Kriss: Much more to Mexico

Feb 4, 2019 by

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For two weeks I have been in Mexico, far south of the proposed border wall, in a place people from the U.S. come to frolic in the sun.

Stephen Kriss


The Yucatan peninsula resisted colonization from Europeans into the 20th century. But now, there’s an inundation of pleasure-seeking Europeans and Americans. Through strategic investment and unbridled growth, cities have sprung up on the coast. People moved from all over Mexico to work here. And in recent years, the problems of drug trafficking have infiltrated these resort areas.

Here, food and beds are made by Mayan descendants, some still speaking their ancient tongue. Streets are patrolled by Mexican police and military forces. I stepped out of the way of a young dude with a large machine gun one day in the central plaza of otherwise laid-back Holbox Island. A shopkeeper told me they come through once a day to show force.

There’s no denying Mexico’s dangers. But there’s also no denying its economic growth, resources and beauty. Immigrants continue to flow into the Yucatan. I can get homemade pasta and conversation that moves between Italian and Spanish so easily, I can’t remember which language I’m speaking.

Last year, I ran into Mennonites from Canada who came here for cheap dental work. I ran into local colony Mennonites selling cheese. The minute someone finds out I’m Mennonite, there’s a conversation about Queso Menonita, sold across the country, made by German-speaking Mennonites mostly in northern Mexico.

Mexico is not a single narrative. It is gleaming skyscrapers in Mexico City. It’s hippie enclaves in Baja. It’s indigenous communities in Chiapas and Oaxaca. It’s dangerous areas where the commingling of security and the drug trade has made natives unsure who to trust.

Single stories limit possibility and curiosity. People and places are often both/and, not either/or. The reality is, border towns of Texas are dangerous. Mennonite communities in the north have experienced increased hostility.

I’ve spent more time in Mexico over the last year than at any other time in my life. Part of it is to brush up on Spanish, or to get to know Mennonites here better, or simply vacation and Sabbath.

Our already constructed walls along the southern border have helped funnel traffic into rural areas and created a more dangerous situation for those who try to move across the border without adequate paperwork. The U.S. economy relies on a regular flow of immigration, both documented and undocumented. Our appetite for drugs continues to force a flow that bolsters the pocketbooks of traffickers who often use violence to protect resources.

Much of the violence in Mexico is cultivated by proximity to its consumptive northern neighbor.

In Philadelphia, I live next to Spanish-speaking neighbors who have a key to my house. We collaborate when we need cement work done, snow shoveled, grass mowed and a vegetable garden straddling the property line planted. Neighborliness means sometimes sharing responsibility and having conversations about what might be good for both of us, respecting the neighbor enough to acknowledge their humanity and experiences, not simply taking advantage of whatever benefits they offer because they are next door.

This seems so clear today as I sit on a beach listening to Americans escaping winter. The U.S.-Mexico connection will remain, with or without a wall.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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