I am a recent graduate from the master’s program at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at UT, and this summer a group of friends and I are traveling from Austin to Argentina by motorcycle. I consider this summer ride to be an unofficial capstone course to my Latin American studies degree.
On the second day of our trip, we crossed the Rio Grande. We had planned to get as far south into Mexico as possible the first day in order to get away from the notoriously dangerous border region. Imagine our concern when a few hours after crossing the border two motorcycles passed us, the riders blowing their horns and waving. They rode with us for a while before motioning for us to pull over. We had been repeatedly warned to use extreme caution in the region, and thus we refused to pull over until we reached the next town.
The previous day one of our group members had met a man and his family on the Texas side of the border when he went to buy an extra seat cushion. One of the riders turned out to be this very man, Felipe. Felipe and his friend proceeded to buy us delicious tortas for lunch and introduced us to their friends from a local motorcycle club. One of these friends was a gregarious grey-bearded man who everyone just called El Profe. He is well-known throughout Mexico as he has taken motorcycle trips all over the country. El Profe immediately invited us to his house to take a short break from riding. When threatening afternoon rain clouds appeared on the southern horizon, he promptly offered us lodging for that night. By sunset we found ourselves far short of our planned destination.
One of the regions of Mexico that we had distrusted the most had just become one of the best examples of hospitality and friendship that any of us had ever experienced. In addition to all the kindness and help offered to us that day, our new friends put us in touch with other motorcycle clubs in the following towns, so that over the next few days we were treated to more free meals, drinks, and mechanical help with the motorcycles.
In hindsight we should not have been surprised by the outstanding people we met in northern Mexico. Surely there are friendly, welcoming people living in many of the world’s most dangerous places. Yet, what does this say about common news articles on the US – Mexico border region which repeatedly focus solely on the dangers of region?
I have spent several years living in and studying Latin America and three of my travel companions are native Spanish speakers. We’d like to think ourselves as somehow less prone to simplified stereotypes of Latin America, but our surprise at our wonderful experience in northern Mexico shows how much even we are biased.
One of our goals for the rest of our trip is to continue to discover/uncover those parts of Latin America that are hidden by merely reading the news. You can follow our trip at https://www.facebook.com/rebelandoelsur, and see more photos at http://mgutierrezjr.tumblr.