As Mexico celebrates 200 years of independence from Spain, the Paseo de la Reforma and the Zócalo will be filled with parades, music, speeches, and displays of military prowess. But as reported in the New York Times this week, an undercurrent of sadness, disappointment and anger throughout the country is making it a challenge to get into a party mood. Clobbered by the swine flu scare last year, a demoralized Mexico faced a year of non-stop bad news about the war against drug trafficking. Images of Mexican beauty Jimena Navarrete, the new Miss Universe, have not been enough to offset the endless newspaper photos of decapitated corpses. And several of the big projects intended to celebrate the event--like the bicentennial tower and the renovation of the Palacio de Bellas Artes--are incomplete, offering a truly dreary metaphor for the state of the nation.
I admit to feeling a lack of celebratory fervor myself. It seems obscene to spend millions of pesos on fireworks when there are so many people without running water, basic health care and viable schools. But it also seems wrong not to celebrate. So I've been trying to take a longer view of things. I prefer to use the Aztec date of 1325 as the real starting point of history here in Mexico City, so the drug wars, the battle between church and state over the new gay marriage law, the economic crisis all seem like small blips on a big radar screen.
A sense of something ancient, with roots deep in the earth, below where earthquakes can damage it, seems to hold this country together. Subliminal reverence for the pagan gods--Huitzilopochtli, Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl--adds its tint to the worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
And it seems to me that the deities have responded, endowing the Mexican people with a remarkable capacity for endurance and an ability to prioritize the finer things in life (family, food, fiestas). Unfortunately there appears to be no god or goddess of politics, so we struggle on.
I've been in Mexico now for more than 13 years, have been granted the privilege of Mexican citizenship, and can think of no place else I'd prefer to live. So in spite of any reservations I have, I'll be out there with the crowd, joining in the grito: Viva Mexico!