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A Word of Protest

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A Word of Protest


San Miguel de Allende vendor

By John Scherber
An American Voice in México

One of the points I made in the Conclusions section of my book on the expatriate experience, San Miguel de Allende: a Place in the Heart, was that the United States appears somewhat different from outside its borders than from within. As both a painter and a writer, I spend a lot of time and thought as an observer, and the discrepancy between the inner and outer perspectives is noticeable. Having lived in México for more than four years, the outsider perspective is easy to see.

One of the things I struggled with for some time was the constant negative drumbeat from the American media on the subject of México. Should I make any reference to it in my books? I saw many opportunities to do so. Ultimately I concluded that the bad press emanating from the U.S. is political in origin, and since I consider politics to be one of humankind’s less serious amusements, about as weighty as a game of marbles, I decided not to mention it. Instead, I would only paint the México that I see and live with, and not honor the fictions of the American media by repeating them.

But this blog is different.

Imagine that every day the Méxican media brought out reports on the two or three highest crime areas in the U.S., and by repeating the stories again and again, created the effect of looking in ten mirrors at once. It wouldn’t take long before you started to wonder what was happening. Do these undeniably true problems in the U.S. characterize the entire country? Is Davenport, Iowa no different from Detroit? Is that the only thing going on worthy of notice?

This is what the U.S. media does to México every day. The drug issues at the border are real and deplorable, violence a daily event, but people who live in México do the same thing that Americans do. We know our trouble spots and we avoid them. They comprise a fraction of one percent of the country. Méxicans tend to have the same aims and goals that Americans have: to lead a reasonable life, have a family, pay their bills and enjoy themselves in the process. I live in San Miguel de Allende, a town of 75,000, and it is about as dangerous, or less, as a town of the same size in the American Midwest. I can walk down any street at any hour of the day and not feel at risk. We live a normal life here in a place that is perhaps a bit more exotic and romantic than most of the U.S. So what is the problem? Statistics will tell you that you are five times more likely to be murdered in the U.S. than in México.

I don’t know what the American media gains from this distortion. Some have suggested that it’s a plot by the American travel industry, trying to keep the tourist dollar at home. It’s hard to know whether this has any merit. I do see that the media is mostly liberal, but how this kind of constant misrepresentation serves the liberal interest––or indeed any interest––isn’t clear to me. Most of the expatriates here are Democrats, but my conversations with Americans of any political stripe who live here has not given me any persuasive answers. No one has been able to tell me with conviction what this is about.

I started out my writing career years ago in journalism as well as short fiction, and I recall that there were standards in writing for periodicals, and people of integrity were highly visible on the TV news––Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, among others. I realize, as I will suggest in a later blog, that the truth is a moving target, but that should be a challenge for any writer, not an excuse for blatant dishonesty and distortion.

I recently saw a TV panel discussion of the drug problem. Of the three contributors, one was conservative, one liberal, and one independent. I’m not sure why it was a political issue. In the entire program none of them mentioned the American involvement in the drug trade even a single time. It was as if the problem only existed on the Méxican side of the border. Later I saw a program on opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, an operation that largely funds al Qaida. Once again, there was no mention of the American drug users who supply the customer base.

Let me state the unstated obvious––there is an American customer on the other side of every one of these drug transactions. Méxicans are deeply complicit in this problem, but they are not more than 50% of it. I can’t help wonder if there is an element of self-indulgence among the same news media. Can’t we state an inconvenient truth? (Someone else’s phrase.)

Let me go a step further. The American media, by declining to state the American dimension of this problem, is complicit as well. It allows many of us to keep our heads in the sand, as if the whole thing is an offense that someone else is committing against America. It allows us to see ourselves as the victims of another cynical nation’s evil plan. The liberal media now begins to sound like Ronald Reagan’s characterization of the Soviet Union as The Evil Empire.

In a recent Time Magazine article, I read that Americans now spend more on illegal drugs than on higher education. This is one of the few frank admissions I’ve seen that Americans are half the problem.

It is sad enough that most of the American news media has abandoned objectivity and allowed itself to become politicized. But to help us lie to ourselves about one of our most fundamental problems is an even greater disgrace.

Wake up America. Stop blaming others. You have it in your own hands to stop the drug trade––stop buying drugs.

And let’s start telling the truth about México.

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