Mexico City: El Metro

Metro D.F.
El Metro #Paisajedfeño

There are few remote corners of Mexico City in which the sounds of congestion and movement do not reach. El Metro is no exception; the noise of the trains zooming through the tunnels with the thundering power of an enraged Tláloc and the – increasingly persecuted – sing song chilango jingles of the underground urban economy vagonero hustlers that sell you just about everything at 10 pesos a piece, from earphones, CDs, Sharpie pens, and miracle creams for many ailments: “Hoy le traigo a la ventaa….”.

It is the noise of the steady rumble of life that extends laterally beneath a city that weighs down with the weight of 20 million people and immeasurable tons of concrete and volcanic stone.

Meanwhile its mark on popular rock culture of the early eighties is immortalized in the statue of the rock great Rodrigo González situated in Metro Balderas, who dedicated a tune of lost love to one of the busiest metro stations in the heart of the city, the underground world of fast paced trains and peddlers, remains very much like the metro of 30 years ago. It’s an atemporal space where the rituals and urban performances unfold in intricate choreographies that fluctuate unwaningly throughout the lapse of days, weeks, and years.

To me, the subway is yet another example of the intimacy experimented within the enormity and anonymity of Mexico City. It is both an intimate and alienating space that beckons the slumber and exhaustion of bodies that find comfort in the seats and aisles of the traveling wagon and where the impressive number of urban company reassures an unrelenting precariousness to keep guard over body and belongings.

El Metro is a space of repose and waiting; under the clocks along platforms there are lovers and friends awaiting predetermined special or customary reunions.  And at a certain time of the day, when all are on their way to or from daily responsibilities, the metro becomes so unbelievably full of humanity that on your first trips you relinquish all authority and patrimony over private space and learn to rub elbows, hips, shoulders, and faces with your neighbor.  Although this understanding is never spoken, once you become integrated into the underground world you learn that only in this complaisance can you get from El Zócalo to Coyoácan in one piece, participating in the choreographies of El Metro.

And within all of these rituals, all transients and participants are witness to the performances that seek to awaken slumbering souls, burdened by the city and its imposed anonymity as street poets and students of Shakespeare and Brecht invite us to explore their words of urgency and beauty; in gratitude for their performances some passengers exchange momentary glances and smiles, and on occasion a few pesos.

 In El Metro personal solitude confronts the solitude of thousands of other people in such a way that they congeal into a mass of solidarity and pulsating urban life that awakens us with fleeting moments of lucidity, with the hum of trains and the heaving of humanity in movement as an incredible sonorous backdrop. In this way, it is sort of a moment of intimacy with everything and (mostly) everyone who inhabits Mexico City.  It’s a moment of imposed repose before climbing back to the world of sound and distance, where these rituals of existing in individuality and community are repeated over again and in different forms.

Mexican Political Surrealisms

Some Context: This is a piece I wrote on the presidential inauguration of  PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in December 1, 2012.  This reflection was a product of the political youth attitudes of that year, which were particularly agitated and mobilized as a result of the #YoSoy132 student movement (in which I participated in and researched from May to December of that year). The mood was tense and students were disenchanted and exhausted; #YoSoy132 was unable to prevent the conception of a premeditated political plan to bring the historically corrupt PRI to power. Due to the more recent examples of protests, particularly in Mexico City, against the new telecommunications lawI was able to dig this up and thus reflect on the patterns of repression of social protest in Mexico since EPN’s inauguration in 2012:

 As I write it is December 1st, the first official day of Enrique Peña Nieto’s political reign over Mexico.  Today, I saw the signs of times to come cloud over Mexico City.  Instead of the usual orderly but maintained chaos of downtown Mexico City, I observed people walk the glass-shattered streets contemplative, anxious, sin rumbo.

