The other Mexico

  • True Tales from Another Mexico, by Sam Quinones, University of New Mexico Press, 2001. Hardcover: $22.95. 336 pages.


    Certainly the press, other governments and tourists are most aware of the official, elite, corrupt Mexico; the Mexico that won't allow a poor man a chance; the Mexico behind the sunglasses. I've even been told by people, including Mexicans, that this is Mexican culture. But I know that's not true. There is another Mexico.

-- Sam Quinones,
True Tales from Another Mexico

Journalist Sam Quinones has a theory. Seventy-one years of one-party rule by the PRI, he argues, have all but flogged the life out of Mexico's political establishment. Only unofficial Mexico, filled with stubborn innovators and risk-takers, holds real hope for change. True Tales from Another Mexico is about these cultural rebels. A new wave of telenovelas - soap operas - has brushed off longstanding state controls and portrays the real problems of modern Mexican life. A loosely organized chain of Mexican ice-cream shops has outcompeted Baskin-Robbins. A community of Oaxacan farmworkers in Baja California has successfully pushed for better living conditions.

Quinones' story isn't always hopeful, and not all of his characters are heroes: The small lowland town of Huejutla expressed its frustration with a corrupt judicial system by lynching two traveling salesmen. The Zamora, Michoacan, imitators of the Los Angeles gang, West Side Kansas Street, show that the noxious boredom of gang life knows no boundaries. Yet all of his pieces illuminate fascinating corners of Mexican culture, complex stories unknown to most of us in El Norte.

An afterword discusses last summer's election of Vincente Fox and life in post-PRI Mexico. Quinones is elated, and hopes that Mexico will eventually see the end of its long diaspora. All that's needed, he says, is for Mexicans to have "the simple hunch that things are getting better, and that the government is at least theirs."

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