Linda Ellerbee’s Mexico: It’s Much Better Than You Think

By Lola

Linda Ellerbee is a journalist who is better known for several jobs at NBC News, including Washington (DC) correspondent, host of the Nickelodeon network’s Nick News, and reporter and co-anchor of NBC News Overnight, which was recognized by the jurors of the duPont Columbia Awards as “possibly the best written and most intelligent news program ever.” She’s also a cancer survivor, a foodie, and an all-around inspiration to many women. Oh, and did we mention she loves Mexico? Read on for a first-class, first-person view of life in Mexico from a way cool gringa‘s point of view, recently published online in the Banderas News. Enjoy!

Mexico: One Journalist’s View
By Linda Ellerbee

Sometimes I’ve been called a maverick because I don’t always agree with my colleagues, but then, only dead fish swim with the stream all the time. The stream here is Mexico.

You would have to be living on another planet to avoid hearing how dangerous Mexico has become, and, yes, it’s true drug wars have escalated violence in Mexico, causing collateral damage, a phrase I hate. Collateral damage is a cheap way of saying that innocent people, some of them tourists, have been robbed, hurt or killed.

But that’s not the whole story. Neither is this. This is my story.

I’m a journalist who lives in New York City, but has spent considerable time in Mexico, specifically Puerto Vallarta, for the last four years. I’m in Vallarta now. And despite what I’m getting from the U.S. media, the 24-hour news networks in particular, I feel as safe here as I do at home in New York, possibly safer.

I walk the streets of my Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night. And I don’t live in a gated community, or any other All-Gringo neighborhood. I live in Mexico. Among Mexicans. I go where I want (which does not happen to include bars where prostitution and drugs are the basic products), and take no more precautions than I would at home in New York; which is to say I don’t wave money around, I don’t act the Ugly American, I do keep my eyes open, I’m aware of my surroundings, and I try not to behave like a fool.

I’ve not always been successful at that last one. One evening a friend left the house I was renting in Vallarta at that time, and, unbeknownst to me, did not slam the automatically-locking door on her way out. Sure enough, less than an hour later a stranger did come into my house. A burglar? Robber? Kidnapper? Killer? Drug lord?

No, it was a local police officer, the “beat cop” for our neighborhood, who, on seeing my unlatched door, entered to make sure everything (including me) was okay. He insisted on walking with me around the house, opening closets, looking behind doors and, yes, even under beds, to be certain no one else had wandered in, and that nothing was missing. He was polite, smart and kind, but before he left, he lectured me on having not checked to see that my friend had locked the door behind her. In other words, he told me to use my common sense.

Do bad things happen here? Of course they do. Bad things happen everywhere, but the murder rate here is much lower than, say, New Orleans, and if there are bars on many of the ground floor windows of houses here, well, the same is true where I live, in Greenwich Village, which is considered a swell neighborhood — house prices start at about $4 million (including the bars on the ground floor windows.)

There are good reasons thousands of people from the United States are moving to Mexico every month, and it’s not just the lower cost of living, a hefty tax break and less snow to shovel. Mexico is a beautiful country, a special place.

The climate varies, but is plentifully mild, the culture is ancient and revered, the young are loved unconditionally, the old are respected, and I have yet to hear anyone mention Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or Madonna’s attempt to adopt a second African child, even though, with such a late start, she cannot possibly begin to keep up with Angelina Jolie.

And then there are the people. Generalization is risky, but— in general — Mexicans are warm, friendly, generous and welcoming. If you smile at them, they smile back. If you greet a passing stranger on the street, they greet you back. If you try to speak even a little Spanish, they tend to treat you as though you were fluent. Or at least not an idiot.

I have had taxi drivers track me down after leaving my wallet or cell phone in their cab. I have had someone run out of a store to catch me because I have overpaid by twenty cents. I have been introduced to and come to love a people who celebrate a day dedicated to the dead as a recognition of the cycles of birth and death and birth — and the 15th birthday of a girl, an important rite in becoming a woman — with the same joy.

Too much of the noise you’re hearing about how dangerous it is to come to Mexico is just that — noise. But the media love noise, and too many journalists currently making it don’t live here. Some have never even been here. They just like to be photographed at night, standing near a spotlighted border crossing, pointing across the line to some imaginary country from hell. It looks good on TV.

