With lack of empathy and no leader to look up to, here in Mexico, we could be the next Italy
On the night of March 11th, I went out to dinner with a friend. I wore a mask. At this time, there were less than 100 confirmed cases of Coronavirus but the World Health Organization already declared Coronavirus as a global pandemic.
There were lots of people on the streets. The plaza was packed. Music was playing everywhere. People are having fun drinking outside. American Spring Breakers are all over the place. It was a normal day in Sayulita and it felt so wrong to me.
My friend was late so I went to the store next to the restaurant trying to avoid contact with people. I walked far from everyone else but everyone was looking at me like I’m from another planet. It’s the mask. And I was the only one wearing it. The señora in the store including two guys in line also paid attention to my entrance with a why-the-fuck-are-you-wearing-a-mask smile. When it was my turn to pay for the bottle of wine that I bought, the señora asked me something I am used to getting all the time.
“You’re from China?” she asked.
“No, señora, I’m from the Philippines but I’ve been in Mexico for a year now,” I responded. I don’t know if she noticed I was smiling from behind the mask but I smiled.
“Why are you wearing a mask? Are you sick?” She didn’t even let me answer that. It was already followed up by remarks that I am from China and I will bring the virus here. She also said the virus didn’t reach Mexico yet so wearing a mask will only make people panic. I don’t think she selectively heard he part when I said I am from the Philippines, and not from China. I didn’t want to repeat that again. Over the years I’ve traveled around Latin America, I already came to terms with the Latin culture: Philippines, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, China — we’re all the same to them. Hence, here in Mexico, I am the carrier of the virus because of how I look. Add the mask to the get-up and boom – you’re the supercarrier of the Coronavirus.
I didn’t argue with her. And maybe that wasn’t right. Here in Mexico, especially in the small town where I am right now, lots of people didn’t go to school. If I argued, I’ll never win. There is no place in Mexico for a woman like me to argue like that. They will not listen because they don’t believe what I am saying but because I am a woman. But maybe that’s why life brought me here – to dig a hole and make this world a world for women, too.
“Have a great evening, señora.”
“You too, mija.” she said with a smile.
As I head back to the restaurant, I saw some local friends of mine drinking by the plaza. I kept my distance when one of the guys, a person really close to me tried to hug me. I immediately stopped him before he came close to me. Again, speaking of Latin culture, these people are huggers and kissers, which I have adapted. After my three and a half year stint backpacking South America, the Latina in me hugged and kissed my super Asian family and friends. Even strangers. Where I am from, this is a very weird thing to do most especially to people you don’t know. But here in Latin America, you greet everyone with hugs and kisses. This is one of the reasons for my reverse culture shock when I came home. They didn’t understand the Latina in me it all became so off and awkward. I did it anyway because it’s something that Latins don’t think about. We hug and kiss all the time. It’s just how “we” are.
“Chicos, we’re only doing air hugs now,” I told them. They laughed.
“What, you’re scared of the virus?” one of them said.
“Yes. And you should be, too.”
“It’s a good thing you’re Asian. The mask doesn’t look funny on you,”
I smirked and walked away only to find out that in the restaurant where I was meeting my friend, my mask will be the evening topic. People even took pictures with me like I’m a mascot. That week, the town continued to flourish with white tourists. There weren’t any rules about people coming in and out of the country. Everyone can come because Mexico is very welcoming to tourists.
My friend who I had dinner with has the same feeling about the ignorance here in Mexico. “People don’t understand,” is the sentence of the week. And sometimes, from frustrations, some other not so nice adjectives. She and I hang out every 2 days and we only hang out with people who are doing self-quarantine, even if the Mexican government didn’t require it yet. People kept going out, hanging out at the beach, going to restaurants, drinking outside, etc — it was like a bubble, and it still is. I feel like I am not in Mexico but in Mars where everyone thinks we are too far away from the virus.
And that’s what I thought in the beginning. When the news broke, we had zero cases here in Mexico and in Latin America. I watched while our neighbors, Costa Rica, Brasil, and Peru shut down their borders. I assured my family that I am fine and that we have zero cases because it was the truth. I continued with my daily life without any lockdown or quarantine of some sort. But I only hang out with people who were doing the same. Those who are aware of what is happening and are doing something about it. Here, those people are Americans and Canadians. They’ve already seen what happened to their countries so they are being reactive, but calm.
On March 16th, for the first time in my life, I watched Mexican news and I was shocked by what I’ve seen: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) tells the people on live TV: “live life as usual.”
“I’m sorry, what?!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, especially that I only heard good things about AMLO favored by the Mexican people being far left. This is when I started being paranoid and anxious, which, right now, I think, is how everyone is feeling. He said there’s no need to panic and that this is the correct way to respond to the virus – to not inspire panic. He also held mass rallies shaking hands, hugging, and kissing supporters. This is absurd. Shocking. Heartbreaking.
“If you’re able and have the means to do so, continue taking your family out to eat … because that strengthens the economy,” AMLO added. Mexico’s peso currency slid to a new low to trade at 24.85 pesos per U.S. dollar, tumbling 1.76% on March 22nd shortly after new warnings of a big jump in unemployment in the United States due to Coronavirus. [Reporting by Noe Torres; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Diane Craft]
This makes AMLO panic but I thought, which economy is not sinking? The global economy is crashing. It’s not only Mexico experiencing this. Is he saying that the economy is on a higher priority than the pandemic? What can we benefit from a ‘good’ economy if we’re all dead?
“We have no time. We don’t even have a minute,” Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House Coronavirus task force said in response to the lack of empathy in the USA. But honestly, in Mexico, we have time. We’re just taking it for granted.
