AMLO Cardenas

July 1, 2018

Today was the biggest election in Mexican history.

My thumb is inked, which means that I’ve cast my vote. So, I’m standing in line at the casilla at the public school three blocks from my house this morning, even before my morning coffee, thinking I’d walk over to OXXO and get a free cup for showing my thumb, joined by the rest of the neighborhood dressed in their Sunday best — Skechers and sweats– when an ignorant middle-class woman ahead of me in line asks if I’m Mexican. “Do you think I’d be standing waiting around here if I weren’t?” She chimes in with that usual “You don’t look Mexican,” never mind I look like half the people waiting in the schoolyard. I am so tempted to tell her “You don’t look like you can read,” but I don’t.

She leaves a few minutes later to go to the Sunday tianguis.

My line isn’t moving, even though the schoolroom is staffed with the election personnel. The vigilantes de los partidos – observers from each of the political parties – haven’t shown up yet, and the party can’t proceed until they’re all there. That always seems to happen in the P through Z line.

There are 25 people ahead of me in line, the head of which is marked by a woman in an orange headscarf and another with platinum-streaked hair. A couple one person ahead of me are passing the time playing pat-a-cake pat-a-cake baker’s man; the man directly ahead of me, dressed in black and white from his ball cap all the way to his Skechers, black Bermuda shorts, a white t-shirt under a black vest, checks his iPhone, clad in a black leather case; the girl behind me with neatly applied lipstick and good eye makeup is getting one call after another on her smartphone; and the reigning doyenne of the organic market is four people behind her, stylish in khaki slacks and a white blouse, which I’d say came from Palacio de Hierro. I have on purple Skechers (2017), black Adidas pants from Nordstrom Rack in Honolulu in 2006, a grey t-shirt from Nordstrom’s in San Mateo (2014), and a purple appliqued hoodie. And freshly dyed hair.

Finally, an elderly nun, her thick white hair neatly coiffed, a giant cross hanging from her neck, emerges, raising her inked thumb in victory, proclaiming “I was the first!” as she practically dances across the pavement. She was one of the happiest nuns I’ve seen in ages.

And before long, my turn at the polls arrives. I hand over my INE card, the election worker reads out my name but not before asking “What is your last name?” My surname appears in the same spot on the card that everyone else’s does, but it’s confusing, since my last name is all too often confused with the first. Still, since the card only reveals two names—a first and a last—you’d think he’d figure that much out. He reads off my name, five workers checking their rosters to mark my appearance, and one poll worker after another rips a ballot from their book. I enter the booth with a handful of ballots – one for each of the five races.

There may be tacos (multiple ballots folded together), but there will be no hanging chads. All of the voting is done with paper ballots, voters using the same ballot from Tijuana to Cancun.

And after marking each with an X in the same spot to cast my free and secret vote, I exit the voting area, folding my ballot to deposit in the box marked in a different color for each office. I go on to pick up my INE card, getting my right thumb indelibly inked. Just so I won’t vote twice.

And I stride, victoriously, from the school yard. It’s no secret that each of my votes went for the PRI candidates. That’s just how I’m wired.

August 5, 2018.

My candidate for president came in the third. It wasn’t all that surprising, even though I still maintain that he was the best-qualified for the job. During his concession appearance the evening of the election, he almost seemed relieved. His wife unquestionably had to have been relieved. And both will surely lead much saner, less complicated lives during the coming six years than the man who won.

It seemed a given, no matter whom you might’ve asked, that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, AMLO, would win. What rankled me more than anything were the attitudes of many voters, smugly declaring that it was time for revolution, that they were somehow the anointed ones for supporting him, and how much so many of them bore that same scent of those who had supported Hillary Clinton.

AMLO shouldered the victory with just as much class and style as José Antonio Meade Kuribreña handled defeat. At least publicly, hands reached across party lines for a show of unity and moving on.

There were no public meltdowns, no ninny snowflakes crying in their Kool-Aid, and life went on just as always. No one donned silly pink knitted hats. The peso became stronger. The sky didn’t fall.

