We began our second day in Leon with a hotel breakfast at the Hampton Inn. The Hampton Inn in Leon is practically the same as all Hampton Inns in the US, and there are plenty of American businessmen to eavesdrop on. I heard one pair of blonde Americans discussing the elections, referring to AMLO as “some socialist guy.” It’s become apparent to us that while the American population generally isn’t paying much mind to the elections in the country, the business community is keenly aware of Mexico’s political affairs and the nature of Mexico’s economic policies. Even so, these men seemed blissfully unaware of what was really happening in this part of their continent.
The concept of North America as a geopolitical unit is a difficult concept to fully embrace. In many ways, there are continents all over the world which host far greater diversity than North America does. Even so, it can be difficult to tell whether “North America” really means the US, Canada, and Mexico, or if it only applies to the anglophone sections of the country, leaving Mexico as part of “Latin America” more than anything else. I might even argue the existence of five countries in North America, throwing California and Texas in as autonomous cultural and economic units in their own right. Mexico is inextricably linked with the US on an economic and cultural level, but that wasn’t always the case, and it took wars and economic overhauls to bring the two countries as close as they are currently. As it currently stands, the political decisions of one government can mean significant repercussions for the other two states on the continent, almost as if those political decisions were happening in those states themselves. All of these facts play into the sticky question of whether North America is a collection of states, an amalgam of different peoples, or an imaginary construct. Regardless of the answer, it’s surprising to hear two American businessmen be so out of touch with the reality of North America.
We had a few meetings that day with various figures in the area connected with local politics and discussed a range of ideas, including the efficacy of city councils, the roots of local corruption, and the rates of femicide in Leon. Femicides are an acute problem for Mexico, and it plays into the country’s broader issues of violence. It’s easy to explain drug-related violence. There’s money involved, there are young listless men, disenfranchised by their education system and the corruption and nepotism in their governments, who are available to be recruited by violent groups, and a steady flow of arms from Mexico’s gun-addicted northern neighbor. Femicide, on the other hand, strikes the core of human nature, in a confusing, complicated, and horrifying way. What drives men to kill women at random in such numbers that the UN has to get involved? How do you change cultural perspectives and alter the way people treat each other in their own homes? How do you even begin to understand the root of the cultural-psychological issues at play with men who feel it necessary to kill and rape their own wives? Some answers, as we heard, come in the education system, which may be able to handle femicide at an early stage, before young men develop the ability to act on their pernicious cultural/personal motives.
Femicide isn’t the only problem facing women in Mexico currently. Mexican states vary widely in their policies towards abortion. In one infamous case, a Mexican woman went to her regional government to seek permission for an abortion after being raped, and instead of sending her to a physician, the local government referred to the local Catholic priest. AMLO has been relatively quiet on these subjects, though he, like the other candidates, has pledged to handle violence on a general level in the country.
We finished in Leon with a quick lunch at McDonalds. We were pleased to discover the small differences between McDonald’s in Mexico and in the US. The Mexican drive thru is called “Auto Mac.” They have fried cheese curds called “chilliquesos.” There’s a small circular “add-ons” bar which looks like a piece from a star wars set (perhaps from the iconic bar scene in tattooine where Luke cuts a ruffians arm off).
The drive back was long but the country was beautiful. Rain rolled through, as we’ve come to expect in the afternoons, and when the sun broke through the clouds we could see the waves of gold racing over agave and corn fields beneath volcanic ranges which provide the rich soil for this agrarian region. Once we arrived back in Mexico City we had dinner and hit the hay at our od friend, the Hotel Roosevelt.
Today started with a trip to Coyoacan, where we spent the late morning and lunch time sampling local food at the market and chatting with vendors. We stopped for a big bowl of posole and a glass of pulque, and I managed a political conversation with the market stand’s proprietor between bites. Surprisingly, he seemed not even to know that the polls had placed AMLO so far in the lead. He also seemed unlikely to vote. We had to tell him about many of the basic facts which we’d learned about the election over the past week. At one point though, he jokingly criticized one of his friends in the market for not caring about poor people, which he attributed to the man’s support for Ricardo Anaya. Evidently, in the absence of a real progressive candidate, AMLO has become the hero of the disadvantaged. We knew this already, but it was interesting to see it play out in casual conversation.
That afternoon we enjoyed a meeting with Jorge Padilla, an editor at one of Mexico’s foremost newspapers, Reforma. Padilla described violence in Mexico as a phenomenon which Mexican people have come to expect and, in many cases, ignore. Padilla described the Mexican attitude about violence through a metaphor: if you throw a frog in boiling water, it will jump out, but if you put a frog in tepid water, and slowly increased the temperature to a boil, the frog will die without even noticing. According to Padilla, violence in Mexico has steadily increased such that people may realized the true scale of their problems as they would in a more sudden onslaught of violent behavior. As a newspaper editor, he said, he has to measure the amount of violence he includes in the paper, and he has to pick and choose the incidents of violence he wants to include.
Padilla also walked us through the state of print journalism in Mexico which is facing the same struggles and setbacks that plague the print journalism industry in the US. According to Padilla, online content has not saved the paper, and while the mobile version of the paper has gained a lot of readers, Reforma still has to charge their readers for the paper. Per Padilla, the paper relies on their already large and loyal readership to maintain a steady revenue stream. Even with this readership, though, the paper still faces the possibility of eventual demise. Padilla accepted that fate with surprising candor and realism. As he said, “maybe it will be time for a career change.”
The end of the day left us excited for the coming election. We had learned about Mexican journalism, discussed women’s rights, and talked to “Joe the plumber”-type locals in the market. Our image was wider, more detailed, and better prepared for the election.