My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
It's been an honor reporting the news in Latin America. And it's been especially rewarding to cover news in Mexico, on Mexico, and especially for Mexico. Now, after eight years of doing so, I'm relocating to Los Angeles and picking up where I left off.
I've been trying for weeks to come up with something decent to say about this change. I've received anxious reactions from readers asking why I'd leave, and believe me, I've been anxious too.
It's a combination of personal factors and the opportunity for another big challenge.
I needed to invoke binational privilege, and take a little breather on this maddening and infinite place. DF wears on the body and brain. Anyone who's lived there knows this. In my case, the horrors of the daily news cycle in war-weary Mexico began straining me with greater force. Each trip to the field with the VICE News crew in Mexico, to see how someone in my country had something horrific happen to them, with no recourse, no justice, left a little unexpected scar. (I know "tough" reporters aren't supposed to talk about this stuff, but that's that.)
Being away from the beach for so long wasn't good for me either.
I also needed to check back in with my family. Their demands that I be closer to them intensified in 2015 as the news out of Mexico got worse and worse. Yes, the flight to DF is as long as the time it takes to drive between L.A. and San Diego. But it's the cosmic comfort of knowing I'm not across a border and several states away on the bellybutton of the moon that pulled me back.
I also began missing, for reals now, a lot of my old friends.
This is not an act of abandoning Mexico, not abandoning my friends in arms in DF. I'll still be covering the stories that matter to my communities, doing some field reporting in Mexico and anywhere else we gotta check out in Latin America, as long as VICE lets me. I still got my Mexico cell phone. Now I'll also start poking around for stories in Califaztlán and down the border, a fertile land for contradictions to explore.
Not clueless: I know my country the USA is as messed up as Mexico but in different ways. So if you got any leads or tips, drop me a line.
Writing about leaving Mexico has failed me. I can't really wrap my brain around all the issues and implications that this transition stirs up. I love Mexico too jealously — maybe too violently — to attempt to sum up these years with some lines, or even some pages. Maybe a little down the road.
Right now I just wanna wake up on Monday morning and get to work.
I once said this song is an "artifact, a witness, an indictment, a prayer." Ten years later, "Dry Drunk Emperor" by the 2000s New York band TV on the Radio remains the most stirring offering in any language of mourning to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
And more potently, ten years after the avoidable disaster, the song is a clear call for revolution. It's references to then-President George W. Bush as a "dry drunk emperor" of "gold cross jock skull and bones" and a "mocking smile" are reminders of the darkest moments of the Bush-era decadence.
In the remembrances this week, where is the acknowledgement of those days' feelings of anger, desperation, disgust? Where is the howling from the bottom of our gut?
I encourage you to listen today to this track and to ponder the power of its lyrics:
dying under hot desert sun,
watch your colors run.
Did you believe the lie they told you,
that Christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?
Did you buy the bull they sold you,
that the bullets and the bombs
and all the strong arms
would bring home security?
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
standing naked for a while!
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.
End their promise
end their dream
watch it turn to steam
rising to the nose of some cross-legged god
Gog of Magog
end-times sort of thing.
Oh, unmentionable disgrace
shield the children's faces
as all the monied apes
display unimaginably poor taste
in a scramble for mastery.
Atta' boy get em with your gun
till Mr. Mega-Ton
tells us when we've won
what we're gonna leave undone.
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
naked for a while.
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!
and bring all his thieves to trial.
What if all the fathers and the sons
went marching with their guns
drawn on Washington.
That would seal the deal,
show if it was real,
this supposed freedom.
What if all the bleeding hearts
took it on themselves
to make a brand new start.
Organs pumpin' on their sleeves,
paint murals on the White House
feed the leaders L.S.D.
Grab your fife and drum,
grab your gold baton
and let's meet on the lawn,
shut down this hypocrisy.
Above, our VICE News documentary produced by the Mexico bureau, regarding the case of Alberto Nisman, the federal prosecutor who was investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires.
Our crew spent a week in BA investigating this case, with local producer Gaston Cavanagh. It was one of the more complex stories I've had to cover, because every time we reached what seemed like a reasonable conclusion about something, the next turn, the next interview, completely flipped it.
The assignment was also challenging because it dealt with the thorny themes of anti-Semitism, terrorism, the Kirchners, the opposition in Argentina (the left calls them "the right," but they call themselves "liberal"), and Iran. You decide where you stand on all that.
** Originally published at Munchies, on May 7, 2014:
“Why is it that we have allowed people who are totally incompetent in food to design our food?” Diana Kennedy was saying, her gray and white hair lifting lightly in the breeze. “Our food doesn’t have the flavor it used to have. I remember the chile poblanos, full of flavor, thin-fleshed, very dark green, and that big. Now ¡olvidalo!”
“Forget it,” she said. Today, there is actually a four in ten chance a chile poblano served to you anywhere in Mexico has been imported, most likely from China. Kennedy knows this, and the truth seems to burn through her entire being.
A living legend in food, Kennedy started exploring the markets of Mexico’s towns and villages more than fifty years ago, meeting cooks and gathering plants and recipes with the precision of a ethnobotanist. It has been her lifelong project of achieving total intimacy with Mexico’s native ingredients.
Sitting at Kennedy’s outdoor dining table with a tiny glass of mezcal before me, I struggled to imagine the flavor of the chile poblanos back then because fifty years ago, Mexico and the planet were simply different places than they are now. There were less people, for one, and probably a lot less contaminants in the air, in the soil, in the water. In our lives.
There was no transgenic corn in Mexico fifty years ago, and definitely none imported from the United States—as there is today—not in the land where science has agreed that corn was born.
At 91 years old, Diana is old enough to remember what that Mexico tasted like. Her palate fuels her ideas—and anger.
“People are losing taste, especially in the US, and then it passes to Mexico,” Kennedy told me. “It’s ridiculous, but then nobody has paid attention to the agriculture in Mexico.”
* All photos by Alejandro Mendoza.
* Photo by Hans-Máximo Musielik.
Here's a link to my print feature in the January issue of VICE magazine, on the Raul Isidro Burgos Ayotzinapa Normal School, near Tixtla, Guerrero. Excerpt:
It's said as a slur, but it happens to be somewhat true. The Federation of Campesino Socialist Mexican Students, uniting the student leadership at 16 schools across Mexico, including the one in Ayotzinapa, formed in 1935. One of Ayotzinapa's best-known graduates, Lucio Cabañas, was national president of this group when he studied there. Cabañas would go on to form the Poor People's Party, a militant political organization with an armed wing. The group kidnapped politicians and operated a radio signal over a wide region in the Sierra de Atoyac.
The students believe in direct action today as well. Through their "Struggle Commission," for example, they take over buses and toll booths. Masking their faces, the Ayotzinapa students charge a flat 50-peso toll on any vehicle that passes, be it private, public, or a commercial passenger bus. We watched as they did this for a few hours one day at the Palo Blanco toll booth. Some motorists I approached in line said they supported the Ayotzinapa students, but about just as many said they were nothing but vandals and hooligans.
* With my homie Franco, an hincha for club Newell's Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, May 2014. Photo by producer Raymundo Perez-Arellano.
