There hasn’t been a trip to Mexico that I haven’t enjoyed. Mexico City, notwithstanding the pollution and hassle, for its beauty, culture and vitality; Cuernavaca for its color and serenity; Taxco set in those improbably steep hills; the tiles, mole and bodegas of Puebla; the pale green of the Caribbean in the Yucatan and the quotidian hustle and bustle of more ordinary Mexican towns that always appeals to the inner cultural anthropologist in me.
Visiting the colonial heartland around San Miguel de Allende at the end of 2006, I was again struck by the powerful symbol of symbiosis between Mexico and the U.S. that Coke represents.
Coke seems embedded in the Mexican psyche. Logos and signs come in various shapes and sizes, but are never loud and in-your-face like the Pepsi ads. Apparently, they don’t need to be. Instead, the Coke image impinges on brain obliquely but more pervasively and therefore more deeply.
A perfect example of this was the Indian washer woman we saw mopping up the floor of a cathedral. Her bucket was red and across it was that Coca-Cola logo.
The Abarrotes mini-store next to our rented house sold Coke in bottles shaped like Christmas tree ornaments — big and round and adorned with festive images. The words Coca-Cola appear in small print.
So often an abarrotes will announce itself to its neighborhood with a single sign, and it will be Coke. The sign sometimes is just a plain red board with a white silhouette of the iconic bottle. My opinion is they don’t even need to spell out the words at the bottom of the sign. Everyone knows what it is.
Coke needs the Mexicans. It started pitching the drink to them early in the 20th century. So Coke is about as inseparable from the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. as the image of Christ is to the crucifix.
In fact, some say Coke is Latin America’s second religion.
Just as Coke economically and culturally colonized Mexico, so Mexicans have irreversibly impacted the U.S. Ads today don’t depict the idealized blonde homemaker of recent years. More often, she is brunette. A restaurant menu is incomplete without at least one dish with chilis or hot sauce. Without the annual migration of Mexicans to the U.S., we would not have anyone working in our restaurant kitchens, landscaping our yards, constructing our homes and cleaning our homes.
In our very Mexican, non-gringo neighborhood outside San Miguel’s centro, cars bore license plates from Washington, Illinois, California, Nevada. At a shop a salesgirl heard me saying to my husband “This won’t work in Lake Oswego…” and she exclaimed “I’m from Tigard!”. Every cab driver spoke fine English from years of living in the U.S. Listening to mariachis serenade a bride and groom outside the Dolores Hidalgo cathedral, a cowboy-booted, straw cowboy-hatted Mexican man told us he was from Oklahoma. Another told us he was from Texas.
And thank god for them. The myth of the sleepy Mexican should be banished from the U.S. mind once and for all. Wherever they live, these people work hard every day of the week. This makes them so much like us, we should be welcoming these people above all others. We share a continent and an intertwined history and more and more a culture — why put up a wall now when we need friends more than ever?