Tijuana, conociéndote

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Tijuana, ciudad fronteriza, te voy conociendo por primera vez…Este finde pasado, reí, soñé, abrasé, embarnecí, descubrí y recordé que por el otro lado de la frontera, mucho fluye mucho permanece mucho vive. 

I toured, ate, and dram my way through Tijuana this past weekend. It’s been a while since I traveled through a Mexican city, and in an impulse and urge to feel the sensation of crossing into a space different from the climate of alienation and distance, I so much associate with U.S. living – where the saludo de besito is unheard of and where everyone values and protects private space as something so easily usurped by anything and anyone – I made my way south to the city where the sun sets over iron gates that sever both seas and linguistic, cultural and political terrain.

When writing about cities, I gravitate toward the gigantic and perturbed urban spaces created within and because of Mexico. Among them is Los Angeles, my beloved transborder stomping ground, which I consider one of the best and most outstanding neomexican cities I’ve come to know. Here life is animated with the aroma of atole and tamales, the colors and themes of ice cream trucks and neon signs along avenues that feed the pochx-mexi-central american appetite and spiritual sustenance, and the sonorous backdrop of elote (wo)mens’ horns and hollers that fuse with the banda cumbia and occasional punk melodies along the East LA suburb. And maybe by Mexican city, I mean where harmony and dissonance meet in colors and sounds that seduce your soul – and can I have 2 tacos with chile on the side – kinda city.

But cities like Tijuana and Mexico City are of a significantly different nature. Meanwhile all are cities of hybridity and culture produced by multiple and contradictory migrations, all unraveled within distinct urban spaces, Tijuana is a city that expands far beyond the great wall of Mexico. It twists and flows above it and below it, and flows at the rhythm of the more than 100,000 trans-border workers, lovers, and transients who cross everyday – with these numbers increasing during the weekends, when tourists and seekers of the Tijuana nightlife stream south to revel in the mezcal and tequila of the burgeoning and decaying nightlife of downtown – making it the busiest border city in the world.

During my childhood in LA, I grew up surrounded with this sense of uprootedness, displacement and yearning. I yearned to return to Mexico, inspired by Los Tigres del Norte at backyard family parties, the bi-monthly conversations with family in Durango, the realities 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. However, traveling and living through a few days in Tijuana, I had the sense that these removed cultural and social dualities were far closer and more interconnected.

The cultural, political, social, linguistic, and urban cityscape are completely united to the life that flows through the border to the north, and the flows of life and breath that are segmented and left stagnant along it to the south.

I was able to discern Tijuana from atop a hill in Colonia Altamira, where the rolling hills of people and life lay nestled below, sunbathing. There is still much to learn about Tijuana, to travel and move through. It is a cityscape of constant movement. It moves and grows despite decay and despite broken dreams, as if it serves as its sustenance and resilience.

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A Viajera’s Manifesto: Ella Está Embarcando

Spiritual travels, intellectual journeys, and endeavours in the pursuit of capital and consumption: which to embark? Do these come in a certain order? Or do most people, who live in the first, third, or between worlds who are able to leave their cities for leisure and in the pursuit of discovery, restrict the former (spiritual) to the beginning years of their lives? Are our first study abroad experiences the only opportunity we have to engage and abandon ourselves to the construction of consciousness and spirituality? Do we need to conform to a spiritually and physically sedentary life once graduated from college?

On the one hand, the unearthing of this conversation makes me uncomfortable, mainly because these concerns remain restricted to a sort of existential crisis of the first world, along with all the other spiritual crises born out of living in a world dominated by those infatuated with capital and with money. But I can’t help but feel that digging a bit into the subconsciousness and subtext of this dilemma. I think in doing so I scratch the surface of something widely shared and unsettling for people of my generation – and people in my transbarrio communities who are (sometimes barely) able to live and experiment life in another reality and place, only to return to the reality of student debt, underemployement, and capital crisis par excellence.

A friend recently published his insights about the topic of maturity. According to him, what we have come to understand about maturity as a concept and reality that we fetishize, worship and struggle with is simply the acceptance and succumbing to the state of the world  – or as he says, la mierda – of today and a relinquishing of our belief that this world could be better, that we could be better people in this world. We blind and benumb ourselves by making a pact with “maturity” that in turn impedes us from working toward alternative and better ways of living. These meditations articulate part of what I am perturbed by when contemplating the transitions of life and becoming; the perpetual pressure to “ground” yourself in the reality imposed upon you, the pressure to cease entertaining possibilities that stimulate the mundane and oppressive: poner los pies en la tierra no es más que aceptar ser un punto gris más en la mancha gris. As pointed out by my friend, resisting this imposition can bring upon solitude, which doesn’t perturb him, but that is a reality for some who make this decision. And I wonder whether solitude is the rule and whether solitude should necessarily involve loneliness and isolation. I can’t help but think so many people identify with these sentiments and have actually already worked for the alternative ways of living, of inspiration and of creation.

