The image below comes from Asia Argento's Instagram story, Bourdain's 2-year girlfriend at the time of his death, where in one moment she is alone sunbathing poolside, reading a book, smoking a cigarrette, and the next her face is swollen, she's drowning in her own tears, she can't help but embody the literal definition of heartbreak. It's clear she's probably soaking in the sun's rays for physical warmth and not for the sake of a tan: you can tell she's just trying to hang in there, and staying alive is her life's challenge right now. Her partner is gone, she can't explain to herself why, she just wishes he'd come back. Her expression haunts me.
All she wants is for him to come back.
It's been a few weeks since his horrendous suicide (really, Bourdain?! You had to hang yourself, you asshole?) and I have to admit: I've never cried over a celebrity dying. Bourdain, though? At least 5 times that day, sitting down, face buried in hands. I couldn't even stand and just shed a tear like an adult. I had to crumble down and weep like a wounded child.
Here's why this senseless suicide hit me so hard. It wasn't so much his rock n' roll lifestyle, his charm, his attractive bravado, his courageous outlook on life and his sensitive understanding of the human experience. It wasn't even the fact that he made eating, drinking and traveling (my life's passion) an actual religion with millions of devoted followers around the world who would tune into his award-winning shows and series every week.
What I am about to share is not about you, dear reader. You are our friend and our ally, I fully recognize that and am eternally grateful for the bond we share, and for you taking the time to read this. (You're still here, right?) Nobody on this mailing list has anything but love and respect for Mexico, I know that. Which is why I also know you'll take in my perspective for what it is: its a perspective, and nothing more.
What hit me was the fact that he was a powerful, famous, rich, influential white American man who was passionately in love with Mexico, with all our defects, with our problems, with our poverty, with our corrupt government. He recognized us as brothers, not just as neighbors: he was vocal about the fact that the US has a historically uncomfortable relationship with Mexico. Many Americans love to vacation here, but they can't seem to hold a meaningful conversation with a Mexican for very long. They love our culture, our food, our vibrant traditions, but its so easy to distance themselves from the problems we face.
Many in the US aren't aware that most people trying to cross the US-Mexico border these days aren't even Mexicans: they're Salvadorians, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans running away from horrible dictatorships birthed from US-financed geopolitics, from American empire-like strategies. It's just a lot easier to call the whole mess a "problem" caused by "Mexico". It's easy to consume the majority of the drugs available in the world but at the same time issue travel warnings every week about how unsafe cartel violence has made Mexico, therefore hitting us where it hurts most: shutting down income produced from tourism. Its easy to expect every waiter in Cabo, Vallarta or Tulum to speak english but Mexicans would never dream of being addressed in Spanish from a white waiter at a US restaurant. The thought alone is laughable.
But, anyway... back to Bourdain, back to this letter.
Bourdain was aware of this injustice and was publicly against this unnecessary double-standard. He worded it beautifully in his famous Tumblr post "Under the Volcano", which you can read here. "Mexico. Our brother from another mother. A country, with whom, like it or not, we are inexorably, deeply involved, in a close but often uncomfortable embrace", writes Bourdain.
So, naturally, as a Mexican, I felt validated by him. I felt supported, protected even. And it doesn't stop there, as a woman, he represented everything I thought was right in a man. What I think every man should aspire to be. His production team, under his instruction, always sought out both men and women local experts to share the story of the destinations they traveled to. Having a woman there was important for him and for the show, which in turn was important for the world. And as we could witness through his relationship with Asia, the woman he loved was rebellious, feminist, liberal, outspoken. Again, my place in the world was protected. It was a reminder that there are important, powerful, privileged men out there who are not threatened or put off by so much of what I am, on the contrary, it's what they value most in a woman.
Bourdain's suicide was a triple-loss. One, for food and culture. If the culinary world is Wakanda, he was our King, and the King is dead. Two, for Mexicans: our American cultural champion who always had our back was gone. And three, for women: we lost the alpha male prototype, the protector who stood by our side on all matters of equality.
I traveled all over the world by myself in my 20s. I spent months aimlessly wondering around India, southeast Asia, Europe, I lived in Brasil, Nicaragua, and all thanks to what Bourdain inspired in me, the seed he planted in my head. Not only that a life of pure adventure was possible, but that as a woman, then even as a young girl, I could do it, I could even do it alone. Morenita Experience was in large part inspired by him.
It's still hard to digest that he didn't die from illness, or even from an accident. This man hung himself in a hotel with a bathrobe belt. I mean... come on. It doesn't get more fucked up than that. He always came off as so wise, so cool and collected, so together. I can't imagine how loud the voices were screaming inside his head that night, how nasty and vile the things they were saying to him, what lies he had convinced himself about. I hope none of us ever know. Drug addiction is the biggest curse of them all, because its self-inflicted, but a heroin addiction has to be the closest thing to having the devil live inside of you forever.
These are not easy times in the world right now, it seems every day there's a new scandal, a new human rights violation, a new fire to put out, a new conflict to deal with. We must make every effort possible to put compassion first, at the front of every conversation, of every interaction, of all situations. Compassion is the antidote, its the priority. Even when someone seems like they have it all, like they're winning, like they sleep easy every night: let us take a moment to check on one another. Nobody has any idea what the person standing next to you is going through.
It's not easy for you either, for our American, Canadian, European friends reading this, we know that too. If you need a break, come here, you are always welcome here. At Morenita our only goal is that you feel like royalty, its to pamper you, to shower you with attention, to expose you to cultural contexts that will leave you feeling inspired, in love with discovering cultures, thrilled with the fact that we're just next door, that you can come back as often as you'd like. We want to help heal the parts of our relationship that are wounded, we want to put misunderstandings in the past.
We need each other, now more than ever.
I touched several major subjects here, so I would like to conclude by leaving contact information for organizations that can help you, us, and others. Please reach out to any of these as you see necessary, and please come visit us as soon as possible. We will always be happy to welcome you en esta su casa que es México.