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The reporter called the poverty level wages "Sanbornomics."
June 23, 2014 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Take Me to Sanborns: Swiss Enchiladas and Race in Mexico City.
One afternoon early in their stay, [Jack] Johnson and Etta – who was white – walked into the famous Sanborns cafe in Mexico City's historic center for lunch. But before they could even place their order, owner Walter Sanborn refused to serve Johnson on racial lines. Johnson went and found a few of the generals he had met and told them what happened. They returned to Sanborns together and all sat down at the counter. They ordered ice cream. Everybody was served except for Johnson.
posted by Rustic Etruscan (53 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is an interesting write-up, but I have to agree with the commenter there who wonders why it is that an article about race and Mexico can only be taken seriously when it's written by a white American who moved there for awhile. Especially seeing as a bit of Googling indicates that a bunch of what this guy's been writing for a bit now is--well, like, there was a thing about gay/trans lucha libre wrestlers, that kind of thing. I am really not okay with white people of means moving to Mexico as essentially long-term tourists and profiting off of these dynamics by writing about them instead of giving voice to the people who are actually living in that world. The only quoted actual Mexican is a waitress.

I never caught people falling over themselves to help me simply because I was a white foreigner. Mexico City is notoriously polite. It was hard to tell where that politeness ended.

"No, people aren't giving me the benefit of their racial prejudices, they're just incredibly polite!"

It's not that his writing's entirely without value, but I question whether a white American who seems from the byline to be making much of his living writing about Mexicans is really deserving of more attention for doing so. It makes a lot of his conclusions suspect.
posted by Sequence at 4:30 PM on June 23 [12 favorites]


This looks really interesting but I found myself wanting some photos to accompany the text.

I loved the writing! Get this:
"I miss the chaos. I miss walking around wondering why anybody would ever want to live anywhere else. I can still do that, but not in Mexico City with the sun out and the jacaranda blossoms falling to the sidewalk and everything one could possibly want in close reach. Not with Cortés and La Malinche, dead for centuries but still pulsing through the city around me. Walter Sanborn and Jack Johnson. Carlos Slim and Rosa Irene. There is a reason people are drawn to Mexico City. It is magnetic and contradictory. It is an endlessly growing feast."
The paragraph after that (the concluding para) is beautifully realized as well.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 4:34 PM on June 23


I'm with Sequence. It's very much the work of an outsider who, while he did experience more of Mexican culture than most Americans, may have been unable to put aside his own (American) conceptions of race and class to fully understand what prejudice is in Mexico and how it works. I can't even get my mind around it sometimes - it works on so many layers. The serious comments in the article itself offer better criticism than I could. Never much liked Sanborns myself - the one I knew in Monterrey seemed permanently stuck in the 70's.
posted by Partario at 4:39 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


It's not that his writing's entirely without value, but I question whether a white American who seems from the byline to be making much of his living writing about Mexicans is really deserving of more attention for doing so.

I don't disagree entirely, but the piece seemed surprisingly on the money despite being an outsider's take, at least to me, another gringo who's experienced the uncomfortable-making cultural vibe (and surprisingly tasty food, it may be a huge chain but it's still Mexico) while eating at Sanborns. If anything is wrong with it, it's that (even though the author's aware of this issue, still) he's sort of racializing a dynamic that is largely (not exclusively) about class — Sanborns is above all a temple of bourgeois self-celebration.
posted by RogerB at 4:40 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


I mean, it's sort of basic-level travel writing/cross-cultural understanding, for sure, and there are all manner of subtleties that he misses, but between the two overriding factors (a) it's Gawker and (b) at least he's trying, I was still pretty pleasantly surprised.
posted by RogerB at 4:48 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I found it very strange that he has a whole section about the staff being badly paid, but doesn't give any idea of how the pay compares with the local norms. He gives two specific figures: quoting another journalist who interviewed a waitress who got $375 a month after tips, and his own interviewee who got $165 a month before tips. I can't even reconcile these figures with each other. So what's the local average weekly wage? What's considered enough to live on in Mexico City? Is the tipping culture like the US, where tips form a serious part of a server's income? Those are the kinds of things I'd like to know if an article is about workers being poorly paid in a restaurant chain.
posted by Azara at 4:50 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


The referenced article from La Jornada.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:14 PM on June 23


I am really not okay with white people of means moving to Mexico as essentially long-term tourists and profiting off of these dynamics by writing about them instead of giving voice to the people who are actually living in that world.

