Mexico 1968

Which is more memorable? Student rebellion or a visit from Mom.

Posted Feb 15, 2018

used with permission / morguefile
Source: used with permission / morguefile

When I arrived in Monterrey, Mexico, the note from the consul who would administer my Fulbright grant said it was holiday weekend and all the Americans would be out of town. Why didn’t they tell me before I flew down here? I wondered. I spent four days in a hotel room, lying on the double bed, staring lonely at the lazily spinning ceiling fan. At lunchtime, I’d walk across the baking heat of the plaza to a diner, fending off the whistles and comments from the men. After Spain, I was used to these piropos and knew I didn’t look good if none were forthcoming. Still, they annoyed me. Could you hashtag MeToo for an entire culture?

I ended up in a boarding house in a pleasant part of Monterrey on a tree-lined street with five Montessori teachers as my roommates, two to a room. Run by Senora Malacara (translated “ugly face”), she was a widow who was stumpy square and liked her food hot and spicy. We had servants, a cook and her son, Maria and Pedro, who never rose from the bowels beneath the house, and Petra, our maid, who cleaned daily and made our beds. It was hard to get used to being treated like a princess, but I adjusted. When I finally ate scrambled eggs with spicy hot salsa, Senora Malacara declared to the table: “Al fin, come como una persona civilizada.” (At last she eats like a civilized human being.)

On October 2, 1968, ten days before the opening of the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the army fired into crowd of unarmed students, who were gathered at Tlateloco Plaza, protesting the government’s use of funds for the Olympics rather than social programs.

Monterrey schools went on a sympathy strike. When the State Department asked if I’d mind using my $200 monthly stipend to travel, I was on the bus to Veracruz the next day. If I close my eyes, I can hear the marimbas playing, see the Veracruzanos, men in white trousers and white ­­­­­­­­­­guayabera shirts with red kerchiefs around their necks and broad-brimmed straw hats, women in full, white, tiered skirts and peasant blouses, their long black hair rolled up like Frida Kahlo’s. I am sitting in a café, eating white fish with red sauce. It took no time for me to fit in.

There was an expat community from the U.S. in Monterrey. I became friends with Tom Scanlon, who had worked in Chile in the initial crop of Peace Corps volunteers. His letter to President Kennedy was on the cover of the first report to Congress. Through Tom, I met Pachis and Leopoldo, a Don Quixote and Sancho Panza-like pair of Mexicans. I felt more affinity for Leopoldo, the Sancho Panza of the two, short, chubby, intellectual and bespectacled. But I opted for Pachis, tall, thin, dark and handsome, the Don Quixote of the pair.

My mother, not liking the sound of things, came to Monterrey with my sister in tow, for an inspection tour. My sister arrived in a straight, black mini-skirt. Descending the metal stairs from the plane, her photo made the front page of the Monterrey Times. Not much happened in Monterrey in those days, before the drug wars and beheadings, so the arrival of Margery Deutsch from Great Neck South High School in a skirt four inches above her knees was big news.

Prompt: Write about a visit from your mother.

Copyright © 2018 by Laura Deutsch