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.

Mexico City: Exhaustion

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.

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Contours of chaos, a view from above (1972).

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.

Mexico City: Muse

Chad Santos Photography

It is difficult to explain this even to myself.

A wave of emotion overcomes me upon admiring this beautiful picture by Chad Santos of the Valley of Mexico. Burdened with euphoria and bliss, I am surprised to deeply feel and validate a truth that’s lived inside of me for such a long time, a faithful companion in all of my journeys in the past four years.

In my frantic desire to be within and be surrounded by this city, I realize that although physical proximity is and will always be a priority for me when in comes to DF, what I have deeply yearned for is to absorb as much of its essence in order to mold my spirit and being after the beauty of its vastness and its absolute singularity.

A mujer in love with a city. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of people in love with Mexico City. Out of so many of us, constantly growing and multiplying, sharing and encouraging, I wonder how many love it so deeply and so differently as to want to imbue their life and their being with some of its best, most spiritual, most haunting and thus most human qualities. I find myself contemplating how many of us begin to think and feel that this overwhelming love is the beginning of a process of root shaking growth, of emotional and spiritual cultivation.

I entertain this new revelation: I love Mexico City in order to become more like it.

To imbue each detail, each part, each morsel of my days with the qualities and characteristics that have irremediably enamored me. Its restless nature. The love and warmth of its public space. The millions of opportunities to share a smile, a drink, a poem, a sunset with absolute strangers. The sonorously rich cadence of twenty-seven million people rising with the sun and moving through the entirety of its surface, swarming in beautiful choreography of the every day bustle both above and below its concrete lake bed. The opportunity to share anything and everything with it and with its inhabitants, relishing it all in the solace and solidarity of solitude. The scenes, the films, the music, the sunrise, the Sunday strolls, the Saturday café con leche y chocolate croissants, the freedom inspired while on the brink of a kiss, on the brink of a taxi collision. The marvelous of the everyday, the quotidian of the surreal. The fluidity of life within chaos, hope comforted by unpredictability, resting and growing within the unfamiliar, expansion of the self and of the spirit within endlessness.

All of this has inspired me to write profusely and ceaselessly. It has inspired fleeting and soul-searing love affairs. It has inspired my activism, my journalism, my voice, my political and spiritual commitments and expressions. It has inspired such a shift in my cosmovisión that not one thing I do upon rising and upon laying to rest has remained unaffected by my connection to it. It has inspired such profound irreparable change. An unleashing of an incessant river within me, that nourishes my spirit and sprouts the creative projects that serve as ode and poetry to its inexhaustible capacity to inspire this sort of love in us.

What I carry with me, what nourishes me on my journey that is this life, is the affirmation that I am as great and expansive as that city. Of looking within and seeing a reflection of that which I love without measure. A reminder to live and love in homage to this gift: I am serendipity. I am unpredictability. I am vast. I am endless. I am alive. 

cities for creatures of pure wonder

From the film, Los Angeles Plays IItself
From the film, Los Angeles Plays Itself

“A single step into the past is enough for me to rediscover this sensation of strangeness which filled me when I was still a creature of pure wonder, in a setting where I became aware of the presence of a coherence for which I could not account but which sent its roots into my heart.” –
Louis Aragon, Paris Peasants 

After traveling home through a daze of side-eyed glances and murmuring strangers casting shadows under neon street signs, I collapse exhausted onto my bed. Intoxicated off a seemingly endless weekend of living. Hallucinating on the thrill of traveling within and beyond the city limits. A city that’s my home, that I know, that I have tried to flee and fight a millions times over.

This physical repose allows me to become overwhelmed with the inebriation, conversation, music, faces, and sights blessed upon me by amazing company, still palpable through tact and memory. Pressed upon my whole being is an affirmation that I am, and have always been meant to be, an unceasing traveler of and for life. For four days, I shared life with a kindred traveler spirit first befriended in Mexico City, and with new and old friends.

For four days, we abandoned all will to excess and serendipity. Propelled by the energy of the collective wanderlust of our borderless party crew, I partied the way I have rolled around and danced in dozens of dance floors in Mexico City. I voyaged through streets so intimately familiar to me with luggage the way I walked through the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca, Mexico for the first time. And from high above, I overlooked the limitless horizon of a city, stretching in every possible direction, a vision so new yet so familiar to one discerned from the balcony of the Torre Latino in DF.

Yet this inspiration that permeates my spirit with bliss feels like the result of all my travels and experiences concentrated into a mere weekend. As if the overwhelming happiness I experience is the sum of hundreds of days of travel, of four years packed into four days in Los Angeles. Because while these moments transport me to a different physical and temporal terrain, I feel newly aquatinted with the beauty that resides in the familiar and the possibility present in the everyday. Through celebrating with friends who also yearn for art, love, and punk rock midnight living, I learned about how thrilling it is to travel even when home, even when neither there nor then. But in the living, breathing, exhilarating moment.

