In March of this year, I was in Mexico City, enjoying the bright sunshine and vibrant Mexican culture. And on a Sunday afternoon I paid a visit to Chapultepec Castle, high on a hill overlooking the park of the same name. The castle — where Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota once lived — is home to an extensive collection of art portraying the country’s turbulent, and sometimes heroic, past.
Much of the art was in the form of murals, a format favoured by artists like Diego Rivera, showing groups of peasants rising up to throw off their Spanish masters. But there were other, smaller pieces that presented a more personal look at the heroes of Mexico. And I was drawn to this realistic portrait of a campesino, perhaps as old as I was, in the white cotton outfit of a Mexican revolutionary. Peering out from under his straw sombrero, he looks stoically at the viewer, still armed and ready for any challenge that might come, despite his age.
Today, watching the news from Mexico City, I was moved once again by the suffering of the Mexican people, and of their strength in rising to meet the latest challenge. With houses, schools and public buildings lying in ruins after a devastating earthquake, ordinary citizens lined up to spend eight- to 10-hour shifts digging through the rubble in hopes of rescuing anyone who might still be alive. Some worked 48 hours without sleep.
Life has never been easy for Mexico. The country has suffered many blows, from the Spanish conquest to the drug wars to the shaking earth that shatters its cities again and again. But every time, the heroes of Mexico step up and repair the damage, one more time. And somehow, life goes on as it did before. Like the campesino in the painting, it’s ready to meet all comers.