Category Archives: Freedom

What you don’t know about Mexico…

We’ve talked a lot about Mexican history and culture in this blog, but there are still many misperceptions about this country that stubbornly linger in the American consciousness. In today’s political climate of nationalism, many folks are guilty of lumping other countries and their people into simplified categories. What’s really at the root of these generalizations, though, is a lack of understanding of cultural differences. 

biodiversity the people of Mexico

Because of media coverage and political rhetoric, many in the U.S. think of crime, poverty and lack of modernization when we think of Mexico. But those misperceptions pay an enormous disservice to this beautiful, diverse and colorful country, with a long, rich cultural history that is still present today. So what are some interesting things about Mexico that are commonly unknown? 

The natural beauty and biodiversity of the country are unparalleled. It’s home to a great number of both animal and plant species, due in large part to the fact that there are seven different climate zones. Travelling across the country, you would run into everything from deserts to tropical rain forests to areas that enjoy a mild Mediterranean climate. 

about Mexico

One of the more pervasive and incorrect concepts is that the general lack of wealth in the people of Mexico is due to laziness and lack of work ethic. Compared to every other country in the world, Mexicans work the longest average hours. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s taken the time to get to know Mexican immigrants in the U.S., as they are one of the hardest working groups in our country as well. 

Another fascinating part of Mexico is the many archaeological ruins that reside within its borders. Are you aware that the largest pyramid in the world is not located in Egypt? It’s in the Mexican state of Puebla and is called the Great Pyramid of Cholula. It measures 180 feet tall and 1.480 feet wide on all sides. It was built prior to the Spanish Conquest  in the 1500’s. Imagine constructing something that impressive before the advent of modern tools!

Great Pyramid of Cholula Mexico

Finally, there’s the false belief that Mexicans are miserable in their own country and want nothing more than to leave and immigrate to the U.S.A. The Happy Planet Index ranks populations around the world based on factors such as well-being, life expectancy and equality. The U.S. ranked among the lowest in the world, while Mexico measured at the top of the range.

The planet would be a much better place if we all did a little more to learn about other cultures and resisted the urge to make gross generalizations. Though some politicians are reluctant to admit it, we have entered the era of globalism. Our economies, climate and very survival as a species are dependent on our ability to understand and work with other people from every part of the world, regardless of our differences.

Want to write a book?

Is there an idea for a story that’s been floating around in your head for a couple of years? Or perhaps you’ve been in the middle of reading a novel, and thought to yourself I could do this. I could write a book as good as this one. An article published in the New York Times cited a survey that had an astounding 81% of Americans who feel they have a book in them that they’re dying to write. If you’re one of them, why not consider following through?

How to write Jane Rosenthal

You no longer have to work deep into the night, tapping on an old-fashioned typewriter and ripping out the page if you decide to cut a passage. For the most part, all computers and laptops come equipped with a word processing program that makes it easy to type, edit and store your work. Below are some more tips from professional writers on how to turn that idea for the next Great American Novel into a reality.

How to be a writer
  • Think about a story that you simply must tell. Instead of shooting for whatever is trending in the market (IE: a book about a mortal girl falling in love with a handsome vampire), stick with a story that comes from your own creative mind. Doing so will make your work stand out among the competition rather than appearing like of a copycat version of someone else’s original idea.
  • Become a sponge. Good character development in your novel requires you to get into the mindset of the people you’re writing about. And you need to understand their lifestyles as well. So don’t be shy about trying out new experiences and asking lots of questions of new people you meet. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about others by simply becoming an excellent observer and listener.
  • Write for the right reasons. The most successful writers are driven to write, often for the pleasure of the process itself. If every time you sit down at the computer is an exercise in discipline and the whole thing feels like a chore, you may not be suited for the profession. Not to mention that it is damned hard to get published, so patience is key. Looking for instant results in the form of accolades or money is not realistic.
  • Set aside a specific time in an environment conducive to creating. Dedicate a span of time during the day that is devoted just to writing, and try to make it during the time of day you feel most motivated, energetic and clear-headed. I don’t know about you, but for me, that time is not morning. My energy level peaks in the late afternoon and evening hours, so that’s when I sit down at the computer to create. Your surroundings are important too. I’m someone who needs to be in a home office, instrumental jazz music on the stereo and no people around to interrupt my train of thought. But I have seen authors typing furiously away right in the middle of a loud, busy Starbucks.
  • Write, write, write. When I looked into becoming a writer, I thought I should take classes, maybe even seek a second degree in creative writing. It turns out that the only way to become a better writer is to practice as much and as often as you can. You’d be surprised at how your first attempt compares to your second or third. No amount of classroom instruction can be a substitute for honing your skills through repetition.
Learn to write a book

I encourage anyone who has the desire to try sitting down and putting their story on paper. To me, it is food for the soul, whether or not anyone else ever reads my material or not. And who knows? You may be an undiscovered talent, just waiting to be heard.

