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.

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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.