After finishing a week in Mexico, I’ve made a few realizations. Rarely in other countries do I get the chance to experience a political culture as closely as I did this one. The range of people we spoke with provided a diverse and intimate account of Mexico’s political life. Mexico’s culture therefore became clearer specifically through the lens of its politics. It’s often easy to equate the word “government” with the government we experience here in the U.S. and even after traveling abroad, a failure to listen to the right people can perpetuate that habit. This trip left no room for ignorance, and personal accounts from civilians and politicians alike opened a much more human level of detail.
The reality of Mexico’s political life became most tangible through our conversations with passersby on election day, who gave a citizen’s perspective on Mexico’s politics. That citizen’s perspective was much more relatable than any we had heard before from academics, journalists, and politicians themselves. One woman we spoke with declared that she had always voted for one party, and that she would always continue voting for that party, regardless of the candidate. Her friend, standing just to her right, mentioned that she worked in government, and that she had seen first hand the corruption that had plagued that very same party. The two friends were standing side by side arguing two completely opposing points, and yet never once become upset or agitated with each other. This instance opened up a personal side of Mexican political life which, through comparison with my own life, made my own political life more distinct and definitive than before. In the U.S., two friends with such vehemently opposed political views would probably not have initiated a friendship at all. There are communities in the U.S. which share a range of political beliefs, but it is certainly the case that most circles of friend contain either Democrats or Republicans. This small anecdote about a personal friendship speaks to a much larger characteristic of Mexican politics: parties are not overly important, and people’s personal lives are far more important to them than their political views.
Because of this arrangement of values, it appeared that people in Mexico often seek personal benefits over general political agendas. This might explain the rift between parties at local levels and parties at federal levels. The local level of governance earns votes based on its local track record and connections more than its ideology. People may therefore vote for a local party for the direct benefits, but vote for a different party on the federal level for ideological reasons. Just as the friendship between these two women was more important to them than their political views, a family’s benefits from their local government are more important to them than their government’s outspoken political stance.
Mexican people regard their government much differently than people in the U.S. do. Some in the U.S. probably consider their government as an expression of their values or their community. Many Mexican people view it as a source for individualized advancement. That very trend is an issue for many Mexicans, who wish their own people would view their politics on a more communal level. A couple we spoke with in Coyoacan even described the individualistic behavior of Mexican families and voters as openings for the government to take advantage of society. Perhaps this change in attitude is the change people are hoping for in AMLO. There are so many moving pieces, so it’s hard to say if anyone could ever bring about such a change. Even so, a populace demanding change can be potent, and it remains to be seen whether such demands will be met.