Karen Gonzalez was my roommate at a 2016 retreat in Florida. She's one of the most well-rounded people I've ever met: a multilingual finance lawyer, screen writer, and sports lover, when she walks about her life, it's hard to believe she exists. Here we talk about earthquakes in Mexico and the power of the Day of the Dead.
Mexicans work hard and we take pride in what we do. I used to babysit in the US for this family who also had furniture business. They employed a Mexican who would run his hand up and down a piece of wood working it to perfection. He took his time and what he made wasn’t just a piece of furniture; it was a piece of art.
Mexicans have a cheerful perspective on life. We like to dance. We love and we show it; we like gestures of connection and affection.
We are very family-oriented; everyone we love is family, including friends and colleagues. We’re very supportive of each other. Mi casa es su casa.
Earthquakes and solidarity
In September 2017, we were hit hard. Everyone was evacuated; streets were crammed with people. People who were driving, had to abandon their cars. Highways were jammed; there was no transport.
In 1985, Mexico City was hit by a massive earthquake; hundreds of buildings collapsed; thousands of people died.
People who survived, including me, have spent their lives teaching next generations how to stay safe and how to save others.
Everyone was helping
People really came together. There was an incredible sense of unity; everyone was helping. People were saving pets. Volunteer brigades rushed into buildings to get people out from under the rubble. Restaurants stayed open to feed paramedics. There were calls for doctors, vets, people with tools that cut steel.
Somehow someone was always able to give what was needed.
Foreign papers were reporting on it saying that this kind of unity isn’t seen elsewhere. I hope people hold on to it.
There is a sense of compassion for each other and a shared identity, within Mexico City, but also outside. There is a sense of identity with other communities struck by disasters.
A dangerous place
Mexico can be a dangerous place, not only because of earthquakes.
When I was growing up, it wasn’t really safe, but we could play outside. Our parents would tell us to be careful and they’d tell us when to come back, but we could still play outside.
Palacio de Bellas Artes, a cultural centre in Mexico City (Image Source: Wikipedia)
Now, it’s different; robberies, attacks with weapons, kidnappings, drugs, all part of reality.
Spot a criminal
It’s a funny thing; when you walk down the street you know exactly who the criminal is.
They wear flashy clothes and flashy jewellery. No one shows off like that unless they’re up to no good.
Even during the earthquake, when people came together to help each other, the criminals stayed criminals. I wished one of these robbers would come to me because I would just challenge the bastard.
Didn’t he see what was happening? Why wasn’t he helping? Did he not see the devastation?
People just lost their homes and the criminals were walking around taking whatever people had left.
To feel safe
With all this, though I’m Mexican with all my heart, I’m thinking of leaving. I don’t feel safe. Sometimes I feel like I’m risking my life, my integrity, my money. I don’t want to take that risk; I don’t want my children to grow up afraid.
I thought long and hard about responsibility. Am I responsible for the country being unsafe if I leave instead of trying to make it better?
I’m going to be Mexican wherever I go. My country will always be in my heart and in my actions. If I have children, they will be Mexican. Not because the law will give them a Mexican passport, but because I will raise them as Mexican, with our traditions even if they have another nationality.
Day of the Dead
Mexican traditions that are most meaningful to me are pre-colonial, like the Day of the Dead, which is about seeing death as part of life, not the opposite of it.
The Mexican Indians considered death to be transcendent. When people die, they don’t cease, they just change dimension. They come to exist on another plain.
On 2 November, a portal opens and the dead cross over to this dimension; they come back to life in our acts. We build an altar in their honour; we remember what they brought to our life.
It’s beautiful, colourful, full of joy, like we are. In Mexico, we laugh at death. To us, death isn’t scary; it’s part of life.
I hope to adopt a child from Africa. When I do, I want them to know where they’re from. I would have to learn a lot about their heritage to help them keep it and there is a limit to how much I can do in that respect.
I could never do as much as an African mother could do, but I will do everything I can so they can grow up with their practices and traditions.
They will learn to be Mexican, too. We can be more than one thing.
Karen Gonzalez is a lawyer and law professor based in Mexico City where has lived all her life except for short periods of studying and traveling abroad. She is a graduate of Escuela Libre de Derecho, Law School in Mexico City, and she receives no economic consideration as a professor. She speaks five languages and loves sports. For over five years, Karen volunteered as an Emergency Medical Technician.