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Spanish lessons in Mexico


The longer I stay, the less I ever want to leave Oaxaca. The limitless number of world class restaurants (each with their own special mole or other regional delight), the bottomless supply of Oaxaca´s aromatic coffee, to die for chocolate from the birthplace of cacao, ceaseless art exhibits, plays, and concerts, fascinating and complicated politics, pulsating night life, and oh did I mention the coffee? What else could you ask for?

I have spent the last three weeks studying the subjunctive at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. The subjunctive, a tense folks tell me exists in English, but I still cannot figure out when or where we use it, is widely known to be the most difficult part of the Spanish language. It is not the conjugation that is impossible to master, but rather the emotional sentiment that underlies this portion of the language. As my teacher explained, Mexicans assume that nothing in life, except death, is certain, and that therefore all plans, hopes, and desires must be expressed with doubt. I find this to be a fascinating insight into the culture, and further evidence that without truly understanding the language, you cannot fully appreciate that which surrounds you.

I have a love/hate relationship with the subjunctive. My right brain loathes the variance of it all. The lawyer in me cannot map out the rules, and resents its maze like structure. But then there is the other part of me that embraces this emotional expression on the relatively of life. Am I not in fact currently living out the notion that life is in uncertain, should be embraced in all its facets with an open heart, but never controlled or contrived? Have I not in fact come to Mexico because I too believe that nothing, except my Mother´s love, and eventually death, are true certainties in my future? While I relish pondering the philosophy behind the language´s etymology I continue to fail miserably in using it correctly. Poca a poca….

The overwhelming emotion and relativity of life is expressed, of-course, not only in the subjunctive, but in all manners of this complicated and contradictory moment in Mexican politics. Are the current problems with US immigration laws the fault of the imperial north, or a result of the failure of the Mexican government to adequately provide opportunity for its citizens? Can the upcoming Presidential elections bring real change to Mexico? Will any candidate end the corruption that robs this country of its vasts resources? Do people have enough hope that they will in fact show up to vote in July? Does true freedom of the press even exist here so that people can understand what is at stake in this election? Does boycotting all Gringo made goods and establishments this week in alliance with family members who have emigrated to the US help or hurt the cause? What exactly is the cause? The answer of-course depends not only on who you ask, but the moment in which you ask it. Depende! Everything here is relative.

Mexicans’ views of the US are particularly complicated. Though I probe everyone willing to talk, as a gringa I will never get a truly honest answer. However, the ironies and contradictions abound. For example, I currently sit in an Internet cafe plastered with signs “Boycott Gringos”, but in the room next door there is a group of 30 something year old Mexican men taking a English course on-line and belting from the depths of their lungs “America the Beautiful”. I can’t stop laughing! It would not at all surprise me if it was in fact these same men that posted the boycott America signs. Right now in Oaxaca there is an absolutely incredibly art exhibit by a local painter and sculptor named Alejandro Santiago. The exhibit is entitled 2501 Migrants. It is a heart wrenching display of the struggle of emigrants, a commentary on the ghost towns that are left after all able bodied men head North for work, and a cry for help. Each statute is eerily unique and yet virtually identical. The exhibit juxtaposes the individuality of each immigrant with the homogeneity of them all, the universality of the problem. The artist aides many in his rural village outside of Oaxaca city, struggling to revive his community that has lost up to 80% of its inhabitants to the north (either the DF or the USA). Again, irony bites its rearing head. Santiago has applied repeatedly to receive a visa to travel to the US, and desperately wishes to live in Los Angeles. Is emigration the problem or the answer? Depende!

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