Mexico City: Metro Meditations

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Andre Roman Medina Photography

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.

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nepantlera

dignidad rebelde

Estar en medio y sentirte cómodx y feliz por retarlo todo. Las fronteras políticas e identitarias. Las sexuales y de género. Las guías de cómo y cuando vivir tu vida. Las expectativas de ti, de cómo comportarte en cada momento, en cada etapa, en cada contexto. Saber lo qué se espera de ti y por qué y rechazarlo todo. Habitar los márgenes y gozar de la intemperie.

Por qué la historia, aquella que habita tu cuerpo, que informa tus miedos, que alienta el valor y la feroz resistencia con que navegas el mundo, ha demostrado la violencia que se te inflige cuando obedeces a estos parámetros, a las fronteras físicas, emocionales, espirituales, y creativas.

Nacer y ser mujer que atraviesa fronteras, desde antes que fueras semilla en el vientre de tu madre, desde antes que aprendiste a discernir las fronteras invisibles que desmembra cuerpos, comunicación, comprensión, y amor en un mundo ciego descompuesto que solo es competente a la disociación, enajenación y miedo. Cuando solo sentías la ausencia y el carácter incompleto de tu ser.

Comprenderlo y aceptar y celebrar y vivir y existir en medio. Hasta en el amor, celebras de la ambigüedad y promesa de no comprometer, sino compartir. De gozar del amor en su expresión más pura y regenerativa. Querer y no herir, nutrir y hacer libre.

Estar en medio es amenazar a todo y todxs que existen encerrados en si mismos, en las fronteras que se les impusieron, en la falsa comodidad de las falsas pero violentas fronteras. La neplanterx alienta la transcendencia colectiva. Es aquellx que a pesar de sus miedos, a pesar de los miedos ajenos, genera nuevos espacios, habitándolos, y ensanchado ese espacio con la valentía fortalecida por un centenar de generaciones, haciéndonos espacio a todxs, seres libres del miedo.

Tláloc destroys Mexico City

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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.

9.10.15

Is the calendar notification that I woke up to this morning. The much anticipated date that was supposed to mark my triumphant move to Mexico City. We bought the ticket early April, my friend and I, dos almas errantes filled with wanderlust, nostalgia, and an overwhelming desire to party through a night of post-punk and mezcal.

Forward five months and instead of boarding a flight in Tijuana, I lounge in my southern Mexico City apartment (cottage, really), while my friend awaits the date she moves in November. So, how to make sense of these five months? Of spur of the moment decisions, of unexpected and even life changing circumstances, of distance, of the unplanned, of the  unwanted-of the necessary chain of events that conduces the way our lives are to unravel.

Fear, really, of having made a wrong decision, of moving too fast.  Of changing how the plan was supposed to unfold, of not letting it develop the way it was discussed and meditated. Of retreating forward and retreating rapidly-skipping all together certain discussions with family and friends, of missing out on the procrastination, of checking off each item down the list of things I needed to do for the most important and damn liberating move of my life.

The last few days I have felt the pangs of nostalgia for Los Angeles and even my body, my bones, are suddenly alert to each kilometer that marks the distance between here and there. Thoughts on how I moved too fast, fear and doubt begin to blemish what really is a performance and act of survival, for happiness, and self-love.

Liberation, really, to choose who you want to be and become, and act upon it. It’s simple but still so challenging, so overwhelming, and somehow so unrealistic for many of us. And when we do it, when I have moved and have made a decision to satiate this hunger for life, this necessity to create, to tune into my dreams and love nurtured by a magnificent city, at least for some moments, some months, some years of my peculiarly short life, all becomes complicated by self doubt, fear, and hate. Emotions that we constantly share among each other and feed ourselves like poison.

To retreat forward and disobey every premeditation, agreement, and plan. Diverging from what at one moment you thought was  best but life-and your beautiful power to destroy, decide, and create- determined you needed otherwise.

Why choose fear when you have already decided to live for love and with courage.  Why subject yourself to suffering when there is post-punk and mezcal. To tune into the desires, hopes, and affirmations deeply buried under all the fear, anxiety, and doubt.

Abi, I’m waiting for you.  Five months and looking forward.

Boyle Heights: Whose City?

