Musings from Merida… | The Truth About Mexico

Categorized | Yucatan

Musings from Merida…

A post by "Ellen Fields" |

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Those of us who have lived here for awhile are used to the way Mexico is treated in the media in the United States. Articles are either about wonderful places to travel or about how dangerous it is here. A few months ago, there was a noticeable uptick in the number of negative articles about Mexico. Murder, violence, danger… the drums were beating louder. Then there was an article about the two most potentially dangerous countries in the world: Pakistan and… Mexico! Then the U.S. State Department put out a travel warning, and it seemed everyone was writing about how dangerous it was going to be for college students on Spring Break to go to Mexico.

We pondered all this last night as we walked the dogs through the streets of downtown Merida. Not just any streets, but a neighborhood deep in a colonia south of the Plaza Grande, a place we had once been warned to stay away from because it was dangerous. Now we live here, in San Sebastian, one of the old neighborhoods in Merida’s centro historico. Once upon a time, this was a place of intense poverty and desperation. It still isn’t a neighborhood of manicured lawns and swimming pools, but desperation? danger? Not hardly.

The two dogs and two humans walked slowly through the streets, lit by streetlights and moonlight and the light spilling from the many open doors. In Merida, often the coolest place in your house is on the front step, where the breeze blows by, and it is traditional for people to take their chairs outside and set up light housekeeping in front of their house on the sidewalk. Each block had three or four families gathered around their front door last night, talking, laughing, listening to music. We know each other by sight, and they waved or greeted us as we walked by. “Buenas noches!” “Buenas noches!” The children squeal because the dogs are big and full of energy. At one door, a man is selling unfinished pine furniture… We stop and ask him about it because we’ve never seen him before. How much is the table? Does he make things to order? His friends ask us if the dogs bite, and when we answer “no, they’ve already eaten tonite”, they laugh with us, and we continue on to the park.

At the park by the San Sebastian Church, there are probably fifty young men playing a few games of basketball on the lit courts. The unlit baseball field behind them is fairly empty and we let the dogs run offleash for awhile in the dark, looking at the stars and listening to the distant sound of a TV coming from the cocina economica on the other side of the wall. We walk by later and notice that it’s a quiet night there tonite… only a few tables full of patrons watching television, visiting and eating something that smells delicious.

On the way home, some of the streetlights are not lit and the street is dark except for the passing lights of cars or busses. We wonder how someone reading all those articles would feel right now. Would they be afraid? Because we are not afraid, and we realize we are never afraid walking the streets of Merida. We are not worried that we are going to be shot, because Mexico doesn’t allow ordinary citizens to own guns. There are policemen everywhere in Merida, and it has always been that way. Merida is known as one of the safest places in Mexico and we have seen, heard or read nothing to change that. We feel safe here. We ARE safe here.

When we get home, as we’re lying on the roof looking up at the stars and moonlit clouds, we talk again about our safety. We have walls and locks on the front door and we take the normal precautions. But within our home, we don’t lock every door. We live an indoor/outdoor life and we have been doing that for seven years, with no breakins, no burglaries. One night, we didn’t close the front door well, and the wind blew it open. We slept through that and came downstairs in the morning to a wide open front door. But nothing was taken, nothing had happened. Everything was just the way we had left it the night before. Every so often, we are awake in the middle of the night. We open the front door for the breeze and let the cat walk outside. Before long, a policeman drives by. Everything okay? Thank you officer, everything is fine. We are always struck by how polite and respectful they are.

We can count on one hand the violence that we have heard about in our community in seven years. Those beheadings in ChiChi Suarez, a few miles from here, and another one in Garcia Gineres… that’s it. And those weren’t normal citizens; they were people caught up in the drug war, working for the narcotrafficantes. No one who was innocent was hurt. Not like the spectacular killings we read about in the United States, where an ex-boyfriend dresses up like Santa Claus and blows away the whole family.

So now we are wondering, who is this news serving? Who has suddenly decided that it is time to paint Mexico as the new bad guy? Whose interests are served by the prospect of sending troops to the border, and increasing military support to Mexico? Now that the economy is melting down in the United States, and we have plans for pulling out of Iraq, who might be worried about their profits or their influence?

As the night got later, and the moon rose, the city quieted down and went to sleep. The barking dogs stopped their nightly communication and the roosters stopped mistaking the moon for dawn, and the busses went to sleep… and so did we. Safe in Merida, Mexico. We’re worried about the future, about our safety, our finances. There are a lot of things to worry about these days. But one thing we aren’t worried about is the danger of living in Mexico.

