Wiithout Plurality, There Can Be No Hospitality | Elias Gomez Gonzalez (ENG)
On this episode, I am accompanied by a dear philosopher, writer, and friend, Elías González Gómez. Elias focuses on interreligious dialogue and the bridge between mysticism and the struggle to build a new world. He has collaborated with different interreligious groups, as well as indigenous and spiritual communities. He is currently a professor at ITESO and at Ibero León. He collaborates with the Universidad de la Tierra Oaxaca and is a member of the Center for Studies of Religion and Society of the University of Guadalajara.
He is a spiritual guide, Zen practitioner and creator of study and dialogue groups around mysticism. Elias coordinates the blog Amanecer. He is the author of the following books: Encuentro, Re-ligación y Diálogo: Reflexiones hacia un diálogo Inter-Re-ligioso; Impotente Ternura: Descubrirte en lo pequeño; and Convivencialidad y resistencia política desde abajo: La herencia de Iván Illich en México.
Here we talk about the new wave of tourists and migrants in Mexico and the resentment and hatred that has come out as a result. We talk about spiritual tourism, plurality and radical hospitality, and what it means to know the other or the other in our times.
Season 2 is dedicated to our late friend and mentor Gustavo Esteva, grandfather, sage, and co-founder of Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, Mexico. These episodes have been planned and organized in collaboration with our colleagues from Unitierra Oaxaca.
They are dispatches of the resistance.
Elias and his Time Traveling
The New Waves of Migrants/Tourists in Mexico
Resentment / Gringophobia
Plurality and Radical Hospitality
Knowing the Other
Chris: Okay, so welcome back, Elias, to the End of Tourism Podcast.
Elias: Thank you. Thank you, Chris.
Chris: I say welcome back because we just finished about an hour, hour and a half of our interview in Spanish. And I'd like to, first of all, right off the bat, thank you for being willing to, to speak to our listeners in a language that's not your mother tongue.
So I really, really appreciate that. And I'm sure our listeners will too. So I'd like to ask you, first of all, where do you find yourself today and what does the world look like for you there?
Elias: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Chris. For the invitation. It's an, it's an honor. And I'm sorry if my English is not clear enough sometimes, but right now I am in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.
Right now I just told you that I, I just finished like an hour and a half ago at a small Zen retreat. So, right now, and after our conversation in Spanish, the world is full of hope and everything is clear, but also I cannot forget some violent Issues, manifestations here in Mexico, especially in the south of Mexico, in Chapas, and here in my state Jalisco with a lot of kidnappings, stuff like that.
So that is how my heart and my mind is right now.
Chris: Mm mm. So I asked you earlier, but I'd like to ask you again a little bit about your travels in part, because you work and you are a philosopher specifically around interreligious ideas and intercultural concepts. So I'm wondering how any of that has showed up if at all on your travels.
Elias: Yeah, of course. Personally, I come from a family that hasn't traveled a lot. Haven't traveled a lot. My parents only travel one or two times out of the country. But personally, I don't know why. I mean I love to travel, but it's not something that I especially look for. But particularly for this work or this interest in interfaith movement and interfaith activity. I have travelled. I have have the opportunity to travel to another places, not just here in Mexico, but also in south America, Canada, United States, Spain, and lately I went like two years ago to Azerbaijan which is like the first country I have visit. Mm. And for me, travel is different from maybe the common tourist, because I like to, I only travel when I have something to do in that place.
Not just to know, maybe I have never went just to visit a place because you have to go there and visit. It is just because I want to be there, to participate in a specific project or to meet a person, and stay there in a community or in a university, a project. And for example, something that is, is viable or interest for our conversation is my travels to south America, particularly to Peru - Cusco, where I worked, I used to work as a guide in ayahuasca ceremonies, in, something like we can understand as a mystic tourism or spiritual tourism in a place that was like built specifically and intentionally as a tourist travel agency for spiritual seekers around the world. So I, I had the opportunity to guide people from Japan, China, different parts of Europe, the United States, guide them through this experience, but from them I kind of think a lot about the relationship between these new kinds of spiritualities and the tourism.
