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United States of America: A “Gold Mountain,” or a “Golden Cage”?
Street vendor in San Pedro Cholula, Mexico. Photo: Diana Azucena Hernández
Carlos Barón

Recently, I was away from the United States for a couple of long and wonderful months, with my wife Azucena. We travelled to Mexico and Chile. It was the tail end of summer in Chile and the beginning of spring in Mexico, so we benefited from constant sunshine, while the SF Bay Area was soaked in late winter rain. From that sunny distance we could truly empathize—or we truly tried.

The possibility of traveling outside of the ill-gained frontiers of the United States is indeed a privilege. Nowadays, given the prevailing reality in this country, to take a break from that reality might be a necessity.

Nevertheless, that necessary privilege is hard to afford economically for many people living in this country. Besides, there are millions of people who are living the pressure of being undocumented in an era of open xenophobia and anti-immigration.

For the undocumented, it is practically impossible to visit the places where they came from. They are prisoners in what many call “The Golden Cage.” Quite the opposite of “Gold Mountain,” the more admiring name given historically to the United States by Chinese immigrants.

We took off on that long-postponed vacation, eager to get in touch with loved ones in both countries (Mexico and Chile) and hoping to experience new sights, food, peoples.

We also wanted to take a break from the constant pressure that so many of us feel here, living under the possibility of yet another invented war, while suffering from the barrage of lies and half-truths that invade our senses 24-seven. All the while, we are urged to accept that the only way to change a bad situation is to continue to choose from either this or that party.  This is a difficult task, because so often those parties look and act alike, especially when foreign policy is concerned.

While in Mexico, we visited Mexico City, Veracruz and San Pedro Cholula, a “Magical city” in the state of Puebla. There, we saw people working hard (we hardly saw any empty or vacant stores). We enjoyed some beautiful main plazas or “zócalos,” where families also relaxed and enjoyed live music—not only Mexican music, mind you. We also listened to different types of music, including a very good trio of “Rockeros,” who played some Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes in the Zócalo of San Pedro Cholula.

On any Sunday afternoon, in all the places we visited, around all sides of the zócalos, there were restaurants and various stores selling delicious food, well-made clothes, local arts and crafts, herbs, fresh juices. They were all bustling with relaxed and friendly customers.

The coffee houses not only served coffee, but also served as gathering places for conversation and music. We did not see a single computer being used in those cafés. What a concept!

In all restaurants that we visited, in both Chile and Mexico, but especially in Mexico, we were greeted by total strangers who would salute us with that traditional friendly word: “¡Provecho!”

It is a word that comes from the verb “aprovechar,” that is “make the most of it.” You say it when you enter or leave a restaurant, to patrons who are eating there. It is a common, deeply rooted way to be polite, respectful, to make eye contact, to share a smile, to open up to total strangers. Living in the United States, it is one of the greetings from Latinoamérica that I miss the most.

In all the cities, towns and villages that we visited, we were able to easily connect with total strangers. As each day passed, we were shedding most of the heaviness that we had accumulated living in Trump’s Golden Cage.

And then, it was time to get back.

Opera performance by “Xochitl and the Flowers.” Photo: Cheng Lee

Flying back to San Francisco, we realized that we had not had a single worrisome conversation about “Orange Man and his butt kissers!” (Not a punk group)

We had also shed a great deal of that manufactured fear that prevails in this country.

We were ready to get back and face the extreme individualism that prevails in the U.S. today.  Was it  “¡Adiós provecho!” and “Hello to separation?” To answer the above, I will end by mentioning a couple of awesome events that we attended this past week.

The first was a concert by the Afro-Cuban Ensemble of San Francisco State University, under the direction of the wonderful John Calloway. The ensemble, formed in 1999, is dedicated to preserving Cuban popular music and other Latin American music genres.

The second one was a “Hands-on Opera event,” a collaboration between the Community Music Center and Opera Paralléle. The name of this opera was “Xochitl and the Flowers.” It was an extremely sweet opera, well directed/conducted by Martha Rodríguez-Salazar and Beth Wilmurt. The libretto was based on a children’s book, by the Salvadoran Jorge Argueta.

On both stages, multi-ethnic creativity rocked! It seemed as if all races of the world were present on stage, gracefully and ably sharing the creative space. In “Xochitl and the Flowers,” besides multi-ethnicity, there was a palpable and exciting multi-generational mix of performers, singing in English and Spanish.

Those concerts proved that things can also be very good in this City by the Bay. Particularly when we act together in a multicultural manner.

After both performances, we rolled out into the rainy nights feeling renewed.

Thus, to the performers, audiences and even to the readers of this column, I can truly end by saying: “¡Provecho!”

Story by: Carlos Barón