Mexico Through The Eyes of its Children

When I travel, I am always drawn to the children because of their exuberant joy. Children live in a world of possibilities. They haven’t yet been told they “can’t” and don’t understand the concept of impossibility. They walk and run through the world in wonderment, absorbing everything, questioning, imagining.

Long ago, someone told me that I still had that same childlike curiosity and advised me never to lose it. I almost did. Years of working in a traditional job, denying my true path, gradually but inexorably sucked the joy out of my life. Fortunately, I escaped in time, deserting the world of business for the life of a travel writer and photographer. Now I wake every morning, eager to share my photos and travel stories about the places I visit and the people I meet. My insatiable curiosity ensures that there will always be another interesting cultural destination I long to explore, another culture immersion experience waiting in the wings. And on the rare occasion when I am irritated or unhappy, I need only to look to the children to recapture my joy.

Mexico children photos
To really experience the culture of a place when I travel, I try to interact with locals as much as possible, especially the kids. On a Zacatecas hilltop, the girl on the right followed me around for hours, whispering my name and tugging on my pants leg

I met many such children on my travels, as these Mexico children photos demonstrate. Sometimes we just share a smile. Others times we engage in long conversations, the kids telling me fascinating stories about their lives. At my hotel in Playa del Carmen the manager’s two sons often played around the pool. One day they sat down at my table uninvited and started chatting away, the older one telling me how his younger brother got the strange scar that ran vertically down the center of his forehead (he fell off the third floor balcony and had to be flown a hospital in Venezuela for emergency surgery).

On the hilltop known as La Bufa in Zacatecas, I was standing on the flagstone terrace enjoying a sweeping view of the city below when I heard a soft whispered “hola” – hello. Sitting on the hard stone just a few feet away, two Indian girls were selling handmade woven items and jewelry spread on a blanket. Shyly, without making eye contact, one of the girls asked my name. I told her it was Barbi – the name I use in Mexico because of the Spanish expression, “Que Barbara!” which roughly translates to “how horrible.” To be polite I asked about her merchandise but she seemed disinterested. Finally, she worked up enough courage to point at my camera and ask, “Foto?” I obliged, snapping three photos and showing them to her in the camera’s LED display, which elicited squeals and giggles.

For the rest of the day, she followed me around the hilltop. While I was in the Pancho Villa Museum, she hovered outside the door. As I munched on enchiladas from an outdoor kiosk I heard another whispered: “Barbi,” and turned to find her sitting against a tree trunk, snuggled between two metal serving tables. “Hola,” I cried! She rewarded me with a precious dimpled smile before looking down at the ground, embarrassed by her own forwardness.

Many parents allowed me to take photos of their children, so that I can share their lovely faces and incomparable spirits with you. I loved interacting with them, not only because they were precious, but also because I came away feeling that I’d been closer to true Mexican culture by virtue of meeting them.

Can’t see the above slide show of Mexico’s children? Click here.

This article is part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Blog Carnival, where this week’s topic is “Kids Around the World.” If you wish to see more photos and stories of children from some of the world’s best travel bloggers, cruise on over to The Silent I, the travel blog of Glennia Campbell, who is hosting this week’s carnival.

17 thoughts on “Mexico Through The Eyes of its Children”

  1. I love this one, Barbara!  Have you considered writing for children?  Your experiences, pictures, and insights offer real possibilities for connecting the children of the world and promoting understanding and empathy…

    • I haven’t considered that Klz – it’s certainly a thought, although I have a hard enough time just keeping up with blog articles and I have a half-finished Memoir that I haven’t had time to touch for nearly two years. Maybe someday…but thanks so much for the kind words.

  2. Thank you for your response, I appreciate your taking the time to write back to me. I understand that you would like to bring a kind of mutual understanding between our cultures, and naturally I agree that this is a positive thing. There are many great features of each culture that could (and should) be appreciated on a global basis. As you say, Mexican culture does emphasize a kind of generosity and family closeness that is rare to find in the US. And, I have found, american culture has its own unique values of individualism that are quite different from those of mexico.