Yeah. I wanted to come back a little bit to what we were speaking about earlier, these notions of radical hospitality and interculturality that I personally came to know, where I met you here in the Unitierra Oaxaca, which is where I am today, and to how radical hospitality and interculturality seems to be to a large degree missing in our time or at least hidden.
And so I wanted to ask you in regards to the theme of this season, season two of the podcast, which is "Mexico," what do you see happening right now in, in Mexico, as far as tourism and gentrification and exile is concerned?
Elias: Yeah. I mean, I am not an expert in the topic, but what I see is that, and I was telling you before, in my perception, what is happening with tourism in Mexico, which has been always, or at least the last 50, 60, 70 years, one of the most important part of the economy of the country is tourism. And part of this tourism is illegal tourism, like drugs and pornography and stuff like that. So it's not just the nice thing, like the beaches, you know, like Cancun and stuff, but also there, it's not just going to watch the sea, the ocean, but it's to find something related to drugs, cartel and stuff like that, "trata de personas," we say in Spanish.
So what I will say is that I, I believe that in Mexico, the tourist industry is creating like parallel Mexico. Mm. Totally disconnected to the reality of the big part of the population, the, the people. For example, if you go to one of these centers, doesn't matter if they are like malls or hotels or this part of the cities that are specifically designed for tourist.
If you are in one of those places, you will be totally secure. Nothing is going to happen even though three of our blocks from there, a week ago, there has been a shoot, you know, between cartels or something like that. Mm-hmm. But inside the tourist places, nothing is going to happen to you.
At least it's is going to be very, very rare that something violent happens there. So, in my opinion, a lot of Mexicans feel a little resentment because it is a Mexico inside Mexico that is not for us. You know, it's like creating intentionally for people that is only going to come here to have a nice experience.
Maybe to spend some dollars and a week after it is going to be back in their countries. And also in the nice neighborhoods of the cities like Mexico city, we talk about Rome, Condesa, Juarez, all these colonies that, first of all, the rich people in Mexico, they went there, and the gentrification started and now the foreign people is especially people that work only in the internet can go this travel all the time because they can work any place. So they go there and the rents and all the prices go up and the people, they cannot live there, they cannot I mean the prices is just impossible to achieve live there anymore. So I believe something like this is happening.
So the feelings about the people from other countries, especially rich countries in that area, but obviously a similar thing, but the other way around happens with the people that came from central America, for example. Mm. So the resentment is against the rich countries because they came here just to have fun and they get back. Because we feel, I mean, it's like a historical feeling of inferiority, but Mexicans, normally they feel that Mexico is a better country, a richer country compared to Guatemala or El Salvador.
So, there is this stigmatization, against the migrants, right? The immigrants that they are criminals, et cetera, et cetera, something very similar as the people from United States see the Mexicans in the United States. So it's happening the same.
So and I believe in Europe is very similar. So I think it's something just happening right now in the world.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I get a lot of people getting in touch with me because of the podcast and especially here in Mexico, given that I live here, that it is my home. And you know, it's people from Mexico city, people from Oaxaca, where I live, people from Puerto Escondido people from Baja, California, people from the Yucatan.
Right. And they contact me and they communicate with me that, you know, they see this resentment, they see this, you know, some people call it fear "xenophobia," but it's really not fear. I don't think in the end. Resentment's probably a better word. And even to the extent of hate, but maybe that's too strong of a word as well.
And so there's been this huge backlash against, especially people from the United States, but certainly Canada, in Europe and other countries, arriving especially to Mexico over the last year or so, en masse. A huge amount. I don't know have the numbers or statistics, but it's pretty evident in the places that it's happened, that it's happened on an extreme scale to the point that there's massive gentrification and people being forced out of their neighborhoods because of rent prices going up and things like that.
And so, we spoke a little bit about this notion of radical hospitality, right? That I think both of us, gleaned and learned quite a bit from our good friend and mentor the late, great Gustavo Esteva, the co-founder of the Unitierra here in Oaxaca.
