Our next door neighbors

When I was five years old (so this would have been in the mid-1960s), as part of a trip to Southern California, my parents dipped us into Tijuana.  I still remember that trip.  We went to a large, crowded market place that smelled bad.  That’s all I remember.  But what my parents remember is me coming to a dead stop in the middle of the market and howling “I want to go back to my own civilization.”

Tijuana is still an uncivilized place, and continues as a reminder that Mexico is an unstable, crime-ridden society, and that good fences make good neighbors.

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  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    As a college student in the ’60s, I drove down into Mexico with a friend, also Anglo, but Spanish-speaking. We had a wonderful time, camping on the beach, going out on a purse-seiner at night (the phosphorescence in the water was spectacular!), snorkeling, eating in the market, etc.

    On the way home, we came through Tijuana, and Larry leaned out of the window to say something to a “Tijuana Taxi”…..who promptly did a U-turn and began to chase us….. It was an interesting 15 minutes, during which time I drove on the sidewalk, went the wrong way on a one-way street, and otherwise did everything possible to give those guys the slip. We finally made it to the border and across safely…..the dangers are nothing new.

    And I still don’t know what on earth he said to those guys!

  • Charles Martel

    I’m going to chime in with a slightly different take on TJ. I certainly agree with the observations and rembrances of a stinky, corrupt place that epitomizes all the things a Yank can conjure up about a crappy third-world city just next door.

    And yet. . .

    The first naked woman I ever saw was when I was 16. She was a whore dancing with two other whores on the top of a bar in downtown Tijuana. Despite the supposed awesomeness of the occasion—I’d never seen a woman’s pudenda before—I was unstirred and unmoved. The woman’s pro forma moves told me I was looking at somebody who had long ago severed any connection between her naked body and any truly erotic impulses.

    But 20 minutes later my buddies and I stumbled on an old-fashioned night club, where a fairly good jazz band was followed by a stripper. She was a bit long in tooth, but she had not forgotten her femininity or enthusiasm. Her 15-minute routine took her down to her g-string—no more, and I was thoroughly enthralled and entertained. Her tease was as erotic and fascinating a thing as I’d ever seen, light years away from those bored whores on the bar top.

    Years later I was in TJ on a short jaunt from San Diego, standing on a corner Avenida de la Revolucion, simply watching the world go by. I’d learned long before that if you want to really scope out a city, just go find a busy corner, melt into the background, and watch life unfold.

    Well, Tijuana wound up reminding me of Manhattan. For every shill and con man infesting the sidewalks in the touristy areas, there were 1,000 men and women rushing down the avenues, on foot, in taxis, in pickup trucks or sedans, heading off to some urgent business with an energy and focus that looked like Sixth Avenue on a busy morning.

    Mexicans work hard, whether it’s at corruption and crime, or in factories and hustling up an honest buck. Their tragedy is that they live in a land of oligarchs and kleptomaniacs who subscribe to a form of Hinduism where the underdogs—los de abajo—karmically deserve their sad lot. Perhaps after—if—the United States rescues itself, Americans could take after the Mexican oligarchy, arrest it and exile it to a place where it can do no more damage.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Charles….I take your point on Tijuana, and I think you’re correct. More decent people there than crooks, and mostly folks are working hard to make their way.

    However, far from rescuing them in the near future, we’re going to have to fight very hard not to end up like them….that’s what our “betters” in D.C. have in mind for us!

  • BrianE

    I think Charles is spot on (at least concerning the Mexican aristocracy). I have nothing to add about Mexican strippers though.

    I supported NAFTA originally, since I liked the idea of raising the standard of living of Mexicans, which would reduce their need to come here illegally.
    But the systemic nature of the Mexican caste system and ruling oligarchy seems to have prevented that.

