Upon visiting Mexico, one notices a few things almost at once. On the one hand, pass-
ing through the country’s great cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, or Monterrey, one
notices that this particular Mexico is a reflection of what one might consider advanced
modernity. There is abundant wealth visible in the skyscrapers, beautifully designed
homes, modern office buildings, sophisticated fashions, and magnificent public art.
There is a remarkable complexity and efficiency in the transportation systems and com-
munications systems that get millions of people around crowded thoroughfares and
keep them in constant communication with one another in an apparently seamless way.
There is an impressive array of information pouring in from all corners of the globe,
with Mexican citizens seemingly quite aware of and conversant in the major current
events of the day. And there is a casual ease with which the people of all socioeconomic,
ethnic, linguistic, gender, and cultural backgrounds and circumstances seem to navi-
gate the realities of a fast-paced, urban, cosmopolitan life. In short, this Mexico is one
that leads the casual observer to think that Mexico is not, and never has been, the ste-
reotype of the sleepy country struggling with progress, alienated by modernity, and
incapable of greatness. In fact, observing this Mexico would get one to think that Mex-
ico is not a country on the path to modernity, but rather a country that has already ar-
rived at modernity some while ago. On the other hand, passing out of the country’s
great metropolises and moving into and through the smaller cities, towns, and villages
in the Mexican suburbs and countryside, one notices a very different world—one that
is poorer, more indigenous, more disconnected from the larger world, and more suspi-
cious of the purposes and intentions of those passing through from the outside.
Now, one might say that this contrast, generally speaking, is the norm across the
globe, which would be correct. But there is a starkness and a sharpness in this contrast
in Mexico that, from my perspective, sets it apart from other countries of the world, at
least the ones that I have come to know and study. It is a starkness and sharpness of
contrast that is exemplified by the simple fact (one of a number that one could list) that
Mexico is a bordering neighbor of the United States, where differences of culture and
history are highlighted, where hierarchies of value and worth are conveyed because of
those cultural and historical differences that place Mexico in a subordinate position,
and where corresponding resentments and sentiments of inferiority are present. The
world cannot help but see Mexico in the shadow of the United States; and everyone
responds accordingly, even the Mexicans.