May 26, 2011 in Not Safe For Lunch
A few weeks ago, I attended a Saturday brunch party at an American friend’s house in a little Mexican beach town. Having lived in Mexico for the better part of two years now, and having had very little contact with Americans or Europeans or even white Mexicans, I’ve had enough distance to notice certain habits, mannerisms, quirks, tendencies, peculiarities and particularisms more common to white people than, say, full-blooded indigenous people from remote jungle villages so out of the Western World’s reach that their first contact with things like antibiotics and Catholicism and the Spanish language is still well within living memory.
That’s not to say I’m not white, because I certainly am, or that I’ve somehow become more like a full-blooded indigenous person from a remote jungle village by living here, because I haven’t, nor is it to say there aren’t plenty of white Americans living nearby, but this Saturday brunch party was the first time I’ve really socialized with multiple American expats in a good six months.
One thing the local American expats are famous for here is taking in feral dogs off the streets and, after a quick sterilization and deworming and a few nourishing meals of organic all-natural dog food, keeping them as pets.
But what the local American expats are even more famous for is the spectacularly snotty and judgmental way in which they take these dogs off the streets and keep them as pets.
With slogans like “helping animals by educating people” and “you can judge a country by the way it treats its stray dogs,” you might say that the local American expats haven’t exactly been the most gracious guests in Mexico.
When one considers that in many parts of Mexico the majority of stray dogs carry incurable and deadly chagas disease which is easily transmitted to humans, and when one considers that these sterilization and de-worming procedures cost upwards of seventy US dollars each (about twice the price of a bag of organic dog food,) and that the minimum wage in this part of Mexico is just under five US dollars per day, you might say that it isn’t really a matter of education, but of practicality, and that the local Mexicans are completely undeserving of slogans like “you can judge a country by the way it treats its stray dogs.”
And you might see why I was completely unsurprised when the local government responded to said slogan with a quick and thorough late-night sweep of the city in which every single stray dog was euthanized on the spot and hauled off in the back of a garbage truck.
As bad as I felt for the poor dogs, I would be lying if I said I took no satisfaction in seeing these snotty expats have the rug pulled out from under them in such a brutal fashion. Justice was, in a way, served. Sick, sick justice.
But I digress.
It was like something out of a V.S. Naipaul novel; a dozen or so American expats huddled on a beach-front patio in the 110 degree heat, making quick work of a Costco crudite tray and sipping Stolichnaya cosmopolitans, made possible by the duty-free shop in the nearby airport. The Jews sat on one end of the table, the Gentiles at the other. I didn’t know where to sit. Hardly anyone spoke Spanish in the surrounding village, which was comprised of a dozen or so empty beach houses (most of which were for sale and had been for years,) just as many piles of rubble where beach houses once stood before a hurricane that came through the area a decade ago, and a few dozen thatched-roof hovels.
That is, if you lived in that town, odds are you were either an American, or a European, or an indigenous Mexican who spoke Spanish as a second language, if at all. On the edge of town, on the only road leading out, the federal police had set up a road block, manned twenty-four hours a day, to check passing cars for drugs (because since about the time the local Americans started sporting t-shirts that say “you can judge a country by the way it treats its stray dogs,” over 40,000 Mexicans have been slain in the war to stop traffickers moving drugs to the United States.)
Though I’d heard of these t-shirts, it was at the beach party that I first saw one in person, on a rail-thin middle-aged woman from San Francisco who excitedly introduced me to Esperanza, one of the three dogs she has proudly rescued from the mean Mexican streets.
“Esperanza means ‘hope’ in Ess-pan-yole,” she explained, taking a sip of her cosmo, spilling a few drops down on her t-shirt.
I lifted the plate of raw cauliflower from my lap as Esperanza made a go for it, then rested her head on my knee as if to pretend like that was her intent the whole time, to just put her head there and look up at me with her big dog eyes. I patted her on the head and stroked her arched back.
But our Naipaul novel quickly turned into one by Marguerite Duras when Esperanza turned around, revealing a white, one-inch length of worm, about spaghetti-thick, wriggling its way out from beneath her happily wagging tail.
It fell to the patio floor in a puddle of translucent goo and writhed back and forth.
I pretended not to notice.
As Esperanza left to frolic in the ocean tide and carouse with the other stray dogs that roamed up and down the beach, I carried on my conversation with the woman from San Francisco. Every thirty seconds or so I’d have to stop myself from looking down at the patio floor to see the worm frolicking around in its puddle of intestinal fluid. I don’t even remember what the woman continued talking about. My mind was elsewhere, wondering what part of the worm’s life cycle I was witnessing, what survival technique its evolutionary memory was compelling it to re-enact there on the patio. Was it dying? Was it laying eggs? Was it waiting for another dog to come along and curiously lick up the puddle, beginning a whole new turn in the great Circle of Life?
The rest of the Americans continued chatting and getting drunk on Stolichnaya cosmopolitans, completely unaware of the philosophical question Esperanza had birthed into the world before my very eyes.
But the silent, if unsubtle, communication between Esperanza and myself revealed a great many things about white people, and why, even without charming little Mexican beach towns, they have it so damn good. So good, in fact, that even people so clueless as to dream up that all Mexico’s stray dogs need to live a good life is a healthy dose of education for Mexicans can survive this harsh world with their cluelessness intact.
On the most base level, white people come from a place with many geographic advantages mild weather, few (if any) intestinal parasites, potable water, a refreshing lack of tropical diseases, to name just a few.
And without having those practical things to worry about, the white mind is left with all kinds of projects to fashion for itself, like saving Mexico’s stray dogs, even as the very same intestinal worms that afflict them are crawling out of the local humans, even as Mexican agricultural workers in the United States are dying from preventable occupational hazards like heat exhaustion and getting stuck in manure ponds, even as close to 15% of all Mexicans have fled their homeland in search of work.
The party continued. We got drunker. New American guests arrived and sat down at the table, Jews on one side, Gentiles on the other. In my drunkenness, I noticed for the first time that I was sitting with the Gentiles. I got up from the table and stumbled down the dirt road to the corner store for a pack of Marlboros. When I got back, I grabbed another handful of Costco cauliflower. In the outskirts of my drunken consciousness, I heard the woman introduce Esperanza to the newcomers.
“Esperanza means ‘hope’ in Ess-pan-yole,” she explained, taking a sip of her cosmo and spilling a few more drops down the front of her t-shirt. She tried to dab the vodka and cranberry juice off with a napkin, but her shirt was stained.
“You can judge a country by the way it treats its stray dogs.”