México, Lindo y Bonito”… lovely, beautiful Mexico. So the song goes. Still true. Those who know the truth of these words remember the Christmas lights of the gorgeous main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, leading from downtown to the Castillo de Chapultepec. 

“Old-time” travelers to Mexico may recall fondly the spectacular Christmas and New Year season’s lights around the Plaza de la Constitución – the Zócaloin downtown Mexico City. They may dream of the splendid, life-size nacimientos (creches) in Chapultepec Park and elsewhere. In particular, from memories of visits to my wife’s family in Mexico City and Cuernavaca, I can taste—in my mind—the season’s goodies: the bacalao of the Noche Buena feast, after the midnight Misa de Gallo. Before and after, the buñuelos sold on the street, the warm rum ponche, with a stalk of real sugar cane in each mug. Or, years earlier, the glasses of fresh hand-squeezed caña de azucar, from a vendor with his gigantic wheel.

And now? About 700 miles and, oh, yes, “walls” of COVID (plus Cartels) prevent our family’s travels. (Not even, yet, a trip to “our” border town for South Texas, that is, Progreso, to have a margarita at Arturos.) Most painful, we ached for our family as we attended with them the funeral of an infant grand-niece, only via “Face-time”—no way to join the family in person; they were masked, distanced, couldn’t even hug, to console one another. You and countless Americans and Mexicans have been facing other moments of sadness throughout this difficult year.

Deaths in the US, 310,000 plus! In Mexico, 113,000, fourth highest in the world! Some officials there claim that number might be double (Kate Linthicum, “Unwelcome,” Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 2020). Yet, thousands of Americans defy the science, the reality, and pour over the US-Mexican border, mostly by air. Nearly half a million Americans flouting the dangers, have arrived in Mexico. “Tipsey young Americans in bikinis vie for buckets of beer in ‘Cabo;’ vendors offer rugs, massages and (under their breath) cocaine” (LA Times). 

Those tourists are unwelcome in many countries, due to the virus; and Mexico has some of the loosest restrictions on travel or tourism. Mexico does not require proof of negative COVID-19 tests or a quarantine. Local lobby groups had successfully argued against the random, private shut downs. The government, President AMLO, emulating Trump, has done little, except advise religious amulets for protection. Now “Baja,” the state wherein sits Cabo San Lucas, has the second highest rate of the virus in Mexico. Gee, thanks, muchas gracias, Americanos; they might be saying: “so, you love Mexico so much, you’re killing us?” 

Mexico currently admits over 1.7 million cases of COVID (New York Times, 17 Nov 20) and growing. There is no general, federal protection policy. Private companies offer erratic strategies; Walmart in Monterrey opens during the week, but closes during the weekends. Business “openings” (here or there) brought a temporary boomlet in Cabo, but at a terrible price. 

Valeria Muñoz, owner/manager of a unique “dude ranch,” with splendid horses, was happy at first. But many riders did not wear their masks. (So often, in Mexico or foreign countries, Americans feel they can ignore local customs or advice.) Now, her husband is dead from COVID. Some listen, obey the warnings, but some don’t. Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin, Texas, posted a video on Facebook, warning of the increased danger—but, it was revealed later—he did so from Cabo! What can explain the refusal of so many to heed posted—and common sense—warnings? 

OK, I get it. There it is! Enchanted Mexico: beaches, forests, mountains, festivals (Radish Festival in Oaxaca, as well as countless village celebrations). There is not only Mexico City but San Miguel, Guanajuato, and Peña de Bernal, with its magic mountain. There is Cholula, with its 356 churches, over the volcanoes, Popo and Izta, reached through the thrilling Paso de Cortéz, after descending from Mexico City, on and on! Go for the first time, or for a return. But the pyramids and other sites will be there next year, waiting for you, when vaccines arrive and are distributed, when both countries pronounce things “safe.” There will be time, opportunity, an economic boomlet, possibly. 

Get ready—Mexico awaits, her beauty, lights, festivals (there will still be fireworks on Christmas eve, here in South Texas, too, you can bet), her welcoming people (and good prices). For now, just enjoy any memories you may have—or great expectations of a first-time visit. Meanwhile, why not study and prepare? 

Learn more about Mexican history and culture (and grow to appreciate the Mexican influence in the U.S.). Then, do the right thing—after full vaccinations – travel to Mexico and/or welcome Mexican tourists here (18 million, second only to Canada). Do your part to further international tourism—la industria sin chimeneas (an industry without smoke, or the “green industry”). Be an agent of more international understanding. Love Mexico for now, by staying away.  

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by educator and writer Dr. Gary Joe Mounce. It appears in the Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. To reach Dr. Mounce email: [email protected]

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