There is no use apologizing. Intersections, like a lot of blogs that started in this long-forgotten blog big bang of 2005-2006, went into posting decline after the realization that it was impossible for me to keep up. Not while at the same time taking on a reporting and writing job with extremely demanding responsibilities and expectations.
When I was in the DF bureau of the LA Times, at least I managed to re-post my stories, most of the time. Since 2013, this has also become functionally impossible. Work just went from crazy to crazier.
After a year as editor of VICE México, in June of 2014, my boss asked me to step in and become Mexico bureau chief of VICE News. It was the kind of job I had never really thought about doing but at the same time knew I was capable of doing, so I said yes. With this, my year, and my life, changed.
By then, early summer, our office's Munchies Guide to Oaxaca (which we actually recorded in November 2013, produced by Santiago Fábregas and shot by Guillermo Alvarez), was finally live and cookin'. Munchies had also just posted my profile on food queen Diana Kennedy.
I was on my way to being a food host for VICE, and was still editing the Mexican edition of the print magazine at the time.
But after seeing and hearing good responses to my first hosting gig for VICE with the Oaxaca guía, the chiefs wanted to try me out on a serious news assignment. Right away, they sent me and a crew to Rosario, to investigate the drug war happening on the streets of an important port city in Argentina.
From there, other assignments in the field followed. I said "Yes" to whatever was asked of me — including yes to a trip that was decided on and carried out within hours of arriving to the office for a normal work day — dealing with the challenges as best I could, recognizing and representing, in a corner of my mind and in my own little way, for my beloved brown America.
During all this, I've had to keep up my main, most important duties, with a teensy staff: editing, translating, fact-checking, and publishing original news stories and features from across Latin America. The bureau staff and I have spent long hours working with reporters filing from Santiago to Tijuana, often under breaking-news pressure, just everyday hustling, getting stories up onto the VICE News site.
The stresses in 2014 were the steepest I've confronted since the start of my career. Then, in late September, Ayotzinapa happened. And the work got even more intense.
But I'm not gonna complain. I'm only looking forward. This year I plan on hosting more for VICE News in my role in the bureau, and I also hope to squeeze in some fresh field assignments with Munchies. There's more in store, and I want to thank all my readers and my community for staying strong with me and hanging on through all the madness and bullshit out there.
So, below, some highlights from my first seven months at VICE News. For all the stories I've written or co-written for News, click here. I'll have a post later — I hope! — all about our Ayotzinapa coverage.
The Rosario documentary I mentioned. Beautiful city, fucked-up story. This documentary, fixed locally by Gaston Cavanagh, made some waves among locals in Rosario and was cited in numerous subsequent news reports in the Argentine press.
Stopping over in Buenos Aires, we decided to check out the issue of paco, the BA streets version of crack, and a symptom of the economic malaise that has plagued the country since 2001.
A quick Munchies interlude in here, a tour of three classic Mexico City fondas. Mmmmmmm, ¿A que hora es la comida?
On September 11, we landed in Chile, to cover the demonstrations and street protests tied to the anniversary of the 1973 coup that brought down socialist president Salvador Allende and initiated the military dictatorship. Three days earlier, a bomb went off in a Santiago subway station.
At the Tolemaida military base, in Melgar, Colombia, our crew covered the 2014 Fuerzas Comando competition, a meet-and-greet for elite special ops teams from across Latin America. This documentary was produced as part of the VICE News "War Games" series.
This is the full-length version of our documentary on the horrible case of the missing students in Guerrero, Mexico. All the credit in the world for this work is to be shared with the committed and talented producers, fixers, photographers, editors, and administrators at the VICE México headquarters in Mexico City, and in particular, Rafael Castillo, Hans-Máximo Musielik, and Melissa del Pozo.
We really put in as a team the toughest hours and biggest risks many of us had ever seen in Mexico.
Me and the VICE News crew were also in Peru in late 2014, for a documentary that is coming up early this year. But that's another story ... 2K15 has begun. Stay tuned, and as always ... More soon.
Check out the official trailer for the Guide to Oaxaca I am hosting for MUNCHIES, the newly launched food channel at VICE. It's a quick taste of the five-part, hour-long series I recorded in November with colleagues Santiago F. and Guillermo A. from VICE México.
Yes, I tried the turtle eggs.
This photo of a photo shows my first apartment without roommates in Mexico City, 106 in the Edificio Victoria. It's where I wrote most of "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" and had some of the best, worst experiences of my life. Joven Will is how I called William Dunleavy, a friendly young punk from New York and New Jersey who I met one day in DF.
Will threw me off at first when he let me know he was taking photos of a family of dedicated punks who lived in La Paz, past Ciudad Neza. He was 19 years old yet had a totally clear vision of what "good" documenting meant and what it did not. It was almost like he was trying to determine my seriousness the first time we talked, not the other way around. This photos is from the night Will had his 20th birthday at my place. A bunch of wanderers from the Hotel Virreyes came by. It was just a senseless DF beer peda. Really fun.
Will eventually helped illustrate "Down and Delirious," and I'm super proud to say it.
The poster behind Will is a Foro Alicia response to a government-mass media campaign of demonizing young people during those intense months of 2008 (but really always). It says: Soy delincuente, tengo 20 años, soy joven, no tengo derecho a la educación, al trabajo, a la vivienda, a la saludo, y a muchas cosas más.
We were down with that. Anyway, all of this is to say, I know it's not anywhere near your birthday, but, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Will!
** Originally published Nov. 1, 2013, at VICE México:
En Los Ángeles -- la segunda ciudad de mexicanos más grande del mundo -- el Día de Muertos se lo toman en serio. El año pasado estuve en el Sur de California por estas fechas, donde, en el centro cultural Self-Help Graphics & Art, una joya histórica de la raza del Este de Los Ángeles, vi el mejor altar de muertos que jamás he visto.
Lo hizo un artista conocido como Vyal Reyes, en memoria de grafiteros y taggers que han muerto de L.A. durante sus búsquedas por conquistar las calles con sus rayas.
Viniendo de una familia que incluye grafiteros, me impactó mucho este altar.
Primero, el artista uso un ataúd negro como pieza principal, donde metió fotos de graffiti-heads que han caído junto con latas de aerosol negras. Por fuera, Vyal pinto escenas urbanas con ojos "para estar trucha." Colocó latas de aerosol blancas en vez de velas, y pañuelos en vez de mantelitos.
"También incluí una cinta de seguridad, para indicar que la mayoría de estos artistas tuvieron muertes violentas" me dijo Vyal ayer vía correo, desde Los Ángeles.
"No conocí a todos los artistas personalmente", agregó, "pero tengo un gran respecto hacia ellos y hacia las contribuciones artísticas que dieron a la escena. Quiero homenajearlos para que sus esfuerzos no sean olvidados".
Los detalles obviamente tienen un sentido bien pensado. Hay una máscara para pintadores, junto con la salvia blanca que se quema tradicionalmente en California.
"Son las herramientas que usamos para protegernos físicamente y espiritualmente", añadió Vyal.
Afuera en el patio de Self Help, chicos del barrio del Centro de Los Ángeles estaban practicando su "spray art". Adentro, había muchos altares de la comunidad chicana de L.A., pero ninguno tenía la relevancia bruta con las calles como el de Vyal One. Tuve que regresar a tomarle más fotos, y a pararme a contemplar un poco la ofrenda.
