Monday, April 27, 2009

La bendicion de la Ciudad: Que te vaya con Dios

El Angel - Reforma, Mexico City

Adios, mi Mexico querido

Me da pena. That most Mexican of expressions. One that my gringa soul rarely has need for, but today, it fits my sentiments. Me da mucho pena decirles que ya es el fin de mi blog chilango porque he regresado a mi hogar, California. I left the US for love of Mexico, and, again for love, I have returned to mi patria, this time for love of my boyfriend, who calls Los Angeles home. I will of course return to Mexico many times in the many decades to come and I will always consider it one of my homes. However, no longer will I be able to peer out my own window and spot green VW taxis, jacarandas in bloom, and taqueros expertly chopping pork on a trunk-sized block of wood. Ya te extraño, Mexico. Ya les extraño, mis amigos mexicanos, ustedes siempre estån en mi corazon.
In the handful of months since I've returned to California, I'm often struck with momentitos of nostalgia. When I chat in Spanish with the woman behind the counter at the Mexican market downstairs from my office who calls me mi'ja. When I turn a corner here in east LA and come face to face with a brilliantly painted mural of la Virgen. When a group of young mariachis takes the stage at the Book Festival singing "Ay mi corazon..." When I spot fuchsia bougainvillea climbing up the walls beside the freeway.
I thought about continuing to blog on this site, but my two Mexico years stand apart. I've started a new life and a new blog that will be an attempt to reconcile my three homes: Sonoma, DF, and, now, Los Angeles. I hope you will read it and enjoy it:

Hasta pronto, amigos

Con mucho amor, Sierra

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A note on the use of bright colors in Mexico

Police officers patrol in Puerto Veracruz

Our use of color is just social convention, right? So why not make police uniforms in Veracruz light pink? Well, it may be convention, but it's hard to let go. Living in another country can mix up your associations with color, however. For instance, in the US, we strongly associate death with the color black, which is standard for funerals. In Mexico, they also associate bright yellow and gold with death however as xempasuchil (marigolds) are used to decorate graves on Day of the Dead. For Westerners, the color red can be tinged with shame - red light districts, the scarlet letter...but it is ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants here because it is considered a lucky color.
All westerners who travel in Mexico are immediately struck by the bright colors everywhere - the color of houses, products, even the food, hit levels of brightness and saturation rarely seen in anything but children's toys in the States and Europe. Westerners generally love the bright colors and walk around snapping photos of fuchsia bougainvillea against bright orange walls and rainbow-colored houses all tumbled together.

Colorful houses in Guanajuato
Homes in Guanajuato

My boyfriend (who is Mexican-American) and I were talking about colors after an unfortunate run-in with some nasty pulque that we bought in a market by his house.

Pulque sold at Mexican market in Norwalk, CA

True, I have tasted pulque before and he had not, but we took two very different impressions from the brightly colored cans. He was immediately drawn to the bright colors (note that most of the packaging in this market was distinguished by bright colors), where I immediately saw bright colors as a red flag. Especially in food stuffs. I think of food that is brightly colored and it is largely suspect: cotton candy, strawberry and orange soda, gumball ice cream, green chorizo...
I think the experience that really hit home that Latinos and Westerners have totally different orientations toward color is the first time I saw the Moncada barracks in Santiago, Cuba. The barracks are legend in the history of the revolution. Castro and his men stormed them, very unsuccessfully, in 1953 and the attack is considered the start of the Cuban revolution. About 120 rebels went in, over 60 were killed and another third were captured. When Castro was taken to court for his role, he delivered his famous "History will absolve me" speech.
I had only seen photos of the barracks in black and white, so imagine what I felt when I saw this legendary historic site for the first time in full color:

Moncada barracks
Yes, you can still see bullet holes in the building, but to a Westerner like me, the barracks look like an elementary school! Color is cultural. Case closed.