The Upside of Immigration

There is a growing effort in many of the developed countries around the world to stem immigration; to close ranks and try to protect one’s territory from the flow of newcomers. From an evolutionary standpoint, human beings are genetically programmed to establish groups. And the ability to do so is vital to our survival as a species. Organizing together is how we do everything from forming governments to building cities.

Unfortunately, this tendency toward tribalism can also lead to an “us” and “them” mentality, which is what I see happening in the U.S. and other developed countries today. The truly sad part about that attitude is that it cuts a society off from the richness of sharing traditions from other cultures. In the United States, countless contributions by the Hispanic immigrants from South America, Central America and Mexico are interwoven into our everyday life.

In fact, what many folks aren’t aware of is that a good portion of the U.S. was actually considered part of Mexico. In 1846, as a result of the Mexican-American war, the border between the U.S. and Mexico was moved nearly 1,000 miles to the south. Land that now constitutes the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas and Oklahoma was all part of the Mexican territory less than 200 years ago.

In addition to this shared history, Hispanic immigrants have made many wonderful contributions to the American culture. For example, Spanish has become a second language to many in this country, which is an improvement. Unlike most European countries, the United States is not known for prioritizing bilingual education. However, simply having many Spanish-speaking individuals around us provides the introduction to another language that we’re not getting in school.

Other Hispanic influences include major contributions to the performing arts. Through famous singers like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez to salsa music and Latin dance, we have come to embrace the Latino culture. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention food! Every city in America seems to have at least one Mexican restaurant, and the style of cooking is so beloved that major Mexican restaurant chains like Chili’s, On the Border and Chipotle, are springing up everywhere you go.

I could go on to list the Hispanic politicians that have helped shape our government and the countless others who have helped to improve the culture of the United States. The point is that between the historical ties and what immigrants from the South bring to our culture, it is in our interest as a country to continue to work toward an immigration system that welcomes people from all backgrounds. Instead of shutting down our borders, let’s agree on a fair and equitable path to citizenship.

Blended Faith

With the holidays upon us, I’ve been thinking about the unique mixture of Christianity and ancient religious beliefs that make up the holiday traditions in Mexico. Prior to Spain colonizing the country, there were complex and deeply instilled belief systems in the indigenous Indian cultures, such as Aztec, Mayan, Inca and others. Specifically, they did not believe in a single almighty deity, but rather many different gods who needed to be placated and worshiped. If they incurred the wrath of one of them, terrible things would happen.

After the Spaniards began to rule the country, however, they embarked on an extremely aggressive crusade to convert the indigenous population to Catholicism. Unfortunately, they set about doing this using force and violence rather than education, and it became a matter of survival for the Indians to embrace the new belief system. But they didn’t completely abandon the one that was so deeply ingrained in their societies. The result was a blend of Catholicism and the ancient cultural traditions and beliefs of the indigenous population.
Christianity and ancient religious beliefs
The Spanish conquistadors showed no mercy when it came to insisting the indigenous people adopt their religion, and the Indians responded by finding ways to pay homage to the Christian god while still appeasing their own. Often this meant demoting their gods to saints, and practicing indigenous rituals under the guise of Christianity. Some of the more barbaric practices, such as human and animal sacrifice, were abandoned, but many other rituals were modified so as to appear within the parameters of Christianity.
Santa Muerte
One example of this confluence of beliefs is the pseudo-saint, Santa Muerte (Saint Death). Her image is depicted by a skeleton wearing a long robe and holding a scythe, which is thought to be associated with the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. Many Mexicans believe she has power and control over their daily lives, and mimic the Catholic ritual of praying to her spirit and asking for grace, though Santa Muerte is not associated with Catholicism.

Interestingly, now that freedom of religion is part of the federal law in Mexico, some of the older, more vibrant and involved rituals are coming back in popularity. It demonstrates the same loyalty and dedication to following ancient cultural traditions and paying homage to their ancestors that Mexican display in many other areas of their lives.

Political Privilege

Do you ever get frustrated with the political situation in America, and wonder if you’d be better off somewhere else? From climate to culture to cost of living and politics, every country in the world is different and each has its own unique set of pros and cons. One of the very things that most attracts immigrants to the United States is the political freedom we have here – something many of us tend to take for granted. In contrast, consider Mexico, where citizens have had to fight for their independence both from foreign powers as well as in-country military regimes, and yet still do not have a completely functioning democracy.

In the later part of the 19th century, Mexico officially shook off the last of invading foreign powers, the final one being Austria in 1867. However, the political scene didn’t improve too much over the next 35 years during the dictatorship and military rule of Porfirio Diaz. Can you imagine a U.S. president staying in office for what amounts to just over nine terms? It wasn’t until the Mexican Revolution, that began in 1910 and continued for ten long years, that Diaz was finally forced to give up control.

The Mexican constitution that provided the framework for democracy was written in 1917. However, many people would argue that Mexico did not actually come close to a democracy until recent times. This is underscored by the fact that there was a single political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for nearly the entirety of the 20th century. Furthermore, even though there has technically been a multiparty system in place since 2000, the PRI still retains the great majority of power. Violence, oppression and corruption continue to plague the very institutions that are supposed to provide fair and equal representation to all Mexicans.