What? Why should the writer "give voice" to anyone but himself? If he wants to interview Mexicans or not or write nothing but acrostic poems about Byzantine emperors, that's his choice. Disagree with his thesis or his conclusions or his word choice, if you want, but to diss him because he can make a living writing in and about Mexico? What the hell is that?
posted by the sobsister at 6:04 PM on June 23 [25 favorites]


Around 1917, the Sanborn family acquired what would become the crown jewel and flagship location of their company: the Casa de Azulejos, or House of Tiles in the historic center. The 16th century palace had been previously occupied by the Jockey Club, and briefly, by the Casa del Obrero Mundial, the House of the Worldwide Worker, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. The building still lives up to its name: a stunning two story palace covered with blue and white tiles. Diners can eat in the converted central courtyard, painted with gentle wildlife scenes, or at the soda fountain in the back, or go up the stairs past the Jose Clemente Orozco mural and have a drink in the bar.

I've eaten there. The food is as bland as any other Sanborns, but the murals are worth it.

I am really not okay with white people of means moving to Mexico as essentially long-term tourists and profiting off of these dynamics by writing about them instead of giving voice to the people who are actually living in that world.

That seems a bit silly to me, especially since the article was really more about the author and his experiences (with a smidge of reporting shoved uncomfortably in there). I don't think he exactly knocks it out of the ballpark, but he can write and he is self aware, much more so than most travel writing I have read.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


Why would anybody eat at a chain restaurant in a country with a singular profusion of the best & most unique mom & pop restaurants? That's one of the great joys of Mexico- finding a joint that is front-half restaurant, back-half house, & if it's called Tacos Lety you can figure that Lety or one of her kids is bringing you the food.

And sure, there's racism and classism everywhere, and it all sucks, even when it's of a different form than that of your home country. I've been in places where I've been laughingly called "Bolillo" to my face - white Americains are certainly not universally respected & revered in Mexico. We're barely tolerated in some places, even on our best behavior, but that has nothing to do with Mexican classism along skin color lines, which is its own thing that gringos really don't much get to be a part of unless you're hanging at some posh resort in Cancun, where obsequiousness is part of the listed services. Those places aren't Mexico any more than Sanborns.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:20 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


What the hell is that?

The writer's voice is that of a white American male. What he knows about is being a white American male. What he is writing about is being a Mexican. He doesn't know about being a Mexican and should not be treated as an authority on being a Mexican. The only person he asked about being a Mexican was a single waitress. He may incidentally be right, but he is not an authority on the experience of being Mexican. And yet this is a thing: we (collectively as a planet, not Metafilter particularly) give considerably higher regard to accounts by white Americans than we do of accounts by brown people, especially brown people from the location involved. It's the Dances With Wolves problem. It's not the author's fault exclusively, but the fact that he's marginally more enlightened than many white Americans who've written about Mexico doesn't mean that he should be regarded as an authoritative speaker on the subject matter he's writing about.

And if this is just an account of his feelings about traveling in Mexico, it should be framed very differently. It'd be an interesting read on his own blog, but if it's on Gawker and the title is all about "race in Mexico City", I have higher expectations. Not academic-level, but higher.
posted by Sequence at 6:26 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


I have two enduring memories of Sanborns House of Tiles in Mexico, DF. First, it's a beautiful and impressive space. Secondly, that's where my wife contracted la turista from her breakfast. But it also introduced us to the healing powers of lomotil that was available over the counter from any farmacia...
posted by jim in austin at 6:30 PM on June 23


This is an interesting write-up, but I have to agree with the commenter there who wonders why it is that an article about race and Mexico can only be taken seriously when it's written by a white American who moved there for awhile.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that "an article about race an Mexico can only be taken seriously when it's by a white American"

This is one article, by a white American. It is not the only article on the subject, and in no way precludes Mexicans from writing on the subject, and everyone reading whatever they write. This is just the article that happens to be on MeFi.

Interesting fact: not everything is racist...

