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Postcard from Mexico City: Wedding overseas

Published: April 27, 2009 | Last Updated: May 17, 2016 By | 1 Reply Continue Reading

A wedding in Mexico offers a lesson about bonds…

My husband and I were invited to a traditional boda (wedding) that was being held this weekend in Ciudad Obregon, a city in Sonora, a northwest region of Mexico that borders Arizona and New Mexico. Paolo, a young psychiatrist had grown up in Italy and we have known his family since he was a child. He was marrying Teresa at the church in her hometown, Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. The young couple had met in the States where they were both completing their education.

When we received the invitation, we were delighted. But admittedly, we did think twice. Our unbridled enthusiasm about sharing this day with Paolo and Teresa was quickly sobered by the increasing reports of kidnapping, violence, and murder attributed to drug cartels in northern Mexico. A recent U.S. State Department travel alert said that US
citizens should “avoid certain areas, abstain from driving on certain roads because of dangerous conditions or criminal activity, or recommend driving during daylight hours only.” It also recommended not going too afar of tourist areas. My cousin called and told me that he had hired a bodyguard for his college-aged son’s spring break trip last month to a luxury resort in Acapulco. “Take only fake jewelry with you,” cautioned a friend. In the end, we weren’t deterred by fears because of our long friendship with our Italian friends as well as our fondness for Mexico, its people, and its culture.

So we were among the 300 celebrants this weekend, mostly Sonorans, who attended Teresa and Paolo’s wedding reception at a ranch-like restaurant, called “Mr. Steak.” It took place immediately after the church service in a beautiful outdoor courtyard, covered with crimson flowers that seemingly thrive in the desert heat.

It turns out that when it comes to births, weddings and funerals, many traditions are global. The wedding singers and dancers who might have just as easily been hired to entertain at a gaudy bar mitzvah (particularly if they had they been singing in English) got things rolling. The bride and groom danced their first dance to Louis Armstrong’s, “What a Wonderful World.” Guests ate, drank and exchanged memories of the couple’s childhood and of their own courtships and weddings.

The energetic band got the crowd on their feet to do the “Pony” and the Mexicans danced to lively Latin beats for hours showing no signs of exhaustion. There was a dais and a tiered wedding cake, photographs taken of the proud families, beautiful deep-skinned bridesmaids dressed in vibrant turquoise dresses, and wedding favors.

My wedding reverie was interrupted when a friend sent me an email on my iPhone. Attached to a “breaking news alert” about the potential swine flu pandemic in Mexico City that had already felled more than 1000 persons and killed about 60, my friend Patricia wrote, “You’re not there, are you?”

That was our first inkling of the panic that was terrorizing the people of Mexico City, where we had been just two days before. We were glued to CNN whenever we got back to our hotel room. The death rate among victims was estimated at about 7 percent. The lead story in the local paper reported three new cases in Sonora. My friend, Margie, a veteran traveler and adventurer emailed me: “Get out of there. I’m worried about you.” We decided to cut our trip short, aborting plans to visit the nearby colonial town of Alamos, Mexico, one of the Pueblos Magicos, after the wedding.

It wasn’t easy to rearrange our flight schedule but we were able to get stand-by seats. Our return flight from Obregon connected through Mexico City, an international hub where there are usually hoards of people. Compared to only a few days earlier, both the landscape of the airport and the nature of our anxieties had taken an unexpected turn. The terminal was sparsely populated. Airport employees with blue gloves and passengers with blue masks were cautious and kept their distance from each other. Security was efficient and turned out to be far more
brisk than usual.

As we donned one of the ubiquitous blue masks being handed out freely by men in army fatigues, every TV set around the airport was reporting the emergency measures invoked by President Calderon to quell fears and protect public health. Soccer games would go on, but without fans, and the faithful would no longer be flocking to churches. They were warned to stay away from crowds, not shake hands, or cheek-kiss as is traditional among Mexican friends. Museums, schools, universities, bars and restaurants were closed down. People were hunkered down, stockpiling DVDs and Tamiflu.

We worried whether we would get out of Mexico before we got ill or the flu became pandemic. Would airline or immigration officials be ordered to screen travelers crossing borders to prevent its spread? At the same time, we felt terrible about the mounting economic woes being faced by Mexico, a U.S. neighbor that is heavily dependent on tourism, which has already taken a big hit because of crime fears and the downfall in the economy.

At the airport, we read English language newspapers and surfed the Internet. We found out that the swine flu had outpaced our own return to New York and had jumped across continents—within days, cases had already cropped up in several other US cities, Australia, Canada and Israel. I wrote this post on our return flight. More than ever, it
became clear to me that whether it is a drug war, global disease outbreak, or other human disaster, international borders are permeable and we are all in this together.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Its funny, I came across your post whilst researching information for a visitor & tourist information website I am creating about Ciudad Obregon. Whilst doing my research for this project I have unearthed some very interesting biased opinions regarding the criminal culture of northern Mexico, specifically Sonora and the border regions with Arizona.

    I am visiting from England and during my 6 month vacation in Sonora (4 months in Ciudad Obregon), I have not witnessed or been made aware of any criminal activities relating to drug cartels.

    I have traveled around the whole of northern Sonora during the day & night. I’ve Strayed off the beaten track, alone, exploring many remote areas near the Sonora border with Arizona equipped simply with my car, an SLR camera, roadmap and the basic essentials. Not once did I encounter any of the mentioned criminal activities which you have highlighted at the beginning of your blog post.

    I think the U.S State Department travel alert that you came across was published a very long time ago; not recently, I’m talking maybe 2 years or so ago. Or maybe they re-publish similar ones periodically as I read the statement (or a similar one) in February 2008 before my first 7 week vacation to Arizona and Sonora. In my opinion, the U.S State Department and half of southern U.S population in general portray offensive discrimination against the north of Mexico, which I think is completely out of order.

    When you look at and compare the crime statistics (drug related kidnapping, violence and murder) between Arizona and Sonora, it becomes apparent that there is not much difference between them really. Mexico seems to be the victim of much propaganda and stigmatic bad-press from the U.S. in relation to drug related crime, and I think it’s about time the U.S. concentrated its concerns on the current drug related crime affairs it has in its own country, putting less blame on Mexico.

    I apologise for writing this post, but I am sick and tired of reading the same old bad press related blogs discriminating against something that in my opinion is ridiculously over exaggerated. If people want to add discriminative content to their blogs, instead of using second, third and forth-hand material which in most cases is not credible, I strongly suggest the content is based on real life experiences. You can’t trust the manipulated whispers derived from the digital grapevines…

    I just hope I have not been exploring this, so far, culturally interesting, friendly and inviting region of Mexico with my eyes closed.

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