Too many stateside Americans have long accepted as fact inaccurate representations of the Mexican people fueled by years of dismissively stereotypical portrayals in movies and limited impressions of Mexican immigrants.  These stand in sharp contrast to the reality of life in the villages along the shores of Lake Chapala, where ordinary Mexicans daily live out values which have been a long-standing part of America’s national identity.

Three generations

These are communities in which family values are bedrock.  The extended family is alive and thriving in Mexico, where it’s still not uncommon to see three generations of women walking arm in arm on Sunday promenades in plazas and along the malecóns.

These are communities in which self-reliant needn’t mean self-centered.  The gaps in Mexico’s social safety net are staggering, but Mexico’s extended families form powerful mutual support networks that often provide everything from senior care to child daycare.  Mexican families take care of their own, often at significant personal sacrifice.

These are communities for which backbreaking labor defines a powerful work ethic.  From broom-brandishing street-sweepers, gardeners, cooks and maids to construction workers and other tradesmen who often ply their trade with few or no power tools, a full day’s pay is hard to shortchange here.

These are communities in which entrepreneurial spirit thrives; unemployment compensation is not an option.

Street vendor on the Plaza

Street-facing rooms of private homes are commonly converted to corner tiendas and workshops.  Impromptu businesses sell everything from fresh produce to furniture from curbside pickup trucks or wheelbarrows.   At dawn in nearby Guadalajara, vendors push battered but proudly burnished lunch carts to secure a prized street corner and bootblacks arrive on busses at rows of shoe-shine stands on the plazas.  For the length of a red light the driver of any car can have windows washed or be might be entertained for pocket change by crosswalk mimes or flaming baton jugglers.

These are communities in which sense of personal honor leads people to do the right thing in the face of a poverty which might easily dictate otherwise.  Not long ago in a moment of distraction I left in a waiting room lobby a backpack containing my passport, visa, and cash amounting to several months’ worth of Mexican wages.  I returned in panic twenty minutes later to find it being held for my return, contents fully intact.  Imagine in the States building a custom home from ground up with an outcome that exceeded expectations on nothing more than a rough set of floor plans, a written quote, and a handshake!  The Mexican architect, whose family has lived
for generations in the village, stood behind his work to tweak paint, tile and
fixtures for more than a year after at no added charge.

These kinds of personal experiences make it hard not to appreciate Mexicans’ personal values, or to realize that they are the same values which built America.