El trabajo de Vyal se puede ver aquí. Este año, me dijo, está armando un altar en downtown Los Ángeles.
Rest in peace, Mike ... journalist, press advocate, warrior.
O'Connor was funny as hell, too, in the face of all the calamity he saw in Mexico. A dry wit that seemed at first to border on the unstable. He used extremely, uh, colorful language whenever warranted. It was fun talking to him on the phone, like we did just a few weeks ago. He'd ring me to shoot the shit for a bit, catch up on deep media-world memes. We'd curse the owners, curse the politicians, make dark jokes about life as a reporter in Mexico.
While working for Tracy Wilkinson at the LA Times bureau in Mexico City, I met Mike and gradually got to know the critical work he did in these years. He'd travel to the most cartel-corrupted regions of the country to investigate the murders and disappearances of local news reporters, and to offer support and guidance for those still keeping up a candle in the darkness. His most recent in-depth report on press security in Mexico for CPJ focused on the state of Zacatecas, which, not surprisingly, is smothered by fear, corruption, and silence.
He did it mostly in secret, to protect his subjects, and to protect himself. He was expert at these topics, shared his advice liberally: no photos of you if you cover corruption and drug war in regional Mexico, all lines should be considered tapped and recorded at all times, BlackBerry BBM (was) the most secure communications method for reporters working on dangerous subjects. In conversations both serious and casual, he made it clear: Never, ever trust the Party.
In short, fue un cabrón de los buenos and he will be missed, sorely. Especially now, as the silencing power of political and mass-media hegemony takes hold in Mexico, as the country returns to official-party rule, and as so many journalists begin falling, whether in intimidation, in selling-out, or in death.
Bad news losing you, Mike. Bad news for all of us.
** Originally published at VICE México:
La última vez que fui a Nueva York, en 2011, cené una noche yo solito en un bistro precioso en Little Italy. Todos mis amigos y contactos estaban o afuera de la ciudad o “muy ocupados”. (Pues ya qué, es Nueva York). Luego, esa madrugada, mi estómago me despertó y me pidió vomitar cada último pedazo de la pasta de cuatro quesos que cargaba. No fue un pedo de alcohol ni cruda, fue solo un misterio.
Otra noche, cené con una vieja amiga en un restaurante seminuevo en Brooklyn donde cada mesero y bartender tenía tatuajes y lentes de pasta. En el sistema de sonido sólo tocaban hits como del 2002 y 2003, o sea, Bloc Party, Yeah Yeah Yeahs! y Chromeo, todo con una gran sonrisa que no pude descifrar si era de chiste o de nostalgia. En el aeropuerto de regreso a México, sólo quería algo fresco –algo– entonces me compré una manzana roja como de 1.50 dólares en la terminal. Le di una mordida y noté que algo estaba raro. El corazón de la manzana estaba completamente negro.
Bueno, fueron tiempos raros. Era abril, pero el clima se sentía como de febrero. La ciudad estaba fría, lluviosa y todos se quejaban de que el "invierno no terminaba”. No entendía por qué se oscurecía a las cuatro de la tarde; de pronto el cielo se hundía en un morado deprimente.
Lo frío se extendía a la gente.
En el metro una noche regresando de Manhattan a donde me estaba quedando, vi un mexicano bien mexicano parado en mi vagón, seguro regresando de su chamba a la casa. Tenía piel de color madera, ojos chinos, nariz elegantemente grande, cabello brillantemente negro, un verdaderomexica del continente americano. Yo (ya pedo) me le acerqué y le pregunté con toda la buena onda de mi alma que si era de México. El vato me dio la cara más irritada e indiferente de su vida. Claramente estaba pensando: Sí, pendejo, obvio que soy de México y ando aquí chambeando, ya se sabe que esto es Puebla York, entonces ¿qué me miras?
Como buen neoyorkino, supongo. En la ciudad de Nueva York no hay tiempo para pendejadas.
En fin, no la pase bien en 2011. Pero la semana pasada, cuando regresé al Noreste estadunidense por un par de días, estuve resuelto en mejorar mis impresiones, y la ciudad en este caso me consintió. El clima estaba espectacular. Y aunque Nueva York ha tenido sus días duros —el huracán Sandy, la ley racista de Stop-and-Frisk, y la gentrificación y clasismo brutales generados por la corrupción de los grandes grupos financieros— al final sigue siendo una ciudad de gente fregona y movida y bella como lo ha sido por siglos.
Uno se la puede pasar bien, beber bien y definitivamente comer bien. Pero eso sí, si tienes lana/plata/baro/feria. Esto fue lo que comí en 48 horas en New York City, y lo que me costó.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15, 10:00 PM, ARRIVAL
Llegando, tomé el metro desde el aeropuerto hasta Williamsburg, donde me quedé con una amiga querida. Después de despertar a la vecina de abajo (perdón), me pasaron llaves y decidí tener una noche para salir y ver Brooklyn un ratito antes de un día de trabajo el miércoles en las oficinas centrales de VICE.
El roomie de mi amiga, Scott, decidió acompañarme, y fuimos al Metropolitan en Williamsburg. Es un bar divey, punky, ghetto, ambisexual, queer, de gays no horribles y todos sus amigos. Una noche aquí en el 2011 conocí y hablé un buen rato con una chica lesbiana criada como judía jasídica, súper fregona. Como lo anticipé, esta noche había gente. Hombres con barbas blancas largas y chamarras de piel, modernas de la moda, vestidas con dudes en cachuchas, niñas lindas; era noche de QUEERAOKE. Me tomé dos chelas locales de Brooklyn, a cinco dólares cada una, y le invité una Diet Coke al amigo Scott. Más propina, gasté 16 dólares.
Saliendo quería cenar, entonces pasamos a un deli, de estos lugares que están abiertos las 24 horas y que a veces se conocen como bodegas. Venden de todo: frutas, carnes, cereales, chupe y sándwiches hechos a la orden, al total estilo New York. Me comí un sandwichito de pavo con queso, unos chips y una chela Newcastle. Fueron 11 dólares.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 10:00 AM, BREAKFAST & LUNCH
Al día siguiente, quería un desayuno cute de Brooklyn, pero me desperté tarde, y quería llegar rápido a la oficina. Entonces paré en otro deli sobre Bedford Avenue y aquí al cocinero mexicano le dije: “Me das una egg and cheese”, a lo que contestó: An egg and cheese, you want it on roll?en inglés perfecto.
Los mexicanos chambeando en el Noreste siempre quieren asegurar a todos los clientes —incluyendo a los mexicanos— que pueden hacer bizness en inglés, que son buenos migrantes. El sándwich de queso y huevo con tocino estaba simple, servible. Con un jugo verde de botella, mi desayuno empezó a $8. Al lado, en un café con demasiado estilo, pedí un latte para acompañar, a4 dolarotes.
No tenían canela, como siempre le agrego a cualquier café, y me vieron con cara de loco por haberla pedido. De la noche a la mañana había gastado casi 40 dólares en alimentos, y todo de bar y bodega, nada de lujo.
