Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. I repeat these words to myself as I walk the streets of Mexico City’s Centro Histórico at night, as if to beat them into my body. I’m back in the city for a short reporting trip to continue my coverage of feminicide in Mexico State. It’s been five months since I’ve been here last, but my apprehension about the violence, and how vulnerable I am to it, has grown substantially. I feel afraid to walk alone at night. Fear, a response to months of fieldwork on violence against women, shapes how I navigate Mexico’s giant capital, my first real love. I see the threat of violence everywhere. Walking to a close-by cafe chino for dinner seems much more dangerous to me than it did a few years ago.
Alone, like Mariana Joselín Baltierra was when she stepped out of her house on a late July morning and walked approximately two-hundred meters to a corner store for groceries. Young, like Lesvy Osorio, an aspiring writer and musician. A woman, like Nadia Muciño, Mariana Buendía and the more than fifteen thousand women killed in the country in the last six years. I’m acutely aware of how women that look like me have been kidnapped, raped and killed in Mexico City and Mexico State. Their bodies thrown into rivers, left in empty lots or torn apart and left scattered by men that destroyed their bodies so that no one would remember them. In Mexico I see the threat, or the capacity for people to be this violent, everywhere. Disillusioned, angry, tired and cynical, I wish I could soften my heart and see more of the beauty of this place I love so much, but the stories are so terrible.
A few months ago, Mariana Baltierra left her house and walked past a local butcher shop at around nine in the morning. She never returned home. Instead, she was found later that day lying dead across a butcher’s table, her stomach ripped open. She was raped and killed by a twenty-eight-year-old man that worked in the butcher shop called Carnicasa, or meat shop, in eastern Ecatepec. Lesvy was only twenty-two when she was found dead last year with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck at the National Autonomous University of Mexico campus. She was found lying against a telephone booth in the middle of campus, killed by her boyfriend Jorge Luis González. Killed by men, forgotten by the government offices and laws created to help bring justice, grieved by families.
As I coach myself to try to be brave while I walk, men verbally harass me, beating my body with the reminder that I do not have complete control over my safety and agency in this city. I walk firm and relentless through the shadowy streets as to affirm that this is my body, my city. Walking alone as to defy the fear and despair that has stricken me during the past months. Beating the fear out of my heart, resistant and brave to mourn the women killed.
No longer there, I look back and invent the reasons why there was the only place to become me, la escritora. As I move East, my attachment to Mexico City is weaved by gratitude:
Put simply, that’s all I want to do. A privilege, a dream, a luxury, a far fetched idea made reality by pure conviction and stubbornness. Here, the mid-afternoon rainfall that purifies my lungs is unwritten poetry, the urban marvels and wonders nestled at every corner is untapped inspiration, the moonlight and silence and noise is inspiration for prose and ode alike.
Here, lives courage, defiance, struggle and the resistance of people and movements that must and will always make themselves present. Here, for me, journalism is as important as the personal essay because they are one in the same. Survival, resistance, love, and homage. What inspires me irremediably and that I know I must write for myself and for others.
Here, inspiration and love seeps into my pores, fills my stomach, perfumes my hair, salts my michelada, and lets be frank, even pays for my cab ride.
This inspiration is as old and decaying as the baked lake bed beneath my feet. It is also new and flourishing…
The first batch of stills reveals five years of love. Always stoic, always wondrous, always a bit grimy. An atemporal love that sinks (or slants) deeply into the soul. Mexico City in black & white 35mm film.
I’m sitting at Muebles Sullivan surrounded by a few bags stuffed with clothes and toiletries, my dry cleaning, and an incredible lightness of being. As usual, the coffee is delicious and life passing me by beyond the lemon trees brings me a subtle sense of satisfaction. A lemon scented, caffeinated gratitude for Mexico City.
My journey continues and the time has come to lug my clothes and emotions back home. Before this moment I feel I had wandered around burdened by the heavy weight of suffering, anxiety, and the overwhelming desire to live, stubborn and strictly, in Mexico City. I fought for it. Unceasingly, I fought my family, the world, and myself for this moment of fulfillment and sense of completeness.
I will journey back to my family in about ten days. The map of my retreat forward is as follows: I will walk through the National Mall in about two weeks, saunter down the streets of Jackson Heights and Bushwick in about three, sleep in my childhood room in five, roll round La Cita’s dance-floor in six, lay out in Rosarito’s beaches in ten, and move all of my hopes and dreams to New York City in seventeen.
