The title of this post is not the finding of Kinsey-inspired Brown University thesis research; It is the NFL’s official slogan in Mexico. And I’m thankful that not all balls are round in Mexico because I caught the best Superbowl of my lifetime in a Oaxacan sports bar on a big-screen TV. I came to Oaxaca via New York and Mexico City, my home bases for the past three years. Oaxaca is a short flight from Mexico City, and a good place to spend the weekend.
A beautiful city, Oaxaca offers rich prehispanic and colonial history. Mexico’s first indigenous president, Benito Juarez, was born nearby. Juarez is something of an Abraham Lincoln corollary. Not only regarded as one of the greatest Mexican presidents, Juarez is also celebrated as a champion of the common man, in part embodied by his Oaxacan start. Today Oaxaca is a popular destination for tourists who want to see indigenous Mexico in a beautiful colonial setting. The city is both cosmopolitan and prehispanic. The bobo tourist, with fruit-infused cocktails and a hankering for the cultural other, mixes with the Zapotec peasant, still poor by Mexican standards.
In the center of this town of modern contrasts, I found a sports bar with a colonial facade, and I sat to watch the Superbowl. But this entry is not about the Superbowl. It is about the couple sitting at a table behind me. Mostly, they spoke Spanish. They seemed Mexican. But as the game wore on, New England victory constantly imminent, I heard the woman shouting under her breath in distinctly native English: “Get him!” “That’s pathetic!” “Yes!” Although she spoke Spanish to her companion, she yelled exasperated English at the TV.
I wanted to know more about this woman. Typical American visitors to Oaxaca are either university students enrolled in local language classes or wealthy baby boomers looking for a week of something new and fresh. But this woman spoke Spanish, was accompanied by a Mexican, and seemed different and intriguing. I asked
Where are you from?
Where in New York?
Wow, I lived in the East Village.
I lived in the West Village.
Where are you living now?
Where in Mexico City?
Lomas de Chapultepec
Wow, I live in Lomas de Santa Fe
In three minutes, we established perfectly parallel migratory history. We both chose a particular area of New York City. Then a particular area of Mexico City. Then a particular weekend destination. Then adjacent tables at a sports bar at the same time. Then out of all the people in the sports bar (mostly Americans), she was the only one I met. This was no coincidence, but a result of very particular cultural forces.
From the outset, I was likely to meet this person. And it’s not just because we’re both travellers (moving from New York to Mexico City to sports bars in Oaxaca). There are other types of travelers in Oaxaca. I didn’t meet any of the American students studying Spanish. I didn’t meet any of the older American tourists with fanny packs. I didn’t meet any of the Zapotec Indians who hitched a bus for forty miles with a sack of trinkets to sell in the Oaxacan market. I met the New Yorker from the West Village who lives in Lomas de Chapultepec.
Consider those who come from from Villachuato, a small town in Mexico. They’re likely to meet again in Marshalltown, a small town in Iowa (26,000 people). This town had a meat packing plant employing 450 people from Villachuato. That’s almost 2% of the population of Marshalltown and probably more from Villachuato. I won’t meet any of these 450 people. And I’m not likely to meet any of the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States, or any of the millions more who have been illegal in the United States and are now back in Mexico. I will not connect with these people, even though many live in New York and Mexico City.
It’s not just because they don’t live in my neighborhood, they don’t watch the Superbowl, they don’t stay in boutique Oaxacan hotels, they don’t go to sports bars with colonial facades, and they don’t know my friends. It’s also simple: we don’t connect; we don’t find that immediate click of common ground that makes the short interaction rich. With this woman, I connected, and I sensed it before we spoke.
With globalization, distance is nothing, although not in the way implied by a Thomas Friedman sound bite. Culture, place, and context still rule. The world is grooved.