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The Cracker Barrel: A thought-provoking trip

Contrary to the image of Mexican misbehavior so often portrayed on American TV, the people we encountered made us feel welcome and safe and respected.

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Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Two months ago, eager to escape the clutch of winter, my wife and I and three dear friends flew down to Mexico.

We’d all been south of the border before and knew what it would be like. It would, for sure, be warmer - 80 above instead of 20 below. It would be bright with lots of sunshine, and we’d hear plenty of laughter instead of grumblings about Alberta clippers.

The food would be tasty and reasonably priced, and most of the people we met would be friendly and nice. As tourists, we would be bringing needed pesos to help offset the economic ravages of COVID-19.

As it turned out, all of our expectations proved true. Contrary to the image of Mexican misbehavior so often portrayed on American TV, the people we encountered made us feel welcome and safe and respected. And as is true wherever you go, any effort on our part to speak the local language was met with patience and enthusiasm. Our only regret was that we couldn’t speak Spanish more capably.

As the days of our visit passed by, I began to have serious doubts about the need or the wisdom of building a border wall to keep immigrants out of our country. I understand the anger and fear that Americans living along the U.S.-Mexican border might feel about “illegals” sneaking into our country. There have no doubt been many cases of drugs being smuggled across the border, and of Mexicans lacking documentation coming here to find jobs.

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But I question how accurate it is to blame such events on our southern neighbors, while holding ourselves blameless.

It seems to me the primary reason that drugs are brought over the border is because we norteamericanos are eager and willing to buy them. Were it not for the insatiable hunger for illegal substances here in the states, I can’t imagine why Mexican drug cartels would even exist.

As for blaming so-called “wetbacks” crossing into the USA in order to work, a similar lack of logic applies. No one would come here if there were no jobs available.

The plain fact of the matter is that many Americans are unwilling to do work that dirties the hands or strains the back or in any other way causes discomfort. I find it ludicrous to claim that Mexican immigrants, whether legal or not, are taking valuable jobs away from our own people.

As has always been the case, immigrants (whether white or black or brown or yellow) are willing and eager to work - a willingness that may in fact trump the laziness of those already comfortable (and hence less ambitious) citizens.

Having said that, I should add that I agree with those who object to the idea of providing incoming immigrants with any particular form of welfare. A person newly arrived in America should not prove a burden to those of us already here.

Looking back on our trip three things grow clear.

Having a place like Mexico to visit is a real blessing, both for the interesting change of language and culture as well as the welcome relief from the winter blues.

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Spending time with people who are less well-off financially but who appear nonetheless joyful and devoted to family and friends raises the question of what matters most.

For better or worse, travel makes a person think.

Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.

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