Even from here, it all seem so far away from Mexico City. The retreat forward is decided on and the start of graduate studies at New York University is imminent. It’s wondrous and I’m thankful. Especially to this city. For the inspiration and conviction it inspired in me to try ceaselessly to be here. To explore then destroy my fears, doubts, and anxieties. To tap into my intuition and prioritize self-love.
It taught me to be flexible, to flow, and embrace my condition as a transfronteriza. To push my own limits, extend myself across all the borders that had asphyxiated me since birth. It subjected me to deep suffering, an experience that threw me into depression in senior year of college but one that eventually became the catalyst for my self-sufficiency and independence. And it taught me to navigate the sometimes volatile, sometimes deeply deeply magical terrain of my own emotions. I explored my spirit and self fully and deeply these past five years because Mexico City enlivened an inexorable hunger and inspiration to live, to feel, to be.
I was heavy with all of these experiences. I held on to that truth, to Mexico City, to the possibility of fully and beautifully being. Because it is such a beautiful lesson and experience to have. And I think it was necessary, to feel the weight of being–to feel how it physically and emotionally imposes itself, reminds us we are alive, and inspires us to navigate the world aware of ourselves, our life, and our creative promise.
Now, I feel light with that lesson. I feel grateful for that weight. I feel happy because this city deeply shook me, woke me, and loved me. It inhabits me and will continue to inform who I am to become. I will be bound to it as long as I remain committed to letting it go, to exploring myself, as I propel myself forward.
Mexico City taught me to be, my beloved teacher and companion in these perpetual journeys as a transfronteriza.
The shadows of the tree branches sway on the smooth white walls of the cafe, creating patterns of fading sunlight across the temporarily out of service expresso machine. The power is out so for the first time in eight years, I’m alone with my self and with this overwhelming sense of disconnectedness we used to call rest.
Behind me engines rumble and wheels screech to a halt every minute. The microbuses and taxis shuttle several hundreds to the north south east and deep west of the city.
Clouds gather and humidity begins to lightly coat car hoods and the leaves of surrounding lemon trees. We’re experiencing a winter storm in the middle of March. Suddenly the sky is muddled a dirty brown color that warns of fast approaching rain.
The wind feels sweet. Unburdened of its toxicity, it wraps already bundled bodies that hustle in every direction, home bound.
Behind me the sun quickly sets. The sunlit patterns are fading away, and still no internet.
Cansada. The traffic jams have become knots on my back. But then, looking back, I wrote seven articles, twenty-six blog posts, and nine magazine submissions. I wrote the most, wrote what I wanted inspired by the city I had to be in, in my entire life.
Three months after beginning this blog post, I’m inspired to begin, experience, and complete this post on how hard it has been to thrive and succeed in my decision and commitment to writing. In a commitment to a city. In commitment.
It’s been exhausting. Working full-time within the journalism world has kicked my ass. Working full-time and secluded in Mexico City’s deep south has been fatiguing. The toll of stress: anxiety of falling short, of being inadequate to begin with, of overcoming the fear of actually and really being brilliant. Urban inspired exhaustion: traveling 1.5 hours just to have a latte at my favorite cafe with its perfect view of city life, of asshole taxi drivers annoyed that they had to drive me to my place in Tepepan, a colonia just north of Xochimilco and a community a friend and I jokingly coined “the country.” Of the stress of car horns, traffic, and anxious and impatient masses filling metro cars.
I grew impatient. With challenge came great expectations and my flexibility, fluidity, love, and ability to discern beauty and poetry in my surroundings and even life shrunk to a minimal tolerance. It’s as if my high-stress life suddenly blinded me from seeing that I was doing exactly what I wanted, exactly where I wanted. Recalling and re-reading earlier prose and odes to the city, I was reminded that I appreciated the chaos of it all, its impatience, lust, and possibility. I was enthralled and even propelled by it. But in a state of unhappiness and stress, it became too much.
What finally allowed me to reflect on all of this was the space, calm and contemplation I had denied myself previously. Assigning blame to the city that has always inspired me, its noise, its chaos, its defiance to grant me one single moment of repose and silence to calm my reeling, anxious, impatient mind. The city and I seemed to be competing to see which would self-destruct quickest. And my love and patience for it during those long metro rides home, the love and gratitude for the immediacy and inspiration of an unapologetically and painfully alive city, fell victim.
Because exhaustion and short-sightedness is impairing and fatalistic. Because poor and neglected rituals of self-love make drowning in despair all the more probable. Because I sometimes may want to run away from a place I love so deeply and thoroughly I have defied everything just to feel myself embraced by its nights and mornings. Because nothing is permanent, finite, and unchanging. Because loving and learning means understanding that the process of loving and learning can be difficult, challenging, and exhausting.
