Have you ever wondered what the word “Mexico” means? Did you know, by the way, that it was a Mexican who invented color television and that the call letters of a Mexican TV channel actually carry this scientist’s initials? How about this: Mexico sent a fighter squadron to help the Americans fly combat missions in the Pacific in World War II. And it was from Mexico that Fidel Castro set sail on his quest to start a revolution in Cuba in 1956.
Talking to foreigners who live in Mexico, most of them Americans, I’ve found that they are often at a loss when confronted with questions or facts such as these. Some of these Americans have lived in this country for a long time and I’m amazed at how little they sometimes seem to know about their adopted country. This is true of a good many expatriates in a similar number of foreign lands, so I doubt these Americans are the exception. However, they do stand out in my experience because I have often interacted with them.
I’m not really sure why some facts about Mexico escape them. It doesn’t seem to be a lack of interest although it could be an often-found absence of Spanish language fluency. It could also be that Americans tend to gather in groups of like-minded expatriates who build a shell in which to reside and feel “protected,” even when the wonderment and magic of Mexico is all around them. Maybe it’s just that they need someone –not a book, website or travel guide– but an actual person to tell them about this country. It’s been my experience that this is best achieved through friendly conversation; with anecdotes and stories rather than formal Mexican history lessons. It’s a sharing exercise by which a Mexican lends his friend a pair of cultural spectacles, through which he can see his adopted country anew, with a novel vision; a version of Mexico no one had shared before.
I’ve had a good number of enriching conversations such as the one I just described and am convinced many more should take place. I also believe it is up to us Mexicans to share our country with others in an open dialogue. We could find new ways to help foreigners feel a bit “more Mexican;” to assist them in engaging in friendly conversations with many more Mexicans, thus understanding them better; to give them new eyes through which to appreciate and enjoy this country they now live in.
Maybe then they will finally know that “Mexico” means “the moon’s navel”; that it was the 201st Fighter Squadron that helped fight the War in the Pacific; and that it was Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena who gave us the pleasure of watching color television in his own XHGC-Channel 5.