The news is alarming and the media is giving hyper-attention to the drug cartel killings and kidnappings happening in the states that border Mexico and the U.S. The media talks as if this was a universal problem across Mexico — and this makes me angry. Yesterday, I listened to the Diane Rehm show on NPR while driving my car on the interstate. Guests and callers talked about Mexico in sweeping terms and the more they talked the more frustrated I became. Parents called in asking if it was safe to send their college children to Mexico to study language. I wanted to call or email the show (difficult to do when driving) to protest the perception promulgated that Mexico is not safe. The situations hyped by the media are localized and most often between warring drug factions. The very, very wealthy in Mexico City are concerned because they have always been at risk for economic kidnapping for ransom, and now with the increased drug violence, they are more at risk. This does not trickle down to affect the average traveler like me or you.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article (a random WordPress link is below) by Jack Kurtzman saying that Mexico is on the brink of collapse and attributes this to failed state control of internal corruption and lack of economic well-being for its citizens. In my view, his assessment is over-reactive and full of half-truths. Mexico’s economy is closely tied to that of the U.S. and was healthy and on the upswing until our banking collapse. NAFTA, too, has done muc to erode the Mexican economy and the well-being of its citizenry, making it more vulnerable to the drug masters on both sides of the border. The U.S. has as much responsibility if not more for the current state of border affairs. The market drives demand in a capitalist economy and there is much demand for drugs in the U.S.
I’m not saying there isn’t a problem or that we shouldn’t be concerned. I am saying that Mexico deserves our support and attention, and the worst thing we can do is over-react. I also pose this for consideration: For those of you who have not been to Mexico, ask yourself if you are influenced in your perceptions by popular stereotypes that portray Mexicans and Mexico with negativity, especially since undocumented immigration has been a hot political potato in recent years.
I live in Oaxaca in a Zapotec village part of the year, and travel back and forth from North Carolina several times a year, often by myself. It is perfectly safe. I travel by bus all over southern Mexico, from Puebla south, and it is perfectly safe. Often, I will hail and take a taxi on my own, travel via local bus from Oaxaca to Teotitlan, and go to villages independently. My Spanish is not perfect and I am definitely a middle age gringa. I am not any more afraid than if I were to travel to Chicago, Los Angeles or South Bend, Indiana. I am aware of my surroundings where ever I go, and take precautions by keeping my money and credit cards close to my person in a small bag that hangs across my shoulders. I don’t wear expensive jewelry. I don’t keep large amounts of cash on me and withdraw what I need frequently from ATM machines.
If you have travel plans to Mexico, please don’t change them. It is a wonderful place with a rich culture, warm and generous people, and lively traditions. Enjoy yourself. I think the fear of the current economic crisis is instilling a fear in many of us that is permeating into other parts of our life … and this might be one of them. Mexicans, and the Oaxaquenos who I know, welcome us and want us to have a great experience in their country. Go… and have a good time.