Lesson 21: We are the same. We are different.

As I travelled, I came across societies and communities very different from mine. They had different cultures, values and traditions. In large cosmopolitan cities such as London, there are people from all over the world. There is a mix of cultures, traditions and values. In small towns and villages, there is a lot more homogeneity within society. In the United Kingdom, a small village in Wales is not as racially diverse as a small borough in London. It is the case around the world. Mumbai is a lot more diverse than a small village in Karnataka, India. As I travelled from the large cities to the small towns and villages in multiple parts of the world, I got a real sense of the differences between peoples within a country. Gender roles were different. In some towns and villages, communal living was the norm. Everyone knew each other. It was one big extended family. In other places, I noticed religion as pivotal to the identity of the community.

But at the same time, it did not matter if I was from India or the United Kingdom or Singapore. It did not matter if you were an educated investment banker in Buenos Aires or a farmer in Africa. We were the same. We both loved our communities. We both felt a range of human emotions from joy to anger to hurt. The weight of the world crushed us. Sometimes we were thriving. At other times, we were just trying to survive.

As I travelled, I noticed the differences between communities as well as the commonalities. It was the same everywhere. When I reached Mexico, I felt like I had come to a familiar world. I thought I was in parallel life where everything was different on the surface, but deep down, everything was the same.

Mexico was the Spanish equivalent of India.

There was so much in common between the two nations. Both countries are incredibly diverse. In Mexico, we have a mix of native, indigenous people and Spanish descendants. Over the years, migrants from different parts of the world have made Mexico their home. In India, the people are as diverse as the people across Europe. I always argue that Indian diversity is like European diversity. French are very different from Swedish. It is the same in India. A person from the State of Maharashtra is very different from a person from the State of Karnataka.

The diversity extends to food. India has some of the most diverse culinary preparations in the world. Food in the state of West Bengal is quite different from the food in the State of Rajasthan. I felt the same in Mexico. There is nothing that defines Mexico more than their sauces, especially the Habanero sauce. From my experience, Mexican food is not prepared spicy but can be made spicy with these sauces. Indian food, though not all preparations, tends to be spicy in its preparation. It is a misconception that all Indian food is spicy, but Indians indeed love their spice and chilli, a lot like the Mexicans. The chilli, which is quite prominent in many Indian dishes, was brought to India by Portuguese traders in the 15th century, from Mexico and other parts of the region, thereby reinforcing the two countries’ historical connection.

During modern times, Mexico and India have seen exponential growth in urbanization, resulting in the conflict between the old and the new, and between traditional values and progressive values. Family values and traditions in Mexico strongly resonated with me. The movie Coco captured the tradition of Day of the Dead festival very beautifully. These beliefs, which might seem archaic in the 21st century, remind us of the cultural depth and the social breadth Mexico has to offer. It is similar to the deep cultural traditions and social fabric of India. In India, festivals such as Holi and Diwali, rooted in Hindu mythology, are fundamental to India’s cultural and social fabric.

There are a lot of common elements in the socio-economic structure between the two countries. There is an economic and social divide between ‘Indigenous’ Mexicans and the ‘Spanish’ Mexicans in Mexico. Throughout history, the Spanish descendants have marginalised the ‘Mayan’ descendants. Some of the poorest people in Mexico are of ‘Mayan’ or ‘Native’ origin. Most, if not all, who try to enter the USA illegally, are of this community. The challenges of these communities are quite similar to the ‘Untouchable’ community in India. In India, the archaic caste system still plays a role in modern India. These influences are much lesser today than in the past. But it is still a sad reality in India. There are laws in place to help members of this community, but cultural norms are difficult to overcome. Discrimination is rife against these communities in India. In Mexico, large sections of society mistreat the poor. It is the same in India. Low skilled labourers such as construction workers and domestic helpers are treated inhumanely by many Indians.

In Mexico (and in South America in general), people desire fair or white skin since beauty to some extent is defined by the colour of your skin. The terms Guera and Guero are reserved for fair-skinned, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed people, while Prieto refers to dark skin, and Negro and Negra is used to label black people. Meanwhile, Morena refers to someone whose shade of skin colour falls somewhere in between the two extremes. You can see this in the media, in the advertising and across the TV and music industry. It is no different from India where skin whitening is big business, and ‘fair’ skin dominates India. Bollywood is quite guilty of promoting this false idea of ‘fair skin’ being superior. Companies such as L’oreal, P&G and many more are also guilty of advancing white skin’s racial superiority in the guise of ‘fair skin’. It is almost impossible in India to find a skincare product without some skin lightening pigmentation.

Mexicans and Indians are also enthusiastic, dynamic, hustling, building a bright future, and overcoming stereotypes worldwide. A lot of Mexico City reminded me of Mumbai. People worked and hustled on the streets, similar to the people of Mumbai. Many educated Mexicans worked in large organizations, supporting the global economies with the US being a primary trade partner. It is no different from India, where many multinational companies have set up offices to tap into the growing talent of hungry, technically sound and educated Indians.

India and Mexico: Two countries, so different on the surface, are a lot more similar at a deeper level.

As I travelled across multiple regions, I noticed the differences and the sameness between countries, cultures and societies. In an earlier lesson on identity, I detailed the concerns over identity playing out in the world today. While cultural identity is essential and critical to the existence and sustenance of cultures and peoples, I am thrilled that, despite the horrors that divided societies throughout history, we have emotions, values and traditions that bind us in the single fabric of humanity. Sometimes, the parallels between two faraway places are astonishingly similar. That is worth celebrating.

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