My husband Kelly and I lived in Mexico for about five years, from 2006 to 2010. We have a number of Mexican friends, and from them and from observing the culture of the town where we lived, I learned a lot about other ways of living. Here are four of the main things I picked up.
1. Family matters, a lot. You can generally depend on your family. It may be as dysfunctional as any US family, but it defines who you are, what is expected of you, and who you can turn to.
After seeing this in action among my Mexican friends, I began reaching out more to my own family. I had a great phone chat with a cousin I spent a lot of time with when we were girls. I haven’t seen her in decades, but I hope to see her one of these years! I also went along with my husband when he made a business trip to California. While he went to a conference, I spent lots of time with family and old friends. Loved it.
2. You are part of the fabric of community, through your family, through your school friendships even from many decades ago, through your neighborhood, through the church whether or not you attend, and more. Even if you leave your hometown, you will be part of the fabric, for example, people from our Mexican town tend to go to Watsonville and Santa Cruz, California, and continue the ties.
This sense of being part of a community is at the heart of why we returned to the US. We came back to a small town in Colorado where we lived for ten years before going to Mexico four years ago. It’s lovely to be reconnecting with so many old friends and acquaintances, people I missed a lot while we were gone. It really does make up for the much worse climate.
3. If you want to eat, you can expect to work. Some of the wealthy Mexicans have a sense of entitlement but overall it’s rare. Most of our Mexican friends understand from childhood that contributing is needed. You often see kids and young teenagers helping out in family restaurants, market stalls, or stores. They often have fun doing it, but even if they don’t, they are learning that they have something to give. I think this is a hard one for kids to get here in the US.
4. Frugality is a deeply ingrained habit. For one example, Rosa came once a week for about four hours to clean our house. She and I became very good friends, and part of her job became to help us with our Spanish. Despite the fact that we had a cardboard box full of old t-shirts and such to use as rags, she would always wash out the same few rags that she used until they were in shreds.
Mexicans understand that their economic system can collapse. it has done so numerous times in the memory of older adults. In the 1990s, there was quite a severe downturn. One Mexican friend of mine lost her job and her car; others pulled their kids out of private schools and postponed dental work. People helped each other out and got by.
Not everything transfers well from one culture to another, but I think these things do.