To Mexico City’s Raging Aztec

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.

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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.

noches de neón discotequero

Tijuana desde Altamira, fotografa anonima y chingona
Tijuana desde Altamira

Es increíble.  Me corazón se anida en esta frontera borrosa. El asombro del fin de semana vive en mi, tan lejos de aquellas calles, de la rockola, de la pista de baile más bella del mundo.

Entra por mi ventana el mismo viento que movió y desordenó mi noche y día en la frontera. Es un momento en donde el tiempo por fin refleja un mundo interior, siempre enérgico, feliz, fluido.

Baile en pistas de baile que pulsaban con vida, alumbrados con la energía fluorescente de cientos de cuerpos. Camine por calles sin rumbo ni nombre, pero con un destino fijo.

Movernos sin cesar, comer, ingerir, beber, abrazar. Guiadxs por un apetito insaciable por el arte en cada encuentro y rostro, por el gozar y la fotografía de lo presente e imperceptible. Por el tacto, la reunion, y la aventura.

Son contados las noches que nos entregamos al alboroto de todo lo vivo, a vivir sin sosiego, donde el descanso se vuelve superfluo, y los cuerpos sobrehumanos. Tijuana nos lo cede y regala. Lo gozamos hasta ver el cielo púrpura del amanecer de un nuevo día, la espera de una nueva noche.

¿Sin rumbo, a donde podemos llegar? Interminables noches de neón discotequero. Alimentación y recuerdo.

fronteras: a re-encuentro with the borderlands

I find myself deeply re-reading Migrant Imaginaries, a book by Alicia Schmidt Camacho, that explores the historical and contemporary dynamics of the transborder migratory circuit that traverses the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

I first read this book back in 2011 while a student at UC Santa Cruz, as part of my favorite undergraduate course of my Latin American and Latina/o Studies major. This book recaps various perspectives from early border scholars like Americo Paredes and late twenty century Chicana feminists like Cherie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. It overviews what I come to interpret as the fragmented mexican imaginary: México de afuera, México de adentro, México profundo and México fragmentado – or as Americo Paredes once identified it, Greater Mexico: the borderlands.

As I re-read Imaginaries, I prepare to apply to the Fulbright program, hoping to conduct a research project about contemporary transborder solidarity in the context of increasingly violent and hostile domestic policy on both sides of the border.

And much like that time of intellectual and personal growth experienced and endured as a student, I deeply connect these parts as chapters of my perpetual awakening as a I traverse through many borders, through many worlds. Only that today I feel more well versed in the ritual of positioning my experience before theories, of the conversation and exchange of these as spiritual and intellectually healing and enriching processes.

It is incredible how while coming across this literary and theoretical treasure via an on-line search for my literature review, I remember having seen the “luminous Santa Niña de Mochis” as an image by artist Alma Lopez that graces the cover of a book already buried in my bookshelf. Years since graduating, years since first leaving to Mexico City (and the subsequent choreographies of crossborder traversing), and an entire life living within the borderlands, it is a literal and intellectual unearthing. A wiping away of collected dust of the passage of time, the dimming of college-aged epiphanies, and a re-encuentro with the remnants of the intellectual parlance among compxs. Only that now, post-everything that I’ve lived seen felt and experienced since that time of intellectual incubation, everything is suddenly more illuminated, más tangible, más fuerte.

Supongo que de eso se trata la construcción, this is construction. Como las palabras sirven para articular las experiencias que tejen las teorías, que en alguna vez pudieron articular nuestrxs silencios y ausencias, what once was inarticulate even to our own imagination. Y que con la persistencia del tiempo y del viaje podemos borrar hasta las fronteras entre teoría y practica, y fomentar y compartir los aprendizajes del proceso cíclico que se experimenta como andantes de fronteras. The erasure of the borders that sever theory from practice, and the possibilities there incubated:

tuxpi.com.1409645004

She inhabits the borderlands. She stays, awakens the dead, and tries to “make whole what has been smashed at this unnatural boundary.” Santa Niña de Mochis, habitante de nuestras fronteras, “she is the maker of worlds.”

Escribiendo Los Ángeles: La Música

Ella pisa las estrellas 
todo te lo da y pronto te lo quita 
por los callejones donde nada brilla 
quedan los recuerdos de la Reina..

 La Santa Cecilia, fragmento de la canción “Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles” 

En este blog he dedicado mucha prosa y poesía a la Ciudad de México. Aquella es mi musa más grande, fuente inagotable de inspiración para esta viajera. Pero gran parte de lo que me inspira de ella lo asocio a mi experiencia como una mujer y estudiante transfronterista.

To write and understand myself wholly, we must consider all of my experiences relative to borders, and to the ways in which I travel, transcend, inhabit and challenge them.

