The Outlander And The Mexican
( Originally Published 1921 )
IT HAS frequently been complained that the foreign capitalist in Mexico never gets credit for altruism and seldom for fairness. 'That grounds have occasionally been given for these allegations it would be idle to deny. In Mexico, as in most European countries, the foreigner is often regarded with distrust not so much by the common people as by the educated classes who are acquainted with the history of their country and of its relations with its great northern neighbour. They have not forgotten that some years ago the Republic extended its power over more than twice the territory which it occupies today, nor the circumstances in which it lost the larger half of its possessions to the United States. Neither are they ignorant of the desire of an influential party in that Republic at present to obtain possession of Lower California—by purchase if possible, but by hook or by crook. Those among thinking Mexicans who are given to reading remember the significant words of that straightforward, upright American sociologist who wrote : "We have inherited our full share of the appetite which I have called political earth-hunger. Internal troubles and the time required to digest the last meal have allayed it for a period, but it will awaken again."1 And many fear that the question of the sources of the Colorado River and Lower California are already whetting it.
It is not the people of the United States who are to be blamed for such machinations. The bulk of the nation has never been a party to them, has in fact sincerely and vainly deprecated them. But one of the political characteristics of the people is their readiness at all times to rally round their Government, whatever its party-colour, and however profoundly it may dissent from a given policy. What the Mexicans consequently behold is a great nation which contrives to win a reputation for disinterestedness, nay for altruism, yet goes on preserving that good name in the world while reprehensible manoeuvres are being carried out by its chosen representatives or by a clique which influences these, for the purpose of dispossessing weak neighbours of their territory or depriving them of their sovereignty. That these wily tactics should be undertaken by imperialistic States which make no claim to "righteousness" and are ready to plead necessity's immunity from law, is natural and carries with it such compensation as the moral reprobation of right minded people confers. But when those unjustifiable acts are labelled "amity," "humanitarianism," "moral guidance," the nation that suffers thereby is stung to the quick. Resentment in such cases is as inevitable as a manifestation of the law of gravity, and distrust is an instinctive impulse. The thief, Mexicans say, is not he who steals well but he who keeps the stolen property and his good name to boot.
The plodding, self-reliant, English-speaking wrestlers with the brute forces of Nature whose life-purpose is an unending struggle have little in common with the expansive, explosive, simple-minded and generous people in whose midst they live and labour. Their standards of progress, their social concepts, their outlook upon life are widely different. We behold on the one side practical sense stubborn will-power, dogged tenacity, indomitable courage, while on the other we discern specious theories and distracted misgivings, an innate bent towards unfruitful discussion and a frequent short-circuit between saying and doing. The one set of men are able and willing to grapple with undertakings whici. the other can conclusively prove to be - mpossible—until they are achieved. The former can boldly set to work at a task with seemingly little hope of accomplishing it and go on with it perseveringly without even the encouragement of partial success. The latter are wanting alike in initiative and constancy, are hampered by a feminine solicitude about the prospects and by an imagination so lively, nimble and Protean that it assumes the shape of well nigh everything that affects it. Hence their courage rises and falls in sympathy with external forces, and although they are brilliant and generous and courageous to a heroic degree, their energy can seldom be calculated with certainty or employed with method. In a journey of, say, a hundred miles the most difficult laps for the average Mexican are the beginning and the end, and when he has covered ninety miles he is still but half-way through.
From the ingrained incapacity of the two races to understand each other flows much of the bitterness which renders fruitful co-operation between them, except on terms of rank inequality, impracticable. And to that cause may be traced the inability of the English-speaking foreigner to fathom what is meant by national dignity in connection with the demand for a treaty before recognition, and the incapacity of the Mexican to realise the trend of the cosmic currents of the new era. And yet the matter is really simple.
