Waking up with the sun rays just beginning to shine through my window, I hurriedly gather my books, chug down some coffee, and pack some molletes for my lunch. Rushing out of my host family's home and fumbling with the clunky wrought-iron gate, I’m greeted “¡Buenos Días!” by Eduardo, our neighborhood vigilantem=, who sits in a plastic chair listening to ranchero music practically all day, every day.
The music drifts into my ears, and my haste immediately disappears as I remember where I am. I smile and sing Julieta Venegas songs to myself as I make my way to the bus stop to head to my classes at the state university just outside of the city. The chihuahua down the street barks his customary yelps to me and runs in circles against the gate that guards me against his petite ferociousness.It’s April in Mérida (the largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula), and I feel completely adapted to Mexico after being here for three months.
Don’t get me wrong- it’s not all the exotic paradise that the Cancún postcards show (although, one can easily find that too). As I continue my routine walk to my bus stop, I walk past a McDonald's looming over the struggling street taco vendero, who is ballyhooing to the commuters. A 75-year old Mayan woman sweeps up garbage from the street, making minimum-wage (around $5/day) and looking down quickly when people walk past. Finally, I get onto a bus full of workers who will spend the day sweating over our “Made in Mexico” clothes and other “freely traded” products, for far less than a living wage.
I chose to study in Mexico after traveling to Nicaragua for a month-long internship and realizing the importance of learning a language by directly participating in the culture, After taking an Albion class in Modern Latin America History, I decided Mexico was the place I wanted to be to hone my Spanish. So here I am, being a student at the Universidad Autónoma de la Yucatán, where I am taking five classes ranging from cultural ecology to photography. I am also volunteering with an environmental education program and an AIDS awareness campaign. Between all of that, and traveling on the weekends to the amazing Mayan ruins and oasis-like cenotes that dot the dry landscape, I manage to stay quite busy.
With only a month left, I still feel that I can’t yet express to what extent this experience has opened my eyes to issues surrounding Mexico and Latin America as a whole, but my small hope that this seemingly mundane description of an average day in Merida helps to disintegrate and reconstruct a more accurate and humane image of Mexican identity than what is currently being seen in today’s media. Because that’s what this trip has done for me, eso es cierto.