Before Mexico City there was Santa Cruz, before Santa Cruz Los Angeles, before Los Angeles there was Durango, before Durango…Between all this coming and going, Los Angeles remains one of my more enduring homes. This is the city my parents’ choose to migrate to in the 70s and sow roots, echar raíces, while nurturing a yearning always to return down roads trekked across hills and deserts, rivers and mountains.

Because although I am always leaving, aunque siempre me esté yendo, siempre regreso. Regreso cuando la nostalgia se aproxima en invierno y extraño los apapachos de mi mamá, su olor su cocinar los tamales y el ponche que prepara y escuchar a mi padre tocar el piano y perderme en su colección de records. Recuerdo la letra de una canción de Facundo Cabral, Me gusta andar pero no sigo el camino pues lo seguro ya no tiene misterio, me gusta ir con el verano muy lejos pero volver donde mi madre en invierno…

Porque cuando regresamos al nido, when we return to our earliest home, we receive new opportunities to discern the smallest and most astounding developments, the newness of what we once considered mundane and ordinary, and the beauty and happiness of our most cherished memories.

My piece of Los Angeles is Boyle Heights – un pequeño pedazo de Los Angeles hacia el oriente en donde encontramos mucha gente mexicana, saldavoreña, latinoamericana y todxs quienes se encuentran en medio. This is a community of resiliency where the memory of our pueblos remains preserved in our food, in the aromatic poetry of pan dulce that emanates from bakeries on bright and radiant barrio mornings, in our abrazos and in our music.

The músicxs y música that melodize and fill my community come in diverse melodic and rythmic forms, desde el mariachi al conjunto, del son jarocho al rock  y punk en espanglish. However, the bastions of our musical creative production remain the people who, in their migration and journey through las américas, brought with them their love and necessity. For all of us, music becomes a tool and symbol of personal and collective survival:

© Monica Almeida
Mariachi Plaza © Monica Almeida

Of all ages, de todos los tamaños: trabajando en un oficio ya antiguo, a veces o muchas veces menos preciados, tocando para nosotros los corridos, los sones, los huapangos..siempre en restaurantes coloridos y deliciosos.  The strumming of their guitarras, the plucking of the strings, the loitering, waiting, watching: esperando las oportunidades que a veces nunca llegan. 

 

© Nidia Bautista
© Nidia Bautista

En Los Ángeles, ciudad a veces cruel, es en donde cada vez más los músicos mexicanos y latinoamericanos quedan relegados a la plaza de mariachi y a aveces, al hambre. Los procuramos cuando nuestra nostalgia y soledad lo requiere. Theirs are faces I want to preserve in my heart’s memory forever; las manos envejecidas, mentes lúcidas, miradas agobiadas, melodías dulces.

Mexico City: Ciudad de la Nostalgia, Ciudad que se extraña

El Centro, Mexico D.F.

The process of forgetting feelings versus the process of forgetting people and place; could it be that although you never truly forget a person, because of time and space, you induce yourself or are forced to forget how you felt about them, and so that when you see them, you remember them, but you no longer have present those feelings that once inspired you to think you’d never feel anything like that for anything else ever again? Or are these resolute feelings authentic, but their passion is so strong that it astounds and clouds doubt of love over us? Could this be true about a city?

Or could it be that they rise up in you again once you have them close to you? Is it a matter of proximity or of time? I think it’s a matter of proximity. These feelings of love once exploding inside of me, are becoming dormant, but I know upon first contact they will explode, re-emerge and pour out of my soul…

When it comes to Mexico city, both person and place, my dilemma of love is in no way new. It’s been about seven months since I stepped on chilango soil last, and as I contemplate the urban sunsets over it’s downtown through virtual means and relish in the memories of it’s tastes and sensations, my love remains steadfast as I continuously live in a different context, in a different city.

Considering that Mexico City has always been a city of flux and migration, both internal migration from rural areas to the urban center, and international migrations, from Latin American professionals who flock to the largest city in the hemisphere in pursuit of opportunities for work and international tourists in seek of leisure, many people are perpetually arriving and leaving, always consuming and exchanging a bit of themselves with the city.

As an exchange student-turned-tourist-turned-adoptive-denizen of the city, I’ve met and encountered many people from all of the world who’ve migrated to the city in pursuit of opportunities to become more themselves – from writers to graphic designers from Venezuela, young students of politics from Colombia, musicians from Puebla, and free spirits and world-class mezcal drinkers from Sacramento. I’ve met people who, like me, are in pursuit of something distinct from the sameness found in U.S. cities, who plan to make Mexico City a more permanent home.