The Mexican's distrust of foreigners, deep-rooted in recent history, still receives pabulum from many of the foreigners themselves who display a contemptuous disregard for the forms of intercourse prevalent in the country. They come unprovided with the small change of social life which enables individuals to meet and converse on neutral ground and ex-change courtesies which although void of reality are helpful as a bridge to friendship or to good fellowship. It may be objected that the forms in use are exaggerated and meaning-less and that the serious man of business cannot afford to devote part of his precious time to complying with them. But experience has disposed of the objection without altering the procedure of the strangers. It has shown that great issues are sometimes dependent on small matters of form. A frail thread for his hand, of no value as a support, is enough to enable many a man to cross a narrow bridge over a precipice who would not attempt the feat if this inadequate but important aid were lacking. The weakest of withes will bind great bundles of wood.
The American residents in Mexico are admittedly the principal trespassers against the social enclosures of the Mexican people. They seldom have an inkling of the mental mechanism of the Spaniard or the Indian, nor do they care what impression their own brusque behaviour produces. The capitalist, in particular, relies entirely upon the irresistible power of gold; the aggrieved commoner upon the force of his arguments to move his hearers and win their support. Upon the personal factor they hardly ever lay stress. Nay, they frequently scoff at it. Americans who are nothing if not realists trust entirely to the legitimacy of their business, to its alleged beneficial results for the Mexican people, and care nothing for the "silly scraping and bowing and complimenting" which goes on sempiternally among the natives who, like the Spaniards, are sticklers for form.
It is pathetic to watch the coming together of the average representatives of two races and to note how their best interests are often permanently damaged by the veriest trifles which the one regards as essential and the other scouts as ridiculous. The foreign pioneer of the highest type is a diamond in the rough who for lack of polish is not recognised for what he is—a fine, honest, clean man who works hard, lives thriftily, wishes well to all men and asks for no privileges. He appears in his shirt sleeves, possibly spits on the floor, employs an obnoxious nickname to designate the Mexican, claps him on the back after a few minutes' acquaintance and is at no pains to learn his "lingo." In a word, he brings his country and often his village with him, unwittingly treats the natives as intruders and deems himself to be the mountain to which Mohammed himself must pilgrimage.
The two types move on different planes. Race divergencies, national traditions and diversity of aims have been suggested as the explanation. And it is true that the Americanised "Anglo-Saxon" and the Latinised Indian personify, not as is commonly assumed, two epochs of one and the same civilisation but two wholly distinct cultural ideals and tendencies—artificially dwarfed in the one and highly developed in the other but none the less specifically different. This assertion may smack of political heresy but time will show how close it is to the reality. For one thing, the man of English speech, particularly on the Western shore of the Atlantic, is more responsive to the pressure of material needs, more solicitous about economics, more intent upon conquering the forces of Nature than the highest type of Latinised American, who takes after the Celt and the Slay. But the root of the matter lies in the circumstance that the English speaking resident, however low the rung of the social ladder on which he himself may stand, looks down upon the native as upon an inferior who is disqualified to ascend it. The consciousness of this inequality is ever present to the man of English speech who lacks the social charm, the exquisite politeness, which among all Latinised Americans are indispensable passports to fruitful cooperation. "How many bitternesses," wrote the famous French statesman Turgot, "have their origin in a word, in forgetfulness of some slight observances. How many persons of understanding have we taken for fools?"
A concrete instance which occurred during my stay in Mexico City of the way in which the wealth-creating foreigner wounds the sensitiveness of the Mexican without being conscious of violating any social propriety, is perhaps worth recording. In October, 1920, two Houston excursionists were standing in the lobby of one 'of the principal banks of the capital when turning to a Mexican gentleman they inquired where they could quench their thirst. The per-son addressed is a well-known citizen who occupies an exceptionally high position in the Republic. With the unfailing hospitality which characterises his countrymen he invited the strangers to accompany him and he duly offered them the beverages which they desired. Hardly had they emptied their glasses when they turned on their heels exclaiming—"Well, we must go now." The words "many thanks" were uttered not by the guests but by the host who had entertained them.