Especially seeing as a bit of Googling indicates that a bunch of what this guy's been writing for a bit now is--well, like, there was a thing about gay/trans lucha libre wrestlers, that kind of thing. I am really not okay with white people of means moving to Mexico as essentially long-term tourists and profiting off of these dynamics by writing about them instead of giving voice to the people who are actually living in that world. The only quoted actual Mexican is a waitress.

For the love of God...

Anybody gets to go anywhere they want and write whatever they want. The author is doing nothing wrong. By your suggested criteria, it would be permissible for anyone to go anywhere where they'd be richer than average and write about it...unless they primarily interview people and/or failed to get paid for the writing...which would accomplish absolutely nothing.

This makes exactly no sense.

Sometimes MeFi seems to be going completely nuts with respect to race and sex.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:32 PM on June 23 [28 favorites]


Why would anybody eat at a chain restaurant in a country with a singular profusion of the best & most unique mom & pop restaurants?

Why do people eat at chain restaurants in the US? The article addresses this directly, and there are good reasons why people enjoy dining there despite or because of the 70s vibe and the chain food.

if it's called Tacos Lety you can figure that Lety or one of her kids is bringing you the food

Sure, and when Lety and her daughters want to celebrate an occasion and treat themselves to a nice dinner out, chances are they go to Sanborns.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:32 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


So what's the local average weekly wage? What's considered enough to live on in Mexico City? Is the tipping culture like the US, where tips form a serious part of a server's income? Those are the kinds of things I'd like to know if an article is about workers being poorly paid in a restaurant chain.

These are good questions. Working on finding answers. Surprisingly difficult.

From the OECD's national view:
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after taxes and transfers. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In Mexico, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 12 850 USD a year, lower than the OECD average of 23 938 USD. [Emphasis in the original]
Wikipedia: List of countries by average wage. Median household income. (Both of these use OECD statistics, and again, give national numbers rather than numbers local to Mexico City.)

From a 2012 MarketWatch story:
The commission, which includes representatives of government, business and labor unions, said the increase of 3.9% brings to just under 65 pesos ($5.10) a day the minimum wage in the highest-paid Zone A, which includes the capital and major cities.

[...]

In a report last week on the informal labor market, the National Statistics Institute, or Inegi, said that median wages among informal workers--those who work in unregistered businesses, in home-based activities, or without formal contracts such as agricultural workers--are around MXN18 [US$1.38] an hour, compared with MXN26 [US$2.00] an hour in formal jobs.

Inegi researcher Rodrigo Negrete said that the number of workers who earn the minimum wage is diminishing and that even domestic workers are unlikely to work for that amount.

"Fewer and fewer workers earn the minimum wage," he said. "That doesn't mean that they're well off, it just means that the minimum wage has gotten so far behind that it's out of the labor market."

Labor Ministry data show average wage settlements in the first 11 months of 2012 were 4.4%, compared with 4.3% in all of 2011. Annual inflation measured by the consumer price index was 4.2% at the end of November.
w/r/t tipping in Mexico (from a guide for tourists):
Tipping guidelines for Mexico are nearly the same as tipping guidelines used in the United States or Canada, with some exceptions. Most service employees earn very little or no base salary and the tips they earn comprise the vast majority of their overall income.

[...]

If you receive good service from your waiter or waitress, it is customary to leave a tip of 15% of the cost of the food/beverages before the value added tax (listed as ‘IVA’ or Impuesto al Valor Agregado on your bill) is added. IVA is 16% of the cost (11% in border states), so if you want to leave a 16% tip, simply use the amount of IVA to leave as your tip. This doesn't work always as often the IVA is not shown, but simply included in the bill.You may choose to leave more for exceptional service, and less for poor service.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:32 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


FWIW, I agree with Sequence's critique. There's some interesting stuff here, but I probably should have found more material to make a better post out of this story.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:34 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


He doesn't know about being a Mexican and should not be treated as an authority on being a Mexican...He may incidentally be right, but he is not an authority on the experience of being Mexican...It's not the author's fault exclusively, but the fact that he's marginally more enlightened than many white Americans who've written about Mexico doesn't mean that he should be regarded as an authoritative speaker on the subject matter he's writing about.

