Mexico, our underappreciated, misunderstood southern neighbor, is often portrayed as a backward place where drugs, donkeys and crazy people roam free. Seeking to dispel those myths, Junior Daniel Breslauer shared his love and fascination for our neighbor to the south. “I think that Americans need to respect Mexico more. We often don’t talk about it. We have outdated views on it and we need to realize that it’s a constantly changing country like all the others. And most importantly, it is given a much more negative image than it deserves,” said Breslauer. Mexico has a rich culture full of art, music, food and color. It is a melange of Spanish culture and indigenous cultures, including Mayan, Aztec and Toltec which have been present in the area for thousands of years. It was this culture and the fact that Breslauer has distant family from Mexico that instilled and solidified a genuine interest in Mexico in Breslauer.
Breslauer wishes to address a few misconceptions about Mexico. “Firstly, Cinco de Mayo actually represents the [anniversary of] battle of Puebla, not Mexican independence day,” said Breslauer. Mexican Independence Day actually falls on September 16th. Cinco de Mayo honors the day a group of Mexican militiamen defeated the French army during an attempted French takeover or Mexico. He also wants to refute common stereotypes that some Americans think of the Mexican people. “It’s no longer the 1900s: Mexicans don’t go around wearing sombreros and ponchos, and the whole country isn’t just a vast desert” said Breslauer. One fact that surprised me was that life expectancy for Mexican citizens virtually mirrors that of people in the United States. Lastly, Breslauer told me that Mexico has a rooted Catholic tradition, but it follows the global trend of the decreasing importance of religion — the percentage of Catholics in Mexico has actually gone down. Many leaders have historically tried to make the country more and more secular. During the 20th century, a small civil war erupted over religion. “At that time, the church owned most of the land, which angered a lot of Mexicans” said Breslauer. The Vatican had noticed this trend of decreasing importance of religion and as a response sent the Pope to visit this past march in an attempt to stir up support and remind Mexico of its Catholic roots.
Moving on to history, Breslauer regaled me over his favorite time period in Mexican history. He told me that in the 1860s Mexico had just come out of a civil war only to have France invade. Despite lack of American assistance, the Mexicans prevailed. During the end of the war, however, the United States came to the assistance of the Mexicans.
Mexico’s national dish is Carnitas. Similar to the Americanized Carnitas you find at Chipotle, Mexico’s treasured dish consists of pork cooked in lime, cilantro and other spices served in a corn tortilla. He told me, with a chuckle, that Tequila is Mexico’s national drink. It has been a part of its culture for centuries and utilizes the cactus as an ingredient. Its production is regulated by the government and permitted only in certain states.
Unlike my other interviewees, which are from the country I am writing about, Breslauer is neither Mexican nor has he been to Mexico. However, his pure fascination and admiration for Mexican culture and history truly inspired me, and I think many of us can and should learn from Breslauer. Breslauer left me on a brooding and serious note, “We need to stop blaming Mexico for the drug war and realize that we’re their biggest market and supplier of weapons to the drug cartels. It is a beautiful country that is so negatively portrayed in our media, and I think that is very unfortunate. There’s a shared heritage between us, seeing as how we are neighbors. Therefore, I think we should learn from each other and many states in the US were once part of Mexico, so to ignore Mexican history and culture is to ignore our own.”