Sure, there were burned ballots, and little frauds committed here and there, just as there is in every democracy, everywhere. But none of it was sufficient to change the final result.

Estadounidenses could take a few lessons from Mexicans about how a mature nation operates. A year and a half have now passed since Donald Trump was inaugurated, and Estadounidenses still can’t get their acts sufficiently together to realize that it’s about respecting the office as much as the one who occupies it. It’s dangerous to admit to Estadounidenses that you voted for Trump. Five years from now, AMLO’s visage may be on the Judases that we all blow up just before Easter and exposes will be published, but for now, he’s being treated as the second coming of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (Mexico’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and that’s just fine. (I’d rather have seen the second coming of Adolfo López Mateos, but there’s always next time.)

May AMLO turn out to be a great president. He’s already exceeding my expectations.

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Inked

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At OXXO this morning, the coffee was free. All I had to do was show my thumb. It’s not some thumbprint technology, it’s old school. After Mexican voters cast their votes, their right thumbs are indelibly inked. You have to wonder what body part they’ll ink on a voter who has no hands.

The voting process is old school, too. Dressing up a little better than usual, because you just never know whom you might run into at the polls, because this is an event that brings out everyone, well, everyone with an IFE card, I joined the line for first last names from Posada to the end of the alphabet, two ancianas passing ahead to the front of the line. I surrendered my voter ID to a poll worker, who passed it on to a man with tattooed arms, who read my name out loud. And he got it right, too. The next worker located a photo of my ID in a book containing the ID of everyone in the precinct, and a fourth separated ballots from four books: one for governor, one for presidente municipal, one for a federal diputado, and a fourth for the diputado local, each printed in distinctive colors. Entering the voting booths, curtained in plastic, I drew Xs over the names of my candidates, noting that the bravest and most independent of all was buried at the lower left hand corner, folding each ballot before exiting the booth. After depositing each ballot into its designated box, I returned to the table, retrieved my IFE card, and got inked. Voting in Mexico is a streamlined, easy process, no confusing machines to work or chads to confuse. And that’s the way voting ought to be.

On my way out, I ran into a former governor. But then former governors and retired politicians are a dime a dozen around these parts.

If you’re reading this, you’ll want to know whom I voted for. Let’s put it this way:  the party who kept sending me spam texts didn’t get my vote, and neither did the party who kept robo-calling me. I picked up a t-shirt from one of my candidates months ago. And one of my candidates never gave me anything, never contacted me, not even leaving a single piece of paper slipped under my gate. But he brought Jorge Castañeda to town support his campaign, and that was good enough for me.

I have a feeling that this election, like that last gubernatorial election, isn’t over yet.

Me and the Morning Paper

Reunited with an old friend, who shows up every morning on my doorstep, bearing tidings, good, bad and in-between, gossip, a peek into lifestyles not my own and just like mine, I feel like my life’s back on track. La Voz de Michoacán and I have had an off-and-on relationship for years, or at least since I first laid eyes on Morelia back when José López Portillo was moving out of Los Pinos.

La Voz is everything that the rest of the pack isn’t. It’s a tabloid, designed for reading on the subway, which Morelia will never have. It’s about as flashy as a pair of Flexi shoes – and just as reliable. It’s not a sexy, edgy newspaper, but it’s solid, comprehensive, and it delivers what it’s supposed to.

It’s also the only newspaper published in Michoacán which bears its price both in Mexican pesos and U.S. dollars. 10 pesos and 1 USD. You know what that means.

And it’s also the only paper around, at least that I know about, that has the P’urhépecha Jimbo—a page printed in P’urhépecha and in Spanish.

It sells out faster than its competitor at the abarrotes in my neighborhood.

The late Miguel Medina Robles was a publishing giant, and even though I only met him once, at the annual dinner over at the rectory during my colonia’s fiesta patronal, he made a lasting impression.