Again: what? He's not an "authority" on Mexico, nor does he claim to be. By his own admission, he lived there for two years and has, you know, some views he'd like to share. This is not being sold as the definitive statement on race in Mexico. I'm not getting the outrage at this Caucasian daring to write about a race and country other than his own. This is not zero sum. His writing this article does not preclude someone else from writing an article, possibly from a different perspective.
posted by the sobsister at 6:44 PM on June 23 [10 favorites]


Fists O'Fury: "Sometimes MeFi seems to be going completely nuts with respect to race and sex."

If you're going to try to engage in a discussion, it's usually a good idea not to start by insulting everyone else.

Then again, I imagine that once again you're not really here to engage anybody in a discussion. So insult away, I guess.

If you do feel like engaging, you could start here:

Though you seem to have seen some catchphrases you dislike and turned off without actually reading the rest of Sequence's comment, her actual point was that this article is long on historical anecdotes and quite short on actual data on what apparently is supposed to be its subject. Is that how you believe journalism should work? If someone came to America and wrote an article like this, it would annoy me. Last year, in fact, someone (a German, I believe) wrote a parodic screed about how America is terrible because he couldn't rent a bike in a large American city. I thought that was nonsense, and I said so.

This writer's travel experiences are neat, and the historical details are interesting, but the article pretends to something more than just a travelogue. It has pretensions to saying something true about the state of low-income workers in Mexico. If it does that, shouldn't it have maybe even just a tiny amount of data on that?
posted by koeselitz at 7:00 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


(Granted, this is absolutely not a "parodic screed" - it's actually quite well-written. It's just that niggling bit about the subject not being adequately treated that bothers me.)
posted by koeselitz at 7:02 PM on June 23


The author was pretty up front about being an outsider looking in, and that there were complicated dynamics that he didn't understand. And he's attempting to explore race and class from his perspective ... I completely fail to see what's wrong with that.

I'd rather have more people making the attempt than less.
posted by kanewai at 7:21 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


The writer's voice is that of a white American male. What he knows about is being a white American male. What he is writing about is being a Mexican.

No, he is not. He is writing about being a white American male in Mexico. He says this explicitly, many times. From TFA:

"I lived in Mexico City as a white man for just under two years."

"I never caught people falling over themselves to help me simply because I was a white foreigner."

"Had I not swooped in from the United States to live far more affluently in Mexico than I ever could have at home, exploiting the favorable exchange rate, and mining the country's history and culture for articles that I could turn around sell to advance my career?"

"Because I'm a white Jewish dude from L.A. who always had it good."

Seriously, how much more explicit about his perspective can the author get? He literally refers to himself as a white, foreign, American, interloper in Mexico multiple times in the course of this short essay. Do you need a giant disclaimer at the top of the article that says "WARNING: The author of this article is a white, American male, and not a Mexican"?

This is an article about race and class and a restaurant chain in Mexico from the perspective of a white American who lived, for a relatively brief time, in Mexico. The author repeatedly refers to this fact. You may prefer to read about race and class in Mexico from the perspective of a Mexican, and that's fine, but this article in no way pretends to be from the perspective of a Mexican.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:26 PM on June 23 [23 favorites]


Rustic Etruscan, I'm still glad you posted this. I think Mexican society as whole is just starting to become more aware of the interplay of racism and classism in everyday life, and there may not be much English-language material on the subject. The writer misunderstands some things (or maybe he doesn't dig deep enough) but I do think his writing is above Gawker's usual fare. That said, I think there are some really great points made in the comments and totally worth reading, just ignore the random trolls. Also, if you're interested in making anymore Mexico-related posts, might I suggest the spread of Piojomania?
posted by Partario at 7:32 PM on June 23


Why would anybody eat at a chain restaurant in a country with a singular profusion of the best & most unique mom & pop restaurants?

Because a country/culture's chains tell you something about it? I find it fascinating to go to chains when I'm traveling. I wouldn't want to go *exclusively* to chains, but in moderation it can be neat.
posted by asterix at 8:14 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Why would anybody eat at a chain restaurant in a country with a singular profusion of the best & most unique mom & pop restaurants?

