Letter from Mexico

DURING THE PAST YEAR I traveled and lived in Mexico, including nine months spent in San Cristobal, Chiapas, the southernmost state in the country. Over the course of the year, Mexico’s political condition, and its contradictions, came to fascinate me. Mexico is a country where true multiparty democracy is only a recent development. The dispute over the presidential election on July 2 led to mass demonstrations, allegations of fraud, and a revival of revolutionary spirit in Mexico. With a final ruling in favor of Felipe Calderón, issued on September 6, his opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, went so far as to lay plans for an “alternative government.” To observers unfamiliar with Mexican politics, these events might appear to have come out of left field, and the parade of political postures and reactions that have occurred in the streets of Mexico might seem puzzling and disproportionate.

To many Americans, Mexico remains a remarkably foreign place. The two nations’ surface familiarity with each other tends to inure both nations to our deep differences. Mexico’s sensibility and cultural code are vastly different from that of the United States. As a sign of this, Mexican individuals’ political thinking may strike Americans as contradictory and even fantastical, since it often gives top priority to ideology or dreams. The weight of Mexico’s colonial history and the fractured nature of its population have naturally created extremes of vision.

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