That the poetry and beauty I discern on tired and drowsy faces of Mexico City’s poor denizens that I forget about once I reach my destination doesn’t end there. That deciding and choosing to be a writer and journalist isn’t the final published product alone. That traveling south, with all of my belongings, anxieties, hesitations, dreams, inspiration, and love isn’t easy. That not everything is grand or fantastic, doom or death.
Codex and Give Up The Ghost, the only two songs on my phone, on repeat non-stop on the MetroBus ride home, from Alvaro Obregon to Camineros. To feel, be present, and muster appreciation and gratitude for the city lights and life that zooms past me at the end of another day fully living and thriving in the city. For a pasajera en trance in the face of her dreams, this is the enduring commitment and gift from the beloved city that inspires and gives to me fully and to exhaustion.
“It’s astounding to walk into a pristine library and realize that it is a reservoir of magic, almost sacred, where books are worshipped and treated with solemnity. But to get there, I cross a city that almost ignores the voice and words of the flesh, the suffering, where voices are hierarchized, silenced, and left unread.”
Today I spent the afternoon at the Zocalo tracing my fingertips across the back of hardcovers and strolling between endless rows of literature. Although I spotted and even purchased a few treasures (Francisco Mata Rosas, I love you..), as I strolled through the International Book Fair recently inaugurated on the main plaza, I became more intrigued with observing other bibliophiles as they adored their paperbacks, hardcovers, zines, and magazines.
It was entrancing: hundreds of people engrossed in the ritual of seeking rare editions, bargain buys, new releases, and obscure authors. It is a deeply intimate but overwhelming collective desire to experience the wonder of books. When the search culminates in an exclamation of joy and surprise, like it so often (and awkwardly) happens to me, bibliophiles throughout the world rejoice, because they deeply respect and cherish the value of those desperately necessary literary journeys.
Like every year, I attend the book fair looking to purchase one or two new titles. I arrived today just in time to listen to a blues band fill a sun drenched Zocalo with its music. Although I initially began browsing the shelves of books organized beneath huge white tents, engrossed and oblivious to those around me, my sight was pulled upward by the energy and bustle of hundreds of people doing just the same all around me. As if snapped out of a daze, I became more intrigued with browsing faces rather than book covers.
It was with pure adoration and joy, solemnity and respect, that people interacted with books. But in the measure that this reaffirmed my own love for them, and hxstory’s adoration of books and everything they represent, I also began to observe how people respect books more than they do each other.
Just outside of the forty-seven thousand meter square plaza, bustling with an inspiring love for knowledge, millions of people live unversed in the language of empathy and curiosity, not so much for art, but for each other. Not because they are “illiterate”, “uneducated”, or “uncultured” but because they are unable to read the eyes of those who in agony or despair, cry out desperately, intensely. Millions of us lack the inspiration to read what we all have to say, to express, to share. The magic or perhaps tragedy that fills our being, emanates from our spirit, informs our gait and our silence.
Within the main square, I observed that our love for each other pales in comparison to our love for books, even though it is we who write them. I walked from tent to tent determined to learn personalities and characters, memorize side-eyed glances and enjoy smiles. As the national flag wavered in the sunlight and the sweetness of the chiapaneco coffee tickled my palate, I walked over to the tent projecting the groovy sound of the blues band and was wrapped in the guitar’s melody, en trance.
I bookmarked the moment when the wind gave away the hiding place of the little girl leaned against the huge speaker and hidden underneath the event poster, the wind brushing a smile onto her face, her surprise and laughter synched with mine.
I was just trying to be a little more alive. To read and be in this world the way I inhabit and live in the worlds written in my favorite pages. To look and understand our world, even when it is unwritten, even if it’s hard to decipher and digest, with the same love and devotion we have done in those beautifully smelling pages. We are all reservoirs of magic.
Friday marked the forty-seventh anniversary of the massacre of students in Tlatelolco. As is accustomed, thousands marched to commemorate the student movement-and denounce the repression and murder of hundreds of students, both then and now-in a lively and compelling display of student activism and solidarity. “2 de Octubre no se olvida!” was plastered in graffiti all over downtown while students chanted and waved banners, not simply moving memory but agitating it, shaking it from deep slumber.