The abyss of nocturnal revelry and the luminosity of daybreak peering through windowsills reminded me that it’s possible to feel the intoxication inspired by traveling anywhere and everywhere. As the clock relentlessly winds and begins again, inspired by the sun and moon’s cyclical voyage across the city’s sky, people move through this city often overlooking opportunities to connect with and contemplate each other and their surroundings. To do so is to miss the opportunity to peer into worlds that affirm our connection to far away places while also helping to deepen our connection with the place that physically sustains us, the concrete urban incubator of the mundane and intoxicating existence of our everyday lives.

This is a lesson and a truth unbeknown to thousands of people too afraid to share a conversation with a pensive Kenyan smoking on the steps of the Los Angeles Public Library. Of lying on the grass following the trail of a hummingbird that flutters through swaying branches of the jacaranda tree. Of sneaking up high-rise lofts to discern the waning sun reflected on the diaphanous and translucent arrangement of rising structures and deepening human silence.

During these last few days, I felt incredibly overwhelmed with the certainty and gratitude of fully and wildly living in the present and expansive city of LA. It’s as if in living intensely, I was finally able to travel enough to connect to hundreds of places, sensations, perspectives, simultaneously. In my search and hunger to travel, travel as a place to get to, I had never offered myself the opportunity to occupy and live within that journey. To feel it permeating my skin, in the surf and garage punk tunes rousing a dance floor, in the collective satisfaction of living.

Arriving to the all too familiar place, neighborhood, home, bed, I am physically and spiritually reeling with the highness of living and traveling. Meditating on the assertion that all of us are capable of perpetually exploring and navigating both new and old terrain in search of wisdom and stimulation of the senses, mind, body, and spirit.

To travel, in the measure that it transports us to our past, is to step forward stringing along each sight and person that has inspired wonder, searching and accepting this in every place. And as I write, and as this dazed and delirious feeling leaves my body, left in its place is this lesson on travel and place. Something I have searched for yet is what the city now whispers and what its denizens struggle to keep silent.

The affirmation flows through my bedroom window. The hum of human activity and wind blowing through the tree branches kindles what’s born within all of us. The certainty that life, expressed in our perpetual travels, is not a destination but an unceasing journey, that deepens, extends, animates and awakens.

 

“She is the maker of worlds.”

En donde empezamos y siempre retornamos, Durango.
En donde empezamos y siempre retornamos, Durango.

At the conclusion of a book very dear to me, Alicia Schmidt Camacho reiterates that those beautiful beings who inhabit the fringes of the bordered ambiguity of existence, habitantes de fronteras, are those capable of constructing worlds anew.

After hundreds of years of being relegated to violence, death, abuse, and oblivion, those who have grown and resisted within the borderlands have learned to grow within apparently rigid parameters of existence, to make space where we were told and where we learned there was no room to grow and thrive. It is within violence and ambiguity of desolate weather that desert life thrives and grows.

As I travel through northern Mexico on the dawn of a new cycle and year, I cross deserts, hills, and mountains to reach Los Angeles. As our bus pulled away from my mother’s hometown in southern Durango, I beheld a beautiful sight of milpas and orchards, a reminder of my family’s work as farmers and luchadorxs. And as my bus sped down highways destined northward, through the arid deserts of Chihuahua and Arizona, through my window I perceived the immaculate beauty of life in its extreme and desolate expression.

On the last leg of my traveling on the dawn of the New Year, I admit that this year, I learned about my ability to create, to articulate, to express and act upon my own vision. That in traveling through Tijuana, Durango, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and La Paz, Baja California while voyaging through the treacherous terrain of my own fears, unhappiness, courage and growth, I learned about my resiliency, and my power to reinvent and build myself anew, inhabiting and loving each new environment, each new terrain.

Ella esta por embarcar. She is about to embark, about to leave, about to begin. In the beginning of this year I decided, or better expressed, felt obliged by my creative spirit, to begin to articulate my desires and reflections through the written word via this blog. And much of what has inspired and unsettled me has been traveling, both spiritual and physical. Even from the familiarity of my nest in Los Angeles, I have been compelled to explore and better understand myself; after so much time living with an understanding of who I was, what I desired, hoped for and was compelled to pursue, I realized that much of what I thought I understood about myself was imposed upon and simply outdated.

Embarking, exploring, discovering more about myself by articulating thought into word, curiosity into voyage, has thus been my journey this past, and quickly closing, cycle.

Within the spaces and pauses of each sentence, and within each sublime conversation with the dozens of people I have met in my journey through Mexico, spectacular site of so much of my growth, pain, and reason to hope and resist toward happiness and social change, and through life this year, I find the inspiration to construct a world versed in the language of creativity, fluidity, justice and love. To build a world compatible with the thousands of worlds I hope to meet, explore, and grow alongside with each new cycle.

And with each new road paved through the expansive space that both articulates and severs deserts, hxstories and journeys, I compose the verses and relish the sensation of life as I flow, weather, and choose it.

Ella habita las fronteras
construyendo y fluyendo
habitando y encarnando
sintiendo la vida misma

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.