The "typical Mexican" created by foreign caricaturists and cinematographists—the boisterous braggadocio who cuts the throats of the unarmed and takes to his heels when he scents danger even from afar—is a factitious monster nowhere to be encountered in the Republic. Human life is relatively cheap in Mexico and the individual lays it down without many regrets. His physical endurance too outbids that of any European. And yet it is hard to convince the highly cultured foreigner that the current notions on the subject are saturated with fable and absurdity. In this connection and also incidentally as a sample of the bitter spirit engendered by newspaper lampoons, it may serve a useful purpose to reproduce a few remarks on this topic lately published by one of the fore-most periodicals of Mexico.' They were evoked by the despatch of the American warships to Tampico and by the conditions there established for the genesis of a grave inter-national incident such as interventionists were eagerly anticipating and prematurely discounting.
"One day," writes this publicist, "a sensational episode sent a thrill to the hearts of the population of the entire American Continent. Mr. Wilson, then President of the United States, had sent warships to Mexican waters for the protection of American citizens. And a boat belonging to one of the cruisers and manned by thirteen marines went up the river beyond the town of Tampico and was there fallen upon by rebels. The assailants not merely stripped the vessel of everything it contained but took even the boots of the sailors.
" `The attacking party must have been strong numerically, I thought, the moment I learned of the occurrence, thus to have despoiled of their belongings thirteen marines whom one must picture to oneself as thirteen veritable athletes. And viewed in this light the incident was invested with real importance, one might even say with an alarming character, although of course this would ultimately depend upon the mood of Mr. Wilson.
"But shortly afterwards the official report drawn up by the Admiral in command of those vessels came in and one gathered from that considerate document that the formidable body of assailants consisted of three wretched lack-alls of whom only two carried arms and one of these withdrew almost at once, according to the Admiral's account.
"Thus it turned out that the redoubtable posse of marauders was composed of two men, one of them provided with a weapon, the other unarmed, so that if we can imagine one of the thirteen burly marines taking charge of the defenceless bandit, there remained but one armed highwayman confronting the other twelve towers of strength.
"On the river Tamesi then, on board of that boat the amusing story was rehearsed of those forty Galicians who let them-selves be robbed on the highroad because they were travelling 'absolutely alone.' In like manner those twelve marines found themselves absolutely `alone' face to face with a terrible Mexican bandit and as a matter of course there was nothing else for them to do but to allow themselves to be plundered without resistance.
"Or take the punitive expedition headed by General Pershing which cost the United States Treasury the trifle of one hundred and fifty million dollars. It consisted of twelve thousand men of four different kinds of arms, including aeroplanes, and was rigged out for the purpose of capturing Villa 'living or dead.' Well, when the General returned home (without Villa) the moving-picture shows of the United States presented night after night the portrait of Pershing with this pompous inscription : 'The Pacifier of Mexico.'
"Now if in the name of common sense one were to explain to these good people (of the United States) that incidents of this nature can take place only on the screen; if by quoting accounts of their own press one were to prove to them that among our many national defects that of cowardice cannot be assigned the smallest place. . . . ; if one were to make it clear to them by abundant statistics that in our country human life is squandered with the utmost offhandedness, by reason of the few attractions it offers; if, after all this, one were to unfold to them on the screen a moving picture of those twelve sturdy sinewy marines letting themselves be robbed by a sickly destitute tramp, and after that, if one were to bring home to them the fact that in Mexico, in any and every social layer, twelve men, whatsoever their condition might be, would stand and defend themselves were it only by using their teeth, against a solitary armed assailant. . . . we should feel profoundly struck to see their expressionless faces unmoved by the recital while their blue child-like eyes were devoid of the faintest ray of light to suggest that they discerned the point."
That the English-speaking foreigner regards the Mexican as an inferior type of human it would be idle to gainsay. His every act, his every ejaculation, betrays the feeling which occasional honeyed words can neither hide nor neutralise. Those tributes of praise which he airily tosses to his Mexican friends from time to time have no more practical significance than the yearly washing of beggars' feet by the Catholic monarchs of Italy and Spain. When the Mexican talks of national dignity the average Yankee sets him down as a mendacious "grafter" for whom patriotism is, what Dr. Johnson described it as being, the last refuge of blackguards. The ordinary American, in turn, is to the educated Mexican a righteous Puritan in seeming and a hard-fisted egotist in acting, whose philanthropy is not to be distinguished from the most sordid self-interest. But even conventional truth habitually lies somewhere between two extremes where most people are averse to seeking it. Many foreigners in Mexico flatter themselves that they know the natives thoroughly because they had the luck to be present at a revolt, an onslaught of brigands or a murder which resembles the familiar domestic lynching. But the roots of racial character lie elsewhere. In the course of my travels I have observed that when enumerating the selfish or domineering nations each nation is apt to make the excusable mistake of reckoning one too few. And to some extent it is the same when the classification turns upon inferior peoples and races. That, however, is a failing common to individuals and nations alike.