And I'm just wondering if, you know, if you could maybe define what you think radical hospitality is and how it might be a tool to to find a way through the storm, right, that's, that's created this entitlement and bad behavior on the side of foreigners and tourists, and then this resentment and even, even hatred to some degree on the sides of locals, Where might radical hospitality come in there?
Elias: Yeah. So I would like to remember an anecdote from Gustavo. He was very close to Ivan Illich, this political, historical thinker. And Gustavo Esteva is very, very well known in a lot of part of the world as one of the most important and pioneer critic of development. So Ivan Illich, one time Ivan Illich ask Gustavo, if he can define in one word what "will be the opposite of development?" Gustavo Esteva answered, "hospitality," because development is larger, is bigger than just like an idea, right?
Development is a political project, is a philosophical construction where the only thing that like the difference is work through is to disappear, right? It's like " there is only one good way of life," is what development says historically the American way of life.
So this is the correct and the good way of living and everyone else sooner or later are going to achieve this. That was the narrative during the eighties, the nineties, the seventies, maybe in, in the whole world was like "we want that. We want the development." Even now the most progressive governments in Latinoamerica they are still believing in development. The development is going to help us to achieve this better way of living. Development is going to help us to defeat poverty when we know that good part of the poverty of the world is not because we don't have the develop enough, but because of the development narrative itself, right?
So hospitality, radical hospitality will be like the opposite of that. The possibility to accept the otherness of the other, the total otherness of the other in order to be able to accept that there are different ways of living well. So maybe in the Andes, in, in Peru and Bolivia, there will be one way of living well, and here in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca, in Guadalajara, there will be different ways of living well.
And this is one part of radical spirituality, the, the different possibilities of living well, defined by the people itself, according to their territories, culture, tradition, environment, et cetera, religion, et cetera. but also radical hospitality is like have a big groups in another concept that I would like to, to share, which is radical pluralism.
So radical pluralism is, is the idea that the plurality of the world is not an accident is not something inferior. And I, I know that I don't want to be, become very philosophical here, but historically in the Western philosophy, the world, the things, I mean the material world, the bodies, the flesh is like occupying a second place.
And the first place is the eternity, the, the soul, you know, the transcendental. So radical pluralism says that there is no universe. There are different pluriverses happening at the same time and there is different times and different places, different people.
And in order to be able to have a real relationship, a real communication, we need to be different. So the other has to be totally the otherness of the other, and I have to be myself so we can like create the, this intercultural encounter, the intercultural dialogue. And I, and something that I, I learned from Gustavo is that the authentic and most powerful, the most important intercultural dialogue happens, not in the, the theoretical or philosophical level, but in the practice when we realize during our conversation that we are different and, and it's okay, it is okay. And we will never understand each other completely. And is that is okay because that is how the world is. Is not an accident.
It's not our failure. It's just that you are an other, totally other, for me and I am totally other for you. So where we can create and experience this hospitality that happens both ways around is going out and create something together. Work together in something in order to fight for our territory, in order to create a new building, in order to anything that is to, to grow our own food.
For example. From those concrete practice, we can experience authentical radical hospitality. There is not universals in humanity because even though the things that we have in common, for example, the food. Gustavo Esteva loved to talk about food. Remember? So, he used to say, I mean, every human being have to eat.
Right. But McDonald's is not the same as the traditional tortilla. Right. McDonald's have a logic. Mm, fast food have a logic. Every fast, fast food is a product created by professionals in order that other professionals have energy to continue working. So basically, fast food is like gasoline because it's going to destroy you.
But is just to keep your body going a little more hours, a little more years, but tortilla for example is like a, a cultural event is, is not happening just for one person. All the community have to participate in order to create the tortilla. Right. So even though those things that we have in common, like eating etc, in the practice, they are totally different.
They are multiple worlds happening at the same time.