It was the first time that I observed the march from outside. Ever since my study abroad stint at UNAM, I have attended the march both as a protestor and researcher. I’ve learned the emblematic protest chants and have felt my heart swell with pride when chorusing the UNAM university chant. I learned to deeply adore the sound of Goya! resound, bounce against hundreds of bodies, and fill Eje Central Avenue. There’s a segment of the protest route that goes underneath an overpass on Eje Central and Reforma- there the sound and noise of all the protestors builds an incredible power that makes every student feel, and has made me feel, invincible. It is an amazing experience.
But on Friday I was standing along the street observing with hundreds of residents and journalists. Standing on the railing of that overpass, I peered down and observed the protestors approach. Right before disappearing underneath the bridge, the leaders of the march, the survivors of the Tlatelolco repression and student leaders of that 68 generation paused all lined up behind a banner, stoic and prideful. As if time and years of impunity, protest, and marches like these have sculpted them into seasoned warriors.
The protest advanced and following that older generation were multiple groups of teachers’ college students, normalistas. Their chants had a deep sonorous quality-chants almost one-hundred years old, written by peoples who inherited and still fight to uphold the values of a failed revolution. Observing the normalists march, I became overwhelmed and struck by their conviction and resiliency.
The noise began to build, and the sea of protestors began to steadily flow southbound, the women students of the teachers’ college, the political science students of UNAM, the engineers from the Polytechnic University, all composing an amazing symphony of resistance and presence. Dozens and dozens of university groups marched forward, each adding their chants and chorus to one beautiful amazing and overwhelming voice of protest.
I was struck by the beauty and solidarity of the march. All of a sudden this unity, this ruckus, this vision inspired deep and pure hope in my heart.
Mexico is a country that has suffered very deeply, for very long. For so long that disenchantment and bitterness has grown in the heart of many, who doubt and are unable to dream of a country of justice and love.
But bearing witness to conviction in its purest form, to fierceness and courage, to that amazingly public and unified expression of resistance, politicization, and memory, reignited the conviction, at least in my own heart. A conviction that not only is justice possible, but it exists in the hearts and desires of thousands upon thousands of mexicans, of students.
That Mexico-just like many other countries, just like many other cities, just like many other living and feeling people- deserves and demands justice and respect for life and freedom. That Mexico maybe a country rotting in corruption, cynicism, and apathy but it is these conditions that incubates memory and resistance.
Mexico is alive. And Mexico has memory. Mexico gives life to movements and memories and dreams for better worlds.
Twenty-five months living in Mexico City can do something to one’s sense of empathy, compassion and sensibility to the suffering and violence of city life.
When I first moved here I went into a sort of physical, emotional and spiritual shock. Meanwhile I completely fell in love with the city for its grandness and sublime beauty, discerning the smallest details and a specialness that set it a apart from any other city I had ever visited, I was overwhelmed by its class divisions, extreme poverty, discrimination against indigenous peoples, love for the foreign but disdain for otherness (rooted in a love for eurocentrism), and blatant arrogance of many of its denizens. This I discerned in every pocket of public space and in an endless array of social settings.
I remember joining all of my study abroad friends in nighttime outings to posh neighborhoods and witnessing-and participating in-a culture that completely ignored and looked down on the sleepy-eyed vendors who sold gum packs and cigarets. For many people the indigenous mother sitting on the sidewalk with her children blended into the building wall she leaned against: invisible only until you had the urge to take a drag from a Marlboro. I also recall sitting in a cab or squeezed into a city bus parked on a major intersection and playing spectator to children and adolescents performing as jugglers, fire eaters, clowns and mimes. And the language one speaks here is riddled with sexisms, classisms, and racisms. Even in the marches-at this point I’ve attended so many, from #YoSoy132 to the year anniversary of Ayotzinapa-are vehemently misogynist and anti-gay.
All of these nuances and realities were so fresh and thus so shocking that they bombarded my senses, overwhelmed me emotionally, and deeply angered and confused me. Unfamiliar with this social and culture way of being, I learned to navigate the city, adapting what I admired and needed, challenged and tried to ignore what I didn’t.
These first few months were overwhelming yet in a sense also exhilarating. Experiencing everything the first few times was incredible, and twenty-five months later, I still love riding the metro, still love peseros for what they are-an affordable tour of overpopulated D.F.-and I still love this city for the unforgiving beast it is. But it was just a few days ago, coming out of a film in Cineteca Nacional, that I realized that the city has physically and emotionally exhausted me.
This realization was probably inspired by the film: seven brothers detail the joys and anxieties of living enclosed in a New York City apartment for eighteen years. It was a light-hearted look into the lives they constructed within the four walls of the apartment, the 5,000 films they’ve watched and recreated, from entire films like Reservoir Dogs to recreating Halloween seances, burning effigies and enjoying and ultimately questioning the liberty of seclusion. Entering that space heightened my sensitivity to life outside once I left the theater. Thoughts on how despite the endless promise of creativity, love, and connection, many of us engage in unfeeling, self-centered and uncreative lives.
