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The Vacuum Issue 12 Down Mexico Way spacer The Vacuum Issue 12 - Down Mexico Way
I Married a Mexican
by Colin Graham
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The Enterprise, the train that crosses the final frontier irregularly every day, is fitted with a subliminal preparation for cross-border cultural adjustment. The voice that reminds you to keep your feet off the seats is the same voice which, on Northern Ireland Railways, translates the pronounciation of awkwardly local place names; Bang-OR he says, a plaintive and deliberate piece of misinformation meant to persuade those from Bang-OR that they'll be joined on the train by floods of American tourists who wouldn't know if they were on the right train if he didn't say Bang-OR. On the Enterprise his accent is a perfect cross-border blend of Malone Road and Dublin 4, a kind of Carlingford Estuary English. This accent, assuring us that our journey will be one on which we'll be surrounded by nice people who speak proper, is an accent in keeping with the blurring of the actual border which takes place on the train journey. On the Enterprise the border is only inexactly marked out by the need to occasionally show your ticket to an inspector at any random point between Dundalk and Newry. Between Newry and Dundalk, on the other hand, this shiftable border can be judged by the border guards who police the contemporary world of migrancy, picking out black, Middle Eastern and Eastern European faces for identity checks, ready to send them back to Bang-OR or some equally non-existent place, where they'll pick up the momentum of the pull towards the metropolis all over again. These acts of threatened repulsion are the underside of the real frisson of the Belfast-Dublin train for us who are travelling from Belfast, since what we cannot help but feel on this relatively luxurious journey is that we live in a city that is important enough to be connected to another city, and all the way there, and less successfully on the way back, we try to believe that these two cities are cities in the same way, and then that they're different, of course, but that's cities for you.
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I did marry a Mexican, from south of the border which the Enterprise crosses. I'd recommend everyone to marry a Mexican. And maybe at the beginning of it all Enterprise felt like the right way to describe it. As if this were a risk-taking, lose-it-all-or-become-a-millionaire venture, a piece of dangerous cultural investment. So I crossed the border to her Mexico first, where I learned to decipher car number plates anew and wonder at the spikey palm trees which grow hopefully in suburban gardens. And the cowboys and the leftovers of rebellion. And now the hacienda is home.
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There was a year when she came north to Belfast, slipping over the border at night, noticing the cold. Our next door neighbour, another Mexican, grew flowers in pots. She said she'd bought lily bulbs in mixed colours from the local hardware store. They all came up orange.
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Here in Mexico things have changed. Mexico now, the Mexicans say, is not like Mexico used to be, and they stare into the recent past. I don't know the difference history makes here, but geography is clearer. The Enterprise moves on in its shuttle diplomacy without me, stopping at Port-A-Down, as the voice of cross-border traffic says. Once on that train I fell asleep just after Dundalk, woke up in a station, saw the sign for Portadown, and looked down at my phone: 'Orange' it apologetically said.
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