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Ask the old gringo about Americanization of holidays, Mexico freedom of the press and marriage tryouts

Marvin West

A modern store in Plaza Manzanillo shopping center appeals to residents and tourists in this Mexican Pacific port city. © Donald MacKay, 2011
A modern store in Plaza Manzanillo shopping center appeals to residents and tourists in this Mexican Pacific port city.
© Donald MacKay, 2011

Snowbirds are packing for their return to sunny Mexico. That is good news. We hear there might not be as many as there were a while ago. That is not so good for service providers and people who sell things.

How come? Questions I try to answer privately are more than 70 percent about the drug war. There is apprehension.

One reader asked a generic "Anything going on?" which gives me a different opening: Indeed there is. It appears that Mexican holidays are undergoing Americanization. You can blame it on TV or natives returning from north of the border.

The sacred Easter season past had more Easter eggs and bunnies and even a few bonnets. Pretty girls are learning to expect I-love-you valentines and chocolates. Halloween has long been intruding on the Day of the Dead and the trick-or-treat crowd is clearly gaining.

Christmas, a traditional family time featuring the posadas, is tilting toward Santa Claus and decorations, gifts and debt.

For some strange reason, Mexicans don't bother with the Fourth of July. They don't do much with Thanksgiving but they are copying the day-after marketing ploy.

This is for real: Thanksgiving is not even on the Mexican calendar. Most Mexicans have never heard the pilgrim story. But they understand reduced prices and two-for-one sales.

Retailers are building an ad campaign. They want a piece of Black Friday profits. They are calling it the kickoff for Christmas shopping. Does that sound exactly like Wal-Mart?

Discounts in stores. No or low interest charges for a month on credit cards. The feds promise to pay annual Christmas bonuses in advance so government workers can cash in on deals.

* * * * *

Question: If I read your profile correctly, you are an old journalist. Tell us about freedom of the press in Mexico.

Answer: There isn't enough. Reporters, writers, photographers and editors are at risk if they get too close to the truth about the drug war or politics or maybe domestic dabbling.

Some journalists have been killed for their courage or blunders. Some have only been intimidated and silenced.

El Buen Tono, a new newspaper in Veracruz, took the heat treatment. Something, perhaps criticism of local leaders, caused a fire. An unruly group stormed the office, doused it with Pemex regular and threw in a match.

The deputy attorney general was pleased to announce that all newspaper employees escaped. An investigation is pending.

* * * * *

Question: We can read between the lines. We know how you feel about Mexico City. Any new tales to tell?

Answer: You got to love those liberals. They are advocating marriage tryouts with expiration dates. Couples could decide beforehand how long they want their marriage to last. After a minimum of two years, the contract would just expire, thus reducing the number and expense of divorces.

"For two years I thee wed, with the option for renewal."

Some are just laughing. The Catholic archdiocese calls the proposal absolutely absurd. If you are keeping score, recent records show about 40 divorces for every 100 marriages in Mexico City. No worse than Los Angeles.

* * * * *

Question: We enjoyed your column about Mexican protests. Any new ones to report?

Answer: Glad you asked. As you may know, the more electricity you use, the higher the costs per kilowatt hour. Sometimes too much is really too much.

One consumer retaliated by setting off a homemade bomb outside the electric utility in Iztacalco, a neighborhood in dearly beloved Mexico City. The blast occurred after midnight. Nobody was injured. As is the custom, an investigation is ongoing. Don't expect an arrest. Too many suspects. Millions of us resent electricity prices.

* * * * *

Question: OK, you have stalled long enough. What is going on in the drug war?

Answer: Through binoculars, it appears much the same. There was a recent contradiction. We are repeatedly told that the war is mostly between drug dealers, that ordinary citizens are seldom bothered and almost never killed.

Sometimes facts get in the way of fiction.

Hundreds of people in a Cabo San Lucas shopping mall ducked for cover while security forces traded gunfire with bad boys in the parking lot. Police ordered those inside to stay inside. Stores were searched for suspects.

No shoppers or employees were injured but some cars suffered bullet holes. Two hours were lost in the lockdown, resulting in late lunches and one missed hair-do appointment. The military provided escort security when all was clear.

The drug war is inconvenient, discouraging or deadly, depending on who gets shot. Contrary to rumor, it is not limited to Juarez.

Published or Updated on: November 10, 2011 by Marvin West © 2011
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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