Mexico City: Letters of Note

Be it through coincidence or the laws of attraction, I have found people who have been equally intrigued and entranced by Mexico City.  I have forged both old and new friendships with people who are tirelessly working on moving to Mexico City in the pursuit of creative confidence and love. Others, by way of good friends and professors, inquire as to what sort of opportunities  there are there, what experiences there are to unmask.  Be it for a weekend or a month, people are perpetually called to Mexico City.

It is precisely this intrigue, for those who have yet to know its essence and people, and love, for those of us who know it all too well, that I try to communicate when approached to describe sights, places, and experiences of note in D.F. The following is a bilingual and spanglish (sprinkled with chilango vernacular, which, with time and habit we all become fluent in) attempt at that – pieced together from various virtual and loving exchanges – “¿Qué locuras me recomiendas en el DF?”

Amigx, ¿por donde empezar? Es una ciudad intensa, loca y surreal.  Mexico City me ha enseñado mucho sobre la vida, como es imprevisible con extremos y matizes.  El punto, supongo y espero, es conocer a la ciudad más allá de lo que el departamento de turismo promueve – porque sí, los museos y el patrimonio cultural como el palacio de gobierno son hermosos y plasman los murales de Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, y Frida and other brilliant creators  – but to live the City es (re)conocer aquello infundido de la vida citadina y cotidiana, es conocer a la banda y lo sublime y bonito del barrio, lo desagradable, la desfachatez. Es conocer los mercados y tiangüis dfeños como Tepito y Mercado Sonora for synesthetic inspiration and stimulation and to feel the warmth and happiness of people. Es visitar alguna de las pulquerias que se encuentran en el Centro (el cual es muy hermoso y una de mis partes favoritas de la cuidad)  to rub elbows with dones and doñas, wise and inexperienced.

It’s searching and finding great music. Como Multiforo Alicia que tiene shows de rock, garage, y surf. Recuerdo, I remember, the times I’ve been lost in enjoyment of garage punk, surf, and cumbia beats  that have transported me to dance floors in Los Angeles and back again, a corporal nepantilism that induces dancing across the grey hues of borderlands, finding yourself right back in the heart of Mexico City, absorbing the energy and vivacity of damn good music.

Pursue your energy and hunger for the City but also be tranquil and confident,  súbete a los taxis, a los peseros y por supuesto sin falla – no te vayas sin subirte al – metro.  Goza de la comida rica and quintessentially urban; come tacos de al pastor si se te apetece o las quesadillas de huitlacoche, flor de calabaza y las frutas y vegetables y garnachas domingueras.  Y pues total, relájate, déjate llevar por el caos ordenado y el orden caotico de la ciudad. Y paséate y goza. The notion of enjoyment and relaxation is somehow very distinct in Mexico City. Stand still and watch the meticulous order of chaos unfold in spirals and roundabouts before your eyes; the mini buses, gold and red taxis, and thousands of swarming pedestrians who harmoniously coexist and rhumba to the rhythm of car horns and street side hustlers’ hollers. It is a sort of sustenance and source of strength to experiment in the freedom of abandonment and chaos. Enduring life in a city of nine million extremophiles, denizens that live in conditions most living creatures would consider inhospitable.

Y charla con lxs chilangxs y no chilangxs.  Charla recostada en las islas de la UNAM, en las bancas del Parque Alameda, por la calle de Donceles (por si también te gustaría encontrar un buen libro) o charla con amigos viejos o nuevos en algún café en el Centro.  Únete a una marcha (que siempre, siempre los hay..avanzando por las venas de la ciudad).  Y respira profundamente aquel aire toxico y contempla el cielo gris y olas de hormigón desde arriba en el mirador de la torre latinoamericana o a la gente que te rodea sentadx en la plancha del zócalo. As I write this, siento que lo extraño, pero estas palabras que voy redactando me alegran – un amor innegable.

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Mexico City: Zócaleando

El Zócalo es un sitio de encuentros y de choque, de contemplación y manifestación. De grandeza: grandeur.

I’m sitting in the heart of México, leaning against the enormous flag pole that hoists the tricolor flag adored and honored by millions. This is my favorite point, in my favorite Colonia, of the city. This is a place of constant movement; with every national holiday and change of season, el Zócalo is transformed. Giant ice rinks, a capitalisticly branded christmas tree, el grito and independence day, revolution commemorations and the international book fairs are some of the events that require the perpetual rearrangement of this sacred space; constant mutilation, sometimes in the interest of official city ordinance, capital accumulation or for the diffusion of national and international culture and art. Usually, these spaces require bureaucratic planning and government approval. However, there are rituals and performances of a more organic, angry, desperate and sporadic fashion: mass protest and social grievance manifested.