Don't worry about the Trojan Horse

Because the AZTEC horse is headed your way! Beware, matey!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My favorite sign ever - I simply can't decide

I've seen some interesting sales pitches in my life. These two signs include two of my favorites - I can't decide which I prefer, the vendor promising me the world or the hard sell accusing me (if I were Mexican) of betraying my people?

"If you buy this snow cone, you will go to heaven and your children will be born strong!" Personally, I'm sold.

"QUESTION: Why, if....1 - We are Mexicans; 2 - We employ Mexicans; 3 - We have very beautiful clothing; 4- We have an extensive selection and; 5 - Above all, we offer the lowest - the LOWEST - prices...
Why don't you come find out? Malinchismo?"

* Explanation required. Malinche was the translator/lover of Hernando Cortes - the one who conquered Mexico for Spain, doing quite a bit of pillaging and slaughtering on the way. (Look for Malinche in Diego Rivera's mural in the Palacio Nacional. She is pictured with Cortes, with a little baby on her back with a round, dark face and bright blue eyes). She is considered the ULTIMATE betrayer of her people EVER. "Malinchismo" is now often used to describe Mexicans who consider foreign things better like if you're always going on shopping trips to Texas...

OMG! Where's Jack Sparrow?

Apparently, Veracruz is still populated by pirates. Even if they're sneaking in cheap Chinese goods in cargo containers instead of robbing chests of gold.

Am I "using" "quotation marks" "appropriately"?

I saw too many funny signs in Mexico to count. I particularly like the use of quotation marks on this one. I'm going to have to say no if someone offers me some "meat."

Hustling in Puerto Veracruz

I'll say it. The Puerto de Veracruz is NOT pretty. It's a pretty rough place - a genuine cargo port, industrial, with polluted beaches and a stench coming off the sea that made us gag more than a few times. Not that that put a crimp in one local gig - throwing coins off the malecon (sea wall) and diving down to retrieve them. Veracruz is famous for its music and the air is constantly filled with music ranging from marimba to mariachi music to son veracruzano. The bands play for tips or charge you for a few songs or your choice as they cruise the cafes. The different groups seem to be competing to make more noise and the result is a sort of merry cacophony punctuated by vendors blasting reggaeton from boom boxes in that theory that this somehow will want to make you buy a tour or a t-shirt that says: "Soy chingon."
Various vendors have different strategies for catching your attention - see forthcoming entry El Guero ice cream shop. Here are a few:

Video from a tourist strip by the malecon near downtown - I was pretty entertained by the dancing Mickey.

Nothing says generic pharmaceuticals like a man in a huge creepy suit dancing on the street. Yes, I did get a hug. Yes, I was scared.

I had to admire this guy's chutzpah. I watched him rig up his own tight rope, yet passerby were so nonplussed, he was whistling to try and catch people's attention.

Adventures in Veracruz

I am a complete failure at blogging recently and so backed up on my photos and audio I don't even know what to say. Sorry readers! In the past three months, I've been through 3 job changes and two moves, so I guess it kind of set back the blogging. But have no fear, I will soldier on to complete all my Mexico blog entries. Adelante!
Right before returning to the States, I went on an adventure to Veracruz with two friends and their two friends who were visiting from New Orleans. We spent the evening in the port, did a little cruise around the bay in the morning, then headed up into the mountains of Xalapa with a small detour to Xico. We went river rafting, then headed back to big, bad DF.
Our primary activities during this excursion were eating seafood and drinking really good coffee. Veracruz is famous for its coffee. We partook at both of the most popular cafes where they serve coffee so dark you can't see through it in big glasses. After they plop it down, you tap the glass with your spoon and a teenage boy immediately comes running with an enormous metal pitcher of milk which he pours from as high as humanly possible so that your coffee foams up cappucino-style. better way to start the day...or the evening, for that matter.

Chris handles the vertiginous milk pour like a pro.

Dulce doesn't know whether she trusts this guey...

The result....worth risking 2nd degree hot milk splatter burns...