“With your experience here, what do you think Mexico needs to do to be better?” asked one of the women here almost out of the blue. I hesitated to answer her because I resist comparing and critiquing cultures and a number of Mexicans that I have met view the US with a mix of admiration and jealousy that prevents them from appreciating the value of their own culture (I suppose that critique in and of itself could be one response to her question).
Yet as I considered the question, I remembered two youth that I recently interviewed. They had been in the US since they were 6 and 9 years old respectively and only in the last 2 years returned to Mexico. They are now 16 and 20. I asked them about what they had learned from their time in the US and they responded that the most significant growing experience was actually when they returned to Mexico. When they encountered a country that they barely remembered they felt that they could see with a critical eye the positives and negatives of both the US and Mexico in a way that their peers who remained in the US or never left Mexico could not. They spoke of the corruption in Mexico, the political apathy, the lack of civic engagement. At the same time, they spoke of how privilege is taken for granted in the US and that in Mexico they learned the value of hard work.
A few weeks ago I interviewed another young man who lived in the US since he was 2 and a few years ago was deported and returned to the town in which his parents used to live. He too believed that he learned the most from the experience of coming to Mexico and living through economic limitations, which taught him to value what he has. He mentioned the temptations he experienced in the US, whether of drugs or gangs or violence, and was thankful that in his town in Mexico such vices were less prevalent. But he also pointed out that the people in his town were more timid than those who he had met in the US, less willing to take risks in life or work or even to talk to people that they don’t know.
It turns out that there is some value to experiencing two cultures. Just like the youth that I have interviewed, perhaps I have gained some perspective through crossing borders and cultures. In fact, that is the idea of being a researcher – to analyze and in some way offer feedback to the community in which I work. I asked the woman if I could reflect on her question and let her know before I left Puebla. Perhaps I can say that Mexico would benefit if parents let their children grow more independent to study or work in other cities and the US would benefit from families that communicated and visited each other more. Perhaps I agree with the idea that Mexicans would benefit from more civic engagement and organizing and for that matter so too would the US. I am thankful that she asked me the question and wish there were more opportunities for such exchange of ideas and that the voices of the youth I interview could be heard in broader spheres.