Why is Mexico Such a Dump?

And what's the Mexican music that sounds like polka?

Dear Mexican: Why is Mexico such a dump? Just to name a few of the problems: stray dogs running all over the place, piles of trash burning in the street, blown-out tires hanging from cactus by the side of the road, shredded plastic shopping bags plastering every fence, rampant corruption in government and lawlessness so flagrant that the entire police force in a town in Sonora was recently killed or forced to flee by armed thugs working for the drug cartels. Don't even try to blame all this on us gabachos.

—Don't Understand Mexico's Problems

Dear DUMP: Of course I'll blame Mexico's problems on you gabachos. Drug market that makes the cartels so rich and powerful? Los Estados Unidos. Plastic shopping bags? From America. Hey, Mexico needs to look at itself deeply to address its many issues, but for gabachos to claim that somehow they're innocent is like claiming Taco Bell doesn't give you a serial case of Montezuma's Revenge.

I'm an American of Polish-Czech descent. Every wedding, or at my elders' houses, we used to listen to polka. I moved to the Southwest 15 years ago from the Midwest, and I occasionally hear mariachi music from other cars or on the radio. It really reminds me of polka, but with a Southwest kick. Could you recommend a good collection or a good band to start?

—Polaco Who Likes Tacos

Dear Polack-Honky: I think what you think is mariachi is actually conjunto norteño, which is the Mexican music form that most approximates traditional polka — mostly because that's what it is. That's the music with the wild accordion, the metronomic 2/4 bass beat and a wonderful corniness that only hick cultures (i.e., Mexicans, Czechs and Poles) can truly love. For old-school conjunto norteño, you want to download the collections of Los Alegres de Terán, Los Relámpagos del Norte and Los Cadetes de Linares; for the newer groups, Los Rieleros del Norte, Ramón Ayala (one of the members of Los Relámpagos del Norte), and Los Invasores de Nuevo León. Don't forget Flaco Jimenez and his whirlwind Tex-Mex classics. And timeless, of course, is Los Tigres del Norte. Enjoy!

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