After moving to a completely unknown region of the world, I set about making myself some friends.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know to bring along my skein of yarn for tatting when my husband and I visited, so I was never invited to sit on a bucket under the shade tree with the ladies of the house. Additionally, the fact that the women’s husbands liked to talk with me about stories of their glory days in the U.S. when they were young… didn’t endear me to the ladies at all. I represented a part of their lives that they hadn’t share with their husbands and they closed rank against me.
So since incidental friendships weren’t about to bloom anytime soon under these conditions, I had to see about cultivating some.
First, I tried among my husband’s family in México. He had two sisters here and a sister-in-law. It didn’t go as well at all. Everyone was too busy to make time for this ‘gringa’ who didn’t even know how to make tortillas. Some even expressed the opinion that I should go back to U.S. so my husband could find a nice Mexican girl. It wasn’t until my mother-in-law died that I was even considered part of the family (See La Novena) and invited to participate in the prayers. So, moving on…
I thought I’d try to find friends through religion. Being a non-Catholic in a Catholic nation was isolating, (See Parenting Challenges–when someone dies) however there were some Christian congregations scattered throughout the area. However, at the first place I went, I apparently was too foreign for words, literally. The brothers and sisters in the congregation would talk with my Catholic husband, but not with me. So then, I went to another congregation, but although more women spoke with me, they all seemed to want something other than friendship. For instance, I was enlisted to call a U.S. lawyer for a woman with an open disability claim. Then another woman had me fill out a social security claim for her husband who had died in the U.S. A third wanted me to register her children under their father’s U.S. residency status. None of these Christian ladies thought to pay me for these secular services and pretty soon I stopped going to Sunday meetings. It was just too time consuming.
So I tried to make friends with other teachers. Miss L, was a Spanish teacher, and we shared the responsibility of teaching first grade one year. (See Learning and Teaching Year 2) She invited me to her home and to her church, where her husband was the pastor, and things were going along smoothly for a time. But then she began tricking me into compromises. For instance, after I explicitly told her that I did not have any more time for individual classes, she had a friend of hers call her house when I was there so that I felt pressured into agreeing to give English lessons to her daughter. The daughter only managed to schedule in 3 classes, so not worth my while at all for all the rearranging I had to do. Then she wanted me to let my son help her on Wednesdays in a little plastic bag store she opened and I agreed. However, when her husband’s nephew came to town, she suddenly no longer needed my son’s help, although he was her best worker, and gave the job to the nephew. (Hurt feelings all around on this one.) Then there was the niece that just had to have English classes, and Miss L brought her brother to the house to petition me. Again, the classes didn’t even last a semester. I also helped her in the PAN campaign during the last election year (See Politicking) but never received the promised phone card or really any other benefits for all that work.
Eventually, I decided that I put up with enough of this exploitation and no longer answered her phone calls.
Then I took up with Miss R, another English teacher. She was going through a difficult life stage at the time and my husband and I helped her move and sell some of her things at the tianguis (See Failing at your own business-Tianguis. I even helped her prepare for the Trinity English Exam, which she needed to qualify to continue teaching English. I would drop by once or twice a month for a chat and was well on my way to considering her a friend.
But when I asked her for information about getting my teaching papers approved (See Getting Legal-working papers) she responded by asking why the chingada I was bothering her with these questions and to resuelva (resolve) my own problems. Excuse me?
After a tearful morning, I moved on.
Cross-cultural friendship is tricky business and it is apparent that I have quite a bit to learn yet before I can truly say I have Mexican friends. We seem to be truly different breeds of beings.