As Carlos mentioned in his last post, I am about to go on a ten-week hunting expedition in Mexico City, looking for whatever will help us to introduce Mexican philosophy in the US and whoever we might collaborate with. But thinking about the mission ahead of me, I realize that time in Mexico is so much more than a hunting expedition.
Ultimately, the initial phase of our joint project is to translate “anything Mexican philosophy,” as Carlos put it. But the term “translate” is much broader (etymologically speaking) than to go from one language to another; it means “to carry across.” So, at the forefront of our venture is the question: what are we crossing?
As Mexican-Americans, both Carlos and I are well aware of the in-between-ness of our identities and the challenges of acting as liaisons between two distinct cultures. To paraphrase Bolívar’s famous “we are neither Indian nor European,” we might say that we are neither Mexican nor American, “but a species midway between.” But we can also flip Bolívar around, switching from the negative to the positive. That is, instead of focusing on what we’re not, as Bolívar did, let’s focus on what we are. We are both Mexican and American, a dual- or multiple-indentity that somehow enriches our experience and thought.
To spend a significant time in Mexico, then, is a chance to understand how our multiple identities enrich our thought and experience, and how a multiple identity, which is often viewed as a handicap or disadvantage, can help us to trans-late Mexican thought into the United States for the mutual benefit of Mexican and American students, and everyone in between.
As outsiders, there is much we need to learn and improve. But, as with people learning a second language in a new country, this often comes with a certain articulateness about what is usually hidden or taken for granted. I am thinking about how foreigners who have to learn a new language always know the local grammar infinitely better than the locals do. Similarly, in getting to know México profundo through traveling (eating, drinking, singing, listening), we have an opportunity to articulate the “grammar” of Mexican thought anew. However, as insiders, there is a kind of sympathy that elevates this above a purely intellectual exercise. In a way, to be Mexican-American is to share in the complexities and challenges of being Mexican, for we are just one more fold in an increasingly dynamic ethnic identity. The problem or question of Mexican thought and philosophy is our problem or question.
So, here I go. The first time I was in Mexico City a few years ago, I remember having an unsettling sense that I had been there before, like I was somehow returning. I wasn’t in Mexico long enough to understand why I felt that way. But maybe I’ll figure it out this time around.