I have long been attracted to Latin American countries for their warmth and friendliness. Although I have only visited a handful of them, across the board they excel at community. From greeting people on the street when you pass someone, to taxi drivers waving hello to one other in their cars as they drive through town, to families socializing together in central plazas, relational richness permeates Latin American cultures.
Recently we visited a tiny town about two hours away from San Miguel. Although small, it’s well known for a giant rock formation in the center of town and has attracted a large tourist population. The roads that lead up to this mountain are steep, and so mini-taxis (not cars, but motorized carts) line up to drive people to its base and the beginning of a hiking area.
As Mexico is a polite society, the mini-taxis take turns driving tourists, and so after returning from dropping off a passenger, they form a queue to wait for their next drive up the mountain. While waiting in line, I watched the drivers climb out of their own cart and into the one waiting next to them to chat. No driver was sitting in his cart by himself. I was unexpectedly moved by this act of connection. Each driver made a choice to be in intentional relationship with the adjacent driver. This would never happen in the States. When cabs (or any other form of transportation) are lined up waiting for their turn, no one leaves their vehicle to go sit in the neighboring one.
Being in a country that is so adept at relating highlights to me the poverty of the U.S. in this arena. As much as I appreciate certain aspects of America’s emphasis on the individual, extreme individualism always leads to isolation. My downstairs neighbor in LA is from Israel, and one of her first observations upon coming to the States was that it is a country of lonely people. Although perhaps this is not true everywhere (and less true in smaller towns and rural communities), I think isolation runs deep in urban areas where people are insulated from one another and culturally encouraged to be focused on their own goals and pursuits. “Busyness” is the value of the day, and when we are so busy, others always take a back seat. But perhaps in our busyness, we miss what is actually most important about our human existence - connection to one another.
Mexico’s emphasis on community and its valuing of people over production is refreshing and a most welcome change of pace. When people are valued, they experience being seen and known. And this is something much of the world could use in far greater measure.