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11 Comments For This Post

  1. Suz Says:

    Well put, I have been trying to explain this to friends back home, but haven’t had so much luck at stating it this clearly, muchas gracias…

  2. Vanessa Zamudio Says:

    Thank you so much for telling the truth about Mexico. I born in Mexico city, and lived in Merida (my mom’s town) almost 10 years. I have been living in Texas since 2005, and it makes me feel very sad and upset when I hear people saying that Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in Earth. Evidently all these people have never live in Mexico, and their comments are completely out of place. Mexico is more than the border with U.S.A!!!
    In my opinion is easier to point to what is going on in other countries, that facing the problems that we have in the U.S. for a lack of responsibility of many politicians and individuals.
    I hope many more people follow your example (especially foreigners that live in Mexico)fighting ignorance, and take the time to open the eyes of others that evidently don’t know the truth.
    Thank you again for your time, and the courage to speak up your mind.

  3. Stewart Says:

    I live part time in Merida, and like you, have never felt unsafe walking anywhere in the city. I live east of the centro, and the streets are quiet late at night, but walking home has never concerned me. On one hand, I am happy about all the horror stories, as hopefully it will keep people away from our paradise in the Yucatan. On the other hand though, it really is a dis-service to Mexico, and will hit our economy if the tourists and their dollars stay away, since this is a significant income to the country. Thanks for this great article.

  4. Scott S Says:

    We traveled around Mexico last summer by bus (ADO, ADO GL and UNO) and the folks back home thought we were insanely reckless but the truth was we always felt safe and were quite cozy. During the same time I saw on the news a man had been killed and partially eaten on Greyhound in Canada but I don’t recall any state department warnings about being killed and eaten in Canada.

  5. Zoe Says:

    Yay mom! I just cane across this by chance and saw you wrote it. Kinda weird. Anyways, nicely written. Love u!!

  6. David B Says:

    Like you I too have been curious as to who the negative news about Mexico benefits? I live in San Antonio, TX, but have worked in Mexico, and traveled there (mostly Yucatan / Quintana Roo), for many years. Maybe I’m just naive but I don’t get all of the horror stories that seem to be slanted towards steering people away from the interior, or further south. I stay away from the border zones, but since I stopped working there several years ago, and it’s now a two (plus) hour drive what’s new – no need to go? Anyway, enough of my ramble. Any thoughts, from anyone, as to why the latest increase in the negative US media reportage? Ratings? Easy targets? Basic dumbassery?

    BTW, liked your article.


  7. Ellen Fields Says:

    Thanks, David. Lately we’re thinking that the Powers-That-Be just want to keep as many travel dollars in the USA as possible. Of course, we have darker suspicions too, but those are best thought late at night behind closed doors after checking for hidden microphones.

  8. Dangers Says:

    While I’d avoid the vast conspiracy theory, I do believe this widespread irresponsible travel warning in many parts is a conditioned response to a media that favors sales and ratings over facts, feeding off an anti-Mexican sentiment in regard to immigration in many corners, the subsequent unemployment and immigrant competitive issues in the workplace and society, in a country (the U.S.) reeling from a deepened recession.

    The failed nation worst case scenario was yet another hammer to the anvil in an attempt to demonize Mexico and her people.

    If I was going to try and pin the tail on the political donkey, I’d say it’s part of collective effort to turn back NAFTA using real and self created issues while gathering unrelated focus points as the building blocks.

    Then again, I could be crazy… ūüėČ

  9. Demmitri Says:

    I have already linked your post from my blog. ( Excellent job =)

  10. vincente Says:

    danger is everywhere, mexicans here and in US are more affable than most. The tourists make a bad impression I feel. Im italian but would love to move to the Yucatan for its simple beauty and kind people!

    te veo!

  11. Paul Silverman Says:

    Well put, I would like to know more about Merida, would like to relocate there. I am a retired teacher / musician who has travelled and lived in the caribbean. Merida seems to have all the culture and beauty I love. Will be arriving in Feb, unfortunately it will be after carnaval, to get a feel for the city and its surroundings. Any advise on an inexpensive lodging for a week while I explore the area and its real estate would be appreciated.
    Best regards
    Paul Silverman
    603 226 4966

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