Editor’s Note:We originally published this article in 2005… three and a half years after we moved to Merida from Central California. Now, due to a death and a birth in our family, we are spending time on the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo County, to be exact) as well as in Merida. You could say we have one foot in each city, emphasizing even more our bi-cultural experiences, and certainly our divided hearts. We love both places and we have family and friends in both places. When we reread this article recently, we were amazed at how so much of what we wrote originally was still true (we still love California and we still love the colors of Mexico… some things never change!). We also noted that some things have definitely changed (we have lost track of how many Starbucks’ are now in Merida… let alone the rest of the Yucatan). So we updated the article a bit… and we hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to add your comments… what do you like about Gringolandia? And what do you like about the Yucatan?
That’s what they call the United States (and to some extent, Canada… but we’re sticking with the "USA" definition for purposes of this article)… Gringolandia. It is really one of our favorite Spanglish words… it mixes gringo, already a Spanglish word from *way* back and Disneyland, an American concept if there ever was one. And then there’s that little Spanish ending to make it sing… as with many of the best Spanglish words, it has layers of meaning.
We have in the past called Gringolandia the Land of the Fearful. This is a very general observation that sadly has not changed in ten years. From the minute you step foot in an American airport, everything from toilet seat covers to newspaper headlines to airport screenings lets you know that people in the USA are just more afraid. We think it’s been sneaking up on norteamericanos for so long they don’t notice it much. But coming from the *real* Land of the Free, we notice it right away.
Gringolandia also has the connotation of, well… Disneyland. From the Mexican point of view, everything seems so perfect in the United States… maybe too perfect. Maybe life in the United States is a dream come true, and maybe it has a touch of fantasy about it and isn’t exactly real.
Of course, Gringolandia is where the gringos live. And we think it is as much a state of mind as anything, because of course, wherever you go, there you are! You can bring gringolandia with you to Mexico, though we would encourage you not to.
To enjoy and appreciate the differences, we think it helps to acknowledge them. It allows us to appreciate each land for what it has to offer, and enjoy what we love about them both.
What We Love About California, USA
Here’s what we love about the United States and our original home state of California:
Nature. The rolling green hills, the smell of familiar plants like sage and eucalyptus, the way the sun sets over the ocean, the way the birds sound, the dry grasses blowing in the breeze. Oak trees, eucalyptus trees, jacaranda trees… ceiba trees? (yes, we have seen a lot of ceiba trees planted in California lately), mountains, Big Sur, all those wineries and vineyards and all that great wine, Farmer’s markets, organic everything. Let’s face it… we’re in love with Coastal California… who wouldn’t be?
Family. We have three daughters and a son-in-law, one grandson, multiple parents and siblings and an extended family that seems to go on forever. There’s just no substitute for family… and ironically, this is something we learned on a much deeper level living in Mexico. No question. There’s no amount of money, culture, history or good times that substitute for family. Mexicans know this… and when living in Merida, it makes missing ours all the more difficult.
Clean streets. Mayans for some reason haven’t quite figured out that plastic bags and coke bottles don’t disintegrate like banana leaves. They need a “Pick up your litter” campaign like we had in the States in the 50′s and 60′s (Remember Woodsie Owl? – Give a hoot, don’t pollute!). We’ve seen intimations of this kind of progress and we are eagerly awaiting it. In the meantime, we love and appreciate the guys with the orange trash cans who periodically clean up the streets in the centro.
Movies. We’ve got great movie theatres in Merida and around the Yucatan Peninsula now. We have VIP lounges where you can lie back and eat and drink in comfort while watching the big screen. We have iTunes and other internet sites, which allow for a lot of downloading of media when in Mexico. Some people get movies and TV through illegal satellite setups. Still, in Merida, we miss things like Netflix and Hulu and other internet-based channels whose lawyers don’t allow them to show their products in Mexico.
Slow mosquitoes. The mosquitoes in California are lazy and completely pathetic. Killing a mosquito in California takes no dexterity at all. The California mosquitoes really ought to take lessons from their Yucatecan cousins. They are no match for our Yucatan-honed mosquito-slapping skills.
Happy, well-cared-for animals. Seeing a scared, starving, sick or thirsty dog wandering the streets ruins our day. Listening to a tied-up, barking, unhappy dog has a similar effect. Over the years, we have gotten so much more used to it, sadly. We used to want to rescue every dog we saw on the street. Now we limit ourselves to ones that are hurt or obviously starving. If we can’t see their ribs, we can now acknowledge that they are probably getting enough food and may even be “owned” by someone who just lets them run the streets. We support additional education for everyone in Mexico about taking care of animals and do what we can. We are happy to see more and more Yucatecans walking their dogs on leashes and treating their pets well. In the United States, we revel in the happy dogs we see playing at the beach, hanging out at the dog parks. It is a relief to be in a culture that even might be said to go overboard in their concern about the health and well-being of animals. We probably won’t be the ones saying it.
