The first batch of stills reveals five years of love. Always stoic, always wondrous, always a bit grimy. An atemporal love that sinks (or slants) deeply into the soul. Mexico City in black & white 35mm film.
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.
Forever grateful, and in love.
The shadows of the tree branches sway on the smooth white walls of the cafe, creating patterns of fading sunlight across the temporarily out of service expresso machine. Power has been wiped out from my neighborhood so for the first time in eight years, I am alone with my self and with this overwhelming sense of disconnectedness we used to call rest.
Behind me engines rumble and wheels screech to a halt every minute. The microbuses and taxis shuttle several hundreds to the north south east and deep west of the city.
Clouds gather and humidity begins to lightly coat car hoods and the leaves of surrounding lemon trees. We’re experiencing a winter storm in the middle of March. Suddenly the sky is muddled a dirty brown color that warns of fast approaching rain.
The wind feels sweet. Unburdened of its toxicity, it wraps already bundled bodies that hustle in every direction, home-bound.
Behind me the sun quickly sets. The sunlit patterns are fading away, and still no internet.
Your skin, as you so correctly pointed out, is indeed lighter than mine. About a few lighter tones of brown. The tonalities of our skin aren’t the only borders that separate us. The differences between how we speak and what we sound like are as thick as the rusted metal plates that catch the gleam of golden sunsets in Tijuana.
You Chilango, speak Nahuatl. I Pocha, speak Spanglish. Although on days when I need to put on a more authentic performance of my Mexicaness, I pull out my seven years of (un)learning Spanish to pass just as you do. Cuauhtémoc is your martyr, you consider Tenochitlán usurped, Cortes a bastard, Trump a bigot, and are frustrated and angry and consider everything culturally constructed around you in the last 500 years a terrible joke.
And I agree with you, on the frustration, disdain, and pain of seeing, and being one of a few who has survived the destruction of what you consider the true expression of your authentic self. But you raging at me in Nahuatl on the metro is not fucking okay.
It went down like this: Riding the metro on a January evening, a friend and I discussed the excitement and unease brought on by the start of a new year in the city. Two transplants in Mexico City by way of Los Angeles and San Diego, Mexico City to us is the current cultural and political mecca of our creativity and lives. For my friend a photographer and I a writer, it was a long time coming.
We were riding northbound on a packed Line 2 train, squeezed between students and office employees, discussing our plans for the year. And as naturally as Spanglish rolls off my tongue in the middle of Broadway in Downtown LA, and as easy it is to integrate the colloquial slang of my campesino grandfather in my conversations with elder Chilangxs in a coffee shop in Colonia Portales, I spoke English with my friend on the metro. Laughing and discussing our plans, our conversation was suddenly interrupted by the grunts and mumbling of a man sitting in the row directly in front of us. Unphased we continued with our conversation until it was again abruptly interrupted with the man’s husky voice exclaiming, “Fuck!” followed by his incoherent mumbling.
Suddenly aware of his anger at us, we became more tense as we pretended to ignore him. Our resilience to continue on with our conversation, one that fluidly switched to Spanish and Spanglish, infuriated him further. Suddenly made brave, and impatient to this man’s anger at us, I turned and stared squarely at him. Locking eyes, he pulled up his sleeve to show me the pale brown color of his wrist and inner arm and said to me in Spanish, “Can’t you see? I’m lighter than you and I speak Spanish. I speak Nahuatl too! Do you speak Nahuatl?”
Left dumbfounded, my friend jumped to respond and scolded the man for eavesdropping and even interrupting our conversation. At this point, having broken that immaculate and entrancing silence that characterizes metros all over the world, we had the attention of the entire car. Eager to avoid this confrontation, I turned back to my friend and we resumed our conversation, except now my anxious voice increasingly integrated Spanish. Unrelenting, the man continued to rant at us, accusing us of pretending English fluency, scolding us to be ashamed, us two dark brown womxn, at having embraced English as it’s the language of Donald Trump.
There, a full-out quadrilingual argument ensued on the metro of Mexico City. In our exchange, I explained that Trump was a racist, sexist pig and not at all representative of an entire language and country (perhaps half-heartedly because maybe he DOES and maybe that’s exactly why the U.S. is the most terribly racist country in the world). I explained my family’s history of migration. I explained that like myself, thousands of Mexicans in the U.S. don’t speak Nahuatl and still live the spiritual and material violence promoted by Trump. I explained, with a nervous and infuriated voice, that that doesn’t make me any less, or anymore, Mexican.
Unsatisfied, the man went from scolding us like an elder, to scolding us like pochas. Unauthentic, arrogant, shameless, embarrasment. All these things I’m sure he threw at us in Nahuatl. Our exchange lasted about three metro stops, when he decided to end the conversation and stand up to get off at his stop. And amidst awkward giggles and sighs, we let him know it was our stop too, and followed right behind him.
Getting off the train and away from the suffocating silence and probing stares of fellow passengers, we walked off and toward the exit, tense and contemplative. Such an intimate and intense confrontation and discussion, one I have dedicated essays and much meditation on, made quickly public.
