Mexico, whenever anyone asked where my sister Lee and her kids were
from she always said Alta California. This delighted Mexicans,
who probably think all Americans believe there is only one California,
the U. S. state. In fact there are two others, Baja California
and Baja California Sur, both Mexican states located in the Baja
California peninsula. Mexicali is the administrative center of
Baja California, to the north, and La Paz is the administrative center
of Baja California Sur.
At the La Pinta inn in Catavina my sister ran into a Mexican woman who
had lived in Los Angeles but had moved back because she didn't have
“the right papers” and didn't feel good about it. My sister
remarked on how unfortunate it was that papers could keep the
Californias apart. “I know God meant us to be together,” the
woman said, “but something has gone wrong with it.” “Maybe we'll
all be one California again,” my sister suggested. “I think it
will happen,” the woman said, without much conviction.
The woman seemed a bit puzzled about why someone from Alta California
would choose to visit the poorer Californias to the south.
“Because it's so beautiful,” my sister said, ” and the people are so
wonderful.” The woman nodded dubiously.
I suppose it's not surprising that the Mexicans' envy of American
prosperity should cause them to be defensive about their own country,
but I don't think money is the root of the issue. It's more about
children and the future. Mexicans worship children — their eyes
light up with almost supernatural joy at the sight of niños, even gringo niños.
The poorest of Mexicans will introduce you to their children as though presenting
movie stars. I think when they head north, to endure the
humiliations and hardships of life in El Norte, it's not to get
flat-screen TVs for themselves but a better future for their kids.
The poverty of Mexico, at least in Baja California, south of the
tourist zone, rarely seems ugly or degrading — the everyday culture of
the nation is rich and humane. But it's so often frozen where it
is — economic progress is coming but coming slowly. Looking into
the eyes of their niños, many Mexicans may feel that don't have time to wait for it.
They may not realize how much they stand to lose up north. The
idea of making grueling sacrifices for one's children is losing
currency in America, and many Americans no longer believe that their
children will have better lives than they've had. The ragged
Mexican man walking miles through the desert country of the borderlands
to get a back-breaking, low-paying job in the United States probably
has a picture of some children in his pocket. If you're tempted
to fear and despise him, think of that. He may have more to give us than we have to give him.
For previous Baja California trip reports, go here.
[Photos © 2007 Harry Rossi]