I will stop into a Sanborns when I'm in the mood for hotcakes. Which is rare since I usually eat chilaquiles or huevos a la mexicana and will seek them out from more authentic places.
posted by birdherder at 8:27 PM on June 23


> ... the spread of Piojomania?

I got curious and so did a little searching. Came up with this .gif. I'm satisfied.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:38 PM on June 23 [9 favorites]


This is an interesting write-up, but I have to agree with the commenter there who wonders why it is that an article about race and Mexico can only be taken seriously when it's written by a white American who moved there for awhile. Especially seeing as a bit of Googling indicates that a bunch of what this guy's been writing for a bit now is--well, like, there was a thing about gay/trans lucha libre wrestlers, that kind of thing. I am really not okay with white people of means moving to Mexico as essentially long-term tourists and profiting off of these dynamics by writing about them instead of giving voice to the people who are actually living in that world. The only quoted actual Mexican is a waitress.

Nobody else is writing the piece. What you oppose, is called journalism. It sucks not because the writer is white, it sucks because journalism is people knowing nothing about a subject and not living it and being an authority on it. In fact, this type of piece is written all over the world. Mexican journalists are writing about American race because they lived here. And they probably don't know shit about it like you or I do. The model is go elsewhere and tell the folks back home.

Journalism is not in trouble because the internet is a new delivery system. Its in trouble because people who are living something are just telling their stories on it and everyone can see it. Why would you ever read a newspaper write up of a supreme court case? The author is not a lawyer. He or she knows very little of the work. You'd read SCOTUSblog, where the writers are actually arguing cases there. They know more than any reporter could. That's how the internet is killing journalism.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:52 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Why would you ever read a newspaper write up of a supreme court case?

Or about a new scientific paper, or the situation in Iraq, or why Eric Cantor lost his election. Journalism is mostly bluff and bullshit. This particular example isn't much better or worse than most.
posted by empath at 8:56 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


>Came up with this .gif.

I love that that .gif is getting even more distribution 'cause of today's game. So classic.
posted by asterix at 9:07 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


I found this article uninteresting, both in terms of the content and the writing itself. You can tell that the only research he did for the article was talk to that one waitress, and she appears for one or two paragraphs.

This one sentence did resonate with me:

Some days I would catch a reflection of myself in a shop window, or find myself staring over the crowds in a subway car and remember that I was tall, white, a gringo.

I would experience the same thing in Japan, where I lived for a long time, and where I still spend a lot of time. However, I tried not to get too hung up about the race or "being white" or whatever.

There is a tendency in Japan (and it goes back to the earliest Western residents, such as Lafcadio Hearne) to regard Japan as personal journey, and that one is the first Westerner ever to go to a certain place, or have a certain experience.

It can make it very difficult to make real, human connections (the point of our time here on this planet, no matter where we are).

Sure, I guess the issue of race is an important one in Mexico, but it's not the only issue. The writer might be treated like a "white man", but he won't be treated like a "white man" by everyone. And it's those genuine connections that count, nothing else.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:38 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I do agree that foreign reporting (for domestic consumption) is mostly bad. It is impossible to convey all of the nuance and context of a local story to the audience back home.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 PM on June 23


Why would anybody eat at a chain restaurant in a country with a singular profusion of the best & most unique mom & pop restaurants?

Yeah totally. Anybody who eats at a chain restaurant in Mexico does not "get" Mexico. Try the street food. Really great. Just stay away from raw animal products. (Avoid raw eggs in your liquado for example.) That said, I have observed that it is more likely that one will get sick from eating in a chain (because of the relatively slow turnover of food) than from eating street food, where the vendor generally knows his customers and the food turns over relatively quickly. One thing to avoid like the plague in Mexico is "sterno pans" like in upscale hotels and such. To sum up: in Mexico, eat the street.
posted by telstar at 10:36 PM on June 23


Anybody who eats at a chain restaurant in Mexico does not "get" Mexico. Try the street food

It's possible to do both. Sanborns is as much a part of D.F. as the late night taquerias, the men-only cantinas, and the trendy pulquerias in Coyoacán.