Yet my personal curiosity has turned into a sort of creative life project: I want to perpetually recreate those meditations and sentiments inspired by my first experimentation with life and love elsewhere in all possible ways and realms. This has so much to do with my time traveled to and from Mexico City. As an ever growing gift of these travels, I begin to articulate and string together my mantra to inspire a life of travel and growth:

I want to be mobile, flexible, movable. I want to construct (and join) communities of intersections and dialogue. 

I want to work for (and alongside) alternative ways of living, breathing, communicating. 

I want to build a sustainable life for myself, where creation through my hands, mind, and soul can provide me with spiritual and physical nourishment to inspire health not only in my being but sustenance for those who surround me.

Mexico City: Mujer Se Enamora de Ciudad

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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.

Mexico City: Transitando la Gran Ciudad

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Avenida Juarez, 1959

One of the most exhilarating sensations experienced in Mexico City, when I’ve felt my heart skip as I contemplated the sheer immensity of the city zooming past my taxi window, was while driving down La Calzada de Tlalpan – the rolling hills and immensity of a light strewn panorama that seemed to confuse where the urban mass ended and sky began, will forever inhabit my memory.

Traveling through Mexico City, using its diverse means of public transit, walking or by bicycle, is a voyage through the many worlds preserved in concrete – worlds both rich and poor, new and old, decaying and burgeoning.

The way in which you maneuver through a city inhabited by 20 million people, determines your social space within the Great City.  The urban travel mode of choice determined by social positioning and available pocket change  – the Metro, los peseros, MetroBus, los taxis, los convis, or if you’re socially comfortable enough and probably detest public transportation, by coche – opens up perspectives and experiences that either bring you close enough to confirm the chasms of social and racial inequalities in the city and perceive the faces and personalities of fellow urban dwellers, or as comfortably away from these realities as personal space and your annual salary can afford.

As an urban denizen forever faithful to the efficiency and affordability of public transportation, I prefer and love the Metro and peseros – small and radically fast buses, painted green – of Mexico City.  The Metro is the most amazingly fast way to get around the city and its underground world of urban rituals and movement was a first primer on urban culture and resiliency, discerning the solidarity of poverty in movement and the morsels of warmth and lucidity of a city below the city. Above ground, traveling through the avenues congested with deafening traffic aboard the peseros was very much the same, except much faster. Los peseros of Mexico City cost about 3 to 5 pesos, depending on the distance traveled, and the small buses seem to defy any and all inexistent traffic and physics laws – they squeeze into any space, race through traffic at a stand still and within the trembling and bouncing, people squeeze and adjust themselves to fit the bus to full capacity.

As I began to experiment and travel through the city, I learned of the stigmas associated with using particular modes of transportation and the shaming around the use of the affordable and perfectly efficient Metro and peseros and the preference for MetroBus, taxis, and cars by upper-class working professionals.  Although in retrospect these attitudes are almost universal in many urban cities, the racism and classism present in the national subconscious is plastered throughout the city via its public transportation systems.

And as part of the perspectives of an urban transient transplanted from elsewhere, free and ignorant of the social codes impregnated early on, and with the flexibility and financial means to choose how to travel, I was granted the opportunity to discern more fully the spectrum of Mexico City through different vistas.

Although sometimes it has been uncomfortable and sometimes absolutely breathtaking, all of the visions impressed on my while traveling through the city have allowed for an intimacy with a place simultaneously enigmatic and distant.

The city is composed of millions of forms, millions of ways to get around, but with the opportunity to perceive it in all its immensity and yourself within its vastness.

Cumbia, transnationally…

Proyecto Sonidero, Livia Radwanski

The transnational soundscapes of cumbia – born in Latin American as testimony of exploitation, perseverance, and intersection during the african slave trade in Colombia and Panama – reverberates through the dance halls of Mexico City and Los Angeles, where people of many languages vibe and dance to music fused together by delicious melodic and rhythmic arrangements.

To dance and play cumbia in any of these two cities is to participate in a translocal musical and corporal dialogue of sorts – mingled among the crowd there are folks who have known cumbia for generations, a rhythm which seems to have informed their corporal movement since time immemorial.

At first it is difficult to write about cumbia because it is difficult to transmit with words the seductive beats and melodic arrangements that entrance souls and bodies into movement, as if palabras are unfit to capture the essence of the music and context in which I’ve experienced this Latin American and always innovative sound. The rhythms, varieties and sensations inspired are difficult to communicate because I approach cumbia, like I approach everything else – transnationally.

