...déjà vu

This month I am visiting my grandparents' home state, Chihuahua. It has been several years since I last visited my extended family in Mexico and this year I found an airfare that was too good to resist. Besides, my wife and I are raising our kids in a bilingual manner, and there is no amount of schooling, TV watching or web-browsing in Spanish that can substitute for a few weeks immersed in using the language "live," especially when surrounded by the love of relatives and friends from old times.

As you may imagine (or experienced!), walking around the streets where my ancestors grew up -streets and roads I also have traveled several times throughout my life--, often gives the feeling that we know as "déjà vu." These French words literally mean "already seen" but the experience involves all senses, not just the sight. These days I have perceived the smell of a farm that reminds me of my grandfather milking his cows; I have enjoyed the flavor of "requesón," a fresh and creamy type of cheese that you simply cannot find in any modern supermarket, as it has to be consumed very shortly after it is produced. My skin, which is hardly used to the cold and dry Northeastern US winter weather, shows more moisture than I have felt since the warm summer days ended in Pennsylvania; and my ears listen to old jingles and songs that I used to know very well a few decades ago.

In Foreign Relations

In addition to the senses, my mind is also engaged by interesting recollections that might not be very scientific but help me make sense of recent events. For example, browsing some old magazines in the family library, I recalled how José López Portillo, Mexican president from 1976 through 1982 bragged about how his government would have to "manage abundance" (administrar la abundancia) -after Mexico's petroleum exports increased from $500 million in 1976 to $13 billion in 1981. During those "petrodollar-happy" years, López Portillo defied the United States' positions several times, including recognizing the "Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front" rebels in El Salvador as a legitimate political force, or ignoring the 1980 US-led boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympic games. Around the time he left office in 1982, however, oil prices had dropped from over $40 per barrel to less than $30. Other problems like hyper-inflation and excessive foreign debt also plagued the economy to the point that many investors started pulling their money and López Portillo nationalized all banks before he left office in tears, apologizing for having failed the country's poor.

If you can identify current strong men in some national economies that were boisterous a few months ago when the barrel of oil was nearing $150 per barrel and now that we are in the $40's have changed their discourse, you understand why I get the "déjà vu" feeling as I read these magazines.

In National Politics

Another set of readings for which I see very strong parallels involve the election of Vicente Fox in the year 2000, the first president of Mexico that was not from the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), the party that had been ruling the country since the 1920s. One of the major slogans was "¡Sí se puede!" (Yes, we can!) and the expectations for the new president were so high in 2000, at the beginning of the presidency, that many voters felt betrayed when their particular agenda items were not fulfilled as it was originally expected.

Again, I see so many parallels between the election of Barack Obama this year and Vicente Fox in 2000 that I would hope that somebody close to the President-elect is able to provide the advise needed to avoid many disappointments. Of course, just as with financial instruments, past performance is no guarantee of future earnings, and there certainly are many major differences among the countries and the actors. Still, paraphrasing Spanish-born, American philosopher and poet George Santayana, "Those who cannot learn from others' past are condemned to repeat it."

I certainly hope that this New Year brings along much better news than what we saw in the previous one. As always, I look forward to hearing from you via email (drolivaslujan@gmail.com) or through your comments to this blog (http://drolivaslujan.blogspot.com).

¡Hasta la próxima!