Not that I ever ate there, but I did stop by to admire the architecture and tiles, which are both exquisite.
posted by kanewai at 11:28 PM on June 23


I would experience the same thing in Japan

I was taking Spanish classes in San Pedro on Lake Atitlan in guatemala, and there was a big concert for the saints day of the patron saint of the town. I was supposed to meet some people from the school there, and I've never had an easier time of meeting people at a concert. The average height in the Guatemalan highlands is maybe a little shy of 5', and we were all 6' tall or taller. We towered over everyone. There's never a case where you don't feel like you stand out there.

That one is the first Westerner ever to go to a certain place.

It's so rare for Americans to travel anywhere outside the us, that it's easy to be the first person you know personally that has been to a lot of places if you travel at all off the beaten path. So you're constantly telling your friends and family what it's like.
posted by empath at 11:36 PM on June 23


If he wants to interview Mexicans or not or write nothing but acrostic poems about Byzantine emperors, that's his choice. Disagree with his thesis or his conclusions or his word choice, if you want, but to diss him because he can make a living writing in and about Mexico? What the hell is that?

That is... an ambivalence that the writer himself feels and acknowledges, in the paragraph about malinchismo.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:58 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Anybody gets to go anywhere they want and write whatever they want.

I can't even handle the oblivious irony of being told "anybody gets to go anywhere they want" when talking about Mexico, from which hundreds of people are killed trying to cross the border into the US every year.
posted by threeants at 3:56 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Which, when we're talking about whose authorial voices get valorized is, yeah, kinda germaine.
posted by threeants at 3:58 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


The race to be the first person to check someone else's privilege is getting awfully crowded.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:04 AM on June 24 [8 favorites]


I am really not okay with white people of means moving to Mexico as essentially long-term tourists and profiting off of these dynamics by writing about them instead of giving voice to the people who are actually living in that world.

In other news, George Orwell wasn't from either Wigan or Catalonia.
posted by jaduncan at 4:36 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I feel like a long-term tourist wherever I am, although I am (even as a short-term actual tourist) living in whatever world I happen to be in at the time. Does the one invalidate me as a writer, or does the other qualify me? In other words, how exactly should the proposed self-censorship work?
posted by Devonian at 5:21 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


" I am really not okay with white people of means moving to Mexico as essentially long-term tourists and profiting off of these dynamics by writing about them instead of giving voice to the people who are actually living in that world."

..but if they're not 'white' then it's fair game?
posted by I-baLL at 5:26 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


What he is writing about is being a Mexican.

That's not a very helpful way of framing an article that leads with an anecdote about Jack Johnson.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:27 AM on June 24


Was anyone else relieved that the Jack Johnson in question was not the bro-dude singer songwriter? Just me? Okay, carry on.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:17 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


And yet this is a thing: we (collectively as a planet, not Metafilter particularly) give considerably higher regard to accounts by white Americans than we do of accounts by brown people, especially brown people from the location involved.

I suppose the American editor didn't know any Mexican writers writing in English on this interesting topic and so when it was pitched, the editor went for it, because it is interesting. I don't think there's any more to it than that. On the other hand, that editor's deleted email folder might be full of the kind of hypothetical pitches I just mentioned, but we don't know either way. Why make it an issue of privilege? That seems to be an uncharitable reading.
posted by GrapeApiary at 8:08 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Great piece, thanks for posting it. I'm going to preemptively remove the thread from Recent Activity because MeFi is parodying itself in some of the comments so hard I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
posted by languagehat at 8:40 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss five bucks goodbye.
posted by valkane at 10:00 AM on June 24


As a Mexican from a border town I found this article laughably short sighted. There are a ton of missed subtleties, such as the whole guero thing (it can be used positively or negatively or endearingly or insultingly and anything in between) and the use of joven (which he misspells in the article, adding an unnecessary accent) to address a waiter, which is used most often when the waiter is actually young. If the waiter is older, you'd address them as waiter, ie "disculpe, mesero, nos trae la cuenta?" (excuse me, waiter, would you bring the bill?). A young, rich man addressing an older waiter as a joven brings up a mental image of a spoiled rich teenager making fun of a lower-class worker, and gives some light to the kind of restaurants he frequents as an expat and the people in them.