 Today I took the metro from my apartment in the south of the city up to the Centro Histórico.  I was hoping to catch up to the protesters who were marching in rechazo, repudiation, of the legitimacy  of Enrique Peña Nieto, who was inaugurated at midnight on December 1st. As they marched toward east to El Zócalo from el Angel de Independencia, they were met with hundreds and hundreds of grenadiers, heavily protected police force armed with shields and equipped with tear gas.  The grenadiers had been mobilized to prevent the march, in which families, students and children had participated in, from reaching el Zócalo, which sits situated right under the vigilance of the government palace.  I didn’t see the confrontation unfold but when I arrived to El Centro and got off at the Bellas Artes metro stop, I saw glass-shattered avenues, overturned barricades and graffitied walls. Huge groups of spectators looked onto the groups of grenadiers, positioned defensively with their shields forming a barricade against potential agitators.

As I stood with the crowd, I was overcome with the shared sense of anxiety, discomfort, and outrage.  Standing there I observed how the protestors, now scattered among the crowd and around the perimeter of Bellas Artes, continued to confront the police with an armament of rocks, sticks, and shouts. I observed how a group of around thirty people scattered for rocks and proceeded to throw in unison and succeed in pushing back the police force a couple of yards.  The protestors shouted to the police forces, “Who are you protecting?” “You’re protecting asesinos!” “You should be protecting us!”

 I thought to myself, whom are they protecting?  Enrique Peña Nieto is the young face of the PRI, a party that, if as children of the Mexican diaspora we inquire to anyone of our parents or grandparents, will admit has a notorious, violent, and repressive political track record. It was under PRI’s 71 yearlong governance that the Mexican government repressed and ordered the assassination of hundreds of student protestors in the Plaza de Tlatelolco in 1968, in one of largest massacres in Latin America of the last century. It was under PRI governance that students were again repressed in El Halconzao in 1971.  It was under PRI governance that Mexican society became desensitized to political corruption and repression of social protest.

 In 2006, in San Salvador Atenco in the state of Mexico, protestors and community members were severely repressed by federal and state police.  What began as resistance from flower vendors against displacement from their areas of work, escalated into a confrontation between the police and the community.  This battle, waged by the police with clubs and malevolence, ended with more than two hundred deaths and arbitrary arrests and the rape of more than two-dozen women.   Under the governance of Enrique Peña Nieto, violence against women, repression of social protest and political corruption skyrocketed in the state of Mexico.

This is the government that was democratically elected the first of July of this year? The #YoSoy132 movement organized in May of this year was a direct response to the political and societal implications of the return of the PRI, especially with Enrique Peña Nieto as candidate.  #YoSoy132 tried with vigor and creativity to dissuade the Mexican public from supporting the PRI, but through an elaborate election fraud scheme of vote buying,  political corruption and media manipulation, Enrique Peña Nieto also known as el copetón, was elected into office.

Now, what awaits Mexico? It’s a vicious cycle.  A cycle of outrage, disenchantment, violence, and resistance.  A cycle that has repeated again and again in Mexico, sexenio after sexenio.  In a recent Skype conversation with my father, he explained to me that it was now my turn to learn and live in carne propia the mechanics of political and social manipulation of the PRI, lived experiences he and so many other Mexicans from past generations know very well.

Encuentros aleccionadores

Hoy es luna llena,  and tonight we witness the particularly grand spectacle of the blood moon, un eclipse lunar. Astronomical and historical nights like this one serves to remind us of the grandeur and immensity that engulfs us.  For while we indeed live, suffer and enjoy in excruciatingly complex ways, we occupy a relatively minuscule place within greater forms of existence. On a stroll around my neighborhood in Los Ángeles,  the brilliantly illuminated night sky is a reminder of this astronomical truth.  This lunar lesson remits to lessons of a more spiritual kind, product of intersections with people  who have taught me lessons on simplicity, gratitude and fulfillment. While I may suffer and hurt through every transition, I am reminded of my place within greater celestial, corporal and spiritual positioning and alignments. The following is a lesson gifted to me by a friend in Mexico City regarding happiness within place and living and companionship with life itself:

¡La vida es bella! I just finished having coffee with a lovely mujer, Sindy, in Café 123 by Metro Juarez. I had the most sincere and sublime conversation with her, on living in Mexico City and the pursuit of passion and our right to be inquietas and noncoforming. Sindy has lived in Mexico City for about six years now and her decision to stay and live in Mexico parted from her experience as an exchange student at UNAM.  I see much of my passion and love compatible with hers; she appreciates the culture and creativity of the city, the intimacy and comfort emanated from its public space and imbued in its people.

