The topic of love, and more precisely loving Mexico, is deeply imbedded in my heart. I was born and raised in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the state of Tamaulipas, and all of my family is still in Mexico.

I am a scientist and thus I like to define my questions precisely. If we are going to discuss how to love, we must first ask what love is. We are told to “love your neighbor as yourself” but what does that look like? Keep in mind coddling does not count as love since it does not seek the best for the other person. How do you know when somebody loves you? I think in order to love somebody, you must know the person. This is why Jesus is the ultimate evidence God loves us. Jesus is God’s empathy in the flesh. He loves us enough to become one of us and live among us.

So, what do you know about Mexico and Mexicans? Here are some simple statistics:

  • Mexico has 31 states plus the federal district (Mexico city)
  • According to 2010 census: 112,336,538 total, 8,851080 in DF1
  • Average kids per woman: 2.2 kids in 20131
  • Average of occupants per household: 3.9 in 20131
  • Death rate: 5.7 in 2013, 12.8 for children in 20131
  • Life expectancy: 75 in 20131
  • 83.9 % are catholic2
  • In 2010, 78% live in urban areas, 22% rural1

But perhaps more telling than statistics is our history. Most of us Mexicans are a shade of brown because we are “mutts”; a mixture of primarily Spanish and Native American. What follows is a brief journey through my country’s history.

During the pre-Hispanic period, northern Mexico had nomad tribes; little is known about them because they left little behind. However, Mesoamerican cultures in the center and south had many different tribes with advanced architecture, writing, ceramics, calendars and an economy, from approx. 2,500 BC until the arrival of the Spanish. The founding of Mexico City (back then called “Tenochtitlan”) was in 1325 by a nomad Nahuatl tribe looking for the place foretold by gods. The seal in our flag (an eagle standing on a cactus eating a snake) is the sign the tribe was given in order to recognize the land promised to them by the gods. Tenochtitlan was a complex city! It had over 6,000 inhabitants, 70 temples and was built over Texcoco Lake.3

The colonial period started with the landing of Hernan Cortez in the now seaport of Veracruz in April 1519. The fall of Mexico – Tenochtitlan to the Spanish occurred in 1521. In my opinion, the most positive lasting effects of this period are seen in the colonial architecture. The cathedral in Mexico City was built from 1573 to 1813 almost on top of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan.4

The colonial period ended with the war of independence, which started with “El grito” in the early hours of 16 Sept 1810 and ended in 1821. El grito (“the yell” or “scream” in English) was the warning scream and tolling of the bells done by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (a catholic priest) to warn the people that the conspiracy to gain independence from Spain had been discovered by the Spanish authorities.

La Reforma (“the reform”) occurred between 1867 and 1872, during the presidency of Benito Juarez, my favorite president. The reform included the introduction of laws guaranteeing the equality of all people and the separation of church and state. However, by the early 1900’s, inequality between the classes had become so extreme that in 1910, the revolutionary war started. It ended in 1917. The demands of the revolution were fair elections, land and liberty.

After the revolution there was an era of financial and cultural prosperity. Most of the well-known Mexican muralists painted during this era. The picture above is of Diego Rivera’s mural in the National Palace.

However, once again my country took a slow slide backwards. Starting in the presidency of Gustavo Dias Ordaz (1964-1970) and continuing to this day, policies that exacerbate the disparity between the classes and enable the economical bankruptcy of my country, have been favored by politicians. Politicians are viewed with extreme distrust to the point that this past year, a cat was included in the ballot for mayor of Xalapa (the capital of the state of Veracruz) under the tag: Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a cat! 5

The minimum wage is 64.76 pesos per day6 (1,813.28 per month), whereas the wage for a senator is 121,600.00 pesos per month. 7 Even worse, these wages are after “austerity” measures were taken by government officials in 2012.7 The 2nd richest man in the world is Mexican, Carlos Slim Helu.8 He built his fortune (estimated at $72 billion dollars) based on the privatization of the telephone company, Telmex, now Telecom. The extreme disparity in remuneration and wealth has facilitated the growth of illegal enterprises, most dealing with the drug trade or human trafficking. The Merida Initiative9 meant to decrease the explosion of crime, was at best ineffectual and at worst, only served to exacerbate the violence in México.10 During the government of the last president, Felipe Calderon, the war on drugs left more than 70,000 dead and 26,000 vanished. Forty-two percent of Mexicans would leave Mexico if they could.11 The worst-hit states are Michoacán, Morelos, and Tamaulipas y Guerrero. 12 The break in society shows in the addition of shocking new saints like “La Santa Muerte”.13

However, there is some positive movement. The movement for peace, justice and dignity14 was instrumental in the establishment of the General Victim Law.15 Several other movements seeking the restoration of Mexico have started, such as MORENA, a movement started by Lopez Obrador to give voice to the masses and hopefully diminish government corruption.16

The question most people ask is what can be done to help? My answer is, love! Love with God’s kind of love. Why love? Because it is the best weapon! But how can we love like God loves? By Dying..! “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”17 There is no way to live a Christian life (and thus produce the fruits of the spirit) without dying to ourselves. I am not implying a mere mortification of the flesh. Duty does not produce love. Only the divine produces spiritual fruits. Love (God) gives birth to love. I know, most people reading this article are probably seeking practical ways to help, perhaps writing letters to government officials, peaceful protests, etc; but God wants what is best, not merely good. His first priority is our hearts, not our comfort. I want for the violence to cease, for things to return to “normal”… but God wants what is best, thus I ask for God’s will to be done; and this is exactly what many in Mexico want. A couple of years ago the small town where some of my family lives was taken over by some of the “bad guys” (in Mexico, people use the term “bad guys” instead of the army or police; the bad guys are usually members of cartels or mafia but often times the bad guys are police officials off-duty, renting their services to whoever can pay them the most). The bad guys rounded up all of the teenagers, including the 3 teens belonging to my family. This is a usual practice in Mexico nowadays. The teens are then used as mules in the drug trade, recruited as sicarios (killers), or sold to human trafficking. Praise God, our teens were released without being harmed. But when I heard of what had happened, I called home and offered to send money so they could rent or buy a home in the closest city; perhaps then they would not be as exposed as they were in the little town. They replied saying they were already making deposits on a house, a house in heaven, which is truly safe and ideal. In the face of such faith, how can I do any less?

So, what are some practical ways to love your “southern neighbor”? There are many! These are the ones that come to my mind:

  • Pray and recruit others to pray for Mexico. Pray for God’s will to be done in our government, our churches, our schools, our families and society in general.
  • “Adopt” a Mexican church. We have made contact with churches in several states in Mexico who would like to partner with churches in the US. The aim for this partnership is to pray for one another and establish friendships; akin to the partnerships that happened between churches in East Germany and West Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin wall. If your church is interested in establishing such partnerships, please contact me (fmendezh@bethelks.edu).
  • Travel to Mexico. The tourism industry has suffered since the outbreak of violence. Many of the common people who worked for resorts or depended on tourism dollars are struggling. If you stay in large resorts, make sure you go on many tours and tip your drivers/maids/waiters/waitresses generously.
  • Become informed. Read about what is happening in Mexico. If you speak/read Spanish, read magazines like “proceso” that do not follow the PAN or PRI party lines.

May God give us the wisdom, joy and strength to do what he has called us to do, including loving those we find hard to love, including our closest neighbors.