Mexico: Where It Is What It Is

by Nic Olson

“It is like the movie ‘The Departed’ only with less drama and more murders.”
That is what my host told me about Mexico. They kept asking me why I decided to come to Tampico, of all places in Mexico. So I told them.
I opened Google Maps and looked for the first coastal city somewhat south of Oklahoma City. They just wondered why anyone would come to one of the top five most dangerous cities in Mexico. I had no idea. Just like I had no idea what I was going to do there, and like I have no idea what I’m going to do in the city I am in now, or the rest of the places I will go. After a while, the word ‘dangerous’ loses its impact anyway. But they kept telling me bedtime stories about plucking fingernails with pliers and their friends getting kidnapped for a ransom of thirty million pesos and they gave advice to never look anyone in the eyes. And as my skin slowly becomes more like dried leather, through the disgusting paperbag-sounding process of flaking like a croissant, I will become more and more used to the word, dangerous.

A few weeks of visiting friends I noticed this phrase more often than ever before:

It is what it is.

I have decided that it should be the new phrase for Tourism Mexico. Mexico, where it is what it is.

It seems to always come out with a tone of resignation, or simply an acceptance of the situation as inevitable and unchangeable. A submission. Mexican gang violence. It is what it is. And although Mexican President Calderón is doing his best to change it, still, it is what it is. And,

It will be what it will be.

I heard someone say this phrase about a party we were throwing for the Fourth of July. Unknowing how many would show up, asking who would provide the entertainment, and hoping that the Slip’n’Slide would work, he said that phrase. The future tense of acceptance or submission. When it could easily be it will be what we make it. He is a pessimist.

As I travel more, and my long anticipations of food and beaches and ruins turn into fleeting memories and images on several screens, there isn’t much that can be said but:

It was what it was.

And as I constantly worry that I’m not doing enough while traveling, (not eating enough, not going enough places, not spending enough, not staying long enough, not learning enough, not trying hard enough, not reading enough, not partying enough), I can sleep calmly at the fact that,

It is what it is. It was what it was. It will be what it will be.

Or it will be what I make it, and I won’t compare that to anyone else.