Knowledge is Bliss

Just a few days before I had to do this essay, my mom shared a story with me. In the middle of a Spanish lesson, one of her students asked her a completely unrelated question: Why do Mexican children always wear frilly dresses and slippers to the supermarket, and why do the men always crowd in the back of pick-up trucks to go to work? Although some of the students thought it was funny, my mother, of course, couldn’t pass up this opportunity to respond and teach a more important lesson, interestingly enough, about stereotypes. She reminded me of our trip to Mexico some time ago and related those experiences to her students.
I was very young when I first visited a very large, cultural, and modern city. The streets were wide, and the buildings hustled and bustled with life and technology. There were huge malls with the latest fashions and subway stations with centuries of history carved around them. Paris, you say? No, Mexico City! A far cry from the dusty roads and grungy men with poor English accents we often see in the media. This is, in fact, a stereotype. From my childhood recollections of having visited Mexico and seen it for myself, none of these stereotypes are further from the truth.
When we speak of the “typical Mexican” we might first want to ask ourselves: What is a typical Mexican? Did you know that there are Mexicans of Chinese descent and African descent, for example? There is a region of Mexico called Veracruz which is inhabited by a large population of Black Mexicans (when we visited Mexico, my mother videotaped these people and places). We were pleasantly surprised, to say the least. Many Mexicans also speak very clear English, their official Spanish language, and the traditional Aztec language that they use regularly. They are not all ignorant or uneducated based on the fact that they don’t all speak English. Most Americans don’t speak any Spanish or any other second language for that matter, yet we don’t consider ourselves illiterate.
Although we may see dusty roads in some rural parts of Mexico (which is typical for developing countries) here in the United States, with all of its technology and wealth, we see dusty roads and downtrodden communities in many areas. How would we like it if these were portrayed abroad as the typical image of the United States?
Mexico City alone has a population of over 9 million people. It is the second-largest and most rapidly growing metropolitan area in the world. Mexico City has been, since 1325, a thriving city with pyramids, houses, and temples. In other words, it has existed in a civilized state long before the United States even came into existence! In 1620, when the pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock, Mexico City was a thriving center with over 100 million inhabitants.
When my father taught school in a mostly Hispanic community in Los Angeles, I would go on campus with him during the summer breaks and I made quite a bit of Latino friends. Despite what I had often heard, the people I met were just the opposite. They were clean (like anybody else), they were not crammed either in a pickup truck nor in their apartment. Most of the children wore American styled clothes- of course there were those with the frilly yellow and pink Sunday dresses at school, but one could hardly say it was typical.
One of my father’s students, who is Mexican-American, had a graduation party and invited me and some of her other friends and to her house. On her CD player was, among other music, Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” (This was in 1995 when that song was a hit!) not just the traditional mariachi music.
Unfortunately, we, ourselves in DeKalb County Schools, don’t learn much about the Latino culture, therefore it’s easy for many to believe any ridiculous stories that are remotely believable. How many of the people promoting the stereotypes have even bothered to study Mexican culture and history? If they did, they would know that Mexico is not a dusty, mosquito-infested town. It is a country with many states, diverse in their population and even racial