My image of Mexico came mostly from the Magnificent 7 and other such westerns. Hapless peasants in white pajamas and sombreros run about intimidated by sadistic banditos with ammo belts strapped diagonally across their chests until heroic blonde Americans (think Steve McQueen) set things right.
Today Mexico looked rather different to me. I visited the oldest University in the Americas, The College of St. Nicholas, founded here in Morelia in 1536. That is precisely 100 years older than Harvard. It is a beautiful place with a magnificent court yard. This college town which today has 100,000 students in programs of higher education is a manufacturer of ideas, a builder of minds.
Today I visited the oldest Music Conservatory in the Americas. Yes, here in Morelia once again, founded in 1754. During WW II, great musicians fleeing Europe took refuge here. This is a world class center for classical music. I listened to the students practicing. It’s not all history. Magnificent music is happening here, now.
I visited elegant buildings that were turned to public use as libraries and cultural centers after 1767 when the Jesuits who had built them were deported in a single night on orders of King Charles III of Spain. Why? Charles said it was “for urgent, just, and necessary reasons which I reserve in my royal mind.” Many suspect it had to do with Jesuit teaching that all people were equal and sacred in the eyes of God, a humanist doctrine which upset the Spanish caste system. But it was too late. Those ideas had already been planted in the Mexican soul. I walked past the special prison built during the 1810 revolution to hold all the priests, monks, and nuns who were participating in the revolution. It was a prison just for priests, monks, and nuns. It was large.
Today I visited a 16th century church built for African slaves in Mexico. I didn’t know there were African slaves in Mexico. There were, but slavery was banned in the Mexican Constitution decades before we abolished slavery.
This place is rich in culture, music, architecture, history and religion. A ciudad authentica, the real deal, with much to teach and much to admire. I wonder how that Magnificent 7 image of Mexico may shade my attitude toward the Latinos I encounter in Nevada every day. How has my benighted knowledge of Mexico shaped my assumptions about Latinos? I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I am glad that when I encounter Latinos in Nevada next week, the veil of false stereotypes will have been somewhat lifted from my eyes.