Cultural Literacy

I wrote that blog post back in January, 2008, days after receiving my carta de naturalizacion, which had only been signed half a year before. I’d intended to write something acknowledging the anniversary, but then it just slipped past me. Maybe that’s a sign that being a Mexican by choice is just so much a part of who I am that I no longer need to remember the date.

I had just returned from Bogota, when I was awakened with a call from SRE, telling me “Your carta has arrived, but you’ll need to take the test.”
Bring it on.

Well, they hadn’t created the test yet.

“Create one, because I’ll be in your office tomorrow at noon.”
“You’ll have to know the Himno Nacional.”
So I spent the night studying and memorizing all of the stanzas of the Himno Nacional, but I was damned if I’d sing it. (I knew that I wouldn’t have to.) Admittedly, it got a little edgy, wondering if they’d spring something on me like what the real name of Guadalupe Victoria was. I kept telling myself that they really didn’t want me to give them a dissertation on the differences between the Estrada Doctrine and the Castaneda Doctrine, reminding myself that after all I was a lawyer and had even passed a bar exam. And the test should probably be designed so even Guatemalans could pass it.
I enter the office and surrender my FM-2. The delegado stamps my receipt for it, which is a signal that I’m going to pass. She ushers me to a table in her office to take the test. Nothing I’d studied was on the test, but I could pass it. I do have to say that most people could not. Not even a lot of natural-born Mexicans. It wasn’t easy. But I’m determined. I blank on naming the state where Chichen Itza is located, first writing Quintana Roo, and know that’s not right. Yucatan. I do not want to tell her that she’s mispelled Chichen Itza, but as she’s looking over my shoulder, I ask “It’s in Yucatan, right?” She says it is.
I write out all ten stanzas of the Himno Nacional. Her jaw drops. “You know that?”
Yeah, bring it on.
“You really do know your Mexican writers, don’t you?” she says, amazed that I could name more than the requested three.
“Would you like to know Benito Juarez’ mother’s apellido?  By the way, the test is supposed to be administered orally, so as not to discriminate against those who cannot read and write,” I tell her, just in case she wants to know for future reference. I like to be helpful in that kind of way, but only after I’ve got what I want.

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

Last week I asked several Mexican friends a few basic questions about this country, just to test their cultural literacy.

I started out with asking them to name a few Mexican writers. The first insisted that Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Mexican writer. Doesn’t Colombia ring a bell? The second came up with Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, claiming that he couldn’t think of any more off the bat. The third admitted that she could not name a single one. Haven’t these folks heard of Juana Inés de la Cruz, Carlos Pellicer, Denise Dresser, Juan Ruiz de Alarcon, Ramon Lopez Velarde, Manuel Othon, Manuel Gutierrez Najera, Elena Poniatowska, Anita Brenner, Carlos Monsivàis, Homero Aridjis, Juan Rulfo, Guadalupe Loaeza, Laura Esquivel, Margo Glantz, Sara Sefchovich and and Guadalupe Marín, just for starters? Do they ever read the newspaper

One out of the three could not name the jefe de gobierno of…

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11 comments on “Cultural Literacy

  1. That last sentence lets me know we are sisters under the skin! ha ha!


  2. wkaliher says:

    comments were closed–but curiously–I learned about ninos heros in 3rd grade history—in the states–now that was about sixty years ago–good test–bill


  3. Kim G says:

    I think this is the Mexican version of the good, ole “xx%-of-Americans-can’t-locate-the-country-on-an-unmarked-map” kind of thing.

    People are clueless everywhere.

    Now let me get back to watching “Dancing with the Stars,” and stop pestering us with all this high-falutin knowledge. ☺


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’re often astonished by who knows what and by who doesn’t know what, if you know what we mean.


  4. The clueless have an important function in society: to make us look superior.


  5. I was blessed with Mexican citizenship in December of 2005. I had to take no test at all. It seems there was some (possibly unintended) window of opportunity between about 2000 and 2005 in which they were basically giving citizenship away, no questions asked. About the only requirement, it appeared, was that you had lived in Mexico legally on a visa for five years or you had been married to a Mexican for 2.5 years. I hit both marks at about the same moment.

    The process I went through was almost identical to renewing my visa yet again.

    I couldn’t recite the national anthem if my life depended on it. And no language test was given either, even though I spoke with the official totally in Spanish. And, of course, the process might have been more difficult had I applied in some other city.

    I’m glad I’m a Mexican, even though it’s totally on paper. I enjoy voting here too.


  6. The process was easier than renewing an FM-3 or FM-2. SRE was very user-friendly. At the time my carta was signed, the test requirement wasn’t being applied, but immediately after, there was that nasty business with that Chinese guy who managed to get his citizenship in 3 weeks and who was found with a larger-than-socially-acceptable stash of greenbacks in his Lomas Chapultepec dwelling, so all naturalization petitions were re-scrutinized and the test requirement put back into effect. I could probably have successfully argued against taking the test, but I took it as a matter of pride — and for the bragging rights.

    What do you mean — Mexican “totally on paper”? We are really Mexican, and the longer we live here, the more Mexican we become. Getting my Mexican citizenship has to be one of the proudest days in my life.

    And yes, I bleed the tri-color.


    • By “totally on paper,” I mean I’m about as Mexican as a Georgia hillbilly, a Louisiana coonass or a Texas redneck. You know full well the extent of the cultural divide. I may know it better than you because I think being married to a Mexican makes a big, big difference in how much the locals open up to you, how much the mask is dropped. I will never think as they think. My priorities will ever be different. Well, to a great degree.

      It is correct, I think, that the longer we live here the more we resemble the locals. Still … the gap is so very wide.

      I do not bleed the tri-color. I once was quite fond of the red, white and blue, but that nation is going straight down the tubes.


  7. Of course, there is and always will be a cultural divide. But there’s a cultural divide between Mexicans who’ve returned from years NOB and those who’ve never left Mexico, too. We will never be the same as those Mexicans who were born here.

    But a few months ago, I was in San Miguel de Allende, and a gringa who lived there on serial tourist cards with her born-in-Mexico child, sired by an Argentine father proclaimed that my sister and I, naturalized Mexicans, were not the “real” Mexicans her daughter was. Had I not been in someone else’s house and minding my manners, I would’ve decked her. At the very least, her remark was grounds for a denuncia!


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