As the scare over the swine flu escalates and the border regions grow increasingly violent, it’s about time we put some perspective on what exactly is going on in Mexico. Just two months ago, I contemplated whether or not Mexico was a dangerous travel destination, and the thread of comments to the article sparked even more interest for me to see and experience Mexico for myself.
I’m talking about the heart of Mexico, mind you, not the touristy coastal towns or culturally rich Oaxaca. I want to see the part that few talk about, the REAL Mexico, where the social and political struggles are transparent, and the people are living and breathing Mexico in all its raw glory.
That’s exactly why I picked up Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s recent travel memoir, Mexican Enough. Having seen Griest read from this book last year, read and reviewed her other books (Around the Bloc and 100 Places Every Woman Should Go), and spoken with Griest over the phone, I felt I could identify with Griest as a solo female traveler paving her own path in wide open world. If I can’t right now travel to Mexico myself, I wanted to read about it from someone I could trust.
Griest’s own journey to Mexico took place over the course of several trips to various parts of the country between 2004-2006. While she had been so daring to travel to such countries as Russia, China, and Cuba, Griest had an overriding fear of her half-motherland. As a bi-racial child growing up in Mexico, Griest felt she was never quite Mexican enough, and opted to avoid traveling to Mexico altogether until she realized she was running away from her own half-reflection.
Mexican Enough covers such potent topics as being bi-racial, social politics, gender roles, and immigration. Griest is able to confront her Mexican heritage and accept that she is, in fact, Mexican enough. She enters parts of Mexico during a Red Alert, witnesses the post-election riots, and investigates the disturbing violence against gay and women rights movements throughout the country.
I really enjoyed Griest’s ability to weave together these different threads into an interesting — at times humorous, at others heartbreaking — tale. There’s much to be learned from reading Griest’s memoir, but most of all, Mexico clearly remains a fascinating and culturally rich place that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
A friend of mine is a traveling nurse and has been spending the past three years on the Arizona-Mexico border, witnessing the devastating drug-related violence there. When I asked him if I could go down with him some time to see it for myself, he responded, “I don’t care if you interested in the air rescue that saves lives, the drug cartels, or the human casualties at the border, but the pain and suffering that goes with it would probably be enough for a normal American to go crazy. It’s not worth going down there for the story. It’s only worth it if you’re willing to risk your life to see just how precious life is and how peaceful it could/should be but is not.”
Luckily, Griest’s latest memoir helped to satisfy my thirst for the real Mexico. I’ll wait for my chance to see Mexico one day when it’s just a little safer.