I was in middle school when I visited Mexico for the first time, and everything about it enchanted me—the sound of Spanish, the kiss-on-the-cheek greetings, the apple-flavored soda and pieces of bubble gum filled with tiny bursts of juice.
Today, I love Mexico for different reasons. I love it for giving me my husband and daughter and for the first house that I bought here (right across the street from the old church). I love it for the important lessons Mexican culture has taught me and can teach every American.
Where an American might value having an exact headcount (Please RSVP!) before hosting a birthday party, a Mexican person is going to tell you to bring along your co-worker, your friend or your neighbor to the party (maybe all three). I have been the co-worker, friend or neighbor singing “Las Mañanitas” to a person I met only a half an hour earlier.
I also see this flexibility in the way parties in Mexico end. Mexicans value togetherness. If it is 2 a.m. and you are falling asleep in your chair as you are about to head home, then the host breaks out the karaoke machine, you shift your plans and stay at the party. Admittedly, this concept of flexibility has been difficult for me to grasp. I worry about overstaying my welcome, and I really like to sleep. However, I try to remind myself that if I do not have anywhere else to be, then there is no better place to be than in that moment, even if it means singing karaoke at 2 a.m.
I try to remind myself that if I do not have anywhere else to be, then there is no better place to be than in that moment.
One afternoon, after we had just gotten married, I told my husband that I couldn’t sweep our house yet because I had forgotten to buy a dustpan along with the broom. He snorted, grabbed a sheet of newspaper from under the sink, wet the edge and stuck it on the floor. I narrowed my eyes, did a test sweep onto the sheet and then un-narrowed my eyes when I saw that it worked. I swept the entire house that day.
I could also talk about when our outdoor water pump broke, and my husband fixed it with a plastic water bottle. The water bottle stayed for weeks, months, a year because, well, the pump kept working. Mexicans have a cheeky word for the newspaper dustpan and plastic water bottle repair: Mexicanada, referring to something improvised. Embedded in Mexican resourcefulness is the sense that possessions should be treasured, valued and reused—the opposite of “throwaway culture” and “fast fashion.”
Embedded in Mexican resourcefulness is the sense that possessions should be treasured, valued and reused.
There is no better example of Mexican hospitality than my elderly neighbor, Doña Lupe. Soon after we bought our house, she came to introduce herself and drop off a plate of asado with rice and beans. She has never stopped bringing us food—when she has extra, when she makes her special tacos rojos, when it is someone’s birthday or when she wants us to have something “hot” for lunch or dinner.
My daughter and I like to visit her in the afternoons. She or one of her daughters is usually making tortillas, and they pile our plates with the fresh ones, hot off the comal, slathered with her refried beans. Now, when I invite her over to our house, I have to make the invitation conditional—that she can only come if she arrives empty-handed.
I used to think that being hospitable was something to do one Saturday night a month, after spending the whole morning cleaning the house and then going to the store to get groceries for the recipe that I was going to nail to impress the guests. Doña Lupe has taught me that hospitality is sometimes imperfect but always timely and welcome. She has taught me that hospitality is a way of life.
Hospitality is sometimes imperfect but always timely and welcome. She has taught me that hospitality is a way of life.
Today, I think about what I would tell 12-year-old me, 20 years later. I would tell her that Mexico is still apple-flavored soda, pieces of bubble gum filled with tiny bursts of juice, kiss-on-the-cheek greetings and Spanish, beautiful Spanish. I would tell her to never unsee Mexico and the people who would teach her about hospitality, resourcefulness, flexibility and many other lessons that would all serve a larger purpose—the purpose of expanding her heart.
What lessons have you learned from other cultures? What’s something specifically beautiful about Mexican culture?
Image by Vera Mexicana