    “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States” is an early example of the now-familiar annoying whine, first voiced by Mexican President Porfirio Diaz .
    Pathetic loser, mooch, social basket case, criminal narco-state: these are Americans’ mental pictures of Mexico.
    But more than any other, the image is one of staggering poverty. Anyone who has been to a Mexican border town is immediately overwhelmed by the Third World – the oppressive dirt, decay, too many underfed children.
    However, the truth is that Mexico is a very wealthy country. It is blessed with abundant natural resources and a fortunate location. Mexico is the richest nation in Latin America when measured by GDP, and by a wide margin: in 2001, Mexico’s GDP was the highest in Latin America, a substantial 22.5 percent more than runner-up Brazil. When GDP per capita is the gauge, Mexico is second only behind Argentina.
    Half of all Latin American billionaires, 11 out of 22, are Mexicans.
    Mexico is the quintessential banana republic—a corrupt oligarchy of arrogant rich, a tiny middle class and millions of poor people, around half of whom live in poverty.
    But Mexico is not poor overall. It has the resources to improve itself.
    Economist Gary Hufbauer of the Institute for International Economics recently noted that Mexico has tax collections that amount to only 14 percent of the country’s gross domestic profit, compared with the U.S. level of 25 to 28 percent.
    Hubauer’s conclusion: “Basically the wealthy classes do not want to tax themselves, period.”
    Hufbauer further remarked:
    “Basic social services and infrastructure are awfully lean for a country that wants to move ahead. While I’m not usually an advocate for larger government, Mexico is a country where public investment, done wisely, could pay huge dividends.”

    Arguably, with adequate taxation of its freeloader rich, Mexico could follow the example of the Asian tiger nations and invest its way into economic progress by building industrial infrastructure and educating its workforce. The recent loss of Mexican jobs to China was partially due to the lack of capital spending on education, ports, roads and industrial parks.


  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    The first thing Mexico needs, and this is shared with virtually every country in S. America, and most of C. America, as well….is the rule of law. Where rich and poor alike receive justice when they go to court.
    Until they have that, taxing the rich people will only line the pockets of the clique in power at the time.

    Living in these countries will make you first sad and then crazy angry, because they have wonderful people, incredible natural resources, and brutally corrupt and dishonest governments.

  • Gringo

    Living in these countries will make you first sad and then crazy angry, because they have wonderful people, incredible natural resources, and brutally corrupt and dishonest governments.

    Amen. After I worked in Latin America, I realized that for all the imperfections of government in the US, it serves the people a lot better, in a much more honest and efficient manner than the governments to our south. IMHO, one factor in the improvement of government in Mexico in the last 30 years ( remember 70+ years of PRI, anyone?) has been the mass migration of Mexicans to the US. When they go back to Mexico for whatever reason, they see the differences in government, and word gets around. Pressure from below lead to change above.

    But it isn’t all government. My reaction to our business partners in Argentina was that to them a contract was just a piece of paper. I recently had dinner with a high school friend who married an Argentine and who does some consulting down there. When I told him my opinion of Argentine business practices, he wholeheartedly agreed.

  • Charles Martel

    The great shame about what has happened to Argentina over the past 100 years is what the people there did to themselves. They were our canaries in the coal mine when it came to ignoring De Toqueville’s warning about squandering hard-won wealth through the power of the ballot.

    In the early 1900s, a common expression in Europe and the Americas was, “as rich as an Argentine.” At that time Argentina’s per capita income was among the world’s top two or three, and other countries looked on with envy at the country’s vast resources (wheat and beef), educated, heavily European populace, and fairly established rule of law.

    But once the Peronista impulse infected the country in the 1930s and 1940s, the populace began looting itself, living high off the hog of accumulated wealth for a few years before the euphoria wore off.

    You’d think they would have come to their senses then. But the great problem with voters who supply the saws for cutting off the very branches they’re sitting on is that once their sorry asses hit the ground hard, their first impulse is to look around for the enemies who did such a dastardly thing—capitalists, Jews, white people, Christians—whomever they’ve been conditioned to blame.

    That’s why we have to prepare ourselves for the reaction when Obama’s policies reap their inevitable failure and resentment. We should be ready to help direct people’s vengeful gazes in the proper direction.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Correct, Gringo….”culture of corruption” is a perfectly accurate description of many Latin American countries. You have to bribe public officials just to do what they’re being (often poorly) paid to do. Hernando de Soto describes it comprehensively. Imagine being a guy trying to run a business in this environment….I’m quite sure that an honest man who doesn’t cut corners would quickly go broke. This MUST be an enormous part of the stagnation and poverty we see to our south……

    And Charles hits the nail on the head, which ought to make us pause, if not come to a screeching halt, and think carefully. It’s very hard not to recognize that WE are taking the same steps toward tyranny that Argentina took 80 years ago. Whipping up envy and exploiting that is a recipe for a certain kind of political success, but also for national destruction. It *CAN* happen here!

