TBT - (1965) "The Trouble with Borders - Mexico"

Anyone that has traveled to foreign nations knows the uncomfortable feelings you get when dealing with their customs and immigration officials - even when everything you have with you and what you are doing is totally legitimate. Having crossed many borders by every means possible over the last 50 years, and under many different circumstances - I have had some interesting experiences.

That first trip south of the border in 1965 (I went to Canada in 1962) was through Nogales, Arizona. I had a student visa to attend college in Mexico City and my wife being a Chicana (Mexican born in the States) made us different from the regular run of tourists passing through. The head of immigration at the border crossing had us brought into his office so he could take a look - maybe thinking we were Hippies, and then asked us some questions in Spanish.

My high school Spanish was too inadequate so I had to rely on my wife to be the translator. There was one question she was very reluctant to translate, but neither I nor the official was going any further with this until she let me know in English what he said. Finally she spoke: "He asked why you would bring a sack lunch to a banquet?". I made a questing gesture to the official. So my wife then said: "Well - the first thing he said is that you are going to be living in Mexico City surrounded by beautiful girls attracted to gringos like you - but you have chosen to bring your wife instead of taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity". Now I understood the second part - the 'sack lunch at the banquet' joke, but only he and his assistant was laughing.

They required a physical exam at the border for this type of visa - so we went to a nearby clinic. As we waited in the reception area I saw a nurse go by and noticed the matting of black leg hair under her nylons. I asked the wife about it and she told me that Mexico had racial discrimination too. The upper class was white and hairy - the lower class was brown and hairless, all this relating to how much European blood or Indian blood the person had in them. Sure enough - I soon noticed billboards and other advertising in the bigger cities pushing special creams for women to make their skin whiter.

But things change. Women are no longer frowned upon if they wear pants (a big 'no-no' in 1965), the billboards now advertise suntan lotion, and almost all of them shave their legs - and more!

Finally all the paperwork was finished and the customs guy gives me back my paperwork for the van we are driving. He looks at me and asks for a 'propina'. The wife says he is expecting a tip, and so I tell her to ask him why I should give him a tip. They talk and she says to me: "Because we are rich and he is poor". Now being a college student with just enough money put together for a few months of school - i fail to see how he could come to the conclusion we are rich. "Ask him why he thinks we are rich". She replies: "He says because we have a car".

Besides school, I was also going to Mexico to learn about different cultures - different perspectives.

I gave him a dollar. The lesson was worth at least that much!