My Mexico City Visit Take Away
The 2nd year of the Covid-19 Pandemic November 4-8, 2021
This is my 4th visit to Mexico City. The first was in the 80’s in conjunction with a child psychiatry conference I think. I remember the Zocalo and how I marveled at all the jewelry stores surrounding the cathedral. I did all the touristic sites, the cathedral, the national palace, joined tours to Taxco and to the Mayan temples and focused my attention on shopping the many beautiful artisanal items on offer. I wasn’t particularly observant about socio-cultural and political, or historical issues then, or particularly interested in art.
On my second visit, decades later in 2014 I was a traveler and no longer a tourist and I had more observations about the country and its people and had more diverse experiences. I also introduced myself to Johnny’s cousins and nieces, who were descendants of his father’s brother, his uncle, who immigrated to Mexico in the 1940’s. They lived in Mexico City and so I decided to have a grand adventure and combine the visit with a trip to Puebla on my way to get together with my friends who moved to join the expat community in Oaxaca, who invited me to attend the Guelaguetza festival. I stayed in the Granhotel CDMX in the Zocalo. I wanted to immerse myself in the experience by walking in and out of side streets and discovered many small museums and Barrio Chino in the neighborhood and happened to witness the changing of the guard and lowering of the flag ceremonies by accident after I viewed Diego Rivera’s mural in the lobby of the national palace. It was a spectacular exercise full of patriotic and military elements. Taking the Metro to Tasquena then the Tren Ligere to Xochimilco, I spent two hours at the Museo Dolores Olmedo , a private museum with many works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the collection. I then had a lazy afternoon floating on the canals and listening to Mariachis.
On my third visit in 2016 I stayed only briefly in Mexico City to see my niece and to drop in Coyoacan to visit Casa Azul and get to know and appreciate Frida Kahlo more in depth. Since being introduced to her work at the Olmedo Museum, I became fascinated by her and read her biography which was the basis of the movie made about her life, played by Salma Hayek. I decided to come in February to use the City to launch my visit to the Monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, before proceeding to Mazatlan for their Fat Tuesday Carnaval, then join the El Chepe Green Canyon Tour from there. Every bar on this trip were full of celebrating patrons who were debating who will be the Fifa World Champions as they cheered Argentina vs Brazil. Mexico had been eliminated, and fans were cheering for Argentina.
For this 4th visit I wanted to refresh my memory about the city after visiting my friends in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead Festivities and to reconnect with the Mexico City Pellicers.
I signed up for a guided walking tour and I learned more about this fascinating city from the commentary of our tour guide, Mariana, who lived in the Philippines for 6 months and was enthralling in the way she structured her tour. She was animated and clearly enjoyed and proud of her city. In a nutshell the three men who shaped Mexico became memorable to me because of her presentation, Benito Juarez the first Indigenous president, who led the independence from Spain , Porfirio Diaz who ruled as dictator for three decades and who was responsible for the European influence that made the City beautiful with his obsession about imitating the capitals of Europe, specifically France, Italy and Spain. And Madero the revolutionary who ended the dictator’s regime and ushered the new era of the republic. I especially liked the experience she encouraged us to participate, the cleansing ritual engaged in by many locals, rich or poor, powerful or disabled, who fall in line with tourists at the Zocalo waiting for the Aztec shaman to perform La Limpia, or cleansing to purge evil spirits away from the body and to protect the person from harm. One has to be in tune with the practice for it to have a calming effect after the shaman blows incense into you and beats you with herb stalks that smells like rosemary, and blows the nautilus shell horn into your ears to drive evil spirits out. After the 10-15 minute ritual you will feel relaxed with a general sense of well-being. The shamans do not charge for the cleansing but you can leave a tip in any amount you decide, or not.
She guided us to an ice cream street vendor to have a tasting of lemon, marzipan, mango and
cheese flavors and using chili sprinkle on cheese ice cream was a surprise for many in the group but not to me since the Bicol region had been known for its Chili ice cream creation and it is a popular flavor. And her final enticement, four kinds of ceviche, salmon, fish, shrimp, and polpo from a street vendor, who had sold one of the best flavored, and well-seasoned ceviche I’ve had for a long time, from the same spot on the street for 30 years, where many locals know where to find him.
And from Mariana who is obviously a feminist, I learned about the women’s movement which had become more militant in its style especially in the city where they engage in destruction and defacing of monuments, such as the painting over with graffiti and purple paint the horse mounted statue of Madero at the Zocalo. The women are demanding laws to protect them and to get equal justice from the law, where everyday 11 women are killed by men and the men are not prosecuted because the system is administered by men who do not see the wrong as worth pursuing and the system allows them to do that.
The drug war was not evident during my visit for I stayed in tourist areas and thankfully I encountered no trouble at all, I was unmolested throughout and came home safe and with good impressions of the people and the city, which has excellent tourism infrastructure. The historic center and the Zone Rosa are two contrasting elements of the traditional and the modern city. Visit both to give you a full flavor of the city’s colonial glory and how the modern elements fuse seamlessly with the past. The indigenous people are part of the tourist attraction and the museums include their history fully, and the locals are proud of their indigenous culture, however they represent the marginalized segment of society, the majority remains in poverty, poorly educated, and represented more in prison populations. Perhaps they continue the legacy of colonialism and the society’s failure in addressing its continuing effects. I am aware of the class hierarchy running along color lines and whether you are a descendant of Spanish ancestors form Spain or from Mexico or other Spanish colonies, much like in the Philippines. My Filipino relations, Johnny’s cousins are educated, professionals and enjoy an upper middle class lifestyle, they are descended from half Filipino/ Spaniard from the Philippines but the 3rd generation are completely Mexicans in their identities, the Filipino part of their heritage no longer visible in their looks or internal representation, obscured by the mixture of Spanish blood. I suspect this is the result of the policy of whitening adopted by the South American colonies after abolition of African slavery. There is no recognition of this phenomenon in the history and in the general cultural expression in modern times. In Mexico, there is hardly any knowledge about the Philippine connection in the Acapulco/Manila galleon trade and how the 2 countries were closely affected by each other during the colonial years and how similar their culture is. I wonder why there is very little information about this relationship in each country’s consciousness.