Mexico possesses something that’s worth the weight of all the Aztec gold unfairly turned into European royal jewels and coins: a culture so profound in its value, it has no price.
I’m a 3rd generation American who moved to Mexico two years ago to reconnect with my heritage. While living here, on more than one occasion I’ve sat next to a table of travelers in shock … by how cheap their bill was. They did the conversion and blurted out ‘Oh wow, that was only $20 bucks!’. Instead of leaving the table pleased with the unique food experience they just had, perhaps even the friendly service, they left elated by the conversion of pesos to dollars. I wondered, how could we help foreigners look past this and open their eyes to the real gold in front of them?
As I was brainstorming how to communicate this notion of Mexican self-worth for this piece, I remembered reading about La Malinche. La Malinche was a female interpreter who helped the Spanish conquer the Aztecs by revealing secrets and vulnerabilities to the invaders. She became Hernan Cortez’ concubine, bearing his children who would become the first mestizos, or Mexicans. I sometimes wonder if she did it on purpose, a silent revenge for being given as a slave to the invading Spaniards. On a side note, that would be an interesting historical fiction novel, a revenge story told from her political point of view of taking down the nation who sold her into slavery. Anyway, the historical figure has now become a term used in contemporary society to describe a behavior, malinchismo.
‘‘I refuse to perpetuate the notion that a culture as rich as ours, one that has enlightened all of humanity with its many gifts, should be cheap.”
My understanding is that malinchismo is equal to self-loathing, the act of looking down on one's culture, while elevating others as better than or superior to. In Mexico specifically, it means thinking American culture, in large part due to its economic and military strength, is superior to Mexico’s, regardless of the fact that, without ever invading other countries, Mexico once hosted one of humanity’s most evolved and sophisticated civilizations. In conversation with Cristina Lugo, Founder of Morenita Experience, she asked me: “Bella, did you know that for years the Spanish filled boats with thousands of tons of Mexican gold, which were then turned into coins that fueled their European monarchies for centuries? Can you believe the irony? Today, people from so-called “first world” countries come to Mexico to vacation and still, after all the immeasurable wealth that was taken from us, they aren’t expecting to spend a considerable amount of money while they’re here. They’re expecting it to be cheap. How much of that is the byproduct of an unfair history, and how much of that is our fault? I refuse to perpetuate the notion that a culture as rich as ours, one that has enlightened all of humanity with its many gifts in the form of music, art, dance, food, natural resources and breathtaking sights, should be cheap”, said the passionate entrepreneur.
México boasts more than 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
I’ve always felt that travel is one of the greatest luxuries of the human experience. I asked Cristina to share what she’s most proud of when offering a luxury travel experience to global travelers. She quickly provided a concrete example. “México has over 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites”, she stated. “Do you know what that means? A United Nations World Heritage Site is important to the collective interests of humanity. It is protected by international treaties and may signify a remarkable accomplishment for all humans, serving as evidence of our intellectual history on this planet. Mexico is one of the countries with the most World Heritage Sites and Cultural intangibles in the World. As a country, as a culture, what Mexico represents is important for all humans everywhere.” In México, cultural value is measurable. So again, why do we devalue ourselves and communicate this notion of cheapness to travelers giving them free reign to label us in that same manner?
Is it Malinchismo? Yes. Is it time to wake up? Absolutely.
New President, Mexican Indians at the Oscars
Since living in México, I’ve seen an incompetent racist become President of the United States, witnessed the breakdown of the EU with Brexit, a nationalist lunatic win power in Brazil, and for the first time in México, an election free of fraud and tampering where the people voted for a political party that has never taken power before. It is fact, the rotation of political earth is now clockwise.
On December 1st, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took over as President of Mexico. He spoke about tourism being an important part of our countries sustainability and richness. Once I got to a TV and saw the stage, the production, the amount of people gathered in the Zocalo, the historic center of our city where the Aztec build their temples and colonial invaders built atop them, the smoke from the indigenous ritual burning behind him and the dozens of Mexican indians surrounding him... I’d never seen anything like that before in the modern western world. It’s only been a few days, and many promises still have a way to go before being met, but at least from what I saw on that stage, something is changing. For me, it feels like the type of change that disrupts and ripples into a collective mentality of greater self-worth.
For me, that disruption also comes from companies and people like Morenita Experience and Cristina Lugo. Cristina named a luxury travel service - that for the most part caters to an American & European wealthy 1% - MORENITA, a term that refers to a brown-skinned woman, to the Virgen de Guadalupe, to Mexico’s indigenous heritage. If that’s not disruptive, I don’t know what is.
You’ve seen ROMA on Netflix, right? Alfonso Cuaron’s (the Mexican filmmaker genius who brought you Y Tu Mama También, Gravity and Children of Men) latest masterpiece starring a brown-skinned Mixteca indian, today gracing the cover of VOGUE magazine. Her name is Yalitza Aparicio, and she will most likely win an Academy Award soon. Es una morenita. Her VOGUE cover was incredibly disruptive here in Mexico: it was the first time a Mexican indian was seen in that glamorous, aspirational context. It made you want to be brown, if not browner.
Perhaps this is the dawn of a new era where brown-skinned women will be held as ambassadors, as The Face, as the reference for Mexico. If we are truly honest with ourselves, there is nothing more appropriate, no greater justice, than having Mexico represented by una mujer morena. Perhaps it’s through the story of women like Yalitza or Cristina or so many others like them that Mexico rebuilds its pride and notion of self-worth and finally understands that all things Anglo are wonderful, but in Mexico, from now on, the more Mexican, the more morenita, the more valuable, the more desired, the higher the worth.
“Prietos, indios, y aquí estamos en la portada de VOGUE.” - Karen Ramos (IG @naturechola)
Bella Luna (IG @theplaylust) is a writer from California, a restaurant investor in Mexico City and a Morenita Experience collaborator. You can find more of her work here.