Not belonging to either nationalism, but to the local experience of my life in Boyle Heights and joy and heartbreak in Mexico City. Choosing to embrace my transfronteriza existence came after five years of traveling between Mexico City and Los Angeles. Facing constant questioning of my accent, the confusion of having “perfect English” despite such brown skin, the ruthlessly violent nationalism of the US’s immigration policy toward Mexicans and Mexico’s increasing deportation and violence against Central Americans, the classism embedded in the social fabric of Mexico City and the self-hate of my diaspora anxious to succeed and be visible in the institutions del otro lado. My life navigating nationalism led to my commitment only to the transbarrio. To the value and connection of our experiences as people pumping with life and love and not limited to our possession of a passport, a passing accent or knowledge of either English or Spanish, or of an adequate performance to please a perpetually displeased authenticity police.
The anxiety of facing and being spiritually defeated by the Aztec in Mexico City’s metro opens these wounds and reminds me of the pain that like a border still unites us. His anger fueled by a racism and nationalism all his own, all still present and ephemeral in the streets of this city and in the probing stares of our elders in our hoods of Los Angeles and New York City. Gentrification, displacement, colonialism, patriarchy, violence, hate, nationalisms, borders, misunderstanding. Years of colonialism and imperialism sustain the meta-border that still separates and divides us.
For our diasporas, when it comes to melanin and identity, language and performativity, nothing is ever just one shade of belonging, neither Pocha nor Aztec. Like the diversity of the brown gleaming faces of school children in playgrounds in Boyle Heights, our essence is of endless promise, endless forms to be. We wear jade around our wrists, huaraches or sometimes jelly sandals on our feet, handwoven rebosos and leather jackets frame our shoulders, nostalgia pumps in our hearts, and Zapotec hip-hop, Nahuatl prose, Spanish scoldings, Spanglish epiphanies enlighten our mornings and nights in our hoods and campos.
All this left unspoken in a metro car filled with hate and anxiety. Coming back to healing and mediation, laughing and reaffirming that what unites us can be more powerful and conducive to collective healing than what divides. Still searching for those spoken words to help this healing. For now, I build the strength and peace to continue this journey in my current nepantla capital.
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.
Friday marked the forty-seventh anniversary of the massacre of students in Tlatelolco. As is accustomed, thousands marched to commemorate the student movement-and denounce the repression and murder of hundreds of students, both then and now-in a lively and compelling display of student activism and solidarity. “2 de Octubre no se olvida!” was plastered in graffiti all over downtown while students chanted and waved banners, not simply moving memory but agitating it, shaking it from deep slumber.
It was the first time that I observed the march from outside. Ever since my study abroad stint at UNAM, I have attended the march both as a protestor and researcher. I’ve learned the emblematic protest chants and have felt my heart swell with pride when chorusing the UNAM university chant. I learned to deeply adore the sound of Goya! resound, bounce against hundreds of bodies, and fill Eje Central Avenue. There’s a segment of the protest route that goes underneath an overpass on Eje Central and Reforma- there the sound and noise of all the protestors builds an incredible power that makes every student feel, and has made me feel, invincible. It is an amazing experience.
But on Friday I was standing along the street observing with hundreds of residents and journalists. Standing on the railing of that overpass, I peered down and observed the protestors approach. Right before disappearing underneath the bridge, the leaders of the march, the survivors of the Tlatelolco repression and student leaders of that 68 generation paused all lined up behind a banner, stoic and prideful. As if time and years of impunity, protest, and marches like these have sculpted them into seasoned warriors.
The protest advanced and following that older generation were multiple groups of teachers’ college students, normalistas. Their chants had a deep sonorous quality-chants almost one-hundred years old, written by peoples who inherited and still fight to uphold the values of a failed revolution. Observing the normalists march, I became overwhelmed and struck by their conviction and resiliency.
The noise began to build, and the sea of protestors began to steadily flow southbound, the women students of the teachers’ college, the political science students of UNAM, the engineers from the Polytechnic University, all composing an amazing symphony of resistance and presence. Dozens and dozens of university groups marched forward, each adding their chants and chorus to one beautiful amazing and overwhelming voice of protest.
I was struck by the beauty and solidarity of the march. All of a sudden this unity, this ruckus, this vision inspired deep and pure hope in my heart.
Mexico is a country that has suffered very deeply, for very long. For so long that disenchantment and bitterness has grown in the heart of many, who doubt and are unable to dream of a country of justice and love.
But bearing witness to conviction in its purest form, to fierceness and courage, to that amazingly public and unified expression of resistance, politicization, and memory, reignited the conviction, at least in my own heart. A conviction that not only is justice possible, but it exists in the hearts and desires of thousands upon thousands of mexicans, of students.
That Mexico-just like many other countries, just like many other cities, just like many other living and feeling people- deserves and demands justice and respect for life and freedom. That Mexico maybe a country rotting in corruption, cynicism, and apathy but it is these conditions that incubates memory and resistance.
Mexico is alive. And Mexico has memory. Mexico gives life to movements and memories and dreams for better worlds.