    I do wish to respond to some of the things that you have written, however. I have indeed considered the idea that pictures such as these might bring about more tourism for Zacatecas (and other parts of mexico)- it is precisely that consideration that motivated me to write my message. While education and understanding are of course important in the struggle for world peace, I think that these things are secondary. Wars and conflicts are not brought about by misunderstandings; they arise from economic clashes, political struggles, and irreconcilable views on fundamental ideas of liberty and justice. The conflict between mexico and the US has historically been fueled, not by fear or misunderstanding, but by economic problems. Tourism is currently the source of many of these economic problems. First, it is one of the many things that have made mexican economy dependent on the US, and have undercut its own financial security and thus its political independence. The damaged economy and resulting political instability means that the money that DOES come in from tourism does not go to the poor- the children selling dolls and trinkets on the streets- but to the rich business owners and politicians. It enlarges an already-wide social gap. Second, tourism eats up the resources of mexican cities. Water isn’t easily available throughout all of mexico, as you probably know. During big tourist months, water rationing can get terrible- city officials regularly cut water off from the residents so the tourists can bathe and flush the toilets in their hostels or hotels. So, while tourism certainly isn’t the only source of Mexico’s economic difficulties, it is definitely one of them.

    Poverty is not shameful in the least. As an academic I am not bathing in wealth myself. However, I draw a distinction between my own relative poverty in the US, which is chosen and ‘self-earned,’ and the current poverty of my friends and relatives in zacatecas. There is indeed something shameful about a poverty which cannot be escaped, which can deprive you of food and water and dignity; especially if that poverty exists alongside extremes of wealth and extravagance.

    I do not mean to be argumentative or spiteful. I am sure that the many personal interactions that you have had (with children and otherwise) have helped to spread good impressions of americans in mexico. I just felt that I should express some of the concerns I and my family have long had about american tourist extravaganzas.

    • Rosa, I don’t think our respective views are really that far apart. I agree with your views on tourist extravaganzas (I don’t limit that designation to Americans, by the way). Most people come for a two week vacation, stay in an upscale resort or (shudder) an all-inclusive resort, where they never set foot out into the community, and come home thinking they have visited a country. It’s shameful. It’s also the reason I travel the way I do. I WANT to get to know the real people, to understand, as much as it is possible, what life is really like for them. Of course, I am painfully aware that I can never really know because, as you correctly point out, I always have the option to go back to the U.S. and poor Mexicans have no (or little possibility of) escape.

      Where I think our opinions diverge is that I believe change for the better can be achieved through more exchange between the cultures, while you seem to feel that it would be best to shut off the flow of tourism. I certainly hear you about the limited resources and corruption that creates and ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor and I don’t pretend to have any solutions for those issues. But I do know that interest in cultural based tourism is increasing exponentially the world over. CBT provides opportunities for travelers to stay in local homes and villages and immerse themselves in the culture, perhaps even becoming involved in volunteer programs during their visit. The result of this type of experience is that travelers come away with a much more accurate view of the culture, they learn about the challenges of everyday life, and almost always return home with a new appreciation for their own countries and lives. A CBT experience can make such an impression on a young person that it sets the tone for a life of philanthropic works. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any programs of this type in Mexico – I had to make my own cultural inroads – but perhaps this type of CBT program could be developed.

  3. I am from Zacatecas, and came across your post, which I find slightly offensive. I understand that you seem to have good intentions, and I agree with the essence of what you’re saying- that the innocence and curiosity of childhood should be treasured and maintained- but I can’t help but feel that you’ve been exploiting these children, and exoticising my culture. The kids of zacatecas who sell their goods on the street are usually poor. Desperately poor. They do whatever they can to attract the attention of the many american tourists who come through zacatecas, hoping to get some small amount of money from them. Some of them do not have families, or they may have unemployed parents. To these kids, tourist money is their only source of money, and their only means to get food. The fact that they approach you should not be seen as evidence of their openness, and you should not read it as a sign of your acceptance ‘by the locals.’ Rather, it is more a sign of their desperation. The fact that you are photographing them as exhibits of some kind of inherent child joyousness is only undercutting the severe conditions in which (some of them) live.

