Establishing Communal Relationships
~ By Mario
When in a foreign country, one of the best ways to learn about culture firsthand is cultivating relationships with the locals. It’s indeed different to read about the syncretism of Mayan and Spanish societies through literary works as opposed to conversing with a local over a cup of coffee. This is one of the advantages to applying to a program like Volunquest: field experience which leads to firsthand encounters with another similar yet unique culture. Though my friendships are still growing and I’m discovering new things with each person I meet, I’d like to share a few interesting aspects of Mexican friend groups which encompass one main idea: their communal nature and focus on the experience of the group as a whole.
The idea of the collectivist nature of Latin American is one that recurs most everywhere I find myself in Mexico. Although the Volunquest training described collectivism in the context of group education in the classroom, I’ve also found in relevant in a broader social context. Within Mexican friend groups, there’s more focus on the group experience rather than the individual’s enjoyment. In my experiences with friend groups in the United States, people tend break off from the collective or only choose to speak with a select few friends in the group with whom they are most comfortable. Though this may seem to be a negative aspect of American friend groups, I actually can see it in a positive light. The United States embodies a culture of individualism, that you should forego the needs of the collective to seek out and work for what you desire. However, a specific experiences with my Mexican revealed how an individualistic attitude can be harmful in Mexican where a group mentality is dominant. On the other hand, another experience showed how embracing the group “onda” allows everyone to have a great time.
The first experience comes from my Spring Break trip to Mérida with my friend Pablo. As he was generous enough to offer me his house as a place to stay, we took advantage of what his hometown had to offer. Along with two of his friends from the area, we visited the beautiful cenotes (freshwater caverns) of Homun. It was an unforgettable experience and we all had a great time. Pablo and our friend Tere mentioned during the day about how the cenotes, our friends, and the overall experience exhibited “buena onda,” which literally means “good wave.” This describes how positive vibes encompassed the experience; we still frequently look back at pictures of that day and reminisce.
However, the second experience which exhibits a disconnect between American and Mexican culture comes on the second day I spent in Mérida. In a group of eight, we traveled to the historic town of Izamal which has a beautiful cathedral and a nicely preserved Mayan pyramid. We were all having a great time until there was a disconnect about what the group would do next. Pablo put me on the spot, asking me in front of the entire group what I wanted to do. Though this made me quite uncomfortable, I simply replied that I’d just like to sit and have a coffee. Rather than work out something with the group, I eventually broke off to have a coffee with two other friends, Stephania and Zare. Although I had a great time with both of them, Pablo asked me what went wrong (“Qué pasó?”) once we returned to his house. Through I was unaware, our decision to break off from the group created a “mala onda” with the rest of our friends. He also mentioned that me talking with Stephania in English for most of the day (we were the only two in the group that spoke English) made himself and others in the group feel left out. Though something like this would be common among friend groups in the United States, I realized the negative impact it had on the group onda.
Overall, I can’t say if there is a “better” friend culture in either country, just that there is more of a group mentality among Mexicans whereas Americans exhibit a greater individualistic attitude. Either way, these were two learning experiences helped me be more culturally aware and considerate when associating with my Mexican friends. From the two pictures included, one can easily see the positivity of the group onda on both the beach and in Homun.