NOVEMBER 6 — Hollywood did play quite a central role in stereotyping Mexicans and their culture in movies like Viva Zapata, The Magnificent Seven, Pancho Villa and Zorro themed, and in a host of other westerns. We learned of revolutionary heroes, bandidos, cantinas, off-shoulder dresses, and American outlaws crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico to escape the law.
Arguably the most well-loved Mexican character on celluloid would be Manolito Montoya, the brother-in-law of patriach John Cannon from the hit television series The High Chaparral (1967-71). His sister Victoria Montoya aka Mrs Cannon was portrayed as a lady with grit, smarts and dignity.
What associates with Mexico? Tequila, Carlos Sim, Salma Hayek, Mariachi, and…?
What had stayed with me as a sports fan is the Mexican Wave which caught the world’s attention during the Mexico City World Cup 1986. And Lewis Hamilton became the most successful British Grand Prix champion with his 4th world title at the Mexican circuit last week.
Let’s meet the Mexican ambassador Carlos Felix Corona, who has that uncommon “what you see is what you get” demeanour, a trait even rarer for senior public servants, and to boot — a diplomat!
Corona has been the Mexican ambassador to Malaysia since February 2014. He came with his delightful ethnic Korean wife Kim Eun Hai, better known as Sonia to her friends, whom he describes with beaming pride as the pillar of his family.
Corona graduated from National Autonomous University of Mexico, a world-ranking university noted for her extensive research and innovation. A number of Nobel laureates are either alumni or faculty members.
In 1982 he was accepted into the Foreign Service. So, how intense was this competition? Well, he was one of 33 picked from 1,300 who sat for the entrance examination. That’s a whopping 97.5 per cent attrition rate!
During his first overseas posting to South Korea (1987-91), his embassy was anxious to secure the services of a good Korean: Spanish translator for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
In came Sonia who had just returned from Madrid after two years of advanced Spanish language studies (where a lecturer thought “Sonia” would be easier to recall than her Korean name).
Serious work interactions blossomed into love and they were married in 1990. Family now includes Daniel (23 years old) and Mariana (20 years old).
Six other bachelor colleagues too had married Korean wives when in Seoul. Talking about sustained bilateral ties!
In his 35-year career thus far, he served 28 years overseas, 60 per cent of which were in various locations in the United States. His stint in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (1992-94) was during the height of the Yugoslav wars and the circumstances of uncertainty and danger is still felt till today.
In their fraternity they would kid that it is not all the Revlon Circle, meaning not all postings are the Paris, Rome and London circuits.
Mexico has 120 diplomatic representations worldwide plus 50 consulates in the US. About 40 per cent of ambassadors are non-career diplomats. He thinks a posting is between three to four years although his last two predecessors in Kuala Lumpur stayed six and seven years.
Corona can’t trace any ancestry from outside the Mexican territory but is sure that Los Angeles was once home to ancestors. The “Los Angeles” in California, USA? “Sure”, he says, “but in our case we didn’t cross the border, the border shifted”, referring to California being ceded to the US in 1848 from Mexico.
I am not certain if Corona was serious when he added that he could have descended from the Aztecs. Or perhaps the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century?
He’s 61 years old and their formal retirement age is 65. By the way Sonia’s strong Spanish accent when they first met is now Mexican top to toe.
Let’s listen to Corona on Mexico.
Having spent near to four years here, he says Malaysians and Mexicans are much closer than can be imagined although the physical distance can be daunting. Our biggest similarities are our priorities over family well-being and the focus on education
Football is their top sport and they have won the most times in Concacaf competitions plus qualifying 16 times for the World Cup, having made it twice to the quarterfinals. Mexico was venue hosts twice, in 1970 and 1986.
Their population is 127.5 million. They are the 8th most visited country in the world and an average 600 million uses the US/Mexican border each year.
They are also the world’s top producer of avocados and a significant exporter of tomatoes. Korea and Japan are top customers of the latter produce.
Mexicans consume a lot of rice, influenced by 300 years of Spanish colonial rule.
Tequila is the national spirit of Mexico and and taken quite seriously as a “Gift from the Gods”. It is recognised as a strictly Mexican product through Nafta and other bilateral agreements signed with individual countries. The WTO endorses the product as an IP and their internal Tequila Regulatory Council certification is mandatory for every single bottle produced. Plainly put — any tequila that is not made in Mexico is a fake!
Mission Foods which produces tortillas, tacos, corn chips, pizza dough, and related products has a big presence in Malaysia. There are plans to expand the local facilities for export to big Asian markets. Mission Foods is owned by Gruma Mexico.
There are 400 Mexican nationals living in Malaysia with 100 domiciled permanently.
What about The Don’s suggested “Trump Wall”? How does one build a 3,000-mile wall in the middle of the Rio Grande, he mused. Now I am not sure whether it was in my dream or Corona actually said it.
El Mexicano in Malaysia loves all our laksa varieties. Ole!
*Datuk Lee Yew Meng is CEO of Genovasi d.school
**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.