In Mexico City, everything is performative. The dress of denizens reflect social positioning, sub-culture loyalty, political affiliations and both economic privilege and injustice. The majority of Mexican people, like individuals and entire communities globally, use clothing to express themselves – fresas flock to the gigantic malls of the city that house transnational clothing chains like Zara and Bershka, rockeros punkeros and goths do their shopping on Saturday mornings at El Chopo tianguis, and autonomous and revolutionary minded students and people opt to thrift, recycle and trade clothing in direct resistance to the mass spending that characterizes Mexico’s consumer habits.
But there are also people who are not given this option of personal and social expression through dress: a large population of Mexico City lives in severe poverty, surviving off the pocket change of the millions of transients that pass them by on Metro station entrances, intersections of major avenues, and important pedestrian streets in the city’s center. Meanwhile many people live without the choice nor the ability of economic consumption, their presence is an important part of Mexico City’s collective identity. It is a city of contradictions, where abundance and scarcity live in the same neighborhood, walk the same streets, and struggle to make themselves seen, heard, and noticed.
Performativity encompasses not only dress, but many aspects of cultural expression such as language, social relationships and especially in Mexico City, corruption. Just like people work on sidewalks to gather change, many police officers, underpaid and unscrupulous, often ask for mordidas or pay-offs from young folks caught drinking out in public, from motorists accused of traffic violations and from unsuspecting denizens identified as srewable. This performance is intimidating as they menace people with arrest and if you’re a foreigner, deportation. Witnessing the performativity of corruption and poverty of Mexico’s police force is not cool at all, trust me.
Yet for me, the most aesthetically pleasing and insightful example of urban performativity in Mexico City remain to be the hundreds of street performers, mimes and movie characters brought to life on weekends in el Centro Historico. Panhandling is turned into a ritual that involves entire families and public life in the city and is a view into this society’s perpetual hunger for constant entertainment, a direct result of unceasing consumption of television and mass media.
The pictures that follow, taken by the talented photographer and chronicler of Mexico City, Chad Santos, illustrate the faces that both symbolize necessity and epitomize the happiness of many of the city’s children: the Joker, Neyteri, the Rocker, el Payaso, y la Catrina.
The Joker, impeccably cynical, attracts both young and adult boys alike. The eery shadows and contrasts between grey, blue and black hues of the growing night in El Centro frame his stage: limitless urban space.
The research, time and artistry of DF’s public and street side celebrities represents the DIY attitude that characterizes DF living. Yet there is something deeply beautiful about it all, the crafting of the faces of Mexico City, los rostros de la ciudad, adapting and transforming them, the limitless possibility of becoming something and someone else.
Their faces, perfectly crafted and painted, pay homage to contemporary norteamericano culture, a lo Chilango. But it seems that even street performers themselves are capable of believing that they can become these idols. For minutes, hours and entire evenings, he is Gene Simmons.
Los payasos, clowns, are among the most widespread streetside musers in DF. Exhausted and often overwhelmed faces are costumed in bright colors. They share jokes in the metro, juggle on Reforma and offer balloon animals and smiles in el Centro. Happiness to momentarily lighten the ceaselessness of everyday life of an often overwhelming city.
La Catrina is a quintessentially Mexican expression of beauty, immortality and pride. It is an aesthetic inspired by Posada and appropriated worldwide, especially on Nov. 2 (Día de los Muertos). In Mexico City, children gaze upon el rostro de la catrina, an admiration and assertion that lo Mexicano, us mexicans, us too, are beautiful.