    Depressing, isn’t it? And that is also a problem — if we’re depressed, we’re much less likely to go out and join a Tea Party, which at least has a chance of accomplishing something worthwhile.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    If you guys haven’t already read it, I can’t recommend highly enough Keith Richburg’s Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa. In this superb book about a black man’s disillusionment with Africa, Richburg carefully explores the pandemic corruption plaguing that continent, as well as the fact that American black politicians assiduously ignore that same corruption, to the continent’s great loss. The book is about 15 years old, but probably even more current today than it was when he wrote it.

  • Gringo

    Along the same recommendation that Book makes, Eddy Harris wrote Native Stranger: Black American’s Journey into the Heart of Africa. He came to the conclusion that he was defined much more by American culture than by African, even with the common heredity. Harris has also written an interesting book about a canoe trip down the Mississippi : Mississippi Solo.

    When I located Harris’s book on Africa in Amazon , I see that the book that Book recommended is listed as a companion title.

  • suek

    >>one factor in the improvement of government in Mexico in the last 30 years … has been the mass migration of Mexicans to the US. When they go back to Mexico for whatever reason, they see the differences in government, and word gets around.>>

    I’ve wondered about this. It does seem that of those who come here and make enough money to go back to retire, that they would then have different expectations of how things ought to be managed.

    I have really mixed feelings about illegals. Yes, they should immigrate legally, but the process is long and apparently expensive. The system is set up so that those we need to work here are probably not going to be accepted because they don’t meet minimal education standards. Those same people do back breaking labor in the fields day in and day out. On the other hand, we have out and out criminals also, and they don’t have the mark of Cain on their foreheads, unfortunately, so separating them out and sending them back isn’t an option. Some of those who come and work hard want to stay here and become Americans. Others seem to prefer to come here, live frugally, and then return to Mexico to retire in their old age. Should these latter be paid SS, assuming they paid FICA while here?

    Who’s paying taxes…and who isn’t??

    So…how do we deal with these variants fairly? How can we exclude those who are honest and hard working just because of a lack of education? If you successfully exclude them, who’s going to do the bottom tier jobs they do? Many of them will tell you that one of the important things they find here is education for their children. They _know_ they lack education. They want to remedy it – they can’t, for themselves, but they can for their children.

    And, by the way, what do you want to bet that if you waved your wand and made them all legal, that their pay would go up – because they weren’t illegal anymore – and a whole new batch of illegals would slip in to take the lowest paying jobs all over again.

    We really need to find a way to bring in the good guys and exclude the bad guys. My first step would be to pay the Mexican government to imprison them down there. Lots less pleasant than prison here, I’d bet.

    I should probably mention that I live in an Ag area. When we first moved here, I was scornful of the elementary school’s eighth grade graduation. I think that lower level graduations are much overdone. I changed my opinion about the eighth grade graduation, though, when I learned that for many of the young people(our enrollment was about 40% migrant), eighth grade was a big deal because that was the highest level of education in their family so far. Also interesting is the fact that some 20 years later, although the ethnic population was still about 40% Hispanic, only about 3% qualified as migrant. They’re now permanent members of the community. And we _don’t_ have a crime problem.

  • suek

    And I have no use whatsoever for the “activist” branch. That pretty much includes _all_ activist groups. Work within the system and don’t demand special favors for “your” group. Divide and conquer is the motto of all the activists, and diversity is their basic mode of attack.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Suek: If you think a retiree would see things differently in Mexico, think about the poor schlub who makes a bit of money and goes back to open a small business in his home town! I suspect that most of them are more aware of the problems than that — it’s the next thing to impossible to do it legally. Again, see De Soto on the amount of time and money it takes to satisfy all the layers of thieving bureaucrats that stand in the way of any ordinary Mexican and advancement.

