaking, slightly colonial, arrogance - I'd just never given much thought to the country or its people, despite living a few hours flight away.

The silver lining? I am actively working on demolishing that wall of ignorance.

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