Camille Granito Mancuso: Chatterbox
The young girl sitting next to me on a recent flight to Puerto Vallarta told me she was born in her father’s native Switzerland, grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and lives in Mexico.
She’s getting married in April to a Mexican man, will continue to live there and loves everything about that country.
I shared with her my hesitancy to visit Mexico even as I headed there. The current political climate was my major concern, but I still confessed that I knew little about the country. After our chat, she said, “Mexico has a lot to offer; every country does.”
I adjusted my seatbelt and my attitude thinking that, at least, we should always keep an open mind. Still, somehow, I seemed to remain under-enthused, despite my love of different peoples, different cultures and the stellar report from the girl in the aisle seat. Puerto Vallarta had also gotten glowing reviews from a pair of our dear friends back home.
Once in the cab heading for the hotel, the magic fell into place. The cab driver was adorable and spoke enough English to chat. The hotel, of course, catering to tourists of many nations, was impeccable on all levels but, throughout the stay, the city and all her people continued to amaze.
All were proud to share Mexico’s beauty, culture and their fair hearts with us. Waiters, cab drivers, the town’s locals and residents whose sidewalks we traversed, and strangers along the oceanside promenade called El Malecon, were hard-working, proud, friendly, and genuine. Even those who spoke no English were willing to try to give us directions and laugh at all the language confusion.
The soft-spoken Swiss-American from Syracuse was right. Mexico did have a lot to offer and, throughout the visit, I revisited the root of my hesitation. I realized that I simply didn’t know enough about it, but even during the short time we spent there, the people and their culture grew familiar and warm.
In America, today, we have many people who are in defiance mode, whether it is of all foreigners, or focused at particular types of foreigners. Some of us just happen to be uniformed about other nations and their traditions; others actively avoid them because of fear or bad press.
Americans, above all, should keep a positive curiosity about, and remain openly receptive to, newcomers. As a nation comprised almost exclusively of citizens coming as, or descended from, people from other nations, we not only should, but must, embrace they who arrive hopeful on our shores, as we, or our ancestors, once did. It seems obvious that embracing something new in our life is easier if we learn something about it. That can be said of any culture in America, even those with somewhat shallower roots here, and those who, perhaps, seem more mysterious.
I’ve said before that nothing is more delightful than being surprised by church bells in a city foreign to us. The bells of Puerto Vallarta’s beautiful old church of Our Lady of Guadalupe offered far more a dull clank than a lilting, round tone. Still, there was great heart, history and reverence in that sound. The bells’ coughs delighted all who were surprised by them on that shore foreign to us.
That delight remains true for all those who bring their own personal reverence in their hearts to our shores. Order and organization in immigration is necessary, yes, but our own sheer existence here is a reminder for us all to keep our heart, our mind, and our shores open.
Oddly, today, as demonstrating prejudices grows more commonplace, and as people begin to feel justified and protected in their expression of it, its well-deserved stigma seems to garner less disdain. Suddenly, small factions of our society are making big noises and fracturing our unity. They judge and put all members of a single people in a single cubicle, labeling them by heap rather than individually, and we’re expected to grow accustomed to it, even though we know that nothing can achieve justification or legitimacy simply because it exists.
It’s best to remember that, just as every nation has something good to offer as we arrive on their shores with an open mind, every person who arrives on our shores also brings something good, if we keep an open mind. We’d be foolish to ignore that, or any of what they have to offer.
We’d be far more foolish to believe that the few we may choose as any example of the many could ever actually be representative thereof.
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