Before I came to Mexico I had to get over the 5.000 times of anyone telling me exactly what it says in the title. It was mostly followed by a “You gotta be careful, especially as a woman!” or “Even when people seem nice, don’t trust them just like that!” The first few times when not only my family but also my friends kept telling me this in an infinite loop I nodded in agreement but uncertain at the same time. However the more often I got confronted with it, the more annoyed I got until I finally thought: Hey, not every single Mexican can be living in a constant fear for their lives. I also met Mexicans before my trip and all of them went into raptures when telling me about their amazing, colourful, open-hearted country that I’ve always imagined myself.
The picture the media wants us to see
To be honest I cannot blame my friends and family. I mean, where do we get our information from? Right, the media. Alright, sometimes we hear things from people who know people who heard of people’s relatives who went there and got robbed. Yeah… We can be one hundred percent sure that this is the exact truth, right? But let’s get back to the media. Of course they construct a pretty bad picture of Mexico because seriously, who would like to read about María Sánchez from little Coatepec that saved a little puppy from the streets? Or about José and Ricardo who had a really great night at a club in Mexico City? Nope, nobody cares about that. Murder, homicide, sex and drugs. That’s what sells. The German tabloid BILD has always known that and they’re not even pretending to try to suit a better, bigger purpose. Other newspapers may describe things differently, investigate more and maybe focus on different things but it all comes down to one thing: scandals. The BILD may look on the Red Carpet for them and the ZEIT newspaper in politics but in the end it’s all about scandals. This is exactly the problem with the media. I am studying communication myself and during my studies, I realised quite fast that I don’t wanna be a full-time journalist. Why? Because of journalism’s aim of objectivity. The only catch: this aim can never be reached. Every testimony, every article and most of all every selection of which information to use and which not is subjective. To make a long story short, there’s just no objectivity. Just by our way of how we talk, what words we use, our body language and intonation we influence our message and with our own personal perception there’s another subjective layer adding up. We perceive the world through our own senses and process it with our own brains and consciousness which means that not everything is the way we perceive it.
After this short excursion to a philosophical context, let’s get back to the topic: We all have a bad image of Mexico in mind because this is the image that’s being transmitted to us. Everyone who’s ever been to that country will agree that there are incredible landscapes, kind people and an amazing amount of species both in fauna and flora.
However, I have to admit that there are indeed situations in which I realise that violence and criminality occupy a different position than in Germany. I listed these situations for you here:
Conversations with Locals
Now and then it happens that conversation with friends and acquaintances drift off to different perspectives and views on Mexico, most of all when talking to the young generation that also perceive the high rate of criminality as a big problem in their beautiful home country. This is how I got to know that there are indeed places in Mexico that you should avoid. Sure, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s definitely something going to happen to you when you do decide to go there, but the risk is just higher in those places. Even though the violence almost never hits people that are not involved in any of those things and even more rarely does it hit tourists, you can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone has to decide for themselves if the risk is too high or not. Me personally, I informed myself in advance about “dangerous” and “not dangerous” places in Mexico and the Mexico Peace Index helped me there. But then again: this map is not objective and a general rule book but it definitely can guide you a bit.
Google and Newspapers
I guess this is the most frightening point on this list. The other day I was just googling around to see how a lake near Puebla looks like. So I’m typing in the name of the lake and look for pictures on Google when I realise that one of the first results shows a man with a squashed head. A. Real. Dead. Person. Not just a bloody piece of stone or people grieving how we are used to see it in Germany and the news there. No. This man is dead. And you see it to full extent, nothing hidden, nothing photoshopped. The same thing happened when I was looking for a nightclub to go out and all of a sudden I saw pictures of bleeding people and detached limbs. I must admit, that scares me. Every time that happens I shiver. Unfortunately those are the pictures that you get in Mexico’s news portals and newspapers that everyone and anyone can enter and look at. It’s just a very different way to cope with criminality and violence here. And no, there’s nothing to be said that could make it better: it is just shocking.
On a beautiful summer’s day I was walking through Xalapa marveling at the beautiful yellow-and-white coloured cathedral when I suddenly spotted a group of people with posters, megaphones and serious expressions in their faces. “Nos faltan 43” (“We’re missing 43”), say their posters and “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos” (“They were taken from us alive and we want them back alive”). They were addressing the kidnapping of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, in 2014 and that are being missing since then. Some say they became victims of a drug war, some think the government has something to do with it, others assume both. They could be dead or they could be forced to work for cartels. Nobody knows. For over two years now. This is another moment where you realise that people are wishing for a peaceful Mexico, free from violence, corruption and criminality. This is what they demonstrate for. Hats off.
Going home alone at night
Other than in Germany (at least the way I know it) and also in Madrid, Paris and all the other places I’ve been to, there’s always a male human being accompanying the female human beings home at night here in Mexico. And if one day she’s not accompanied directly to her door, she has to promise to send a message once she’s home, otherwise they’ll give you a call during the next few minutes. I’d say: people from other countries should learn a lesson from that. ‘Cause walking home alone at night and being scared of it is not just a problem in Mexico. The video I included down below shows that pretty well. Or even better: Abolish sexism. But hey, one step after the other, right?
Despite the dangers I’m addressing in this article, it is not meant to raise fear or even to prevent people from getting to know this unique country. All I want to do with this post is to point out that violence may be more or less part of life here in Mexico, but there are definitely ways how to cope with it. What I wanna say is: inform yourself! Don’t walk around blindly, neither hold on to your prejudices because you’re missing out on a lot. Keep your eyes open for both positive and negative things and most of all: get to know different points of view. Don’t close your eyes from what’s happening but learn instead. Make your own experiences, talk to locals and also have a look at different media. Question everything and don’t take anything for granted. That’s the only way to construct your own picture and to open up new perspectives. And it’s the only way to experience Mexico’s beauty yourself!