With the contentious nature of politics today, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the U.S. federal government is a cumbersome, slow-moving, inflexible, behemoth of an institution. Before doing so, however, it’s worth taking time to consider the benefits to our system. Every citizen can give voice to their political beliefs without fear of retribution. We have a multi-party system that allows people to align themselves with a group of like-minded folks that best represents their goals, interests and values. And everyone over the age of 18 has the right to vote for the elected officials they want to represent their views in Washington D.C.

Even when the national debate becomes adversarial and the in-fighting annoying, living in a country with the kind of political rights and freedom of expression that we enjoy here in the United States is something we should all take a moment to appreciate. The best way to do that? Don’t take it for granted and go the polls to make your vote count!

Viva La Independencia!

The more you learn about Mexico and its people, the more you realize that there is quite possibly no prouder culture in the world. The citizens of Mexico honor their ancestors and history in many ways, and celebrate the very diverse cultural traditions around the country. There is also a strong belief system that shared on a national level, including the importance of honoring home and family, patriotism, keeping local customs alive, and never letting an important date in history go by without acknowledgment. Mexicans celebrate both local historical and cultural traditions, which vary from one city or township to the next, as well as national ones..

One of the most important events that is celebrated all across the country is El Dia de la Independencia, September 16th. On that morning in the year of 1810, a priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla sounded the bell of his church and stood on its steps delivering a speech. He called for an uprising against the oppressive Spanish rulers that had invaded and governed Mexico for the past three hundred years. The war that followed was long and difficult, and Mexico was not able to officially declare its independence from Spain until September 28, 1821. To this day, however, Mexicans celebrate their independence on September 16th, the date that Father Hidalgo y Costilla made the call to arms.


Despite the holiday often being referred to as dieciséis de Septiembre (the 16th of September), Mexicans do not wait until that day to begin the festivities. Starting on the first of the month, buildings, streets and homes are decorated with green, red and white, the colors of the Mexican flag. In fact, the entire month is referred to as el mes de las patria (the month of the homeland), and is considered to be the most important of the patriotic holidays.

The festivities start to really heat up on the evening of September 15th, when people gather in town squares around the country and chant Viva Mexico! The 16th is a full day of celebrations, including parades, civic ceremonies and many fiestas. It’s a national holiday and schools, banks and businesses are all closed. Wherever you are in Mexico on this day, you will witness great patriotism and national pride among the citizens of a country that fought long and hard to be able to call themselves independent.

Los Inmigrantes: What It Looks Like From Their Perspective

los-angelesIn my last blog, I talked about how I was writing a series of novels set in different regions of Mexico—the Yucatan, the west coast, the D.F., and you know what? I should have included another region of Mexico—California. I don’t mean that in a snide way, at all. It’s simply a fact. We were once, and are now, a part of the lives, economy and history of our southern neighbor. In fact, the great Mexican writer Octavio Paz once wrote that Los Angeles looked more like a Mexican city than a North American one—the way it floated haphazardly under the shimmering blue sky.

rooftop-bars-AD-Luna-Tapa-Bar-San-Miguel-de-Allende-Mexico-2Last year in San Miguel de Allende, I was talking to a waiter on the rooftop bar of the Rosewood who had just returned from the States. “At least,” I said, “you’re back in your own country.” He gave a dismissive shrug. “Pues, hay mas Mexicanos in Los Angeles que aqui in San Miguel.” There are more Mexicans in Los Angeles than here in San Miguel. He was probably right.

With all the name-calling, the sick sadism of Sheriff Joe down in Arizona and, finally, the Border Security Act, which was more of a financial security act for Bell helicopters since they got to unload moth-balled choppers on the American taxpayers with the help of Sen. Lindsay Graham, we really have no idea who these people are, what their lives are like.

7556862That problem is easily solved by reading. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better place to start than with California writer David Corbett’s book Do They Know I’m Running.

Quick synopsis: Roque Montalvo, a musically talented, eighteen year old Salvadoran immigrant is enlisted by his family in Richmond, California to go to El Salvador to bring back his uncle Faustino , who has been rounded up at the Port of Oakland in a raid and deported. Faustino’s son ‘Happy’ has entered into an unholy alliance with Central America’s worst gang, the MS-13 in order to accomplish this. Once in El Salvador, a land of violence, corruption and grueling poverty for the poor like Faustino, Roque begins a harrowing journey through Mexico, the country he must traverse to save himself and the ones he loves. After you finish this book, you will never be able to look at illegal immigrants the same way. It should be required reading for those in Congress who vote on immigration issues.

Not only that, this novel is a fabulous read. Here’s the NYT bestselling thriller writer John Lescroart’s blurb of the book. Couldn’t say it better.

“With lyrical yet muscular prose, an ahead-of-the-headlines plot, and utterly believable characters David Corbett’s Do They Know I’m Running? is nothing short of superb. This is not just a thriller, but an elegant novel, full of heart, soul, music, food, cruelty, betrayal, poverty and love. The line runs through Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, straight on to David Corbett. I’m not kidding. He’s just that good.”