Chris: Hmm. beautiful. I think that so much of the dialogue ends up being revolved around form of essentialism, you know, pointing the finger at people based on their skin color or race or gender et cetera, or even class. Right. And I think there's a lot that's lost in that reductionism.
Now, with one last question, if I can.
Elias: Yeah, of course.
Chris: So given that so much of the issues and the dialogues and the conversations that people have around the issue of the tourist and the tourism industry and the foreigner these days here in Mexico... so much of it is ideological, political, social, and to a lesser degree economic. But I'm wondering if you think that there's a place and maybe a missing place for conversations around spirituality in these conversations and what they would look like.
Elias: Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think there is a missing place. I think we need that conversations personally. I, for me, that is the conversation that I am interesting on. Of course, we have to say that there are also a lot of, kind of spiritualities and mysticism, religiosities.
Some of these spiritualities are like very similar or they come from this narrative of colonialism or like spiritual tourism, or for example, things that we are all the same doesn't matter or color of our skin or something like that. But maybe they are good intentions behind that. But at the same time, there is not an awareness of the otherness of the other, right.
It's like this idea that I can't understand the other, when in reality there is no possibility to truly understand the other completely. Right. So in my opinion, my personal opinion, the first book I wrote was a little bit about that, is that dialogue, encounter.
So even hospitality itself is an spiritual act and the spiritual practice. Doesn't matter if there is not a Buddha there or like a cross or something that traditionally we associate with spirituality or faith, but the practice of hospitality for me itself is a, is a spiritual, it's something spiritual.
Why? Because you have to put in practice a lot of the pillars of spirituality. For example, to be able to question yourself, to be able to recognize your affinity, to be able to put a limit in your desire to be the center of the universe. Because I mean to truly practice a hospitality, it has to be more than one people in the room, right?
So normally, our non-spiritual way of living, we live as we are the last Coca-Cola of the desert, right? Like everything move around me. So, to really practice spirituality, you have to decenter, to decenter yourself in order to be open so the other can modify you. Mm. So that's why in a lot of traditions, you can talk about sacred hospitality, not radical, but sacred in, in the way of, as I will host the otherness of the other.
This is also the way that I can host the divinity, for example, if we are talking in those concepts. Maybe there others. But also the possibility to understanding each other, to be able to, to create new world. For me, that also is, is, is also something very spiritual, the creativity, the possibility to create something new, in the art, but also in the social. This energy of creativity for me is something very, very spiritual.
So, yeah, I think there is a, there is a missing point. And for me, maybe it is not the total answer for, in my opinion, it's an ingredient that we are missing in the conversation.
Chris: Mm, absolutely. Well, now we have some of it and yeah. You know, a few people ask me, what does the end of tourism mean?
Right. And I say, well, the end of tourism has to be the beginning of something else. Yeah. And I'm very honored and grateful that you just spoke to some of what I believe that to be. Right.
So it's been a, a great pleasure Elias. And thank you so much for your generosity, this extended time period of taking, you know, out of your day to speak with us and to speak with us in two languages, to accommodate our listeners is incredibly, incredibly generous and hospitable.
And, you know, maybe there's something in there that we can learn from as well. I do want to mention before we finish that you have a new book. Well, actually you have a few new books, but I only have one in my hand here that's actually a signed copy how lucky. Convivenvialidad y Resistencia Politica Desde Abajo
Where might our listeners find out about these books, your work and if they wanna get in touch with you, how might they do that?
Elias: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you very much. I have a blog. The blog name is "Amanecer". This with like sunshine, like in the, in the Spanish.
We are on Facebook, Twitter. I mean, no, we don't have Twitter, just Facebook and Instagram and YouTube. My email, my personal email, I will be very pleasure to have more conversations. My personal email is Elahaspeace7@gmail.com.
So I will be very happy to, to continue these conversations and in the blog you can find, especially in the YouTube programs some conversations and presentations of the books. Yeah. Thank you.
Chris: Oh, perfect. Well, I'll make sure all those details are there on the end of tourism website for our listeners.
Thank you so much, Elias. Take care.