Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cross-cultural communication

This research project in SMA is my second book project. The first was a decade-long study of Mexican migration to the U.S. in a little village not far from SMA that I have referred to as Textitlán. During that ten year period, I made a lot of friends in Textitlán, and I still keep in touch with four families there regularly. When I can, I try to go to Textitlán to visit when I'm here. In fact, I've never come to Mexico without going to Textitlán.

That is not a small accomplishment. When I am here with my family, we generally rent a car (at outrageous prices) and drive from SMA the 2-3 hours to Textitlán. Getting there means traveling through Celaya, which as far as I can tell, is in a perpetual state of road construction. We've never once traveled through Celeya without 2 or more of its major through roads torn up with construction. Its an adventure that we cherish, but not one that I make without trepidation.

When I've made the trip to Textitlán by bus, it's less of an adventure and more of an endurance test. There are not direct routes to Textitlán, and even a "Primera Plus" service will take between 4-5 hours to get there from SMA, sometime more. This time round, I've decided that I'm not going to Textitlán. I am here only a short time, and I cannot afford to use 3-4 days of research time traveling and visiting to go there.

Instead, one of my friends, Juan, decided he would like to come here. No problem, I thought. He had never seen SMA, which would be a treat, and I would be spared the nightmare of Mexican bus travel to Textitlán.

The first day I arrived here, I called him to let him know that I arrived safely. That's when the trouble started. He was planning to come to SMA, which I knew, but he wanted to bring his entire family: his wife and two young children ages 2 and 4. In my world (in the U.S.) I enjoy having my friends with kids to my house. But here, in the house I'm housing-sitting, well, it's not a child-friendly environment. The woman who owns this house collects art,and lots of it. It covers nearly every surface of the house, every table top, and every available wall space. In addition, the owner had asked that I take special care to make sure that nothing is broken, and of course, that would mean no kids.

I tried to kindly explain this to Juan, but he could not imagine a home where I child might not fit in. It was extremely awkward. For a few days, I considered moving the various figurines, sculptures, etc in another room, but that would be impossible. There was just too much stuff.

I did not hear from Juan for a while, so I thought maybe he had changed his mind about coming here.

No such luck.

Juan wrote yesterday to tell me that he would be arriving today (Saturday). I called him, and indeed, he was planning to bring the entire clan. This is when things got painfully awkward. I tried my best to explain that this is not my house, neither is this my rule about kids. I did offer to put them up in a hotel near the jardín, however. This, he insisted, would not be necessary. Instead, he decided to come here by himself.

I'll be happy to see him, and very happy to show him San Miguel. I am relieved that he appears to understand why the kids cannot stay in this house, although I imagine that this may be less understood by his wife, who will not be making the trip. It also points to the inevitable problems with cross-cultural communication. Yes, we speak the same language (Spanish), but communication is so much more than that. It is an entire worldview that is shaped from birth, and creates people who (in the U.S.) conceive of and construct "child-friendly" environments when here, in Mexico, the understanding is that every home can welcome a child.

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