    Which reminds me of a story in San Francisco….when Willie Brown was mayor, there was an old building on Market Street that needed renovation in order to make it into new businesses, offices, and residences. It sat there and sat there – two or three developers bought it and gave it a try, only to be defeated by the requirements and fees. They never could fight their way through the thickets at City Hall. UNTIL…..some guy wised up and hired Willie’s old law firm to help him navigate the path through the forest. Bingo!

    So, it’s not just in Mexico…..but I REALLY don’t want that to spread in the U.S. In fact, I’d like to see it rolled BACK a bit. Chicago is a giant carbuncle on our Republic….and S.F. has a lot of problems, as well.

  • suek

    >>…some guy wised up and hired Willie’s old law firm to help him navigate the path through the forest. Bingo! >>

    That is SO discouraging.

    Corruption is at the heart of most of the world’s poverty, I think. Unfortunately, it seems to be a case of a chicken/egg thing – the wealth created by the corruption of power, or corruption created by wealth created power.

    The whole socialism/communism scam is really the lack of recognition that greed is a human condition. Christianity recognizes this human failing as a problem, but since it’s a spiritual problem can only point it out, not actually change it. Since the person who has the problem thinks s/he is just better/smarter than the rest of humanity, change is unlikely unless conversion is as forceful as Paul’s.

    Hmmm. That makes it a problem of pride also, doesn’t it! And _pride_…now _that’s_ a human failing to a major degree!!!

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    In deference to Thumper’s mother….let me tell you a story about Brazil.

    Gail and I traveled by train in Southern Brazil in 1970 – we spent seven long days on the “milk run” that stopped each evening at the “state line” and made us wait until morning to catch the train in the NEXT state and continue on our (week-long) journey from Uruguay to Rio de Janeiro.

    It was a wonderful experience, except for anxiety about money. Not that we didn’t have enough, but it was virtually all in $20 U.S. Traveler’s Checks. Imagine trying to change cruzeiros on a cross-country trip in the U.S…… And since we had to get a hotel for the night at each state line (we did sleep on benches once – the train arrived about midnight, and the next one left at 5:00 next morning), plus feed ourselves (the bag of granola we had didn’t provide ALL our needs), we needed Brazilian currency.

    One night, we went to a much nicer place than usual, one that had private tile bathrooms and a comforter on the bed – all for $6.00 U.S. I figured a more upscale place might be more likely to change my check in the morning, rather than call the police. When I gave him the check, he looked at it and said (at least, the equivalent in Portugese, which I understood very little, having lived the previous year in Bolivia where they speak Spanish) “What’s this?” I explained about the $20.00 U.S. and he asked (more or less) “How much is that in real money?” Fortunately (not so much for her citizens, of course), Brazil was undergoing a planned devaluation of the currency, and the new exchange rate was printed in the newspaper each day — so I was able to get the previous day’s paper, and show him how much my change should be in cruzeiros. He wasn’t pleased, but the alternative was no money at all, and I told him the bank would be happy to deposit the Traveler’s Check!

    That lasted a few days, but then we spent the last of it on our hotel and were down to nothing, again. We hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning (do you realize how sick you can get of dry granola?) and when the train stopped for an hour at lunchtime, I ran into the little town and went to the bank. They explained that they didn’t have a currency exchange, and when I burst into tears (figuratively, only) a bank officer came out and asked what the problem was. I begged him to personally cash my check, but he reached into his pocket, took out his billfold, extracted the cruzeiro equivalent of about $12.00 and handed it to me. “There is an exchange in the next large town”, he said, naming it. “You cash your check there, and send me this money back.” I was dumbfounded! I managed to convince him to take my check and give me the extra cruzeiros, after ascertaining that he did, in fact, go to town now and then and could deposit the check. That got us to Rio, where we could exchange money at the Adventist hospital our church runs. But, imagine! A perfect stranger, a scruffy-looking 22-year old gringo off the train, and he was willing to trust my unsupported word to mail him back his money! I fell in love with the Brazilian people that day!

    I have another story, but later – meanwhile, if you stay out of the big cities, you’ll see what I mean. The Brazilians have a FABULOUS country, and are among the nicest and most honest people in all of South America. (Your results may vary.)


  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Five years later, we were back in Brazil – only on the other side of the country. We entered one afternoon from the Beni in Bolivia (go look at the map) crossing the river in a dugout canoe from Guayara-mirim to Guajara-mirim in Rondonia of Brazil. I actually got to see “floating islands” with bushes and small trees on them – something I’d read about all my life – bobbing down the river from wherever they had broken off the bank upstream in the forest.