Using Sanborns to demonstrate life in Mexico as silly as going to Olive Garden to write about Italian culture. Sanborns everywhere in Mexico and especially in Mexico City are manicured precisely to give the feel of "the real Mexico" that he writes about, the feel where you know you are being fed a watered down and stereotypical version of the real thing but you think you're still seeing something they don't want you to see. It's reading too much where there's little to be read.

I don't think it's right to dismiss his opinion simply because he is a foreigner, but there are far better ways to explore culture. See, for example, Anthony Bourdain. His Baja episode in No Reservations was spot on and I have showed the episode to several of my friends who are curious about the food there and want a little snippet. He interviews several Mexican people who are cooking for the rich and those who make street food, both sides of the same coin, and he has THEM talk about the food while offering his experience as a foreigner.
posted by cobain_angel at 10:03 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I don't recall Anthony Bourdain talking even a little bit about Malinchismo or race and class in Mexico and framing it for Americans, which is what this article was doing.

He did get some amazing looking tostadas though, and then ate fish tacos with an artist and rode dirt bikes on the beach. And of course he drank too much and we got to watch him have a hangover.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:15 AM on June 24


Using Sanborns to demonstrate life in Mexico as silly as going to Olive Garden to write about Italian culture.

Using Olive Garden to write about Italian culture would be silly, totally. But using Olive Garden to demonstrate life in America, OTOH...
posted by asterix at 11:19 AM on June 24 [7 favorites]


My point with Mr. Bourdain was about his inclusion of natives to explain the cultural background of the food. Within the context of food, that is important. One waitress is good, but if she is your only source? Not as good.
posted by cobain_angel at 11:54 AM on June 24


I suppose the American editor didn't know any Mexican writers writing in English on this interesting topic and so when it was pitched, the editor went for it, because it is interesting. I don't think there's any more to it than that. On the other hand, that editor's deleted email folder might be full of the kind of hypothetical pitches I just mentioned, but we don't know either way. Why make it an issue of privilege? That seems to be an uncharitable reading.

As an aside, that's an interesting argument. Tom Bramwell, the editor-in-chief of Eurogamer, recently wrote a piece called "I am Sexist", which contained the caption, humorously juxtaposed with the all-male multiplayer characters in Assassin's Creed Unity:
Another example of my ignorant casual sexism: over the last decade, I have assembled a crack team almost entirely made up of young white men. They are all excellent professionals and I am very loyal to them, but they will understand the point I'm making.
It's not inherently contradictory to think this is a good piece and to think that privilege plays a part in the fact that a white, English-speaking American has been commissioned to write about a Mexican cultural artefact and its attitude to black people. Actually Ring TFA reveals that it's something the writer thinks about himself.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:38 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Rustic Etruscan, for looking up all the extra data on wages! From that, I do think the author was unwise to list the only server's pre-tips wages, if tips make up the bulk of what servers actually get.

On the more general topic of the article, I'm always interested when people are dealing with the intersection of race issues and class issues, since it's hard to avoid a bias in assuming which is more important.
posted by Azara at 12:44 PM on June 24


Ironmouth: Journalism is not in trouble because the internet is a new delivery system. Its in trouble because people who are living something are just telling their stories on it and everyone can see it. Why would you ever read a newspaper write up of a supreme court case? The author is not a lawyer. He or she knows very little of the work. You'd read SCOTUSblog, where the writers are actually arguing cases there. They know more than any reporter could. That's how the internet is killing journalism.

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posted by IAmBroom at 1:28 PM on June 25


Occasionally my husband and I go visit my mother-in-law at her home in Mexico (where she lives part of the year). My mother-in-law is brown skinned, speaks Spanish as her second language. She was born in the US, educated in the US and lived here until she retired. She passes as a local. I'm pale and obviously of the USA and speak Spanish as a second language. We both have an experience of a visitor to Mexico - her as someone who's expected to be Mexican and me as someone who's expected to carry the cultural baggage of the US. If we're both talking about our personal experiences is her experience more worthy than mine because her skin is matches the country where she lives part-time?

If we're trying to make a point that we don't listen to voices of the culture, okay then make that point in a researched post. I'd love to read more about that. The mere existence of this article doesn't prove that point. Stranger in a strange land is a pretty common genre.
posted by 26.2 at 11:33 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


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