The Mexicans: A Personal Portrait of a People was previously published in hardcover in 1989 and I find the book is just as pertinent and important today at the beginning of the new millienium. Patrick Oster, the former Mexico City Bureau Chief for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, writes intelligently and with great understanding of a complicated people.
This collection of intense, brutally honest stories both compels and chills. We hear about Enrique, a doctor in the economically depressed barrio of Nezahualcoyotl struggling to earn a living as well as save babies dying from caused by the city’s bad water. There is a story of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and his fight to change Mexico, to become president. He eventually lost to Salinas-Gortari but this short story of his quest is profound.
The book is a marvellously complex weaving of political intrigue, torture, hunger, dreams or lack thereof, class tensions, angry punk gangs, pick pockets and corruption. It also speaks of both the ugliness and incredible beauty of Mexico. There are stories of illegal border crossings, the tragafuegos or fire eaters who daily shorten their lives by consuming kerosine to breathe fire for a few pesos.
Patrick Oster has written an important book and has an understanding of the Mexican people as a whole that not too many have. His writing is to the point and without emotion, yet compels the emotion and stirs the heart. Some of the stories will make you cry, others will outrage you. Not one story will leave the reader unmoved and each will stay with you forever and change your perspective of this complicated and magical Mexico and its people.