A la hora de la comida nos juntamos para comer con compañeros de VICE México que también estaban en esos rumbos. Nuestro director de contenido Bernardo Loyola conocía un buen lugar de ramen japonés, en la calle Grand, aunque dijo que Fette Sau era “el mejor restaurante en Nueva York”. No lo dudé, pero todo el chiste del lugar era la celebración de la carne de puerco, puro puerco, y entre nosotros había una vegetariana.
De hecho, el puerco está bastante in en Nueva York, o por lo menos en Brooklyn. Todos los lugares cool parecen tener algo de pork, casi siempre, es pork belly this o pork belly that, pancita básicamente. Le pregunté al artista y galerista William Dunleavy, un amigo de NY que conocí cuando pasó un rato documentando a un grupo de punks en el DF, por qué el puerco es la carne de moda en Nueva York.
“Creo que es porque los judíos jasídicos no comen puerco, y todo en Nueva York es contradictorio a como era antes de la gentrificación”, me dijo Will. “Son economías dictadas por losyuppies que dicen ‘El puerco puede ser preparado deliciosamente por nueve dólares la orden, y eso lo vamos a adoptar y abrazar’”.
Y luego agregó: I think pork is delicious.
** Originally published at VICE México:
Suena como una fantasía para cualquier periodista que ama a su comunidad: mudarte a un barrio emblemático, querido, herido de tu ciudad, y luego, empezar un periódico sobre el barrio, en servicio al barrio – sí, en papel.
Esto es lo que ha hecho el periodista regio Diego Enrique Osorno, uno de los más reconocidos actualmente en México y en el extranjero. Además de ganarse el cariño de las personas por hacer un periodismo de servicio y denuncia, Osorno acaba de lanzar un semanario impreso para abrir un espacio a los jóvenes escritores de Monterrey, y a partir del nuevo periodismo, ayudar rehabilitar su ciudad tan golpeada por la violencia de la guerra contra el narco.
Lanzado el 1 de mayo (“Dia del Trabajo,” Diego me recuerda), El Barrio Antiguo se ha convertido en un fenómeno social en Monterrey en poco tiempo. Osorno es el editor en jefe, y con él colabora como editor adjunto el periodista Diego Legrand, además de un buen grupo de jóvenes narradores reporteros. Como admiramos el trabajo de Osorno, también colaborador de VICE, les compartimos esta conversación con él sobre su proyecto.
“Somos pobres, pero honrados,” me comentó Diego sobre la publicación. Con esa gran declaración en mente, me da gusto anunciar que cada semana VICE México publicará una nota deEl Barrio Antiguo para compartir el buen trabajo que el proyecto realiza, y ojalá para apoyar el periódico con más ojos a nivel nacional e internacional. ¡Bienvenidos!
VICE: ¿Cómo y desde cuándo surgió El Barrio Antiguo y con qué apoyo? Hoy en día armar un periódico impreso nuevo en México no es nada fácil.
From Latino USA:
Commentator Daniel Hernandez is a pocho, a Mexican-American, living in Mexico City. But lately he’s noticed he’s not the only one, and the line between pochos and chilangos, what Mexico City natives call themselves, is blurring.
Go here for the link and audio file for my latest commentary for Latino USA on National Public Radio. Readers, are you a pocho in Chilangolandia as well? * Previously, “On voting for the first time for president in Mexico.”
** Photo: The crossing at San Ysidro into Tijuana, January 2012.
* Update, 19:02 p.m.: Actualizo en la noche si tienen tips!
Real quick, here are some recommendations for some interesting exhibits and events happening around Zona MACO:
Opened Thursday or Saturday:
Morgan Manduley, at Yautepec, Melchor Ocampo 154-A, San Rafael.
Salón Acme No. 1, at Gob. Rebollar 45, San Miguel Chapultepec.
Gustavo Abascal, at Arte TalCual, Colima 326-A, Roma Norte.
** Also ongoing and highly recommended: "Asco: Elite of the Obscure," at MUAC at UNAM.
Opening Monday, April 8:
PJ Rountree with Kenny Curran, at Comedor (Cafe Zena), Gob. Tagle 66-A, San Miguel Chapultepec lunchtime through Friday, plus April 15.
Etienne Chambaud, at LABOR, Francisco Ramírez 5, Daniel Garza/Constituyentes, 5 p.m.
Opening Tuesday, April 9:
Jochen Lempert, at Lulu, Bajio 231, Roma, "la puertita roja," 5 p.m.
Esto no es un museo, at Centro Cultural España, Rep. de Guatemala 18, Centro, 7 p.m.
Miguel Angel Rios and Carlos Motta (fachada), at Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Tres Picos 29, Polanco, 7 p.m.
Group show; Bucareli ACT, Bucareli 120, Centro, 8 p.m.
Opening Wednesday, April 10:
MACO opens to the public. By now, Eugenio Lopez (or his staff of buyers) has already picked whatever he's taking home this year.
Opening Friday, April 12:
Colective Show Mexico City 2013, Neter, Calle 6, No. 11, San Pedro de los Pinos, 6 p.m.
Opening Saturday, April 13:
Gabriel Orozco, kurimanzutto, Gob. Rafael Rebollar 94, San Miguel Chapultepec, 12 p.m.
Sesiones de Azotea, at ATEA, Topacio 25, Merced, 3 p.m.
... More later!
** Photo: Artist PJ Rountree installing "Estaciones/Sazonez" at Cafe Zena, 2 p.m., April 8, 2013.
*** Added Wednesday, April 10: Raw Material/Materia Prima, hosted by Yuatepec, with five visiting galleries, Puebla 124, 12:00 p.m.
Above, several members of the Mexico City art collective Cráter Invertido at their studio space, October 2012. I profile the group, along with a variety of other exciting artist-run spaces currently operating in D.F., in the March 2013 issue of Art in America magazine, part of their series of "Atlas" columns from different art capitals.
An excerpt from the piece, in time for this week's energy around Zona MACO:
At a warehouse on a nondescript street in an old semi-industrial neighborhood near downtown, 14 artists have joined forces in a "collective of collectives" calling itself Crater Invertido. The name evokes the twin volcanoes that loom in the distance as well as an explosive inversion of the art pyramid. Most of its artists are recent graduates of one of the national art schools, La Esmeralda, where the group first took shape by organizing “happenings” in response to the institution’s deficiencies. Crater Invertido is now a politically sharp, process-based collective. Several members were active in the spring 2012 protest movement known as #YoSoy132, a grassroots democracy effort aimed at preventing the restoration of the old political regime.
"There was a constant interest in maintaining some type of cooperative. But we actually started seeing each other less, working less, because so much was going on politically in the country," remarks Crater Invertido artist Juan Caloca. "We kept asking ourselves what we could do, beyond purely symbolic actions, to generate something constructive in the long term."
#YoSoy132 was an electric moment for the opposition in Mexico, but the old regime won the election anyway. The movement eventually suffered a symbolic cooption by one of its sworn enemies when the media giant Televisa announced that prominent former members of #YoSoy132 were joining one of its programs as on-air panelists. On the October day that the news broke, members of the Crater Invertido shrugged it off and were busy at work, hunched over tables finishing a joint assemblage project called "Container of Volcanic Ash." There was still beer left over from the space’s most recent live-music event.
While reporting this piece, I interviewed Jose Kuri, co-director of kurimanzutto gallery, about the growth in independent art spaces in the city. He recalled a similar movement a generation ago.
