In early December 2005, Mark Saunders and his wife, along with their dog and cat, packed up their 21st century jalopy, a black Audi Quattro with a luggage carrier on top, and left Portland, Oregon, for San Miguel de Allende, three thousand miles away in the middle of Mexico, where they knew no one and could barely speak the language. Things fell apart almost from the beginning. The house they rented was as cold as a restaurant’s freezer. Their furniture took longer than expected to arrive. They couldn’t even get copies of their house keys made. They unintentionally filled their house with smoke and just as unintentionally knocked out the power to their entire neighborhood. In other words, they were clueless.
Well enough from me, here is Mark:
I’m a stranger in a strange land. I shouldn’t be but I am.
I was born in Oakland, California, as a card-carrying member of the Baby Boomer generation and now find myself living in the middle of Mexico, where initially I didn’t know a soul and could barely speak the language.
However, I was taught Spanish in Catholic school at an early age by Latin American nuns sent to the States as a sort of delayed payback for Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick. During my college years I spent a night in Tijuana, the memory of which can still trigger a catatonic seizure. And I lived on Puerto Rico for nine months during an overseas tour of duty while in the U.S. Navy, where, unfortunately, I spent most of my time stuck on base getting dinged during inspections for not having enough starch in my hat. My sister married a Latino, as did one of her daughters. And I love Mexican food.
Even with such a varied exposure to the Hispanic culture, today my Spanish is, as they say, muy poco. (But, then again, I once owned a Yugo and still can’t remember why.)
As a stranger in a strange land, it is easy to be taken advantage of and easier still to be discriminated against. However, like Blanche Dubois, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
And kind they have been.
My wife and I have been invited to large Mexican weddings, as well as to intimate dinners at Mexican houses. Neighbors smile gently and correct me when I butcher their language, even though a simple word such as “huevos” can have two meanings, one of which is guaranteed to get you in trouble. When my wife fell on the street one afternoon, a Mexican man rushed out from his office to help her up and make sure she was okay. These are all anecdotes and, of course, I could go on.
I know some Mexicans do not like the idea of me, an American, living in their town. I suspect sometimes I’m charged more for work than they would otherwise charge someone else. I imagine they make jokes about me behind my back. And while walking I can be the target of a glare or a look of disgust, which might have more to do with how I dress than my nationality.
These are rare, harmless exceptions.
The truth is, after three years, restaurant waiters still wait on me. Cab drivers don’t ignore me because I’m not one of them. And I have yet to find a mob of Mexicans outside my door late at night, waving torches, and shouting, “Yankee, Go Home.” It is, after all, a tourist town and expats remain an important contributor to its success.
If there are anti-American (or anti-Canadian) sentiments in San Miguel de Allende, as I’m sure there are, Mexicans have the courtesy and decency to keep it in the family. Most of all, they don’t let negative feelings define their interactions with strangers in their not-so-strange land, which is more than I can say for some of their strange neighbors north of the border.
Thanks so to Nicole and Tribute Books for sharing Mark and his talents with us today. I have to say she is always the best at hooking me up with amazing people!