    Well, we needed to get on the bus that night in order to get to Porto Velho to catch the plane next day to Manaus….but to leave town, we needed our passports stamped. We hired a taxi driver and explained the situation, and off we went to the office of the guy who did that job. No one there.

    “No problem (or equivalent)” said the driver – I know where he lives. We got to the house, and the maid said that he was at a big dinner-meeting in town. “No problem (ditto)” (another big characteristic of Brazilians – everything is possible) said our driver, and off we went to the restaurant where the visa-guy was having dinner. The driver spoke to the head waiter, and pretty soon, out came a gent all dressed up, got in his car, signaled us to follow, and drove to his office (note that this is at least an hour AFTER closing time). He opened up, did our paperwork, accepted our profuse thanks, but flatly refused to consider taking a single cruzeiro, saying “I’m employed by the government of Brazil, and this is what they pay me to do!”

    We were gob-smacked, after two-plus years in countries where it was common (though not universal) for the meanest functionary to make you wait until s/he was good and ready, and then demand a bribe simply for doing the job s/he was (probably poorly) paid to do.

    Did I already tell you that we LOVE Brazil? (But stay out of the big cities unless you’re prepared to be VERY careful.)

  • Gringo


    Here is my not-so-pleasing encounter with Brazilian bureaucracy, albeit in Paraguay, not in Brazil.

    I was in Paraguay on break getting a visa for Brazil so I could see the Iguaçu Falls. The consulate informed me that because my passport would be expiring in two months, I could not get an ordinary tourist visa. I found this absurd, as I had to be back on the rig in Argentina in two weeks time. This information, and my work visa in my passport changed nothing.I ended up buying a round trip air ticket from Asuncion to Iguaçu, to satisfy visa requirements, and took the bus. I may still have that unused air ticket.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Gringo….remember “your results may differ”…. :-)

    We have spent a total of maybe 6 weeks in Brazil – 1970, 1975, a few days in 1999 – and never had a bad experience with any Brazilian. We don’t frequent bars, don’t spend time running around at night, and stay away from anywhere identified as “dodgy”. But, it’s the officials that stood out as so different — that may well have changed in the 30+ years since 1975.

    However, what I want to know is — Were the buses out to Iguassu still the magnificent machines of 1970? I had NEVER seen such buses — a separate compartment for the driver; first class airline-type seats for everyone in the passenger compartment; free coffee in thermos bottles up front; etc. etc. Most amazing buses I’ve ever seen, and I mean to this day. It was fabulous.

    Also met a young lawyer on that bus who got into conversation, asked if we’d ever had “feijoada”…. What? Well, the national dish of Brazil – a baked bean dish was pretty much what we understood. We had not, so he invited us out to eat when we got to Iguassu (Iguacu on the Brazilian side) Falls, explaining that you put the black beans in, and then go through the refrigerator and anything made of flesh goes into the pot. That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much.

    He treated us both to lunch – it was GREAT. Although, my wife is vegetarian, and when a big hunk of beef tongue came out of the pot, she almost lost it (VERY good, by the way).

    Just one more example of lovely Brazilians, and there are lots more. I can’t vouch for diplomats in Uruguay! Heh.

    P.S. I highly recommend S. America for tourists – keep a low profile, and don’t spend all your time in fancy hotels. Learning enough Spanish to get along in is a big plus. And if you are ever anywhere near Iguassu Falls, DO NOT MISS IT. The Boca del Diablo is a killer!

  • suek

    Don’t know if either of you have been to this blog, but it sounds like the three of you should get together! He’s a South American afficionado as well…


  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    All very interesting.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    That’s what tends to happen when happy go lucky cannon fodder tend to forget that they exist on the sufferance of both military and civil protections. They never had to learn how to defend themselves. And that paid off in spades when they went to a place where such skills were mandatory.

    That was a test those people didn’t pass, and the consequences were not just a big Fat F.

    Of course, people like Obama have the power and the wealth to shield themselves from the consequences of their mistakes. Instead, everybody around them gets to suffer in their stead.