What We Love About Merida, Mexico
And here’s what we love about our other home, Merida, and Mexico in general:
Mexicans and Yucatecans in particular. Almost everyone says “Buenos dias” when you walk by. People smile back if you smile at them, almost without exception. People in general really do seem happier and more gracious here.
Our adopted Yucatecan family. Over ten years we have gained at least three Yucatecan “children”, numerous friends and their families. They may not be blood relatives, but they have become family.
The mix of indigenous people and us modernos. It seems to help keep the soul of the country intact and makes life so much more interesting. We’re sad to see young Mayans wearing t-shirts instead of huipiles, but happy to see the revival of the Mayan language and the support it is getting from the government and the young people re-learning the language.
Free Entertainment. Noche Mexicana. Tuesdays at Santiago. Juanes. Shakira. We don’t know any city of a million people in the USA where there is so much free quality entertainment, or where international stars like these give concerts for free. It may be a result of political posturing that we are not going to even try to understand or get involved with, but we love the free, world class entertainment available to everyone, despite their wealth or lack of it.
Free Enterprise. Mercados, street vendors and the spirit of entrepreneurship. You don’t need a business license to sell vegetables here. Any enterprising person can sell everything from homemade brooms to bags of dirt to fresh garden vegetables… and they do! The guy in the picture is selling bags of dirt off of his handmade cart, pulled by a horse through the city streets. He, and others like him, ride around yelling Tierra! and sell the bags for a few pesos each. Is it great dirt? Not usually. But we totally support his right to sell it.
History. It’s everywhere here! We know this is also true in the more eastern parts of the United States, though not so much in California. The layers of life that have been lived on each city block, in each little town in the Yucatan… it is fascinating, awe-inspiring and humbling.
COLOR! People paint their houses purple, orange, blue… whatever! Color could be said to be the extravagance of the poor in Mexico. But a love of bright and different colors seems to be embedded in the Mexican psyche… and we love it. Cities, streets and houses in the United States look so drab in comparison to us now.
Street People. Practically no one lives on the street in Merida. There’s a lot of poverty in Mexico, but everyone here in Merida has some family or seems to have found a home to live in. In our almost ten years in Merida, we’ve seen less than ten people sleeping on the street in this city of over a million people. Back in California, in cities like Santa Barbara or Los Angeles or even our hometown of San Luis Obispo, the number of street people is alarming to us. It does not escape our irony detector that while there are no homeless dogs running the streets, there seem to be plenty of homeless people.
State-owned gas stations. No worries about whether you are getting the right price or not. You never have to pump your own gas. There are clean bathrooms and full service at just about every station. And after driving the length, if not the breadth, of Mexico, we can attest that there is usually a Pemex station everywhere you need one, and sometimes more than you need. Go Pemex!
Less expensive real estate and low property taxes. You can buy a lovely home here for $200K and still pay $100 a year in property taxes. Where can you do that in the USA or Canada or Europe? And yes, we still have reasonably-priced water, a-bit-more-expensive electricity and unbelievably-cheap trash service. Maybe the streets are not paved as beautifully… but maybe they are! The infrastructure in California is not what it used to be.
The Heat. You may not believe this, but though living in the heat can be difficult, we miss it when we are away from it. After ten years, we learned to live with the heat (yes, air conditioners and a swimming pool definitely help!). We swear our bodies have adapted, and now we’re like Yucatecans when it comes to cold. When the temperature dips below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, we put on coats and shiver like everyone else in Merida who has lived here for any length of time.
Wherever We Go in Gringolandia, There is Mexico
Now that we are spending more time in Gringolandia, we have noticed something else. We are still using our Spanish because there are a lot of people from Mexico here. Our closest neighbors in California are an entire family originally from Oaxaca. We can practice our Spanish with the guy taking our money at the restaurant or the family having a BBQ next to ours at the lake. Or, what is really even more surprising, sometimes we cannot practice our Spanish with that family at the lake. They look Mexican, have Mexican names but are born and raised here and can’t speak Spanish. Are they Mexican? Are we? The integration of the two cultures has been accelerating more and more quickly it seems.
And we are a part of all that.