This is a sacred site for the left in Mexico, a symbolic and spiritual plaza that is usually the end point of many marches that paralyze the city.  Students have claimed it, Zapatistas, electricians, families of persons disappeared in the appalling mess of a “War on Drugs”, and Lopez Obrador have claimed it. It’s volcanic stone square adorned floor bears signs of its constant use and the weight of millions that have walked, marched and danced across it.  There’s discernable trash and disarticulated paper kites, paper bags and condoms, pan dulce crumbs strewn across the square. The bubbles that float atop it reflect along its beautiful 360 surface of water and soap particles, the panorama of La Caterderal, el Palacio Nacional and the light blue and grey sky.

Today I hear the beat of two conga drums and the musings of street performers. Just beyond the demarcated square, there sits a young man playing a spanish guitar and beside me there sits a couple with their Sunday afternoon purchases of black and white glossy photos of early 20th century Mexico.  And if I look directly above me, the impressively long flag pole rises and reaches for a spectacular horizon and the bluest point of the rarely blue Mexico City sky.  The largest plaza in a country of a thousand plazas, el Zócalo feels sacred.  Enduring and eternal, there is no weight that can ever undermine its millennial importance and strength.

Mexico City: Pochoteca Perspectives

I want to share a short piece I wrote up back in 2012, during my second stay in Mexico City, for the community paper Brooklyn and Boyle. I was born in Los Angeles but made my way to Mexico City through two different study abroad programs via UC Santa Cruz.

I studied in la UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in 2011 and I also conducted a field research project on the youth student movement #YoSoy132 in 2012.

It has absolutely been a love affair in every sense of the cliché: the deep connection and transmission of new knowledges and awareness, the learning and un-learning, the joy, the thrill, and the heartbreak.

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And to the happiness and (mostly) playful ridicule of my communities, I will perpetually write, sing, and dance odes to el Dfectuoso:

Where does a child of the Boyle Heights experience – Chicana-but-not-really, more Mexican than ‘American’, better-not-call-me Pocha – daughter of Mexican migrants fit into the cultural and social scheme of things in Mexico City?

What I have learned through living a total of nine months in el Dfectuoso is that I don’t fit into any one category and etiqueta because, really, no one does, not in Mexico City or in Boyle Heights.

Growing up in a community with a large Mexican migrant population and listening to my parent’s stories of their childhood in Durango, I grew up surrounded with this sense of uprootedness, displacement and yearning. I yearned to return to Mexico. I wasn’t born within its geographical border but I had always felt Mexico’s presence ever since I could remember. Listening to Los Tigres del Norte at backyard family parties, the bi-monthly conversations with family in Durango, looking into the mirror and seeing a reflection of frizzy curly hair and dark brown skin – I knew that the realities I felt and confronted everyday were informed by this strange and mysterious entity that was simultaneously very present and far away.

When I researched study abroad programs as an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz I knew I wanted to study abroad in Latin America. As a Latin American and Latina/o studies and Politics major I wanted to learn and study completely immersed within a Spanish-speaking cultural and social space. In this search for authenticity, I decided to study in Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) to learn about Mexico in Mexico from Mexicans.

When I arrived to Mexico City, my senses were bombarded with noise, smell, and pollution. The sights and smells were dizzying and overpowering. In an effort to adjust myself mentally and corporally, during the first weeks I would travel in a pack of fellow exchange students attempting to normalize what surrounded me. I was warned by friends who had experienced life in El Dfectuoso to never speak English in public, especially not in open-air mercados like Tepito (to do such a thing was an invitation to be swindled by proprietors in any puesto) to always be alert when riding el Metro and to keep watch of wallets, cell phones and backpacks – the list of tips, warnings and advice was endless.

During these first months I remember yearning acceptance, to walk down the halls of UNAM’S Facultad de Filosofía y Letras and be seen as a student, a Mexican student. For the most part, because of my appearance I blended into the crowd splendidly, but as soon as I opened my mouth to order tacos, to give the taxi driver directions or to participate in a class discussion I knew que me echaba de cabeza, I would suddenly reveal my true self: a non-chilanga, an extranjera, a pocha. My strange way of speaking would solicit questions and inquiry: “¿De donde eres? ¿Del norte de México? Ah, eres de California..¡Chicana geruhl!”

I recall experiencing profound confusion and sadness. I wanted acceptance but I wanted to be who I was fully, speak Spanglish when it came naturally, to be myself while being conscious of the social borders and spaces people navigated daily. Living in Mexico for six months I learned that people navigate and struggle with social, cultural, racial and economic codes and barriers like people do in the U.S.. Racism and classism is very present in the national subconscious and is seen plastered throughout the city in advertisements, nightlife social dynamics, street side encounters, and public transportation systems.

Eventually I began to understand that Mexicans, just like anyone other community, aren’t homogenous. I came to understand more and more through daily encounters and conversations with friends and classmates that the romanticized charro and adelita do not exist, but that there are millions of unique, interesting, and complex souls that make up and inhabit the urban sprawl known as Mexico City.

It was then that I understood that when I came to live in chilangolandia, my presence added pochoteca flavor – providing my perspective into class discussions on migration and neoliberalism, sharing my experiences and struggles and slowly building those bridges between communities severed by national borders and cultural misunderstandings.