She explained her conviction and commitment to the life she lives in Mexico City as both struggle and perseverance.  She had the graciousness to offer me her experience and inspiration for my own journey and struggle in Mexico City.  As she so lyrically and philosophically put it, the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment is a great effort of resistance and justice because it not only channels our impetus for fundamental change inward but inspires us to transform ourselves into people capable of inspiring others.  For Sindy, her decision to live and struggle in D.F. has imbued in her the power of inspiration and creation. It has allowed for a transformative state of freedom: to find, create, pursue and channel all of my beautiful capacity to be free and to be happy.

I am grateful for Sindy and to life for facilitating my encuentros with people like her. As one friend poignantly stated, inspiration must come from within and that we are capable of finding it within ourselves. I think this is important and necessary, and an absolutely great compliment to inspiration transmitted from others as a beautiful synergetic exchange of life and strength.

Y como se lo comentaba a Sindy, me comprendo como una mujer eternamente acompañada y, a pesar de todo, consolada viviendo en la ciudad de México.  Es a menudo cruel pero cuando voy caminando por sus calles, o sentada en alguna plaza e incluso viajando en el metro, siento una profunda y sincera solidaridad con la gente que me rodea; comprendemos la belleza y fealdad de nuestro entorno y de nuestra ciudad.  El susurro de la guitarra, el flujo de los fuentes de agua, las charlas coquetas de las parejas y el silencio tranquilo de la muchacha que comparta la banca conmigo: todo me acompaña y me conforta.  Es sutil y placentero a la vez que conmovedor y a veces incomodo.  Me acompaña la ciudad pero mi eterno compañerx es la vida misma.

Mexico City: Ciudad Noir

“La Alameda de noche”, Silver Gelatin Print 8″ x 10″

La ciudad de México es Ciudad Noir y el Centro Histórico is its quintessential noir quarter. Strolling across El Zócalo on an October evening, right after the torrential rain habitual of otoño has ceased and the sun begins to set, all along the square both lovers and hollering vendors alike can discern the orange sunset reflected in the rain puddles that adorn the volcanic stone square. The night breeze, recently unburdened of its normal toxicity, feels cool on faces exposed above scarves and skin under polyester Pumas jerseys.

As I climb out of the grumble of the underground world of trains and twisted drainage pipes and cross the square, I direct my course toward the northeast of the historic center. On a side street off Moneda in front of El Convento de Ex Teresa, nestled in between an army artillery store and the ruins of El Templo Mayor, sits a small restaurant of chilango delicacies. As I indulge in flautas de papa that exceed the standards of chilango street food, I engage in a quick and murmured conversation with the proprietor regarding the particularly symbolic location of his establishment. He lives with his family on the second floor of the building and although they live rather peacefully and unperturbed, he explains that on certain nights he discerns a tension throughout the corridors of his home and can hear sounds of inaudible laments. El Centro is a battle ground of both primordial and modern spiritual and political wars.

Flautas devoured, I make my way back to Moneda, and opt to walk west toward Alameda Central through the sullen but tranquil calle 5 de Mayo in order to avoid the overwhelming crowds and distressing lights of Av. Francisco I. Madero. I reach the edge of la Alameda by crossing Bellas Artes and its respective encampment of tourists and urbanite philosophers. After the sun has waned and the dancing fountains are alas abandoned by children and families, la Alameda becomes as lonely and abandoned as it was before its pricey renovation. Only timid lovers and strangers are sprinkled throughout the park, enjoying the solitude of the vast public city space.

After a late evening chela on the parkside Café Denmedio and a brisk walk down the dimly illuminated and steadily diminishing bustle of Calle Lopez, past the exhausted butchers and the lingering smell and warmth of carnitas, guisados and tacos that provoke even the most loyal of vegetarians, I descend down the stairs of Metro Salto de Agua. There ends another night of sauntering down the streets of El Centro, chasing side eyed glances that peer through shadows and corners where fluorescent street lamps and OXXO signs meet timeworn cobble stone structures and faces.

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.

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.

Image

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.