Thursday, January 21, 2010

For the love of paper

I have to renew my Mexican passport at the consulate. The good news is now they have an 800 number to get an appointment, and the man I spoke to was a very courteous bureaucrat. Living in New York, I have forgotten the soothing dulcet tones of Mexican courtesy.
The bad news is I also have to bring my original birth certificate, plus another ID plus enough photocopies of all three documents to fell an entire forest.
Plus a writing instrument with black ink. No other ink will do. This, for some reason sounds Napoleonic to me.
Mexicans cannot be weaned off their love of mountains of useless paper.
Either that, or they so not trust themselves, that they don't trust the very passports they issue (which are full of cool modern stuff to avoid counterfeiting). I can understand asking for another form of ID. But the ORIGINAL birth certificate? Do they also want my Mom's placenta?
If they only knew what it took me to get a copy of the original birth certificate the last time I had to renew my passport. Heroic efforts not to pay someone a bribe and get it done in fifteen minutes. Hence, a full day of pointless, Kafkaesque, infernal,  bureaucratic errands.
In the US, you mail order your new passport and send a check in the mail. Or you get it at the post office. Next they are going to ask you to print your own, it's so convenient.
But the Mexican government, as hard as it tries to get with the times, still is passionately attached to the XVII Century, when it comes to pushing paper.
If countries were fined on their waste of paper, (brilliant idea, no?) Mexico would go under in a minute.


  1. Hola! Te quería comentar que me encanta tu blog. Happy Birthday, again!

  2. After having lived in Mexico, Germany and the US, I can assure you that Germany would win the paper battle... Mexico is not even close.

    And I'm so glad they're now making all the passports here in the US (the Mexican ones) hard to counterfeit. In 2002 I had to renew mine at the Atlanta consulate... the picture was GLUED and it didn't even have contact paper on top! It was horrible!!!

    And the "acta de nacimiento" is indeed a pain to get, especially when they want a "recent original copy" (meaning that in my case, I have to have one of my siblings go the "registro civil" to get one)... argh! Can't wait to also be an American so I can get at least that passport ordered through the mail (and for sure, the next time I get my Mexican passport I will do it in Mexico... at least there you can get it for 10 years (as opposed to max 5 years if you get it in a Mexican consulate in the US)...

  3. Well, yes, Mexico is very Kafka. Growing up in Mexico City, I went to a Pink Floyd "The Wall", kind of school. Then I discovered Kafka before reading it.

    It happened after a year of looking for my Junior High Certificate in the Secretaría de Educación Pública building which used to be downtown in a beautifully cinematic old building. Every wall was painted with a pale yellow layer that resembled forgetfulness and chaos in a serene and impossibly avoidable manner. The lady at the certificates counter was a 90 year old bureaucrat. Angry and impatient. I never had the right amount of copies or signatures or photos to deserve receiving my certificate. I needed it in order to incorporate to another school system, la UNAM, and I went to that building once or twice a week for a whole year. One day, by the end of the year, I went there and the old lady was missing. Someone told me she died. I didn't feel bad. I felt worried. There were several bureaucrats with old faded vests and pencils on their upper earlobes carrying boxes filled with folders holding certificates. My friend and I asked them for help. They said, come next year, we are moving. I said, but we need them now, or we won't be able to pass the year, in fact, we would have to flunk three years! So one of them just said, you're young, you afford starting over. He kept walking, then he turned back to us and added, well, there's this empty office where all the certificates were, and there are some on the floor, you may be lucky and find yours.

    So we ran to the big room. It smelled of urine and old cardboard. The floor was old wood. There were mountains of certificates scattered. Some of them in very poor conditions. My friend and I dug and dug and suddenly he screamed: he found his. I desperately dug some more, on fours, and I was strangely attracted to a certificate which had a big foot print on it (a shoe print). The black and white photograph attached to it, started to slowly sink into my soul as I rose my identity, my three years of school, in which I went from hamsters to cigarettes and girlfriends, I rose my certificate and cried. It was mine. Me. My friend and I walked out of there teary eyed, leaving behind a collapsed building made of pain, hatred, cruelty, urine and Kafka.

  4. Fede: That is priceless. Thanks for sharing. I will never complain again about my run ins with Mexican bureaucracy, they are not as poetic.