Recently, I’ve been contemplating what it means to belong, be displaced, and occupy the cityscape — any cityscape.  Given all the experiences and circumstances that shapes our lives in cities — how does this inform how we feel included and present? How does who you are, and what you experience, inform the kind of life you live in a city, be it Mexico City or Boyle Heights?

These questions arose in me while living back home in Boyle Heights earlier this year. It was the first time I consider that I fully, spiritually, and creatively was present. In between traveling to and from Santa Cruz and Mexico City, I never allowed myself to relish and really be witness to the beauty and singularity of my community.  Though, as a nostalgic, I always appreciated its specialness in one way or another while away, from its murals to the smell of freshly baked pan dulce. My time in Boyle heights was usually always just a visit, a vacation, a fleeting moment. But that changed this year.

I met many people, including activists, artists, mothers, students, baristas, musicians, and lovers. I deeply enjoyed the sunsets and evenings, the strolls along First Street with my mother, dancing cumbia in a Mariachi Plaza illuminated by a vibrant orange sunset, all the while witnessing the music and life that pulsates in my community…palpitations that prove to me that we live and thrive today more than ever. And as I (re)connected with Boyle Heights, I became more familiar with the dimensions of the changes that many expect and are either planning or organizing against.

Gentrification.  The seemingly inevitable fate of low-income communities of color that are positioned in marketable, profitable, accessible — read displacement — urban spaces.  In as much as people anticipate gentrification’s success, many are actively organizing against it. I participated in a series of discussions and initiatives with people organizing to stop the gentrification of my neighborhood and I also witnessed how this process has displaced people of color in surrounding communities in the city.  And how it’s already begun in Boyle Heights.  The renovation of empty lots, the presence of art spaces on Anderson street, new businesses and the influx of consumers pouring in from Echo Park and Downtown.

It’s a very visible change, promoted by a relentless and violent process  to renovate, improve, and occupy, that has induced the anxiety and resistance of the community. Why should we move, why should we allow these processes of displacement to drive us out of our communities — communities once considered unappealing and dangerous to those who now consider it charming, attractive and thus attainable at the cost of our displacement. I witnessed and shared these sentiments, while I also began to read cultural publications discuss the novelty of my “vanishing neighborhood”.

Meanwhile I share the anxiety and urgency to organize against gentrification, I also witness and am angered by how Boyle Heights has become important only in relation to gentrification — that is, to its inevitable erasure and not its historical, spiritual, and cultural permanence.

And this is not exclusive to Boyle Heights. Because what facilitates the erasure of a community is a process that requires the erasure and displacing of our people. It did so upon forcing our rural communities into cities, then across borders, then across county lines. 

And in this sense, not only are we not meant to be occupants of space in cities but we are expected to accept a process that relegates us to evermore obscure, desolate, unwanted, unprofitable corners of this world ruled by capitalism.

What helps me understand place and belonging in Boyle Heights, is my life in Mexico City. It’s being physically distant from Boyle Heights. Because when I say I miss my home I’m not saying I miss the US. Or the physical manifestation of home.  What I miss is the essence of something you can’t exactly capture or freeze in space or time. I am part of a community that has constantly been under siege by processes of displacement. And we have survived it all — moved, rebuilt, recreated, persisted.

Boyle Heights is alive with memories, with expression, and with a certain permanence. I believe the key to our survival is not so much an interest to belong to any cityscape, for we have learned that it can and will do with us what it wants, but the perseverance of the ability to keep an essence and a resiliency that is also an important part in confronting and resisting the violence so bent on destroying us.

End of a season and the continuation of renewed cycles, my journey to Mexico City

It’s about that time of year here in Boyle Heights when the jacaranda trees shed the last of their beautiful lilac flowers. And as the last of its sweet petals frame our view of the early summer sky, I prepare to once again head south for Mexico City.

The jacaranda tree, magnificent and populously planted all over Boyle Heights, has perhaps been my favorite companion in these last few Spring months. Be it enjoying the sight of them through the train window coming home from yoga on the metro gold line or walking beneath them on especially gloomy and overcast days, their presence has been a personal source of happiness and inspiration.

And just like the many beings I continue to meet on my journey, I feel grateful for the jacaranda and what it has taught me about presence, resiliency, and the cyclical nature of our days, lives, opportunities, and worlds.

