I arrived in Mexico City in early August full of excitement, and it ended up exceeding my expectations. In the first few weeks, I became increasingly comfortable with my Spanish and got to know my warm and accommodating host family. I felt welcomed at IBERO, my quaint Jesuit university tucked away in the north of the city. With my diverse new group of friends, I explored the beautiful metropolis that many consider to be the biggest in the world. I was truly having the time of my life, the kind of experience Hoyas hope for when they go abroad. Then my friend died.
In high school, I volunteered at an immigration law non-profit, helping to represent migrant children from Central America. On my first day, I met a young man named Adan. He was there with his 17-year-old younger brother Williams, who had just arrived to the United States after fleeing abuse and gang violence in El Salvador. Adan volunteered to take legal guardianship over Williams, so that he could apply for a special type of legal status for abused children. Adan had come to the United States in the early 2000s in order to provide for his family in El Salvador. After helping Williams obtain a green card, he helped bring his sister to the United States to rescue her from the sexual abuse she was experiencing at home. A man who spent his entire life sacrificing for others, Adan made his final sacrifice a few weeks ago. While swimming at a beach in New Jersey, he ventured into a riptide to rescue his nephew. After pushing his nephew to safety, Adan was caught in the current and drowned.
At 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, Williams called me in tears to tell me what had happened. I was devastated for Williams and his family, I felt horrible that I couldn’t be there to support him, and, most of all, I became suddenly and profoundly aware of my privilege. Everyday, people like Williams and Adan attempt the dangerous journey through Mexico to get to the United States. Some start their journey in Mexico, while others come from Central and South America. Many migrate because they have no other choice. Some do so legally, but most come without documentation. Some make it, and others die on the journey through Mexico. Although they carry different stories, all are united in a desire to construct a better life in the United States.
My situation is different. Instead of going from Mexico to the United States, I journeyed legally and safely from the United States to Mexico. I went voluntarily, seeking unique experiences, but not in need of a better life. Not only did I come from a place of privilege, but I also arrived to a place of privilege. Many chilangos, as inhabitants of Mexico City are called, have told me that their city is not very representative of Mexico as a whole. In my travels throughout the country so far, I have seen that they are right. Mexico City is an impressively developed, relatively wealthy oasis in a poor country. Furthermore, within the city, I occupy places of privilege. I live in Polanco, one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city, and I go to school in a secluded area with mostly upper middle class Mexican students.
The death of my friend Adan brought me to terms with my privilege and provided me with a new perspective on my abroad experience. It made me realize my unique position as an American in Mexico. And it showed me that the manner in which I am experiencing Mexico is distinct from the way in which many others experience this country. For me, Mexico is a fun place with a rich culture, great food, and a fascinating language. But for many Mexicans, it is place from which to escape. They are ashamed of their country, the government, the corruption, and the violence. And for many Central and South Americans, Mexico is nothing more than a territory to cross, hoping and praying to avoid the narcotraficantes, robbery, rape, or death.
Having this new perspective does not mean that I now see Mexico in a purely cynical light. I have come to love the people, the beauty, and the warmth of this country. Yet I have a newfound determination to experience the various layers of Mexico. Coming from a place of privilege, I will never fully understand what Mexico is for other people, but I will try my best.