Mexican Patience & American Arrogance

I’m not particularly religious. To be more accurate I should say I’m an atheist who gets an occasional case of spiritual hiccups. And because I don’t live my life having much personal interaction with organized religion I haven’t ever looked at the effect that organized religions have had on the cultures I’ve interacted with and lived in. Until now.

When I moved to Mexico I knew it was a Catholic country. I knew it was the most Catholic country in the world (it has the highest number of Catholics as a percentage of the population of any country). But what I didn’t know what was how all that widespread Catholicism would effect the culture or the way people in Mexico learn to think.

I also didn’t understand just how much I was myself a product of a predominantly Protestant culture. I didn’t understand that even though I wasn’t raised a Protestant that I was still formed by a Protestant culture.

But living in Mexico and being married to a Mexican man (himself an atheist who was brought up loosely Catholic) has given me insight into just how strong a role religious ideals do play in the formation of culture and in the way we are brought up to think.

There are specific examples that jump out at me. One is the sense that I and many of my fellow (largely Protestant) Americans have that we are masters of our own destiny. I absolutely believe that ultimately I can and should try to control most major and nearly all minor aspects of my life. I plan and I plan and I plot and I worry and I guess and I wait for my future. My husband doesn’t. My husband often seems, from my perspective, to not even see how the choices he makes form the future he will live. And he hates to plan anything, just in case he might not want to actually do that thing when the time comes.

I think that Americans in general are seen by many as arrogant, pushy and dominant. And I think that it comes directly from that thing in our Protestant culture that tells us we can make things happen, that we can and should use the power we have to influence our lives and the world around us. And often I think we Americans use our power too freely and try to influence others too strongly. We are arrogant bastards. But we believe and know that we can control our lives. We are also organized enough, and plan well enough, that we can and do have a very strong influence on the world around us.

Mexicans, with my husband usually among them, often don’t seem to believe that they can change anything. They seem resigned to take what God gives them. They accept their fate much, much better than I ever could. They are a people who epitomize patience.

In fact patience is the number one thing that I have learned from living in Mexico. I’ve learned to be patient with others’ incompetence. I’ve learned to be patient with the lack of logical thinking present in everything here from the way people drive to the way they manage businesses to the way the government works. And I’m grateful to have learned patience. It was about time.

But to me there’s something tragic about the way that most Mexicans just accept that drug violence and corruption and environmental destruction and exploding populations of street animals are normal aspects of daily life. People in Mexico largely just accept those horrors and get on with their days. I’m constantly amazed at how happy people seem to be as they drive past a dying dog in the street and around a pile of garbage.

I’ve lived in Mexico for over 5 years. And I’ve learned that I’m never going to accept that the horrors here can’t be changed. I will never be able to see a newly beheaded body on the front page of the paper and just say ni modo (which loosely means “I don’t like it but whatever,” ) and move on about my day. I will never be able to feel that it’s “right” to bribe a cop. I will never be able to understand why people here can’t put their garbage in a trash can. I will never accept these things because I’m not made that way. I’m not made to accept tragedy and corruption and suffering. I’m a master of my own destiny remember, so when I see all that horror I feel I’ve got to change it and to fix it.

It’s my hope that Mexico will someday learn to respect its land and its animals and its people so that people here don’t have to ignore so much suffering just to be happy. Maybe someday Mexicans will be able to have faith in their own ability to make things better. Until then I guess it’s good that they are patient people.

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7 Responses to “Mexican Patience & American Arrogance”

  1. Mindy Rosas-Standring
    January 8th, 2009 10:09

    I do know what you mean. I think that there are a lot of things that are factors of living in the USA and being in a position to really change our environment. My husband and I talked about this a lot. He made the point that there was so much that he learned he did have the ability to change when he lived in the USA and now, even though we love living here, we know that we can better many parts of our lives and environment. Even if we cannot get others to understand that they can do. It is sort of like that old saying…”focus on the things you can change, F**k the things you can’t.

  2. kathy
    January 9th, 2009 23:47

    This is very insightful. I definitely have the work ethic and mentality of “opportunity knocks” but I’ve also become disillusioned and apathetic – not due to living here but seeing no change occurring in the USofA. The new administration has brought the first whiff of change in decades. I can totally see the Mexican attitude (and had it even before we arrived) but I can also totally see the US “make it happen” attitude.

  3. kathy
    January 9th, 2009 23:48

    But holy crap, if husbandito works in government in Cancun, he’s dealing with politics (on whatever level he’s working) and that, in Cancun, has to totally sour a person on any thoughts of making change happen. Sigh.

  4. American Mommy in Mexico
    January 10th, 2009 18:32

    Very well written. I enjoyed your opinions and insights.

  5. Tazeen
    January 13th, 2009 06:15

    First time on your blog and I totally enjoyed reading this post. No matter how we try to disassociate ourselves with our religion and society, we are a product that is shaped by these two factors ( to some extent at last).

    I am going to blogroll you if it is ok with you.

  6. José Juan
    February 10th, 2009 19:58


    I´ve read this interesting post and a few things came to my mind which I like to ask you.

    Wheneaver we decide to live abroad we start to make comparisons because its easier to see what are the “pros” and “cons” of our native country against the the same factors of the new country.

    From your story I see that “patience” helped you out to copy with those things clearly against your native culture and personal values.

    But patience besides of being a virtue it also features the characteristic of having its limit…
    You think this will be enough to stand this cultural shock? Have you weighted the fact that this could cause any sort of conflict of your actual relationship in the longterm?

    Congratulations for your blog…!

  7. RiverGirl
    February 10th, 2009 20:32

    José Juan – Well, my patience sure runs out for Mexico sometimes. Today is one of those times. But I think that my relationship with my husband can stand these stresses. It helps a lot that he lived in the US, so he understands my culture, and it helps that he originally moved to the US because he was tired of many things in Mexico. So he’s very sympathetic when I complain about Mexico, he understands.

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