"That’s why the artist-run spaces were there, where they could bounce off ideas, connect with other artists, experiment," Kuri told me. "That's why they had the artist-run spaces like the Panaderia, a place to meet people, to hang around, to go see a band to play."
"You don’t want only galleries, the commercial side of it. You want these other places, where [young artists] can show without the pressure of the galleries and without the pressure of the market," added Kuri.
* Above, members of the collective and space Neter, in San Pedro de los Pinos, Nov. 2012. Left to right: artists Marcos Castro, Alejandro García Contreras, and Jimena Schlaepfer.
Kuri and Monica Manzutto show many artists who started out in the important spaces of the 1990s -- Abraham Cruzvillegas (who has a great "Autoconstrucción" up right now at the Eco), Miguel Calderón, Gabriel Kuri, Gabriel Orozco, and more.
On Saturday, Orozco could possibly grab the highlight of D.F.'s annual spring "art week" based around Zona MACO, the city's major art fair. He's opening a solo show at the kurimanzutto's space in San Miguel Chapultepec, his first at his Mexico "home" since 2009, and I believe his first new work on display since Orozco's conquest of New York.
** The following is an excerpt of an English/Spanish-written draft of a piece published in the February 2013 issue of Gatopardo magazine, 'El fin de un ciclo.'
* See original post here.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 188.8.131.52.14]
El punto clave de información that we aquired on this stop was that in the town of Ticul, south of Mérida pero antes de Oxcutzcab, vivía un maestro de los garabatas, como se llaman los guaraches en Yucatán. Jorge Coronada, one of the healers we met at Kambul, told us el maestro Jose Ortiz made the best shoes on the peninsula. We drove off.
A place often reveals itself to you by the character of its roads, and in Mérida, there was a prominent but never menacing police presence all along the city’s periférico, a modern highway lined with factories and government compounds. We passed our first of many state police checkpoints, there to help maintain Yucatán’s proudly held rank of safest state in the country. In the town of Uman, the street I took to reach the center suddenly turned one-way against me in the opposite direction. A kid on a motor-bike taxi coming in the correct direction took one look at me as he drove past my dash and sneered, "Vete a la verga, vato." I laughed it off as the capricho of a local angry teen with a mean streak. One can never truly say about a people, "They are so kind, they are so welcoming," because there's always at least one or two exceptions.
It was early evening by the time we arrived in Ticul. The sky was clear and a sea of stars shone brightly above. The moon was regal, the roads one long line of darkened forest from point A to B. This town was like most others we’d come to see in Yucatán. It contained a market, a bus station, cell-phone and clothing and shoe stores, and low stone houses that looked as though they could have been built twenty or two hundred years ago. The towns that dot the plain of the peninsula are all centered around a plaza with a church that often looks built to repel a siege. In fact, many of them were. The churches in towns like Tizimin, Muna, and here in Ticul were built tall, with few windows, and with massively thick walls. They are reminders that the Maya of Yucatán resisted the Conquest forcefully and for generations more than the Aztecs.
In Ticul, which 19th Century traveler John L. Stephens described as "the perfect picture of stillness and repose," I drove into the dusty center of town, made a right, and pulled up alongside a middle-aged man sitting outside of a shoe store. I told him we were looking for Mr. Jose Ortiz, the shoemaker. The man was about sixty years old. He had white hair and unusually clear green eyes. "He is my father," he replied, and offered directions.
A few blocks back, on the same street, we came across Mr. Ortiz's taller. There was a small hand-painted sign attached to a wooden post, marking the front of a house. The door was open and the only illumination inside was a single flourescent bulb attached under the shelf of a work table, bathing the room in a humming pale blue light. No one was inside. We knocked and called, knocked and called. In the window to the street, Christmas lights were draped over an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The lights were the kind that come with a device that plays carols in a single tone in a loop. We inched inside and waited. Old photographs, signs, maps hung from walls appeared as though they hadn't been touched in decades. It was clear that Mr. Ortiz's taller was a special place. I felt good just standing there. A woman passed on the street and asked us who we were looking for, and a minute later Jose Ortiz Escobedo came strolling our way.
He was a very slim old man in trousers and a work shirt. Mr. Ortiz had a handsome brown face and a sharp triangular nose. He greeted us kindly and we introduced ourselves. We expressed interest in taking a look at his offerings of garabatos, but at first it was a little difficult to comprehend what Mr. Ortiz was saying. He said he was 90 years old. His words blended together and his sentences came in mixed clauses. His Mayan accent was strong – the swirling yet chopped castellano that simmers at the front of the mouth and pops with K's and Q's.
Mr. Ortiz explained that he would be unable to sell us any pair of the leather sandals that hung on his wall. They looked like delicate but sturdy objects. He said any he had "would hurt your feet." He only makes garabatos to fit a foot right, he said. I tried on a shoe and it fit perfectly, but Mr. Ortiz absolutely insisted he would not sell us anything not made to fit – not even a belt, although I tried. For a minute, it was impossible for us to comprehend the possibility, that unlike in Mexico City, money couldn't buy everything, and everything wasn't for sale.
We asked Mr. Ortiz if he heard anything about the supposed prediction of the end of the world, and he said it was nothing, and although he hadn't been to Mérida in more years that he could remember, he concluded in between other thoughts: "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy a Mérida."
Mr. Ortiz was born in the house where we stood and his father was born there too. He has worked as a shoemaker for 75 years. He married at 22. His wife is still alive, and they have the same age, 90. He had eight children, but only five survive today. He told us he had 12 great-great-grandchildren.
He explained to us the Maya translations of certain words – che for madera, eck for estrella. He said the Maya of Yucatán always say what they mean, no matter how blunt. He said he belonged to a stubborn people. And, being a man of his age, Mr. Ortiz didn't demure while elaborating.
"Porque los mayas, lo que ven, eso dicen," Mr. Ortiz said. "Lo que hablamos ahora es amestizado, no es la verdadera maya. La verdadera maya es ofensivo, ofende a la mujer."
"El apedillo que tengo yo no es maya … me llamo Victor Jose Ortiz Escobedo. Es español … Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en la tierra maya, nuestro estilo es maya, solamente el apellido no es."
We talked about life in Ticul, and asked what he ate to stay so healthy and alert. He eats chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, no mention of meat. He moved about the room freely, using his arms to emphasize thoughts. "Tengo que trabajar," he said. "Si se acuesta, envejece mas pronto."
I asked again if he saw any meaning in the "end of the world" as supposedly predicted by the Maya. Mr. Ortiz explained: "El sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va terminar, y empieza lo de los mayas."
* Printed with permission of Gatopardo magazine, c/o editor Guillermo Osorno.
* Above, screen shot, via BBC Magazine.
A major reportaje on the afromestizo musical profile of Mexico, by producer Marlon Bishop, via Afropop on Public Radio International. Bishop travels to Guerrero to check out the chilena tradition, to Mexico City for the danzón, and to Veracruz and Los Angeles to examine the new-generation son jarocho craze.
It's an involving, rich podcast. See more here for blog posts with clips related to self-declared criollo musical culture.
I've held a long-running discussion on race in Mexico in recent years on Intersections, highlighting previous documentary projects, easy but telling race-tricks in contemporary social science in Mexico, and bringing some pop-media attention on pop Mexican blackness.
