I spent the Christmas holiday in Mexico house sitting for a friend. It was a wonderful way to see another country and experience a culture that is similar to my own, but different enough to be interesting. Mexico is a very family friendly country. It has to be because there are children everywhere.
The house I was staying in was just south of Guadalajara near Lake Chapala and I spent my time in two towns — Ajijic and Chapala — which have a very large ex-patriot community, many of whom are writers. A friend of mine who is working on a book lives down there and acted as my tour guide, which was good as I doubt I would have survived as well as I did if I had to rely on my Spanish-speaking skills.
Being in a different culture highlights the everyday things about our own. Mexico, and Ajijic in particular, is a very relaxed, slow paced community, which was a welcome break from the fast paced, ever on, lifestyle I enjoy in Santa Monica. The holidays added to the relaxed atmosphere as people tended to be focused on taking things easy. Even in the Wal-Mart there was not the frenzied madness that one would normally expect had it been in Riverside.
I had many questions by my friends before I went. There was a great awareness of the narco-wars and a few people even told me they wouldn’t go to Mexico right now under any circumstances. After having been there, I can say that a great deal of the paranoia is baseless. We had no problems, but for one stop by a police officer when we ran a red light accidentally. And even that resulted in nothing more than a warning.
One day we took a trip to Guadalajara to do the tourist thing there, and I found it to be a city of great interest. It has a wonderful history and some fantastic architecture. There were some similarities to Santa Monica; it has a high tourism rate, a large promenade filled with shops that sell all types of clothing and knick-knacks and it even had a temporary ice rink for the kids to go ice skating on, just like ICE.
In the public squares of Guadalajara the performers were just as creative and fun to watch as the ones we have here on the Santa Monica Pier and at the Third Street Promenade. We saw singers and jugglers, but the most interesting thing we saw was a mime. In fact it wasn’t his miming that was of most interest to me, it was the way he interacted with the audience. At one point in his routine he ran out into the audience and took a baby who was maybe 8 months old from a mother and started to play with the child. He tossed her in the air and caught her, he used her as a prop in a sight gag with another audience member, all of this to gales of laughter from the audience, and from the child’s mother.
My immediate reaction was to turn to my travel partner and comment on how utterly impossible that gag would be to do in America. I imagine a mother shrieking in terror, and police officers arresting the mime for child kidnapping and endangerment. I can picture social workers and media whore lawyers screaming that it is child abuse. All the while ignoring the smiles on the child, the mother and the audience members.
Maybe I’m overly sensitive to the topic because I’m a child custody lawyer who has a roster of fathers who are regularly fighting child abuse charges that are eventually dismissed or withdrawn, but I don’t think so. This past Saturday night I was at the Loews hotel relaxing in the hot tub. Along with me were five men who were doing an ad hoc college reunion, two ladies of a certain age, and three Australian children — two girls and a boy. The children were 12, 10 and 7 and had no parent in sight.
As we sat in the hot tub, the children were chatting up the college boys with an ease and comfort as if they were all family. Eventually the children took off in search of cheeseburgers or whatnot and I turned to the men and remarked how unusual it was that three children would be allowed to roam a hotel pool, hang out with six unknown men and no paranoid parent came running, wondering who was going to kidnap or abuse their kids. And the men agreed with me. One of the men mentioned to me how confident and comfortable those children seemed, and how nice it was to see. And it was.
The point of this is that other cultures raise their children with open arms, to go and experience the world and it benefits them immensely. They are less fearful and more capable of navigating socially. Americans have become overly paranoid, whether it is traveling internationally or letting children play, and I, for one, wish it would stop. It does us little good and much harm.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.