There is just something civilized and disciplined about print that the digital world doesn’t deliver. I’m forced to read sections that I’d ordinarily skip online. Sure, the digital version is easier, but it encourages skipping over items that I find myself poring over in print: two-page spreads about Pre-Hispanic music in Michoacán, what the recipients back in the Old Country do with remittances sent back home from migrants, the career of a caricaturist over at the Plaza de Armas. I can tear out sections to save for later, clippings to be passed on instead of forwarded.

Newspapers have been as much a part of my life as magazines. I grew up on the Los Angeles Times, followed by the San Diego Union and the San Diego Evening Tribune, the St. Joseph News-Press and the St. Joseph Gazette, the Des Moines Register and the Des Moines Tribune. For twenty years, Sundays were filled with both the Omaha World-Herald and the Des Moines Register. Each foray to a new city meant having to pick up the local newspaper, even if it was just to read the obituaries of people I never knew.

But then my lifetime ambition, never fulfilled, was to be editor of Parade. A slender printed-on-newsprint accompaniment to the Sunday newspaper, it was read by more people than any other magazine.

Every newspaper demands reading in its proper order, which is probably not how the editors intended. The Sunday New York Times means grabbing the magazine.

But we’re talking about La Voz here. And this is the order in which it’s read in my house:

• Toca Mal. Everything worth knowing can be f0und in that small below-the-fold (if a tabloid had a fold) on page 2A. Toca Mal, who has gone from Francisco Lopez Guido to someone else, is the Herb Caen of Michoacán.

• Facetas. The F section, these are the social pages, where I concoct connections and stories in my own head about the lives and people who grace those pages. I get to keep up on the birthdays and saints’ days of people who’re a notch above me.

• The back page of the A section: seguridad. That’s the crime page.

• Dinero. The C section tells me how broke I am.

• The A section. That’s the main body of the newspaper, containing the far-too-lengthy-to-read editorials. And the esquelas. Those are the obituary notices placed by businesses, organizations, and important people lamenting the demise of important people. I am amazed at how quickly, sometimes only within hours of an unexpected death, these notices appear.

• The B section (pais) and the G section (regional news).

• Finally, the E section, called O. which stands for ocio (free time), containing entertainment and cultural news.

• And then I’ll do a switchback to the F section for the crossword and horoscope.

• The D section? That’s the sports section, which my employee grabs before the newspaper reaches my hands.

And what did I do this morning while reading the print version? I clicked on the web version just for the update.

Kissing Baby Jesus

I will never be cool. I’ve never kissed a woman, other than in the most forced greeting, and even then I make great efforts to avoid doing so. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but it’s just not my style. But an effort to be polite, I bowed and kissed Baby Jesus. It was agonizing.

Not all Christmases are festive and joyous or even as picturesque as something Noman Rockwell could’ve dreamed up. Some are spent in lonely bars. Some are spent with odd lots of relatives and a police presence. Others are spent looking for Chinese restaurants. And some are simply awful.

There was Christmas Day in Iowa City, dining at Denny’s. The bar exam review course would start the next day, and for the next ten days I would be the sole occupant of the FIJI house with Mother Guy’s blessing. For at least a couple of decades, she was housemother to the fraternity of every important male at the University of Iowa.

More than a few Christmas spent aloft on a plane, fleeing flyover country.

Christmas Eve at the Villa Montana, more than any place else during my adult life.

Christmas Day volunteering as a Candy Striper.

A Christmas Day drive to the countryside beyond San Miguel del Monte and ending up at Paseo Altozano.

Christmas in Buenos Aires, heralded by fireworks and a complete and total absence of traffic, not a taxi cab in sight.

Christmas Eve in Florence, successfully scoring a simple black doll over my mother’s entreaties to opt for something fancier.

The awful ones have their place, if for no reason other than to be memorialized in blogs like this. And here’s mine, which is far more dreadful than the Czar of Tzurumutaro could ever contemplate.

A few days before Christmas, more than a decade back, I found myself an unwilling guest at a neighbor’s Christmas Eve dinner. I’d armed myself ahead of time with a tale of other plans, but the sly old lady, whose own kids had the foresight to leave town, was a step ahead of me, telling me that the rest of my family, which amounted only to a sister and her husband, had already accepted. I did not know at the time that she’d already pulled that trick on them. We were trapped.