And in my journey from and between my many homes, I’ve met both lifelong and adoptive dfeños who always speak and refer to Mexico City as a city to miss. From pict(oral) histories exchanged in person and internecticamente, with stories that illuminate Mexico City of the past and present, from childhoods in Parque Alameda and nights out in El Centro, the sounds and smells and tastes are always preserved in synesthetic memories of once transients of the city.

These memories, this nostalgia, ultimately turns into a yearning and desire to return. In many ways, upon experiencing the city, the writers and designers and lovers and travelers are willing to, and ultimately do, return. It’s as if Mexico City marks you. It marks you with a love and an inspiration to love and live in a way that parallels the intensity of its urban life. It’s the simple things in the city that inspire a greater and more permanent, life-long love.

And it is despite the distance and despite time, that a love for a city subsists. Because however small and however remote the happiness remains remembered of our time living in Mexico City, it is the conjunction of all these that make for one of the most sublime lessons on love and life.

As the lyrics go for one of my favorites songs by La Negra Sosa and interpreted by Chavela Vargas, ultimately, uno vuelve siempre a los viejos sitios donde amo la vida. One always returns to the places where they loved life most. In that way, we are always returning.

Mexico City: Mujer Se Enamora de Ciudad

heart 2 df

Falling in love with something as vast and intangible as the most enormous capital city of Latin America, one with increasingly blurring boundaries and delineations, is a strange notion.

So is the confession of feeling heartbreak when you’re away, love sickness when you wish and yearn to indulge in its street food and afternoons in the company of its cityscape. As absurd and – as dfeñxs, mexicanxs, pochxs and us chilangxs sintéticxs might say – cursi this may seem, I am certain of having experienced the different stages of courtship and love, enamorment and lust, growth and wisdom through and because of my times living in Mexico City. These experiences continue and flourish regardless of time and logic – the stages are repeated over again and in different patterns and with different lessons.  As if Mexico City, as a complete and enigmatic whole, has been the most nurturing and lucid example of lover and teacher.

I first moved to Mexico City three years ago, a college senior on a mission of immersion and authenticity. In 2011, I studied in UNAM and threw myself into as many experiences and many perspectives as possible. Consequently, I’ve left and gone back twice after, and thus perspectives and lessons have fluctuated but throughout all of these I’ve reflected on the experience of being young and naïve and living in a beautifully brutal global city: growth through pain, consciousness through contact, reality through experience. And there is something about being brown, being of once Mexican undocumented parents, of being poch@, of being mujer, of being a breathing and loving and seeing person traveling and encountering this enormous city for the first time.

Here I have discovered, abandoned, and recognized many parts of myself and others – from my understandings of identity and place as a daughter of Mexicans who forcefully abandoned their rural northern mexican pueblos, to the power of resiliency and action and survival – from my research on #YoSoy132 to the observations and intersections with communities that create new realities for existence. These lessons have all been born out of my time spent with people, walking and flirting with the wonderful cobblestoned streets, lamp-lit plazas, huge avenues, beautiful universities, and fragrant mercados. The city itself is a loyal and always devote companion.

And when I’m back in Los Angeles, there are certainly mornings when I wake up yearning to breathe in the smell of fresh bread mixed in with the smell and sensation of a busy city street, the noise of a bustling morning of Avenida Hidalgo on a Sunday morning. And I reflect and wonder about the duality of nostalgia and love.  At times the memories and loves of Mexico Citys’ of my past inhabit so much of me that I feel tied to it, as we so often feel attached to loves of our past, out of nostalgia.

But then in oscillating between love happiness and nostalgia, I find deep within myself a love for the vision of life and justice first inspired in me while in Mexico City. A vision of life in all of its complexity and dualities; of injustice and resilience, charm and brilliance, solitude in multitude, and solidarity in collectivity.

Mexico City in many ways is representative of the deterioration provoked and aggravated by the unfettered  and destructive power of capitalist accumulation and modernity urbanized, as well as the perpetually reproducing racisms and classisms – realities unraveled over and over again against a backdrop of a concrete cityscape and a smog shrouded horizon. In this way the romanticism of such a cruel existence seems not only out of place, but insensitive to the subtext of the suffering silences of the urban city.

Yet the intersection and accumulation of all these realities, which, when first contemplated where painful and spiritually oppressive, have inspired in me the most enduring lessons about how people exist and create within, despite, and inspired by urbanity.  I love Mexico City as I am learning and growing flexible in my understanding and love of life as resiliency and complexity. Meeting and living in a place like D.F., the intersection produces a synergy that strengths you, leaves you with lessons and encouragement to break down or build yourself the way you need and feel inspired to – which certainly is also a self love, reciprocated in a love for a beautiful city.