Few contrasts between American and Mexican cultures are more striking than the way in which each views and treats its senior citizens.

Two old acquaintances share a bench on Ajijic's plaza.

Old friends share a bench on Ajijic’s plaza.

 

America’s seniors are often cloistered in assisted living facilities or nursing homes far from family and friends.

 

Mexico’s oldest – los ancianos – seem more often vibrant alive and interactive, and are notably present in its public life nowhere more than in its villages.

 

 

 

 

A ritual gathering of viejos on Chapala's plaza.

A ritual gathering of los viejos on Chapala’s plaza.

 

 

It’s hard not to see the paradox in these contrasts.

 

American has a far superior capacity to maintain its seniors’ quality of life, and has taken great pains to make transportation and public use facilities accessible to its disabled.

 

It has also segregated its seniors from the social mainstream on a wide scale.

 

 

Two old friends await the start of Good Friday's Passion play in Ajijic

Two old friends await the start of Good Friday’s Passion play in Ajijic

The paradox is a reflection of the two nations’ cultural perspectives.

 

In Mexico, ‘family’ trumps ‘generation gap’.

 

Mexicans are far more likely to respect and cherish their oldest generation and revere it for its wisdom and life experience.

Three generations walk arm in arm along Jocotopec's malecon

Three generations walk arm in arm along Jocotopec’s malecon

 

Many among the current crop of los ancianos are the children of those who participated in the century-old Mexican Revolution.

 

They’ve witnessed and lived history as it’s unfolded through the greatest social transformation in the nation’s history.

Two generations sit in Chapala's plaza

Two generations sit in Chapala’s plaza

 

American media’s fixation on youth marginalizes its oldest save for the rich, powerful, or otherwise famous.

 

The result is that America’s aged seem more often perceived by their offspring as an unpleasant reminders that they, too, will in due time grow unfashionably old and less socially relevant.

A vieja labors over her craftwork in San Cristóbal Zapotitlán

An abuelita labors over her craftwork in San Cristóbal Zapotitlán

 

Particularly in Mexican village life, los ancianos remain connected to lifetime friends and many live within their extended families.

 

 

The artisan looks up from her work in satisfaction.

The artisan maestra looks up from her work in satisfaction.

 

There’s a lot to suggest that this lifelong connectedness affords them greater comfort in their advanced age.

Americans move further and more often from their place of birth than do those living in any other First World nation, with the result that they more often live far from the oldest among their living relatives.

A sister with walker on a sidewalk in San Juan Cosalá

A sister with walker on a sidewalk in San Juan Cosalá

Affordable senior care facilities make it far easier for American families to live separately from their aged relatives.

A vieja waits patiently for a ceremony to begin in Ajijic

A vieja waits patiently for a ceremony to begin in Ajijic

Maybe there’s also something also to be said for lifestyle when it comes to keeping Mexico’s ancianos animated and mobile.

A viejo walks a cobblestone street in Chapala

A viejo walks a cobblestone street in Chapala

 

A viejo walks his bicycle along the street in Chapala

A viejo walks his bicycle along the street in Chapala

Economic necessity and a thinly stretched social safety net keep many Mexicans working into advanced age, but the work seems to leave many no worse for wear and sometimes even to hold disability at bay.

A lifetime of meals simply and sparingly prepared has left many lean wiry.

A vieja shrouded in shawl crosses the plaza in San Cristóbal Zapotitlán

A vieja shrouded in shawl crosses the plaza in San Cristóbal Zapotitlán

 

 

 

It’s not unusual to see these ancianos navigate dauntingly high curbs and cobblestone streets to remain a daily village presence on its sidewalks, in its public spaces, and at its public events.

An abuela eyes a pinata at her grandaughter's quinceañera

An abuela eyes a pinata at her grandaughter’s quinceañera

 

In the end, though, nothing can better capture the special place that Mexico’s ancianos occupy in its social fabric than their images.

She lights up when her granddaughter enters the room

The abuela lights up when her granddaughter enters the room

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