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Can Nations, States, Regions and Communities Develop Their Own Personality?

Dec 23, 2007
'Don't you ever say anything like that ever again,' the woman fumed, 'that's racist and we just don't appreciate such statements in front of this Board'. The Board, by the way, was a Community Development Corporation in a depressed Latino community. It could have been in any one of hundreds of similar communities in the U.S.

I had been addressing the Board laying out the problems that monolingual Spanish speaking immigrants have when setting up a business in the U.S. I had given a rather detailed analysis of agrarian Mexico, upward mobility and why business success was as much a personal and cultural perspective as finances, marketing and sales. I was somewhat knowledgeable being bilingual/bicultural and had just finished doing research on a farmworker project in Salinas, California.

I had made the statement that folks from the great Mexican state of Michoacan were more reserved, proud and self conscious than those of us from Veracruz. In my view this was certainly not a put down but something many Mexicans know. It's the same as asking where the best food is in Mexico...Veracruz of course.

I mentioned that we in Veracruz are known for singing, dancing, partying, drinking, eating, loving, laughing and in general having a good time regardless. We really don't care if someone laughs at us because we are laughing too.

I had actually done research with farmworkers from Michoacan showing that they felt self conscious and did not sign up for English as a Second Language (ESL) course or remedial courses in Adult Ed. I was able to demonstrate that if a group of these farmworkers went as a group and applied at Adult Ed for a course, their sense of self consciousness would relax enough for them to enter. Once they entered, all was fine. But like many things in life, the first steps are the hardest ones. Farmworkers from other Mexican states did not seem to have this problem.

The fact that all these farmworkers were from Michoacan was missed by this well meaning Latina business woman. What she heard was I was racially and ethnically stereotyping a group of people and that was a no-no since she had just attended a series of minority workshops and was told everybody and everything on the planet is equal. The same.

Thank goodness it isn't. Part of the reason I enjoy going to my jungle ranch in Quintana Roo is my Maya pals aren't depressed. Even though I am clearly a foreigner we can talk and carry on as if there were no differences between us. They may be poor but they are not collectively depressed. If they have money they buy chicken and if they don't they hunt. Simple. The fact is my friend Poot is a jungle man and about as far away culturally from California as he can be, yet we are pals. But to some if I make the statement we are different then that is construed as being racist.

Note that I did not say one or the other was better. In the jungle Poot can constantly point out things I can't see. He is in his element. But go with him to town and he quiets down and looks a bit nervous. I'm not sure how he would react in Mountain View or Cupertino but one thing is for sure he would be as lost as me in the jungle.

So what is a stereotype? If I meet 100 people from Michoacan, and 90 have a certain detectable character trait, is that stereotyping? If it were just me, I might wonder. But many other Mexicans say the very same things about Veracruzanos and Michoacanos. Are we all wrong? Or is perception reality...

In Northern California, especially the Bay Area, we are famous for being doom and gloomers. The sky is falling, Cheney sold us out, and tomorrow we all die from nasty toxins. The collective depression is clear and evident, even to those of us that live in it.

On a recent trip to San Diego my surfing, dirt biking son had an interesting comment. I asked him what differences he saw in Southern vs. Northern California. 'Dad', he replied immediately, 'the folks down south are so happy. They are so busy doing things...everyone is smiling and no one talked about how lousy the world is.'

See? Is it just me? You could say like father like son but is it just us? If everyone sees it and acknowledges it is it still a stereotype or simply the truth?

Maybe I'm all wet. But when I can speak with someone and tell by their demeanor or outward behavior where they are from...well, that's not stereotyping, it's good people skills. I've spent a lifetime working on those skills and don't need a narrow minded board member to tell me I'm racist how can I be racist with friends like Poot?

In the collective thinking world there are no differences...yet where we come from may in fact largely determine how we think, feel and act. It's called culture and perception.

And that, amigos, is no stereotype...
About the Author
Jack D. Deal has both a Mexican and American personality. He is also the owner of Deal Business Consulting. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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