Another thing. The U.S. media tend to lump all of Mexico into one big bad bowl. Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, “Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?” or reporting on the shootings at Columbine or the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City by saying that kids all over the U.S. are shooting their classmates and all the grownups are blowing up buildings. The recent rise in violence in Mexico has mostly occurred in a few states, and especially along the border. It is real, but it does not describe an entire country.

It would be nice if we could put what’s going on in Mexico in perspective, geographically and emotionally. It would be nice if we could remember that, as has been noted more than once, these drug wars wouldn’t be going on if people in the United States didn’t want the drugs, or if other people in the United States weren’t selling Mexican drug lords the guns.

Most of all, it would be nice if more people in the United States actually came to this part of America (Mexico is also America, you will recall) to see for themselves what a fine place Mexico really is, and how good a vacation (or a life) here can be.

So come on down and get to know your southern neighbors. I think you’ll like it here. Especially the people.

15 thoughts on “Linda Ellerbee’s Mexico: It’s Much Better Than You Think”

  1. This post reminds me of something that happened to me at the Uruapan bus terminal. I was changing buses and somehow managed to leave my money pouch containing all my cash, traveler’s checks, and passport behind in the bus. When I discovered my loss about ten minutes later, I went racing back to the bus with my heart pounding like a jackhammer. Someone else was occupying my seat. He smiled politely and handed me my pouch with all its contents intact. I’ve had similar experiences in “crime-ridden” Mexico over the years.

  2. John, I have had similar experiences. I left a portable DVD player in a taxi in Acapulco. The moment I remembered I tried to run after the cab but it was gone. I finally found my phone card and called my hotel (where the taxi had picked me up)and the driver had already delivered it to the desk. Same thing happened to me in Zihua (when I hadn’t even realized I had left my camera in the taxi)and the driver came to the restaurant where he had dropped me off and found me to return it. The moral of the story.. I am obviously a bit forgetful (blonde) and the Mexican people have always been so incredibly honest and kind in these situations.

  3. Lisa, I used to be blonde, so I can empathize. Montezuma’s Revenge aside, Mexico remains one of the most hospitable places on the planet in my book.

  4. Great article and I agree. I’m in Mexico right now too(Puerto Penasco). I have not had any safety issues or concerns. I have tried really hard to put away thoughts that the US would bring up a big media scare just before spring break in an effort to keep the tourist dollars in the US. I just want to hang on to a hope that the US is much bigger, has more integrity than that. Because of the coverage of Mexico, I now further screen and filter through any story provided by the media. It has impacted seriously my trust in what news reporters as well as the media provides. For Mx, the coverage has not been balanced. We need to get our stories told.

  5. From a 30 year old mexican guy doing his best to change lots of things in my country I say to you, thank you. This is agreat place with issues as any other country in the world, yes, some places are facing difficult times but we, the majority are here and working for our beautiful country. Como to Mexico, you will love it.

  6. Has Ms. Ellerbee updated her article since it was first written in spring of 2009? The situation in Monterrey and the border area has escalated into an all-out war. There have been incidents of drug related violence in Puerto Vallarta and other resort destinations. I love Mexico, Puerto Vallarta is close to my hometown of Guadalajara; but as U.S. resident my heart breaks and the paranoia of visiting my country becomes more acute everytime I hear 1st hand stories of this kind. Ms. Ellerbee, would you voice the same opinion now?

  7. We’re not sure if Ms. Ellerbee is a frequent reader, so we have no way of knowing if she will answer your question directly. However, we do have contact on a regular basis with people who live, for example, in Puerto Vallarta and Cancun. The latest incidents were reported by the media as happening in the resort areas. According to the people we know who live there the incidents occurred in shady nightclubs and/or bars not frequented by tourists, and probably not frequented by people who read blogs on the Internet and weigh in with their opinion.

