Loving across cultures

Luisa Ortíz reaches across the table in a smoky café in Condesa and runs her fingers through Ulysses de la Torre's hair. It is a sweet, unconscious gesture.

Image:Luz Montero

The Rosens: Jamie is a Jewish American and Mariana comes from a Mexican Catholic family.

"His nationality is our necessary evil," says Ortíz, a university professor. "In my life, and with the people I hang out with, I have found myself making excuses for it. I sometimes cover up and don't say it outright."

Ortíz is Mexican, de la Torre is American. Like so many couples in Mexico, they are doing their best to find common ground between different cultures, nationalities and languages. It's a dizzying endeavour with extraordinary highs and some pretty low-lows, and all the more rewarding because of the great effort it sometimes requires. What are these couples up against, and how do they make it work?

But wait -- we need to begin at the beginning. When eyes meet across a crowded room. What do they see?

"For many Mexicans, foreigners are very attractive," says Mónica Bautista, a vivacious economist-turned-Spanish teacher who is a regular at clubs and parties in Mexico City. "But it's a two-edged sword. It's the spell of Malinche."

Malinche, you will remember, was the Aztec mistress of Hernán Cortez. Given to him as a slave, she became the mother of his son and his most trusted interpreter. For her intimate relationship with outsiders she has been awarded a troubled place in the hearts of contemporary Mexicans, painted as either a traitor for aiding the Spanish conquistadores, or a heroine for preventing even more bloodshed through her negotiations with the Aztec tribes. Even today, in some quarters, a malinchista is considered the worst kind of traitor.