One of our fishing clients down here in La Paz was sipping a cold one in our restaurant and asked if I missed 4th of July.
Having been down here in Mexico working now almost 20 years, yeah, I really do. I miss it a lot. Being that July 4th is always smack in the height of the summer fishing season, it’s been a long time since I’ve been part of the celebration “back home.” But, this is where work requires that I be down here and so be it.
Superficially, I miss a good parade and watching the kids and the floats and the music -- and most of all standing with hand-over-heart as I watch our vets and service folks marching tall and proud. I get choked up over that.
I miss the smell of green summer grass-in-the-park and that smell of barbecued burgers and saucy ribs and ducking the occasional errant Frisbee. I miss the sand between my toes and a paper plate of fresh potato salad, sloppy pork-n-beans, fried chicken and a beach fire in the dark as fireworks burst over the water to the oohs-and ahhs of the crowd. I miss hearing the Star Spangled Banner played.
So many things parked in my memory banks.
But, I get a completely different perspective living outside the U.S. and looking in from afar, from Mexico. And, although the two countries share borders and so many other things in common, they are still so far apart. And it makes me appreciate the U.S. even more so and what the 4th of July means.
For one, I take fewer things for granted. Simple things.
Back home, you flipped on the faucet. Bad as it might taste, you take for granted that water comes out. You can cook with it. Wash clothes. Come home from work and take that long easy hot shower. Wash your car. Water your lawn. Gasp…fill our hot tub and swimming pool!
Here, in Mexico, water is at a premium. What we call “drought” in the U.S. is almost comical in Mexico. Sometimes nothing comes out of the faucet, for days!
Here in La Paz, often water is only sent to your home or business through the city pipes every other day or every two days. And even then, pretty much at a slow drip.
That’s why you see these huge black plastic “tinacos” (storage cylinders) on top of business and houses. That’s to save the water when it’s available and running. If you run out, you have to wait until the city opens the spigots again.
The tourists never see that because the hotels and golf courses and swimming pools are always full. But, I saw a report once that said the fresh water daily allotment for the average Baja citizen is less than one-gallon-a-day. And getting smaller.
As a former attorney back in California, I don’t take justice or the U.S. legal system for granted anymore. Nor am I so quick to make fun of its many problems. I still challenge someone to come up with a better way to do things. It still has a fundamental premise, that you are “innocent until proven guilty.” And there’s nothing the government can do about that.
Here in Mexico, they still operate under the archaic Napoleanic code from the days when France ran Mexico. Under those laws, the state “presumes you are guilty and it’s up to you to prove you are innocent.”
I have seen the damages up-close-and-personal here. We’ve been victimized ourselves.
Prove you didn’t steal from your neighbor. Prove your kid didn’t start the fight that broke another kid’s nose. Prove your wife didn’t crash into someone else’s car. Prove you didn’t hurt someone’s reputation by something you said. Prove you didn’t sexually accost a fellow employee.
All it takes is an accusation and a report to authorities by someone who doesn’t like you. And now it’s YOUR problem. It’s YOUR burden to prove you’re innocent.
Another thing is that I don’t take the ability to work so lightly. I know in the U.S. we have a serious crisis in employment. I have several college degrees plus a law degree, but I’ve been unemployed. I’ve quit jobs. I’ve been fired from jobs.
But, I always had options. I always had hope that I could find another job.
I’m here in Mexico now because of a choice I made years ago, not because I wanted to live outside the U.S. but because there was a business opportunity that presented itself. But, it was a choice I had because I had options. I had that independence. And I was lucky and blessed.
We have so many good friends, employees and associates and acquaintances after almost two decades here.
I look at them and I’m grateful for what we have as Americans roving this planet who at least have opportunities and options.
Here in Mexico, if you’re a dishwasher or you’re a taxi driver, that’s probably what you will be the rest of your life. That’s it. No upward mobility.
There might be some lateral mobility in that instead of a dishwasher you might get to be a truck driver, but not likely. You will live and die a dishwasher or waiter or farmer. That’s it. Same for your kids. What’s a career?
There’s no “correspondence school” or “next big opportunity.” You are what you are. My amigo is a floor cleaner. He will be a floor cleaner his whole life until he dies or his back gives out. Whichever comes first.
Education is mandatory to only 8th grade. How far would you have gotten on an 8th grade education?
Having education, even a college education, could still mean you’re now qualified to work in a retail store selling shoes or in an office filing papers. You can keep your hands clean. Maybe.
And, if you lose your job, that could be it as well.
We know a very good accountant working for a company. She’s 35 years old. She told us if she ever loses her job, she is no longer employable because she is “too old” and companies don’t hire “old people.” She supports a family of 4.
Truthfully, when you hit 65 here, you are forcefully retired. No matter how good, valuable or healthy you are. No matter that you’re the sole earner in your household, you’re out of the work force.
Just yesterday, a single-parent friend told me her son missed a job interview because he didn’t have shoes.
Last week, another friend told me he had to quit a job as a maintenance man because it was too hard to walk 5 miles to work and back six-days-a-week. He’s 62-years-old and supports a family of 5.
We might share borders, but we are so far apart. And every 4th of July away from home, I’m ever more grateful for the opportunities and freedoms I’ve enjoyed and been blessed with. For all it’s problems, the U.S. still enjoys so much that the rest of the world never has or will.
Can someone pass me another piece of fried chicken…