    The border cities have been hard-hit by the violence and that is by no means exaggerated: it’s scary . But I would not hesitate to visit PV, Cancún or Guadalajara. I will be going to Mazatlán in November and Querétaro and Mexico City in December. The latter has had a bad reputation for decades. I do agree it can be dangerous—as dangerous as any big city. You just have to take precautions, the same I take in Chicago, in Los Angeles and in Phoenix, where I work and live. Don’t miss out on visiting your family in Guadalajara because of media-fueled fear. Ciudad Juárez, unfortunately, would be a different scenario altogether; count yourself lucky that your family is nowhere near there.

    Best wishes :)

    Lola

  8. We will never really know how bad things are since the media doesn’t report because they have an agreement with the cartels! Facts are facts and things will not be reported!

  9. As a Mexican, I really appreciate your article in trying to counter the huge flow of badmouthing against Mexico coming from Usonia (because America is the entire continent, from Alaska to Patagonia, and not just the U.S.) that has become quite strident in the last few years.

    Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that there is an official policy coming from the U.S. State Department –in full connivance with its puppet in Los Pinos (Mexico’s presidential residence), who took power through a blatantly fraudulent process– to impose a state of war in my country. Yet, it is also a fact that U.S. mass media love to embark on bashing Mexico every time they have a good excuse. I have rarely read or viewed a news piece or documentary in mass media, or a movie set in Mexico, that conveys a positive outlook on my country. There had been plenty of opportunities to show the positive things about life in Mexico –not for Usonians but for Mexicans– and yet it is obvious that such is an angle that does not fit well with the preferences of those who control editorial content and movie making. Additionally, there have always been a substantial sector in the U.S. (traditional Republicans, Tea Party, blue Democrats and others) who feverishly hate Mexico. They do have a huge clientele who fancy bashing Mexico. They have been indoctrinated through traditional media. Hence, we can see now what they are attempting to do through legislative means in states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania.

    From my perspective, (if you can manage Spanish you can get a free copy of my book “MEXICO VIS-À-VIS THE ROBBER SCUM – Dignity or Capitulation in the Face of Mexico’s Abduction by the Political-Business Mafias” Mexico has been sequestered by these mafias with the full support of the U.S. to the point that we have lost many rights that we used to enjoy, we have lost millions of jobs, we have lost our sovereignty over our territory, and unless we Mexicans address this situation with urgency we are bound to become a protectorate of your country.

    Who is to blame? Of course we Mexicans are unquestionably responsible for such a dire state of affairs in our country, for we have never had the dignity to mobilise to remove from power these mafias, who have been in power for more than three decades. Many of us complain and use social media to express our deep abhorrence for a such situation. Yet so far we have failed to organise and do anything substantial to rescue our country.

    Why am I sharing this with you? Because if independent journalism really wants to help our country, it will not happen by putting the hesitation of potential tourists at peace. Tourism is just one of many pieces in the puzzle that sustains the machinery of sheer exploitation and depredation of the robber barons of Mexico and their foreign partners. Tourism provides jobs that pay hunger wages and rejects any demand for a living wage, and customarily violates our own labour laws; so, in effect, every new tourist arrival helps to sustain this mechanism. What we need is counter journalism that unmasks and exposes the truth about Mexico and what is really going on. How did the current government ascend to power? How do jackals in power customarily violate our Federal Constitution and our secondary laws in full impunity and with the full support of its partners abroad? Why are Mexicans desperately trying to cross the border to earn a living? What are the root causes, and what is the role of the U.S. in these causes? Why did the U.S. government did not criticise at all the fraudulent electoral process of 2006 and yet it has been very critical of the electoral processes in other countries such as Iran?

    The stories and angles in which free journalism can expose the truth about Mexico are enormous. Exposing this would help us a lot to unmask the truth about Mexico and force the U.S. to not be as supportive of its puppet in power and help Mexicans to organise to peacefully remove from power this operators of the global darwinian capitalism commanded by global financial institutional investors. This is what we really need from cool U.S. journalist who would like to help Mexicans.

  10. Nice. But attacking tourism? You may think ignorantly that it’s just a bunch of dishwasher, bell boys, and bartenders. The facts show that generations of Mexicans, having stated at the lower service levels have made significant advancement and how own business or hold management positions. Go ahead — attack away at the media that treat everything Mexico like it’s Tijuana trash. But for god sake, bashing tourism’s role in improving Mexico’s image is not the way to go.

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