The Ugly American (6)

I was thinking yesterday about Cinco de Mayo and how our country managed to use this relatively unimportant date in Mexican history to celebrate Mexican culture instead of choosing to honor a date that holds deeper meaning in Mexico, like el 16 de septiembre. It makes me sad, and it makes me embarrassed to be an estadounidense (someone from the United States). I have long been embarrassed by our reputation traveling abroad, for being demanding, arrogant, condescending, for expecting all our whims to be met and met instantly, for believing people in other countries should put aside their local traditions and customs in order to cater to and accommodate us. I was mortified when we elected Bush—twice!—and appalled when he refused to even pause when millions of people all over the world took to the streets to protest attacking Iraq. There may not be an adjective for what I feel now knowing Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate for president. When this started we were all so sure he’d be disregarded, dismissed. How could anyone take him seriously?

Now I am baffled and angry to see so many people voting for him. How can people ignore the malice and racism he’s so steeped in? I’m hideously ashamed of our country in the eyes the world, our dark, decaying underbelly exposed, maggots everywhere. I cling to one comfort that has come to me in recent times. I may be ashamed to be an estadounidense, but I am glad to be a Californian. I’m proud of the way our state has separated itself from the anti-immigrant stance. I’m not saying we don’t have more work to do, but at least we’re moving in the right direction, granting driver’s licenses, minimizing police cooperation with federal deportation officials, changing Medi-Cal laws to provide healthcare for the children of undocumented immigrants, raising the minimum wage. So, today I reach for solace in this gift, that I belong to a state who is trying to change things for the better. And I pray Trump will be defeated by an overwhelming and embarrassing margin. I pray come election day we’ll see evidence the true majority of people in this country understand what he espouses is wrong-hearted and vindictive, that at the end of this messy, ugly, humiliating spectacle the people of this country will do the right thing.

[Editor’s note: I don’t mean to imply here the United States doesn’t have much more egregious sins than these when it comes to our participation in the world or at home. This known catalog is endless and disturbing to say the least.]

The Boy with the Scary Skin (19)

I walk down my hill to the carretera, the highway, two short blocks from my home. I never have to wait long for a bus here in Ajijic, only five or ten minutes. But I have yet to be able to distinguish between the different buses from a distance, the one that turns at my corner and goes through town, the one that stays on the carretera. So I get nervous waiting. I am self-conscious flagging down the driver, boarding the bus. I feel conspicuous, the one estadounidense in the midst of the Mexicans whose world this is. I place my coins in the driver’s outstretched hand. “San Juan Cosolá,” I say, flustered, sure every eye is on me, certain the driver is only tolerating my foriegn-ness.

But once I find a seat toward the back and settle in, I begin to relax. I’m on one of my favorite outings, going to the next town over to indulge in the waters, the natural hot springs, the balnearios. The bus continues west on the highway, and I wonder if I’ll see the two little boys today. I have asked their names before but never remember them. I am bad with names. They are brothers or maybe neighbors, best friends. They are little, wiry, filled with restless energy. The one the other defers to, the oldest, I think, has a terrible skin ailment that covers his face. There are patches on his arms, his hands.

I give them coins because they do not demand them, do not treat me as though I must, as though it is their due, and I must be rich because I’m from the United States. Usually I give them 10 pesos each, maybe a little more or a little less, depending on whether or not I have remembered to prepare for them. Once I gave the one in charge a 200-peso bill, just less than twenty dollars. I asked him if he would share it with his mother. I believed him, his solemn nod. I could feel the shock of it in both of them, but they didn’t say a word, didn’t betray any emotion, only in the still way they held themselves did I know what it meant to them. Another time I was walking up the short hill to the highway on my way home when the bus appeared. I was too far away, but I started to run. The older boy saw me and raced hard for the bus. He got the driver to wait for me. I could have kissed him. And the sweetest thing was knowing he hadn’t done it for the coins. He was only being kind, generous. He would grow up to be a good man, I thought.

I waved to him as the bus pulled away, grateful and touched by his gesture, and aching for the kind of poverty he knew, the kind that left him stranded in his skin, his old soul eyes meeting mine as I left him behind.