    • Rosa: I understand what you are saying, and I have certainly been in situations where children approach me for money. These were not the children I was writing about. The little girl at La Bufa had absolutely no interest in selling me anything nor did she even hint at wanting money; she even waved me away when I tried to look at her merchandise. What she wanted was for me to take her photo, and she made that very clear. When I did, and then showed her the digital image, she giggled delightedly, and then followed me around the site for the rest of the day.

      I am so sorry that you feel I am exploiting these children by taking their photos. I never take a photo without permission of both child and parent/guardian. My goal with the blog is to educate about the different cultures I visit, as I believe that the better we know one another, the less likely we will want to kill one another. For world peace to come about, we need to let go of our fears about other cultures. The culture of Mexico is different from ours in the U.S., thus it is exotic to us. But I hardly see how I have “exoticized your culture” by taking photos of your town and citizens, and by trying to learn about and impart some of the facts of your history. It is a really sad world when people see a photo of a beautiful child and immediately assume exploitation. Have you considered that this kind of exposure may also have the effect of bringing additional tourism to the country, and therefore more money, which can lead to the betterment of the lives of these very same children?

      I also believe there is no shame in being poor. I am not a wealthy woman, but I am passionate about what I do, so I scrape by, staying in cheap hostels and sleeping on people’s couches, in order to be able to bring stories about wonderful places like Mexico to the rest of the world. I am also not looking for “acceptance by the locals,” since I see us all as one human family anyway. But time and time again, I was warmly welcomed by Mexicans who went out of their way to help me, in some cases even inviting me into their homes. I cannot imagine that this amazing courtesy and kindness was anything but heartfelt.

  4. Beautiful that you have kept that childlike wonder. It is so important for all of us to remain inspired and curious about the world. Too many people get caught up in the little things. We are at home now and seeing it first hand. The little things seem to cause so many people great anxiety.
    Beautiful shots Barbi!

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  6. As Sherry says, innocence and curiosity. They’re traits we’re desperate to embrace as adults. Anti-cynicism, anti-apathy.

    And *boldness*. Kids are wise enough to know that falling on your face is an inevitable prelude to doing something right. So they do things that we, as adults, tut-tut as foolish and unsophisticated…and then we find ourselves looking after them wistfully, having caught a glimpse of the joy of being foolish and unsophisticated.

    Good travelers are renewed children. I firmly believe this. It’s the only way to see everything properly.

  7. Hi Barbara, I’m the same when I travel – love to hang out with the kids and take photos of them. I have a gorgeous framed photo of a lovely Indian shoeshine boy and some brightly clad beouin kids in Egypt that melt my heart. I also change my name when I travel as Annabel’s too long and Anna seems to be a universal name or at least easy to say and remember. Barbi’s a great one too. When I travelled in Guatemala with our daughter aged 2 everyone would shout Barbie, Barbie at here as they thought she looked like a barbie doll – even men and police officers. Hilarious!

    Thanks for sharing the gorgeous stories and photos. Pura vida en Mexico:)

  8. There is always something magical about children and how they see the world through their eyes. You really have made other people channel traveling into something deep and learning.

    Your blog is great! If you have time, would you like to come and party with us at the World Wide Travel Blog Party, don’t forget to invite more of your blogger friends along. Definitely the more the merrier! See you there and Kudos to you! 🙂

  9. The innocence and curiosity of children really is one of the highlights of world travel. Do you think that a kid of similar age would follow you around in the US like your little tag along did in Zacatecas? I think that you are so fascinating to them because you are different and they don’t see many people like you around their town. That’s the fun of cultural travel, helping others see the world differently!
    BTW – I’m still chuckling at the thought of calling you Barbi!

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