When I thought about the writing title for this piece, I didn’t like the reference to Italy. “We could be like Italy” is so strong it makes me very sad to watch the news. I spent some of my formative years in Italy and have family and friends there and it breaks my heart to see my Italy go through something horrible. Italy didn’t have time. And again, in Mexico, we have time. Before the virus reached Mexico, we’ve watched the world suffer from it and I actually thought we’ve learned something from it in terms of how to be prepared.
Yes, we do have time but what we don’t have is empathy. Last night, I briefly went out to buy some supplies and again, even if beaches and restaurants are closed, people are still outside living their normal life. After all, this is what the President advised so I can’t really blame them.
“Muchachos, please go home. Or at least drink together but keep your distance.” I told these strangers hanging outside the store.
So, what are you a doctor now? And why are you wearing a mask?” I swear to you this was just last night. Up to this day, people still react this way.
“Because I am from China and if you don’t go home, I will infect you,” I said. That’s what they’re probably thinking anyway.
“Well, mujer, just drink tequila and the virus will go away,” one of the dudes said. And this stung. It’s not about the tequila, it’s not about what he said. It’s the sound of conviction that annoyed me the most — he truly believes that drinking tequila will kill Coronavirus. Oh, well, if that’s the case, why are we not sending barrels to Italy and the US?! Why isn’t this all over if tequila is the answer, sir?! I didn’t say that out loud. I just thought. But for a minute there, I wished he was right. I really wished tequila could end this. Again, these are people who live a hard life and are just enjoying after-work drinks. I really can’t blame them. They won’t listen to a girl like me anyway but I believe if it’s a person of authority, like the President for example, then they will listen.
I am still lucky that my job is not affected by the virus (at least not less than 50%) and for some people who’ve been cut off or asked to closed, life won’t be easy. How will they put food on the table? I honestly have no idea how this will be a win-win situation for everyone. If there’s a lockdown, people will be hungry. If there isn’t a lockdown, there will be money but people will be sick. So which side do we choose? For those who have more work freedom, of course, a lockdown is easier but how about those people who actually need to be out there to work? For those people who don’t have ‘working from home’ as an option?
I wish I have superpowers right now.
Of course, I also listened to the Mexicans who know their economy better than I do. In order for the economy not to crash, the government has divided this into 3 phases: importers of the disease as the first,
community spread as the second, and top crisis level and lockdown as the third phase. The thing I don’t understand here is the need to wait. That’s exactly what happened to Italy – it was too late to react. So my Mexican friend said, “it does not make sense to lock them all before you get a trace on where it will start spreading, otherwise you completely crash the economy and it will happen anyway.”
So I guess we will have to wait till we reach phase 3, keep people from making their living and somewhat saving Mexico’s economy.
On March 22nd, Bahia de Banderas governorate declared that all beaches will be on lockdown and restaurant owners should close. Some complied but when the authorities are not watching, small taquerias still open for a few hours. You’ll see how many people are eating in these taco joints in the few hours that they are open. When I am driving out for errands, I always shout at people loitering on the streets. I even personally begged some señoras to close with a very understandable explanation of why they should. But they still wouldn’t close. Along with the restaurants shutting down, schools were also closed so children are at home. And you know what we do here? Families go out all the time because there’s no school. I feel like they think this is a vacation from school and that they can do whatever they want. What’s odd is that I thought this was only happening where I am but one Mexican reader from another part of Mexico commented on my Youtube video and said, “thanks for the tips! I am going to Sayulita next week.” The Mexican people are free and knowing this culture of fiestas and tequilas, I am sure everyone will keep living their lives until the worst comes.
We have time. We’ve seen the world suffer and we can better prepare. But after this weekend, I don’t think we will still have that time. Time we wasted for not taking the self-quarantine seriously. Time we expended carelessly because we think the worst hasn’t arrived yet. Time we are taking for granted because people can’t stay the fuck home and that they always have the need to socialize. But it’s also time we need to stabilize the Mexican economy. Time we need to keep people providing for their families. It really is a hard call.
I’ve traveled the world for nearly 12 years and this is the first time in my life where I don’t know where to go if the pandemic hits us hard here in Mexico. I used to just book tickets and fly to a far-flung land – that makes me move on and all the problems will go away. But this time, I am thinking of a plan B and I don’t have any. Where would I go when shit goes down?
I was raised to speak up and right and use my channel right. I realized that my voice isn’t that loud here in Mexico because I write in English. So right now, I am going to end this journal with a message in Spanish:
Mis queridos mexicanos, el coronavirus es serio. Sé que ustedes siempre serán felices y seguirán la corriente, pero en este momento, no tenemos esa opción. Si el gobierno mexicano no está haciendo algo al respecto, somos la esperanza de este país. Por favor, toma esto en serio. No significa que no pueden salir pero protégete a ti mismo y mantenga tu distancia. Protege a tu familia. Si todavía no sabes nada sobre el coronavirus, infórmate. Educar a tus hijos. Eduque a todas las personas que te rodean porque esta es la única forma en que podemos superar esto. Si vamos a hacer esto juntos, habrá un futuro no solo para este país sino para todo el mundo. No tome nuestro tiempo por sentado porque se está agotando lentamente. No esperemos hasta que llegue lo peor porque estoy seguro de que todos lo lamentaremos. Todos miraremos hacia atrás y diremos: “por qué no hicimos algo al respecto cuando tuvimos tiempo?” No queremos llegar a ese punto, así que por favor, tenemos que hacer nuestos partes.