Christmas Eve started off with mass at 9 p.m., seemingly quicker and more cheerful than usual, with the padre starting off with a hearty “Buenas Noches” and ending with aguinaldos of cookies and candies for everyone.

We came armed with a Costco pecan pie and Ensalada Navideña, and it was a good thing we did. The culinary offerings awaiting us amounted to macaroni with ham and pineapple and a single pollo rostizado. And this was not a poor family.

The holiday feast over, we were invited to admire the nativity scene which extended along the entire side of the room and around the corner, replete with giraffes and elephants and zebras. Maybe even dinosaurs and a statue of Benito Juarez. As the clock struck midnight, and with great ceremony, the hostess presented the infant Jesus surrounded by candy, not for a bris, given that eight days had yet to pass after his birth, but for adoration and besos. He travels around the table from one guest to another, which didn’t take long, given that there was a total of six humans at the table. I am last, my sib and sib-in-law rolling their eyes and laughing under their breath, but I have not a clue of what awaits. And then he’s handed over to me. Never mind that I had not the first clue what to do with him. “You’re the madrina, and you’re supposed to place him in the nacimiento,” I was instructed. Oh.

Not only am I supposed to kiss Baby Jesus, I’ve been tapped to lovingly place him in the cradle.

Now, I know it’s a tradition, but it struck me then, and it still does today, as just downright creepy. Not the idea of blessing their Christ child, but asking me to do the honors. What were these people thinking?

Meanwhile, gunfire pierced the night air, and we casually tried to identify the kind of weapon used. Mostly .22s, we figured. I would’ve gladly placed myself directly in the line of fire if it would’ve meant avoiding that episode of kissing baby Jesus. Walking home, some of the other neighbors were sitting outside warming themselves in the fogatas in the street, inviting us to join them for a tequilito. I could’ve used several before what will always be remembered as the saddest, most horrific Christmas Eve in my life.

Lesson learned: even if you have zero plans, make up some. And engrave them in stone.

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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Will El Hermano Mayor de Leon be Watching You?

Writing in Fast Company, Austin Carr made more than a few scratch their heads in wonder this evening:

Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced today that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls "the most secure city in the world." In a partnership with Leon — one of the largest cities in Mexico, with a population of more than a million — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners.

Houston-based lawyer Ignacio Pinto-Leon, who is admitted to practice in Mexico as well as New York, smells an urban legend in the making:

  • Leon is a municipality in the state of Guanajuato. I would think the city does not have a budget for the price tag of the technology. The state executive maybe; the federal government for sure. But not a city.
  • City jails house only drunks and prostitutes for up to 36 hours for each infraction.
  • The state and federal government run the real jails. So, the first take of irises on inmates would give a very poor—but probably cheerful—sample.
  • Put  fancy little cameras in public places in Mexico, and most likely they would get stolen quickly. I’m not bashing my countrymen; just guessing. 
  • So, it would flag the "bad guys." Well, the bad guys in Mexico are really bad guys. They have really big guns—we don’t sell guns in Mexico except through the Mexican Secretary of Defense, but have a neighbor nearby who sells everything from grenades and whatnots at good prices. And sometimes the bad guys attack in groups of forty or more. 
  • Kidnappers would routinely include ripping the eyeballs to avoid detection.
  • Is the government going to share the information with stores in the case of shoplifters? Really? Entrepreneurs distrust the government; why would they open their computers to them?
  • The only two sources with information are: the company’s webpage, and a press release published in an online newspaper. The press release is also by the same company and a local partner.
  • No AP, REUTERS, NOTIMEX or any other agency note. Nada.

Having said that, Pinto-Leon commented:

Mexico is Mexico. Few things would surprise me regarding my beloved country. We say that compared to Mexico, Kafka was a costumbrist (Mexico is essentially Kafkian by nature). I don’t know if they have the technology to try it on such a wide population. My guess is that the note is inaccurate. It would be interesting to read more about it. Constitutionally speaking, there could be some freedom of transit and freedom of privacy issues too.