I remain ambivalent about the application of U.S.-style racial goggles on the reality of race as it's lived in Mexico today.
I was struck, for example, by an academic voice in the Afropop audio who says "naming the beast" is needed to "fund the beast," suggesting that afromestizo people in Mexico need more "resources" that have been denied to them because of their race or color.
That is totally an American racial-politics thing to say, and would register as flat-line discourse to many Mexican thinkers, of many classes and colors, I can assure you. All kinds of poor people in Mexico have been neglected by the state, in a complicated long-running saga of injustice in Mexico that is simply more complicated than a black-and-white vision.
Additionally, I remain unsure who gets to be Afro-Mexican. Or even, who wants to be? Mexicans call themselves mexicanos first, and many find little use in sub-categorizing ourselves in the U.S. manner. Yes, there are some serious race conundrums at play here, and racism in the mass media is still so prevalent. But U.S. race relators don't necessarily have the smarter hand, or the better model.
So what is? Let's keep discussing, and in the meantime, enjoy the podcast and the dope music! * Gracias por el tip, Nati! * Post edited.
* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 184.108.40.206.14]
Finalmente conseguimos aquí una información clave. En el pueblo llamado Ticul, al sur de Mérida, un poco antes de llegar a Oxkutzcab, vivía un experto en garabatas, como se le llaman a los huaraches en Yucatán. Uno de los curanderos que conocimos en Kambul, Jorge Coronada, nos dijo que el maestro José Ortiz hacía los mejores zapatos de la península. Nos lanzamos para allá.
Un lugar se revela por el carácter de sus caminos: a lo largo del periférico de la ciudad de Mérida —una vía moderna repleta de fábricas y oficinas de gobierno— era común la presencia de la policía, fuerte aunque nunca amenazante. Pasamos por uno de los varios retenes que se instalaron para seguir manteniendo el orgullo de Yucatán: el estado más seguro del país. Al llegar a Umán tomé una calle que nos llevaría al centro, pero se convirtió en un camino cuyo sentido era opuesto al que veníamos. Del otro lado venía un joven en un taxi-motocicleta y cuando nos pasó me miró con desdén y me dijo: "¡Vete a la verga, vato!". Pensé que nunca se puede decir de un lugar que "la gente es tan amable y tan acogedora", porque siempre hay excepciones.
Cuando llegamos a Ticul ya era de noche. El cielo estaba despejado y un mar de estrellas brillaba arriba con intensidad. La luna estaba majestuosa y los caminos entre la selva oscura eran largos y rectos. Este pueblo era como los demás en Yucatán: tenía un mercado, una estación de camiones, zapaterías, tiendas de ropa y de teléfonos celulares, además de casas de piedra de un piso que parecen haberse construido hace veinte o doscientos años. Todos los pueblos de la llanura de la península son iguales; están edificados alrededor de una plaza con una iglesia que parece un fuerte. De hecho, muchas funcionaron como tales: las iglesias de pueblos como Tizimín, Muna y Ticul son altas, con pocas ventanas y están construidas con muros de ladrillo de grandes dimensiones; un recuerdo del pasado, cuando los mayas se resistieron a la conquista española por generaciones —mucho más tiempo que los aztecas.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 1."]
Un viajero del siglo XIX, John L. Stephens, describió a este pueblo como "el perfecto retrato de quietud y descanso". Íbamos en el coche por el centro polvoriento, cuando giré a mi derecha y enseguida me detuve junto a un hombre de mediana edad, que estaba sentado afuera de una zapatería. Buscamos al señor José Ortiz, el zapatero, dije. Aquel hombre tendría unos sesenta años, el cabello blanco y unos extraños ojos verdes y cristalinos. "Él es mi padre", contestó y explicó cómo llegar a su casa.
Unas cuantas cuadras atrás, sobre la misma calle, nos topamos con el taller del señor Ortiz. Había un pequeño letrero pintado a mano junto a un poste de madera que marcaba la fachada de la casa. La puerta estaba abierta, y dentro se veía todo iluminado por un foco fluorescente pegado a una mesa de trabajo, que bañaba la habitación con una luz azul pálida. No había nadie adentro. Tocamos y llamamos a la puerta, tocamos y llamamos. En la ventana de la calle se veía una serie de luces navideñas que formaban un altar a la Virgen de Guadalupe, de esas que vienen con música de villancicos con un solo tono. Poco a poco nos fuimos metiendo y esperamos dentro. Viejas fotografías y mapas colgaban de las paredes, como si no hubieran sido tocados por décadas. Estaba claro que el taller del señor Ortiz era un lugar especial. Me sentí satisfecho por estar ahí.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 2."]
Una mujer pasó por la calle y al vernos preguntó qué estábamos buscando. Un minuto después, José Ortiz Escobedo llegó y se acercó a mí y mis compañeros.
Era un hombre viejo y muy delgado que vestía pantalones y una playera de trabajo. Tenía un rostro bien parecido, moreno, y una nariz triangular puntiaguda. Nos saludó con amabilidad, y pudimos entonces presentarnos. Queríamos ver, le dijimos, las garabatas que vendía. Al principio fue un tanto difícil comprender lo que decía. Tenía noventa años de edad. Su acento maya era fuerte —el turbulento y entrecortado castellano, que hierve en la punta de la boca para luego estallar en sus cus y kas.
El señor Ortiz explicó que no podía vendernos ninguno de los huaraches de piel que colgaban en la pared. Parecían objetos delicados, pero resistentes. "Te pueden lastimar los pies", dijo. Ortiz sólo hace sandalias a la medida. Dijo que podría tomarnos la talla y tendríamos que regresar mañana o el día siguiente, si así lo deseábamos. Me probé un calzado y me quedó perfecto, pero el señor Ortiz insistió en que no nos vendería ni un solo par que no estuviera hecho a la medida. Ni un cinturón, además, aunque también intenté llevarme uno. Por un momento me resultó imposible entender que, a diferencia de la ciudad de México, aquí el dinero no podía comprarlo todo.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 3."]
Le pregunté si había escuchado algo acerca de la supuesta predicción de los mayas sobre el fin del mundo. "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy para Mérida", concluyó.
El señor Ortiz, que no había ido a Mérida en muchos años, nació en esa casa donde estábamos parados, lo mismo que su padre. Ha trabajado como zapatero por más de setenta y cinco años. Se casó a los veintidós, y su esposa aún está viva y tiene la misma edad, noventa. Tienen ocho hijos, aunque sólo sobreviven cinco, y doce bisnietos, dijo. Se puso a traducirnos ciertas palabras mayas como che para madera, o eck para estrella. Los mayas de Yucatán siempre han dicho lo que piensan, dijo. Y como él es un hombre de edad, no fue nada tímido para enunciar lo que pensaba. "Los mayas lo que ven, lo dicen —dijo—. Lo que hablábamos ahora es mestizado, no es la verdadera lengua maya. La verdadera es ofensiva, ofende a la mujer".
"El apellido que tengo no es maya… Es español… Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en tierra maya y nuestro estilo es maya, el apellido no lo es".
Le preguntamos qué comía para estar tan sano y despierto: chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, nada de carne. Se movía por la habitación libremente y usaba sus brazos para hacer énfasis en sus ideas. "Tengo que trabajar —dijo—. Si uno se acuesta, envejece más pronto".
