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Ask an old gringo about Mexico, micheladas, color TV

Marvin West

Question: I can tell by reading that you really like Mexico. Is it moving forward or back? Perspective please.

Answer: Mexconnect features bright, cheerful, upbeat stuff so this is not the company line. Personally, I fear the country is doing the two-step, a bit of progress here, more regression there.

I remember when Mexican friends thought NAFTA would solve all economic ills and eliminate inequality. It didn't.

Citizens await checks at a Mexico City medical stall set up near the Cathedral in the Historic Center. Mexico responded swiftly to the outbreak of swine flu.
© Anthony Wright, 2009
Citizens await swine flu checks at a medical stall in Mexico City.
© Anthony Wright, 2009

I remember when one-party political rule ended after just 71 years and that was the signal from on high. Democracy had finally arrived and everything would be more better. Not yet.

Many Mexicans wear their emotions on their sleeves and overreact to good or bad news. I remember shockwaves from peso devaluation. It hurt some something awful but the country survived. I remember the wringing of hands and rush for facemasks when swine flu was going to wipe out all civilization and most professional wrestling. The flu fell short and went away.

The drug war is no joke. It is deadly. Most who have been killed supposedly had some connection with the business but innocents are at risk at every assassination or turf battle. One evil grenade lobbed into a holiday hot spot might blast tourism into the ocean.

This is a fragile time. Neighbors, my best barometers, are troubled. I'm still deciding whether they are discouraged, depressed, embarrassed or afraid.

If I am reading world perception correctly, Mexico is in trouble. Old problems never go away. New violence spreads. Drug cartels have more money than God or the government and no rules.

Which side will win? Will right prevail? I don't know. I am sad and terribly certain many more will die while we await the outcome.

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Question: Do they sell Brita water filters in Mexico? Do they purify street water so you can drink it?

Answers: Yes. No.

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Question: Are there valid cultural or economic comparisons between Mexico and the United States?

Answer: Look at numbers. The U.S. is supposedly No. 1 in the world in cars per thousand people. Mexico uses buses and is 52nd in cars. The U.S. is No. 8 in internet users. Mexico is 42nd but expats skew the ranking. The U.S. is No. 3 in TV sets. Mexico is 82nd. The U.S. in No. 1 in national debt. Mexico is 29th.

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Question: I am doing a school report on hi-def TV. Can it possibly be true that a Mexican invented color television?

Answer: I learned from Tony Burton's monthly historical calendar that Guillermo González Camarena, at age 22, was granted in 1942 the first U.S. patent for a color television system.

I have since learned that Guillermo was a bright lad who built his own electric toys and a telescope to view stars and planets. This supposedly opened his eyes to the realization that there are no boundaries, that whatever the mind can perceive, hands can build.

Self Portrait, 1940
Frida Kahlo

Why would you be surprised that a Mexican did it? As I have said before, this country is far more than tacos and tequila. Just because Sony and Toyota were born in Japan doesn't make it the mother of all invention. Russia was first in space.

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Question: I just heard a tidbit about Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. How did they get back into the news?

Answer: Their likenesses and samples of their art are on opposite sides of the new 500-peso bill, along with several security features to discourage counterfeiting.

Michelada with Indio beer
Daniel Wheeler, 2010

This is a small political football. Some wanted to keep old soldier Ignacio Zaragoza on the money. Some argued that famous writer Octavio Paz is more deserving. This issue doesn't matter much to me. I deal in lower numbers. Neighborhood merchants give you a helpless look if you offer a 500 to buy one banana and a bag of chips.

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Question: You know so much, what are micheladas?

Answer: Instead of "I have no idea," you and others may have the results of considerable research. In gathering information, I was subjected to laughter and light ridicule for my conservative, sheltered, non-alcoholic lifestyle.

Between winks and snickers, I was told that the michelada is a beer mix that might include a twist of lime, a slice of orange or a wedge of tangerine, sea salt, smashed chiles, hot sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of black pepper, a squirt of Motts Clamato, chipped ice and even, sometimes, a splash of Pepsi.

Oh my goodness, do people really drink that?

Published or Updated on: October 9, 2010 by Marvin West © 2010
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is

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