My encounter with humanities

Wallace Bacon, a recipient of an honorary doctorate from Emerson College in 1975, wrote that the liberal arts, or humanities, “are concerned with the question of what makes life worth living. And that question concerns not simply oneself but others. The humanities must help us learn who we are; they must help us learn the otherness of others.”

In this light, describe an encounter with someone or something different—an “other” which revealed to you your sense of self and your relationship to humanity. This encounter may involve a person, place, culture, or text (book, speech, film, play, etc.).

When I first got into film, I was bombarded with the classics, the “must-sees”, the cult films. I remember watching a Clockwork Orange for the first time and wondering how was it possible that I had missed this type of film for so long. The same happened with The Godfather, Oldboy, and many more. They were all foreign masterpieces, but I was beginning to notice that I wasn’t watching any Mexican movies.

I went to the theater one day and bought a ticket for the only Mexican film in the listings. I was very disappointed because I felt it was trying to mock an American film: the characters didn’t even seem Mexican except for the fact that they spoke Spanish. Here, a freelance mariachi musician lived in a very fancy apartment and could afford to send his daughter to private school, and I went home wondering why weren’t they any authentic Mexican films. After some googling, I discovered a film by Alejandro González Iñárritu called Amores perros.

The film is set in a real Mexico City, which is seen as no paradise, but neither as hell. It is just real. I saw a man take his dog to a fight out of necessity while at the same time a woman throws a tantrum over not being a model anymore. A man hitting his wife because “he loved her” while another cheated on his on a whim. It was a contrast I was not used to; I had lived very comfortably throughout my life. Suddenly, I felt hypocritical for criticizing that other movie I saw in the theater for being fake. It was just a specific perception of the reality in Mexico in portrayed in a movie.

I then began to explore my country through films. I was beginning to understand the reality that surrounded me, but the more films I watched, the more cowardly I felt for experiencing reality in such a safe way. I wanted to talk about my intuitions with someone. I wanted to feel like I wasn’t just imagining this negligence of a big part of Mexico’s existence. When I tried to do so, people changed the topic: “Don’t speak about such ugly things”, “What are you getting into your head this days?”.

For me it was as if not only the movies, but also the people were neglecting the truth of how chaotic society can be, a truth that is clear in Amores perros. It became clear to me why we discriminate, verbally abuse, and physically attack others. Because we are afraid of their stories. We are blinded by our immediate surroundings and that doesn’t allow us to look beyond them. We have begun to see the population in this beautiful country as uncomfortable fiction, not as part of our own humanity.

It troubles me to think that we as a country believe that we can be individuals while disregarding our variations on reality. But then, if one person dares to speak, and a few dare to listen, we will begin to form our identity. And we will stop trying to solve problems as alien from our environment, and begin to do so as Mexicans.

Leave a Comment