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.
To confess that I miss you is to admit that we are bound.
To recognize that the 1,548 miles between us
are threads that traverse mountains and plains and tether us together
pulling us close in a tight embrace
It’s to temporarily suspend time and space to acknowledge a closeness that distance doesn’t permit
To keep you alive within me
An immediacy that keeps my skin sensitive to your warmth
to your vanilla scent
the smoothness of your shoulders
I miss you
the way i love early mornings and late nights in Centro Histórico
the way I love the coolness of advancing dusk on my skin
the way I love the smell of lemon trees in my hair
all that is
When I say I miss you I suddenly become aware
that what I am really saying is that I love you
That I wish happiness and presence upon you
To encourage you to love and celebrate where you are
To remind myself to be grateful and alive where I am
Far apart and still thriving
Displaced but rooted
Separate and fully alive
Decir te extraño
es decir te pienso
Es decir que me quiero a mi misma
reconocer que me alimentas
mi haces más viva
Es reconocer que en cuanto más te extraño
más siento amor por la vida
por mi entorno
y lo que esta en mi
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.
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.
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.
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.