How did I come to write this article for the Washington Post? Every day in Merida, I had to write an essay for my Spanish course. This was the piece I wrote on my last day of class, trying to synthesize what I had experienced from mid-January to mid-February. It was based on walks I took every afternoon with local university students exploring the town, and evenings out. I sent it unsolicited to the Washington Post when I got back, and I am grateful to them for giving me a chance to share another perspective.
How did my views change during my stay? My first impression of Merida’s colonial center and cultural events was that they were aimed at tourists, as is the case in places like Cancun or Oaxaca. Then I saw the depth of local involvement and participation, and realized that foreign participation, however welcome, was on the margins. I noticed all the Mexican tourists who come with their families. I watched people singing along to songs and holding their toddlers up to see the performers. I learned a lot at the Museo de la Cancion Yucateca, which gave me a new view of the city’s concerts. As I walked around, I saw many instances of public investment in upkeep, modernization and beautification, in outdoor facilities and fora, and in free events. And as someone who takes great care when visiting places like Mexico City these days, I relished the freedom to walk around at all hours even all by myself. As I spoke to residents, their love of their city came through, though of course they don’t think it is perfect. And I started thinking about Robert Putnam’s writing and other work on building social capital and how it benefits the whole community.
Am I a tourist who wrote a nice travel article? Well, we are all tourists when we are out of our home towns. I am a longtime international relations specialist, a public policy analyst and writer, and an expert in communications. I’ve worked in civil society, private sector and U.S. government, and most recently spent 12 years at the World Bank where we focus on economic development in developing countries. I’ve lived in a couple of countries, traveled and worked in more, speak French and improving Spanish, and have a masters in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Nearly 20 years ago, I worked with the Mexican Government on a couple of things including NAFTA. I’ve been visiting Mexico now for 17 years, usually with my husband. He couldn’t come this time, but in a way that left me more time to observe. My sister and a nephew joined me for a week, and also had a wonderful time.
Why did I say “we” need to bring peace and tranquilty back to the border communities? All of us who are neighbors in North America have a common interest in each other’s well-being and prosperity. It’s a much more integrated continent socially, economically and culturally than we recognize in our public debate. Mexicans do need to solve this problem but they can’t do it by themselves because narco-trafficking is tied to US drug consumption and also to illegal sales of US weapons. We should be helping them in any way we can, and we will benefit if they succeed. And if they fail, we will pay the price as well. Here’s a good piece called Five Myths about Mexico’s drug war.
Can I give you advice on where to stay, study, or go in Merida? No, that’s not my role, and there are many good websites and blogs for such information.