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Why are Mexicans so happy?

I’ve been making videos about my country in English to share some of the fascinating culture and diversity that Mexico offers with people from other countries. It’s also given me the opportunity to investigate a lot of the traditions and history that I didn’t know much about before and also to hear people’s stories. I know that there are a lot of misconceptions about Mexico which exist around the world and I’d like to think that these videos go some way to showing the reality of life in Mexico.

I’d never really given much thought to what people in other countries thought about Mexico. Why would I? The opinion of someone who lives in Detroit or Seattle or Sydney doesn’t affect me in the slightest. I’m sure nobody in Angola is particularly concerned about what I think about their country and I don’t think much about them I’m afraid - although I’m sure they’re all lovely people.

As I started making videos in English, I obviously wanted to check out the competition. I’m sure you know there are a lot of foreign Youtubers making videos about Mexico. I was surprised to see that everyone always makes a video with a title like “Mexico is not what you think” or “The side of Mexico they don’t show you” and in those videos, they show the normal things that any country would have like supermarkets or nice cities and things like that.

So I started to think “why are these people so surprised about all of these normal things”? What is this narrative which is so common about Mexico that means that a lot of people are so surprised that basic infrastructure and services in Mexico make an interesting video?

I’ve discovered that particularly in the US, a lot of people have a very negative view of this country and Mexicans as people. I never knew about this before. I never expected that this would be the case and I was really surprised when I found out about it. A lot of people say that on the news in the US, there are a lot of very negative stories about Mexico, which leads people to believe that Mexico is a war-torn hellhole which everyone is desperate to escape.

Now I don’t want to downplay the fact that Mexico clearly has many issues, particularly with regards to violence, crime, and inequality. I have no doubt that in some parts of the country, these issues really do impact people’s quality of life and in many cases this insecurity or economic necessity does make leaving a very attractive option. I’m fortunate enough that this has never had a big impact on my life. At the same time, I’m sure everyone I know could tell some story about being the victim of crime at some point in their lives.

What I’m trying to say is that Mexico is not some war-torn wasteland where everyone is in constant fear for their lives but it’s also not some utopian paradise where everything is perfect. It’s somewhere in between and I happen to like living here.

I wish I could make a “Mexico is not like I imagined” video because they always seem to get a lot of attention but I can’t really. I still don’t fully understand all of these misconceptions which appear to be very common.

So I discovered that there are these strong negative opinions which exist about Mexico and Mexican people among some people in the US. I imagine that there are a lot of comments about this below from Americans saying that they don’t think this about Mexico and that they know it’s not the reality. That’s fine, there’s no need to say it. I don’t expect you to apologise on behalf of some of the misguided people in your society. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to apologise for the worst parts of Mexican society - and there is plenty of that here too.

I know that in the US at the moment there is a strong political and cultural divide at the moment. Again, this is something that I’ve only found out about recently. There isn’t anything quite like it here in Mexico. As a result of this, I think that some people are very eager to distance themselves from these negative attitudes about Mexico. They want to make it very clear that they don’t belong to the side which has all of these negative opinions and do whatever they can to be as positive as possible.

Now the people who I have heard say these things are very well-intentioned lovely people. I think a lot of people who watch my channel actually will fit into this category. I really don’t want to criticise but I hear this same phrase so often in so many places and, while I honestly find it very offensive, I don’t want to call people out in the moment to make them feel uncomfortable. So I hope everyone understands that I don’t want to complain or criticise but I do feel that this is something that needs to be said.

Mexican people are so happy, even though they're poor

People say this to me all the time and all I can think is: you do know I’m Mexican, right?

I don’t like this and I hope you can bear with me while I explain a little bit.

Firstly, there are 120 million people in this country. Are all of them happy? All of the time? How can you possibly make such a sweeping generalization?

I’m sure if you got onto a combi in Mexico City on a winter’s morning and looked around at the people who are in the middle of their hour-long commute, you wouldn’t see a sea of smiling faces around you. I’ve never been to the bank and had a cheerful administrator help me fill out an application.

Mexican people go through all of the same difficulties and stressful situations as people in any other country. We have stress at work, we fall out with people in our families, we experience grief, anxiety, depression, and all of the other emotions that other human beings do. If people only see happy Mexican people, maybe that says more about their exposure to Mexicans than about us.

As for us all being poor, yes if you are from the US you probably make a lot more money than many of us. Does that mean that we need to be miserable all the time?

When I hear that, all I hear is “how brave you must be”. I’d be utterly depressed but you still manage to be happy”. Honestly, I don’t know how to react to this.

We Mexicans are not immune to financial stresses either. I’ve been in situations where I haven’t known how I’m going to pay the rent and I’ve fallen behind on credit card payments and I can tell you, I wasn’t feeling super cheerful.

So my issue with this common attitude is this:

It assumes something about our life, which is totally inaccurate.

So even so these people certainly mean well and what they say comes from a good place, I can’t help but think that they fall into the same trap as the people who see Mexico as some sort of hell-hole. They are still looking down on us, not in a derogatory or derisory way but rather in a paternalistic and patronising way.

Mexicans are people just like any person around the world. There are cultural differences of course but those only go so far.

If you are one of the people who has said this or something similar in the past, don’t worry. Although I don’t like it, I know that you mean well. It´s great that you’re taking an interest in my country and culture. I really appreciate it.

I’d recommend taking the time to get to know more people and places. It’s tempting to generalize but just remember that whenever you do, you’ll be wrong a lot of the time. Get to know Mexico and Mexican people for what they are without trying to impose your ideology or imagination of how you think things are.

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william woods
william woods
24 feb 2023

Hola Ruby. What a well thought out and well written essay. Many people in the US get their opinion of Mexico from movies, either old westerns where the US cavalry chases a gang of Mexican bandits back across the border and there are lots of gunfights in the desert ("therefore Mexico must be all desert and impoverished villages and sombrero-wearing gunslingers that speak pidgin English, right?"), or movies about narcos ("therefore everyone in Mexico carries a gun and is a corrupt politician or a gangster, right?"). When I was traveling in Mexico a half century ago there wasn't a serious narco problem. It doesn't seem to occur to people in the US that the reason Mexico has a narco proble…

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