Cuando le pregunté de nuevo sobre el significado del "fin del mundo", contestó que "el sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va a terminar. Y empieza lo de los mayas".
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 4."]
* English-language posting is forthcoming ...
** Originally published in Domus México No. 4. No direct link. This is the original draft submitted to the magazine for translation to Spanish.
MEXICO CITY – In the photograph, Enrique Flores Magon is seated at a table facing a bank of angled mirrors. His white, wavy hair is tousled upwards wildly, as if he had been submitted to a rain of static. His expression is morose. Flores Magon is reflected in the mirrors four times, and so at the top of the print, a winking caption is written in cursive ink, in Spanish: "Mis cinco cuates."
And below, in English: "Who said that a haircut was needed?"
When I first saw this photo – in the personal archive of Enrique Flores Magon, which is being revived by his great-grandson – it filled me with wonder and amusement.
For anyone familiar with Mexican Revolutionary history, the dominant image of those called its "intellectual authors," brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magon, is that of stalwart, driven journalists who challenged the regime of Gen. Porfirio Díaz and sought justice for the working classes through the power of the printed press. Of course, the lives of any historical figures are in truth far more complex than the heroic legacies that they leave behind.
How did the Flores Magons interact with the world around them on a day-to-day basis? What were their domestic concerns and challenges? In their interior lives, how did they respond to the growing pressures and persecutions of the Mexican and United States governments that led to their repeated imprisonments?
The photograph of Enrique and his "cinco cuates" – modeled on a 1917 Duchamp self-portrait photograph using the same effect – is among one thousand photographs that exist in his personal archive. As an image, it offers a window in the dissident writer's sense of humor and sense of self. It is undated. The exact location of where it was taken is not known either, although Enrique’s great-grandson, historian and writer Diego Flores Magon Bustamante, believes that it was probably taken in Los Angeles around 1923, when the brothers were in exile north of the border and raising revolutionary trouble there as well.
Diego is spearheading an ambitious project that will permit all of his great-grandfather’s materials, including some 15,000 documents, to be available for viewing to the general public in the form of a digital archive. It is perhaps one of the most significant archival projects undertaken in Mexico in recent years.
The digital archive will be housed at the restored building at Calle Républica de Colombia 42 in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City where the Flores Magon brothers and a committed group of lawyers, artists, and writers – including Daniel Cabrera, Jesús Martínez Carrión, and Juan Sarabia – published an opposition newspaper to the Dáiz regime, El Hijo del Ahuizote.
The project is being funded by a mix of support from the Fidecomiso del Centro Histórico, CONACULTA, and private foundation grants. Diego, now 32, explains he is a fervent believer that the archive that his father passed to his care should be available to a viewing public that is as wide as possible. The idea is that with new readings of the materials that Flores Magon left behind, fresh interpretations and applications of the brothers' ideas could emerge.
The historical value of the archive is immense. Ricardo Flores Magon, the more historically prominent of the two, died at a U.S. prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1922, facing espionage charges for publishing pacifist materials in the U.S. version of Regeneración, the brothers' second newspaper. Any known archive belonging to him, Diego believes, was lost in Ensenada, Baja California, in the 1940s.
"Ricardo no tuvo una vida que le permitiera coleccionar nada," Diego says. "Llevo una vida de martir y de perseguido y de fugitivo. No tenía nada."
I did not burn down the Peña sign / I applaud the person who did. That’s more or less an invitation. Fuck the law! Those kinds of heroes are needed so that people can become aware that they need to get with it.
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MERIDA, Mexico -- Contrary to any Hollywood doomsday scenarios or a variety of less-than-optimistic New Age theories, the world will not end Friday, Mexican tourism authorities and Merida residents assure anyone who asks.
Yes, the end of the 13th baktun cycle in the so-called Long Count of the Maya calendar corresponds more or less with Dec. 21, this year's winter solstice.
But the event merely signals the "end of an era" and the start of a new one, locals and scientists say. Or, as some academic Mayanists have explained, the end of the 13th baktun — a date deciphered from totem glyphs and written numerically as 220.127.116.11.0. — is a sort of "resetting of the odometer" of time.
It has become reason enough for people of this flat, tropical region of Mexico to celebrate their Maya culture and history and make mystically minded calls for renewal and rebirth. Officials and residents have also expressed high hopes that foreign tourists will be inspired to visit the Yucatan Peninsula through Friday and beyond. (Assuming the world is still here.)
A handful of residents and officials from Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state, gathered Saturday at a small cenote, or freshwater sinkhole, for a "Blessing of the Water" ceremony. A man dressed in white and described as a shaman stood before an offering marking the four points of the compass, saying prayers in the Mayan language for Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth.
"We must reflect on how humanity has conducted itself, what we've done to the Madre Tierra during this cycle," said Valerio Canche, president of a local association of Maya spiritual healers.
Canche walked among the people, singing in Mayan in a low voice. He took a handful of herbs and dipped them in water drawn from the cenote, then splashed droplets on the heads of those gathered — a cleansing ceremony.
"Let us conduct ourselves, as brothers all, for the common good," Canche said. "Not only for the Maya people, but for the entire universe."
This cenote, in a community called Noc Ac about 14 miles outside the historic center of Merida, sits inside a dilapidated, unguarded government lot, little more than an opening in the ground shaded by a large tree.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The city that was once considered one of the world's most polluted and crime-ridden now boasts that it is a haven from Mexico's drug violence and has gone so "green" with new mass transit lines and trendy vertical gardens that it is hardly recognizable from its former self.
Miguel Angel Mancera, the newly sworn-in mayor, vowed this week to continue the socially progressive policies of his predecessor and make Mexico's gargantuan capital "safer, freer, more equal, more progressive" during his next six years in office.
"My government shall be humanist, truthful, honorable, transparent, democratic and united with the people," the mayor said in his first speech after taking the oath of office Wednesday.
Mancera, 46, the former attorney general of Mexico City, holds a doctorate in law from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He is a single father and fitness buff who boxes regularly. The society magazine Quien called him "the golden bachelor" in a recent cover story.
Mancera won the July 1 mayoral election by a whopping 63% of the vote, a margin of victory considered partly a referendum on the liberal Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and its uninterrupted run at City Hall since 1997, when the position of mayor was created for the Federal District, the formal name of Mexico City.
Mancera took the reins of the city's government after the largely successful term of outgoing Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a popular figure who is credited with reducing crime in the capital even as violence soared in other parts of the country and who legalized same-sex marriage and abortion on demand in the city.
The position of mayor is considered a launching pad for higher office in Mexico, but it is also a frustrating barrier for the PRD. Its presidential candidates in recent national elections, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have both been mayors of Mexico City but have been unable to capture the presidency in a total of four attempts.
Ebrard, a product of the more centrist wing of the PRD, was sidelined as candidate in the 2012 presidential election by the populist stalwart Lopez Obrador, who finished second after Enrique Peña Nieto, the new president.
After his swearing-in, Mancera said he would install thousands more high-tech surveillance cameras to further reduce crime. He also proposed the creation of a post in his Cabinet, a U.S.-style city manager, to answer citizens' needs.