The typical outlander immigrates to Mexico in order to make money and return home as soon as possible to a comfortable life in his native land. He seldom knows anything about the Spanish language and hardly ever masters its grammar. The German is an exception. Before he starts for the Republic he endeavours to learn Spanish and what is more he acquaints himself with the outlines of Mexican history and with the customs of the people to which he unhesitatingly conforms. And his success in establishing good neighbourly relations with the natives of his adopted country is in proportion to these exertions.
How far apart from each other the native and the English-speaking foreigner really are may be gauged from a few words which once passed between two of their representatives. The Mexican being asked why his countrymen are looked down upon by the outlanders as the inferiors of these, replied—"Because of our childish illusions." "Illusions?" "Yes. We suffer from many. For example we nearly all flatter our-selves that we are at home in Mexico and owe no apologies to any one for having been born there. Yet the attitude of foreign residents among us proves that that is a silly mistake. Another of our self-deceptions derives from our habit of inferring the motives of our foreign guests from their behaviour which bespeaks selfish interests whereas we fail to pay due heed to their professions which go to show that the mainspring of their actions is pure philanthropy. But judicious propaganda is correcting these errors."
In daily converse the English-speaking resident shows that he is separated from the Mexican by an abyss and he seldom seeks to bridge it over. The native population of Mexico, whatever one may think of its mental and moral equipment—and this is lamentably defective—undoubtedly possesses latent capacities which it would pay the country to cultivate and develop. After centuries of oppression, misery and forced ignorance to-day it is naturally at its worst. The mental and moral energies of the people, like the natural resources of the country, have been systematically wasted for ages. And a protracted civil war has put the finishing stroke to the work of demoralisation. And yet despite these tremendous handicaps the bulk of the Mexican people is socially lovable, intelligent, mobile, truthful, honest and hospitable. The foreigners who fled the country during the revolutionary outburst and left their property to the care of the common Mexican peasant pay the highest tributes to his loyalty, courage and honesty. Many interesting stories are told of his devotion. The following incident is of more recent date : President Obregón issued a decree prohibiting the circulation of foreign moneys in the Republic, whereupon vast cases filled with American coins and paper were transported to the United States. And the representatives of the Company charged with the operation are reported to have said that so long as they were on Mexican soil they had no misgivings about the safety of their precious cargo, but that once they had crossed the border and entered the United States they were in a continuous tremor lest it be wrested from them.
Systematic efforts are being made by President Obregón and Senor Vasconcellos, the Rector of the University, to proceed to the education of the masses. And it would be an unpardonable crime for any foreign State to baulk these beginnings and turn the plastic elements of the Republic into human dynamite which is so apt to explode and would not only destroy their own political fabric but cause considerable dam-age to that of their neighbour. The endeavours of irresponsible agents to foster revolts and rebellions with a view to clinch the argument for the "cleaning up" process are therefore among the deadliest crimes against humanity.
It is a phenomenon well worth noting that despite the grinding conditions in which the people of Mexico have hitherto lived and worked, their inborn vitality is still exceptionally vigorous. The innate racial force which, together with other characteristic traits, differentiates most of them from the Indians of the United States, exhibits itself in the ease with which they assimilate foreign elements of Latin, Slav and Teuton extraction. Intermarriages between Spaniards, Portuguese, French, Italians, Slays and Mexicans are fairly frequent and the blend is said to be excellent from all points of view. But with the peoples of English speech such unions are rare.