Well, it was only very recently that I received an offer to work as the Managing Director for the Center of International Policy’s Americas Program in Mexico City, an organization I’ve worked as an intern and journalist for the last three years.

I was surprised and deeply grateful regarding the timeliness of this amazing offer, considering that my plans for a Fulbright didn’t come into fruition this past April and in light of my overwhelming desire to make a more permanent move to DF. Considering that for over two years, I have made two unsuccessful attempts at graduate admissions at UNAM, countless unfruitful job applications to Mexican organizations, and an endless amount of sent emails and withheld sighs and depressions experienced in the process. Simply put, this offer is basically a dream come true for this transbarrio writer and nepantlera.

Yet after the conversation with my friend and would be boss, I have walked around my neighborhood, contemplating the increasingly bare branches of the jacaranda, and it was during these barrio saunters that I sincerely felt a sadness about leaving and embarking south. Of leaving during a time I have felt I have become more intimate and familiar with Boyle Heights.

In an instant I felt conflicted whether to stay in Boyle Heights and explore and deepen the possibilities of my happiness here or to heed this opportunity to embark on a career in journalism in Mexico City, a destination I have sought to arrive to so desperately, so insanely, so intensely for so long.

And in considering this sudden and unexpected opportunity not only to travel and live in the city of my dreams, but work in the field of journalism, and to be physically and creatively closer to a life of writing and living splendidly, I feel compelled to take a cue from my favorite trees that in their cycles and essence have taught me an important lesson about blooming and letting go.

For over three years, I have struggled with transitions. Refusing to be present and struggling with accepting and letting go of new spiritual, personal, and emotional seasons. These have included the spiritually debilitating experience of transitioning back into the often alienating culture and politics of the US. Of the institutional violence inflicted upon young people of color not only seeking to survive the job market, but living and existing in US society. Of my own intolerance and violence toward myself, the way I have adopted criteria and judgment toward myself, and my ability and capacity to achieve, create, and exist. Meanwhile these many forms of violence are products of both tangible and metaphysical legacies of injustice and inequality, one of the biggest challenges has been recognizing that I have always been where I needed to be, both physically and emotionally.

What I now realize is that meanwhile it has been so in the past, transitions do not necessarily have to be painful. That cycles end only to begin different and more necessary journeys. That in searching for affirmations and inspiration, we must take cues from the universe and the worlds around us, from the beauty of the changing branches of the jacaranda tree to the boundless and limitlessness of earth and peoples despite borders, of the grandeur of existence.

What is wonderful and what I am so unbelievably grateful for is that I owe the beginning of this cycle to hard work, serendipity, and coincidence. It is recognizing that it is a result of my work and effort over three years and that it is also a product of a phone call and an alignment of both well wishes and a genuine search for support. And it has perhaps even come in a time when I’ve needed it most: it is a ripple of cycles that came before, many that even began before I came to exist in this present form.

I am open to embarking on this cycle and I recognize that I must bloom and let go as the seasons require. That my potential and power to regenerate, reinvent, and heal is limitless. And that I am so incredibly excited for what lies ahead. And that I am strong and ready to transition and flow and relish in it.

I recognize and affirm that Boyle Heights and my gente and these trees are resilient and are within me as much as I stay and live within them. That I am headed to where I need to be only to return to continue what many of us began for ourselves and together.

And just like the jacaranda tree bears its beautiful branches regardless of the season, I am grateful and love my life both in times of splendor and simplicity, triumph and challenge, growth and stillness.

Como pasajera en trance y repose, I look forward to the transitions and renewed seasons that await.

amor intergaláctico

como el golden record del voyager que viaja por el espacio interestelar con las melodias dulces de rock n’ roll, así yo navego por el espacio profundo del amor y la vida

como pasajera en trance le doy vueltas al universo de mi espíritu, del amor, y de mis deseos

ligera, resistente, y llena de esperanzas de comunicar y aprender, al girar por esta hermosa existencia pierdo todo sentido de tiempo, guiándome solo por la maravilla pura

girando a toda velocidad hacia una reunión que me espera a unos años luz

un reencuentro de unos segundos, que durará una infinidad

la recuperación de un amor intergaláctico
un amor sin comienzo ni fin