Once sitting in the Metro car, wedged between two drowsy darling viejitas, I closed my eyes and listened to the murmurs of those around me, the life, the laughter, and the deep and heavy drowsiness cradled by the rumble of the train. I saw that many people, including myself, refused to exchange a glance, a smile, a hello. The Metro, has and will always be a perfect metaphor for Mexico City. It is an overwhelming and extreme example of over-population, frustration, noise, alienation and humanity.
In the past few days I have been more observant, more receptive, and intuitive to what people and the city have to express to me. Today, on my way to my favorite cafe in Downtown, I was again reminded why the Metro is a perfectly furious and intense expression of life in the city.
As the train zoomed northward toward Cuatro Caminos, the rain hit the window and the bright cloudy sky illuminated the faces of the row of people sitting across from me. Today, on a Monday morning, everyone was alert, eyes dashed from right to left, following each vendor as they hollered their sales pitch and made their way down each train car.
As I peered above a man’s head and watched the cityscape zoom past me I could hear the vendor with a stereo strapped to his back approach my car. His selection today: 100 MP3s of classic rock n’ roll. As David Bowie faded away the vendor skipped three tracks and there the sweet guitar of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord began to fill our car. My heart rejoiced because it happened to be one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums. Overwhelmed with this happiness that fell like a kiss, I closed my eyes to take it in, smiled and felt grateful to enjoy such a sweet song on such a sweet day. I fluttered my eyes open and saw the man across from me smiling as well. This mobile melodic morsel lasted a few seconds as the vendor made his way across and disappeared into the next car.
A few seconds later the next vendor came bustling in. His performance: backflipping onto shards of glass arranged on a piece of cloth. As soon as people saw him approach they winced in disgust, uncomfortable, and avoided eye contact even with each other. A mother hurried her children to the other end of the car. Instead of running down one extreme of the car and onto the glass he begged passengers to give him change, appealing to our repulsion and disdain. He walked past us, his elbows torn and bruised from a previous work day, and made his way onward after not receiving any change.
Mexico City is this. It’s ugly, it’s painful, it’s beautiful and human. It’s deep deep apathy and indifference. It’s a struggle for survival. It’s moments of pure performative poetry-both painful and uplifting.
I don’t think I can ever become completely desensitized to this. Because the city finds ways to remind me of these struggles for survival while allowing me to experience moments of pure poetry. Moments that sweetly and brutally remind me that I am here, and that I’m painfully alive.
Las lluvias fuertes que nos enviaba Tláloc finalmente lograron derrubar el piso de pierda volcánica.
El gigante hueco, que en algún momento fue el Zócalo se expande cada vez más, devorando la corrupción, arrogancia, el racismo, y todas esas estúpidas sucursales Starbucks. Se borra sobre la faz de esta ciudad la banalidad que le impuso el neoliberalismo, se aniquila la estratificación de clases en la urbe, y se elimina la desigualdad por que Tlalóc de una ves por todas elimina la ciudad.
Ni queda el lecho del lago, la pierda volcánica, solo vacío. Al final, solo así logramos deshacernos de una violenta desigualdad de nuestra propia creación. Valió la pena rogarle tanto a Tláloc, a ver si podemos empezar de nuevo, a ver si no la cagamos.
Todo aquello me lo imagino mientras voy sentada en un Metrobus que ha estado inmóvil en el cruce de Insurgentes y Baja California por diez minutos. Diez minutos.
Cuando llueve así de fuerte como llovió hace dos horas todo se vuelve una mierda. A mi me encanta la lluvia tanto como me asusta, ver como azota contra sombrillas con una violencia milenaria, haciéndome pensar que Tlalóc esta disgustado (quien no, con un mundo donde los Trumps y Peña Nietos son dueños del poder mediático y político).
Me encanta la lluvia, y a pesar de que mis jellies queden empapados y la sombrilla rota, estoy agradecida con Tlalóc por que nos bendice con caos, que es vida. Y me pongo a contemplar si algún día la naturaleza ejerce todo su poder de destrucción contra nosotros, contra esta ciudad monstruosa, qué sucediera.
¿Por dónde volveríamos a empezar? ¿Construiríamos lo mismo? Nunca me arrastraría del cráter si eso significaba vivir en un mundo lleno de Starbucks.