Without being gifted with special powers of observation, one may discern manifestations of a potent force of attraction —the attraction of material comfort—wielded by the American people over the Mexicans, especially in the border States. And considering the poverty, ignorance and general helplessness of the latter as compared with the training, the strivings and the high standard of living prevalent among the former, the process, which is gradually gaining in intensity, is what one would naturally expect. On the part of the Mexican it may be described as a legitimate desire to better his social standing at a cost which he is incapable of appreciating, and on the American side as the overwhelming influence of material well-being and an abiding sense of general superiority radiating to the uttermost limits of political consciousness.
In various parts of the Mexican Republic then, especially in the border States and Yucatan, a process is going forward to which one is tempted to give the name of denationalisation. For it is gradually wearing away by erosion not only the defects, but certain of the national characteristics almost before they have become definitely fixed. The economic ascendancy and cultural sway of the United States is a resultant of the enterprise, industry and pioneer spirit of the Anglo-Saxon on the one hand and of the quietistic dreaminess, fatalistic bent and centrifugal tendencies of the Latinised Indian on the other. And it bids fair under present conditions to penetrate in the fulness of time from Mexicali in the North-west to San Cristobal in the Southeast before political unification can be completed. The operation of this tendency is noticeable to a greater or lesser degree in many States of the Mexican Union and in well-nigh every walk of life. The newspapers are passably faithful copies of the great dailies of New York in which one finds the same sensational head-lines, articles begun on the first page and continued on the seventh or eleventh, the voluminous Sunday editions with comic and illustrated supplements—often literal translations from New York newspapers—and most of the other attributes of the newest phase of journalism. Their advertisements are Spanish reproductions of those flashy hypnotising announcements with which Chicago, New York and San Francisco are familiar. The phraseology is identical and superlatively un-Mexican. The universities too have been largely modelled on those of the United States.' But the children of wealthy Mexicans are being educated in North American schools and universities. Not only in frontier towns, but along the coastline, east and west, United States money has practically ousted the Mexican currency out of circulation, and in Lower California even the telegraph and post offices insist on payment being made in dollars.' The State of Sonora in the North and Northwest and that of Yucatan in the Southeast are yielding more readily than the others to these steady influences from the United States. Consequently the English language is making headway and Mexican servants capable of conversing in that tongue are to be had in the principal cities of the Republic. The vulgar fox-trot, cake-walk, one-step and tango have entirely supplanted the graceful Spanish jotas, sevillanas and other higher forms of terpsichorean diversion. Mexican and Spanish songs are being forgotten. The picturesque regional costumes are being discarded in favour of the graceless garb which denotes cultural progress. The tailors of New York and Boston create the fashion in men's costumes and hats. American dishes, canned peaches and pineapples, meats and fish find lucrative markets throughout the Republic. In a country which abounds in luscious fruits all the year round, the hotels serve only Californian or Florida peaches, pears, cherries, etc., imported in glasses or tins. North American mannerisms in speech are being translated into Spanish and are coming into vogue among the pushing semi-intellectuals. In a word, Yankee is trump.
The art of politics, as cultivated not in its heights, but in certain of its unsunned depths, was also imported, cut and dried, from the United States in the days when political morality in the great Republic was at a somewhat lower level than that to which it has since attained. And it still holds the field. The United States system of federation, suited at best to Anglo-Saxons and which men like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton deemed too democratic even for them, is the charter which was adopted by the Mexican liberators for their unsophisticated fellow countrymen. Porfirio Diaz rated it at its true value in private speech and public deed, as a serviceable instrument for politicians and lawyers to wrangle about, but hardly more. The part constantly played by many of the sovereign States of the Mexican Union has been disrupted. In a word, the inhabitants of the Southern Republic were thrown into a Medea's cauldron before being cast in a national mould. And if the influences to which they are subjected today—before they have become fully conscious as a nation—keep on operating at their present rate without any systematic national breakwater to withstand them, there can be no doubt that the Mexican people will emerge partially recreated in the image and likeness of their Americanised Anglo-Saxon model—a politico-cultural hybrid. It is merely a question of time, and that of a relatively brief span.