On Thursday, his first full day on the job, Mancera waded into the capital's current major controversy, the alleged abuse by police and abitrary arrests of dozens of protesters in clashes during last week's swearing-in of Peña Nieto. The city's human rights commission said Thursday that more than 20 people who weren't involved in the violence had been arrested, including a Romanian journalist taking photographs of the events, and that at least four may have been tortured or beaten.
Mancera urged residents to be patient with legal proceedings for 69 people who face charges of vandalism and disturbing the peace on Saturday. "To say that no one disturbed the peace or public order would be out of touch with reality," he said.
However Mancera's term as mayor turns out, it may not be enough to catapult him higher if he harbors aspirations for the presidency in 2018. For that election, his former boss, Marcelo Ebrard, has already indicated he's in the running.
* Photo via Chilango.com.
The talk at DePaul was about the processes in which the populist-progressive current leaders of Mexico City, under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, have re-socialized the core of the city into a "user-friendly" urban enthusiast's playden. The process I think at least partly reduces or represses some of the instinctual, genetic cultural ticks of improvisation and negotiation that define the true capitalino or chilango. "Safety first."
I'll have more about these ideas in future pieces. In the meantime, thank you Hugh Bartling and the DePaul community for the invitation. And thank you, Ector Garcia, gifted artist, for showing me around.
Chicago is impressive and I am eager to return.
It's amazing how deeply communities in the United States have embraced the Días de Muertos of Mexico. There are now hundreds if not thousands of Day of the Dead-related events in cities across the U.S. "Average American citizens" know about the holiday and understand its meaning. In a way, it's probably the most successful cross-over act in recent U.S./Mexico binational relations.
I'd say the phenomenon really took off in about 2000. At the time, the Day of the Dead festival at Hollywood Forever cemetery began popularizing, drawing non-Mexican, non-Latino folks' curiosity. (Check out an archival story I did for the L.A. Times in 2002 on the Hollywood event, which started in 1999.)
From there, the gospel of Muertos spread, helped likely by factors such as increased Mexican migration northward and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which undoubtedly had the effect of reminding Americans' about the fragility of life.
This year, I went to the Day of the Dead festival in Old Town San Diego with my family. The setting is great. Old Town is the city's original Mexican core, settled after the 1769 founding of a Spanish imperial fort on a nearby hillside. On Friday night, Nov. 2, the crowds were only dotted with mexicanos. The rest of the skeletons were everyday coastal Californians.
Here are some photos.
** Originally published at World Now:
Maria Guadalupe Garcia usually spends two hours traveling from her home in southeast Mexico City's Tlahuac borough on bus and microbus to reach the city's west side.
On Tuesday, Garcia, 60, was one of the first riders of a new subway line inaugurated by the mayor and Mexico's president. She said she expects that those two hours of commuting will be reduced to 45 minutes.
"It's going to benefit us so much," Garcia said, standing with her husband, Angel Hernandez, on the platform of the Mixcoac station. "Now, we'll go with calm."
The 12th line of this city's moving hive of a subway system -- the loved and loathed el metro -- opened to the public in what leaders called the most significant and complex public-works project in recent Mexican history.
The new Line 12, or Gold Line, cost about $1.8 billion and is a capstone for the administration of outgoing Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. The line also represented an unprecedented test for engineers, planners and politicians who had to fend off vigorous protests and legal challenges from some residents.
For riders, the line makes a crucial alteration to the transit landscape of Mexico City: It adds a lateral connection across the southern end of the metro map, crisscrossing four lines and creating transfer points where previously none existed.
The line also connects Tlahuac, a large, semirural expanse on the southeastern end of the metropolis, to the subway grid. End to end, Mixcoac to Tlahuac, the line stops at 20 stations across 15.5 miles of tunnels and elevated tracks.
More than 380,000 people are initially expected to use Line 12 daily. Overall, nearly 4 million passengers ride Mexico City's subway every day, making it one of the largest such systems in the world.
"This is an immense project for Mexico City," Ebrard said. "It is the longest line and turned out to be most complex. We are very proud of our engineers, our workers."
President Felipe Calderon said he was proud the federal government supplied funds for Line 12, meant to commemorate the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico's independence.
"It was worth it," Calderon said. "This ... is a sustainable solution to the problems of mobility and transport in Mexico City. Moreover, it minimizes the impact of pollution on the city, and that's fundamental."
By noon, smiling, cheering riders were joining the inaugural train on which Calderon and Ebrard briefly rode. An hour later, at Mixcoac station, commuters were already moving about the transfer point as hardy residents of this city do: earphones in, bags held close, eyes alert to the journey ahead.
* Photo: Juana Cisneros, 59, and Jose Hernandez, 52, were among the first riders of the new Mexico City subway line, Line 12, on Tuesday.
** Originally published at World Now and re-published in the Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Will the last wailing, stumbling drunk person on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi please turn off the lights on the way out?
The government of Mexico City, where drinking until dawn has long been a competitive pastime, has banned the sale and drinking of alcoholic beverages on the esplanade of Plaza Garibaldi. Public drinking was a previously tolerated custom at the meeting point for hundreds of struggling busking mariachi musicians and their glad-to-be-sad customers.
Authorities said alcohol would still be sold at the bars and cantinas that ring Garibaldi, but the practice of chugging beers or downing mixed drinks outdoors in the early-morning hours with mariachis crooning nearby will halt under Operation Zero Tolerance, said Alberto Esteva, subsecretary of public policy at City Hall.
Under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the city has invested about $26.8 million to revitalize Plaza Garibaldi, mostly on the construction of its Museum of Tequila and Mezcal and the repaving of the square. The outdoor alcohol ban is one more step in that plan, Esteva said in an interview.
"We gave the vendors alternative options, they didn't respond, and the city had to make a decision," the official said. "Garibaldi is about evoking that Mexican-ness, those customs, but permanent drunkenness is not one of them."
Alcohol sales were first barred Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon, without a vendor in sight on Garibaldi's wide expanse, mariachis and business owners expressed ambivalence about the new policy.
"There will be fewer people, because that's why they come downtown. To drink, drink here, and go somewhere else," said Soledad Diaz de Dios, whose family owns a recently renovated pulque bar on the square, La Hermosa Hortencia. "But [the drinking on the plaza] is also bad, for the tourism aspect."
Complaints of violence, public vomiting and marijuana smoking have grown. The plaza has also seen large brawls and confrontations with police involving semi-homeless youths, identified as "punks" by some of the musicians. Reportedly, drinks on the plaza are also sometimes spiked with substances meant to alter drinkers' mental states and thus make them vulnerable to assault.
"[The policy] is good, in quotation marks," said trumpet player Jesus Rosas. "Every Thursday through Saturday night, the party starts. And what's the party? Fights, breaking bottles, robberies."
But without the open-air drinking to go along with the mariachis, norteños, and jarochos, will Plaza Garibaldi ever be the same? Mariachis have complained to the city that the museum, for example, blocks access to the plaza, reducing their customer base.
"It hasn't been reformed, it's been completely tronado," huffed old-timer David Figueroa, a guitar player, using a slang term for broken, failed or flopped.
* Photo: Soledad Diaz de Dios, a vendor at the pulquería La Hermosa Hortencia on Plaza Garibaldi, Oct. 27, 2012.