My first introduction to cumbia was at a young age at family parties in Los Angeles, Califas – the tex-mex and cumbias norteñas of Selena Quintanilla and Los Relámpagos del Norte would blast from stereos and would inspire a humble dance crowd, where tios and tias would twirl and side step to the flirtatious beats of Suavecito. As child of Duranguense, Sonoran, and Jalisciense predecessors, this was my first encounter with one of more than twelve cumbia varieties.

Through countless hours of thrifting for cumbia sounds, it is hard to miss that many producers make note of its transnational nature; in the introduction to the Danza de Los Simpsons by the Chicha Libre – a cumbia chicha revival band born out of Brooklyn, NY – dice: “se baila así en Colombia, Chile, México, Argentina, Panama y también se baila así, en Peru” – It is danced all over Latin America, and increasingly, all over the world.

My second and most intensive primer on cumbia was in one of the most creatively resplendent and musically innovative cumbia capitals of the world, la Ciudad de México. Mexico City is home to the quintessentially chilango cumbia rhythms of sonidera culture, where cumbia meets public space. Strolling through el Centro Histórico, downtown Mexico City, on a Sunday afternoon you could find dozens of couples of all ages twirling and meneando to the classic guaracha tunes by the dozens in Parque Alameda. And an overview of any YouTube video and many-a-chilango testimonies illustrate the mythical cumbia gatherings in Tepito, a barrio famous for its boxers, Santa Muerte, and cumbia sonidera. But Mexico City is also an incubator of psychedelic cumbias and kumbia queers.

It is in this great city that I was introduced to chicha, a cumbia melodic masterpiece born in the Peruvian Amazon in the 60s, via the quintessentially chilango band, Sonido Gallo Negro. Chicha was born in Peru from Columbian cumbian influences, Andean melodies and Cuban guajiras but with a psychedelic injection. Bastioned by bands like Los Mirlos and Los Destellos, chicha quickly spread to Lima and congealed with the musical likeliness of rock, Andean folklore and Peruvian creole music – and it was radically popular in Peru. With time many of these bands become relegated to the nostalgia of dancers of decades past but recently this 9-piece, instrumental band from east Mexico City took on a project to recuperate the chicha sound but with a chilango flair.

In many ways, dancing to cumbia psicodélica in Mexico City is a ritualistic and spiritual experience; the sweat of a venue filled with the spirits of cumbia psicodélica of the past and the sensual and licentious energies emanating from bodies persuaded by the timbales, congas, güiro and electric convocation of Sonido Gallo Negro in Multiforo Alicia is one of my most cherished and hazed memories.

I recently attended a cumbia gathering in La Cita, a bar once frequented by sombrero wearing and tecate sipping dones in Los Angeles, where I danced to the music of La Chamba Chicha – a resident Los Angeles band – along with a few cumbia loving friends. To the rhythm of sonideras and chichas I was twirled by a querida amiga, where through giggles and smiles we innocently bumped into our neighbors, perhaps over extending our spins and footwork when we heard Guaracha Sabrosona come on.

But within this transnational soundscape in which cumbia rules, there is no room for timidity. La cumbia se baile, y se baila sabroso.

Dulce Esperanza

What’s in a name?  A bit of investigative work and short conversations regarding what’s behind my name, my parent’s explain that it means “dulce esperanza”.  This, along with all of the symbolism encompassed with being a daughter of two mexican migrants now living in Los Angeles via way of Durango and Sonora, and who I am becoming, has prompted me to write this short piece in Spanish.  Espero que les guste, muchos besitos:

Yo tengo alma de ave, me seduce el viento que acaricia mi piel, como si animarme a tomar vuelo.  Desde pequeña me gustaba correr, brincar y jugar sin fijarme ni preocuparme hacia cual rumbo me dirigía, sin importar que me tropezara o me cayera, y un día de jugar era todo un éxito cuando terminaba con moretones en las rodillas y en los codos y empapada de sudor y tierra…a la angustia de mi madre.  Jamas me he dejado vencer o desanimar por miedo a causarme heridas, tras años de deporte de baile de viaje he aprendido que tengo un cuerpo muy fuerte y resistente.  Sí temo defraudarme a mi misma y esto me causa enfrentar retos con temor de ser insuficiente, de no creerme digna de lograr aquello que tanto me asombra, pero persigo aquellos sueños con tremendo empeño y cada día con más paciencia y amor y valentía. Porque me fascina la sensación de volar, de percibir la inmensidad del hermoso entorno; de vistas nuevas viejas y antiguas que se vuelven nuevas con cada día.  Me gustaría discernir las rutas por las cuales puedo volar, con amor y esperanza, para navegar por el mundo con la curiosidad y confianza desarrollada de niña y con el amor propio que voy desarrollando como adulta.  Y con la esperanza engendrada en mi por mi papá y mi madre, por mi familia y comunidad, por el mundo hacía mi y yo hacía el mundo.  Me gustaría navegar el mundo volando, con valentía y con la mira hacía el horizonte perpetuo.