Mexico: Country of Cousins

I’m sitting at the bar in an Ajijic restaurant talking to Luis the bartender who also happens to be a friend. It is not easy to become friends with most Mexicans here because there are the obvious language and cultural differences. But we are friends. We talk. We share. We learn from one another. We don’t, however, actually socialize outside this restaurant. That’s because he works more hours than most Americans would. It is also because when he does have time away from work, it is not spent with friends. It is spent looking after his aging parents or with other family members, both close and those who would be considered extended family by Americans. Luis’ family is large, as are many Mexican clans. The branches of their family trees are full of uncles, aunts, and cousins. Oh, the cousins. Everyone, it seems, is a cousin.

“I’m taking a taxi to the airport Thursday,” I tell Luis. “Already reserved the cab. The driver was recommended by a friend.”

“Who did you get?”

I tell him.

“Oh, that’s my cousin,” Luis says.

“Really. Frank Marley and I were eating dinner at”—and I name the restaurant—“when he suggested your cousin.”

“My oldest cousin, Chico, owns that restaurant,” Luis tells me. “I do my training there. Where are you flying to?”

“Puerto Vallarta. Just for a few days. To see some friends visiting from home.”

“Where are you staying?”

I name the hotel. “I always stay there.”

“My cousin works at front desk there,” Luis says. “She work there many years. Carla.”

“Oh, I know Carla. She hooked me up with the best masseur in their spa. Bruno.”

“Bruno’s my cousin. On my father’s side.”

“Is everyone in Mexico your cousin?” I ask. My lips drip with sarcasm and facetiousness.

“No. Not everyone,” a defensive Luis snaps.

I wait a beat. “I love walking on Puerto Vallarta’s malecon. There’s a souvenir shop that I always stop at. It’s by the sculpture of pro-golfer Lorena Ochoa”

“Facing sculpture? My cousin Lety works there. And there’s a good restaurant next door.”

“Yes. Tacos R Us,” I say. “I go there on every visit.”

“My cousin Pepe is cook there. I haven’t seen him in years.” Sadness washes over Luis’ face. I change the subject.

“Have you seen the new mural on the pier?”

“No. I have not had time. Between this work and taking care of my parents, I am too busy for personal life.”

I finish my third margarita and leave Luis and the bar. As I walk home, dusky shadows hide holes in the cobblestone sidewalks and streets. I step in one and fall with awkwardness. As I get up, a police car stops next to me. The policeman asks me in broken English if I am alright.  “Did you drink too many alcohols, Sir? is his follow-up question.

“I only had one margarita,” I lie. “And I ate a hamburguesa with it so I would not get—”

“Where you drink this margarita?” the policeman interrupts.

Oh, please, I think, don’t go checking up on me, verifying my story. “I was at”—and I name the well-known restaurant.

“What is bartender name there?” he asks.

“Luis.”

“Luis say you OK to go home with no peoples to help you?”

“Yes,” I lie again. Luis had neither shown concern with my sobriety nor attempted to stop me from leaving.

“Luis is good…How you say?…Judge”—But he said it with a long, strong “oo” sound—“to tell if peoples drinking too much drinks.” The policeman looks me over, assessing my condition. “Luis is my cousin, you know.”

“You have a big family.”

“Si,” the cop says. “Are you good to walk to home?”

“Yes. I didn’t fall because I am drunk. I fell because the street needs to be repaired.”

“I know. I tell mayor streets not good. They need fix. He say ‘Manana’ like always. Politics peoples! Always same answer. I wish he not lie to me. Not nice for cousin.”

The next day I tell the gardener at my complex what happened. “That policeman my cousin,” he says. “Luis my cousin, too.”

I board the plane to Puerto Vallarta Thursday morning. It is a small Mexican airline. “Where are you from? The US or Canada?” the lovely flight attendant asks in perfect English as she closes the overhead compartment above me for take-off.

“I’m from Seattle,” I answer. “But I live in Ajijic.”

“Oh,” she says, “my cousin Luis lives in Ajijic. He is a bartender.”

When I return from Puerto Vallarta, I drop in on Luis to tell him about my adventures and how I had met several of his cousins. But he has a more urgent story. “I have customer from El Norte the past two nights,” he says before I sit down.

“I suppose,” I snap, “he’s your cousin.”

“No. Why you say that? But he is—”

“What? My cousin?”

“No. He is cousin of Donald Trump. He say Donald Trump is…How he say?…black sheep of family.  He say he does not like his cousin. He say Donald Trump make many embarrasses for family and for United States. He say since he tell Donald Trump he not vote for him and not support him, Donald Trump have obsession. He text cousin many times. He molest him.”

“Molest him?” What? I think. Then I remember “molestar” is “to bother.” “Do you mean he bothers him?”

“Yes. Bothers him. Donald Trump tell him many times he traitor to country. He threaten him and family if he do not give money to 2020 campaign. So customer come here to live. Customer say Trump obsessioned with him.”

“What’s his name?” I ask.

“Strange name,” Luis says. “Covfefe Nambia Drumpf.”

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