Monday, December 7, 2009

About Mexican malls and New York closets

During my last visit to Mexico City I met a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. She chose the venue, Reforma 222, one of the newest malls in the City. I arrived sufficiently early to do some shopping. While I was in both Zara and Massimo Dutti, I noticed something quite interesting; nearly every man around me happened to be homosexual. I spent most of my shopping time –and money, for that matter- in Zara (as per usual) where I saw several gay individuals and couples shopping, ranging from ages 16 to 46 maybe. As I strolled through the mall waiting for my friend, I noticed that the café and the restaurants were largely populated by gays. It occurred to me that I was in a gay mall. I finally met my friend, and as we were enjoying our espressos at the Finca Santa Vera Cruz café, she explained to me that the gay community had become very fond of that mall because of its proximity to the Zona Rosa (the gay quarter in Mexico City).

I felt happy to see all those gay lads walking, shopping, holding hands with their boyfriends, knowing that the dark clouds of judgment, hatred and rejection were not over them. Later that week I had the chance to meet a dear friend I also hadn’t seen in several years. She lives in the Condesa quarter with her girlfriend. They have been together for a few years already. I asked them what it was like to be a lesbian couple in Mexico City. They said that in spite of the ever-increasing open mind of the people of the city, lesbians are still more rejected than male homosexuals. That is one of the reasons they live in the Condesa and not in las Lomas. And I understand that. If I were a lesbian I would rather live in the Lower East Side and not in the Upper East Side. At night my friend and her gf took me to a gay café in the Zona Rosa where we all enjoyed some amazing cappuccinos, and when I called the waiter to bring the check, he said that some gentleman who had been sitting at a table relatively close to ours had already taken care of our check. We inquired about such charitable act, and the waiter explained that it was because said gentleman had found me very handsome. I felt an inexplicable joy as I realized that my striking good looks could be translated in financial favors.

Mexico City’s Zona Rosa is very small compared to Paris’ Marais or New York’s Chelsea, where sexual emancipation is definitely stronger. I recently moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an area heavily populated by hipsters and young artists. There are, naturally, many homosexuals around, but not the Abercrombie kind, those belong in Chelsea. When I happen to think of this topic, I realize how open New York is… no wonder why so many homosexuals have come to this City in their search of haven from their ultra-conservative, fundamentalist families and/or societies.

Not too long ago, however, I met a Brazilian guy. He is 29 years old and lives with his twin brother and sister in law. He is gay and plans to stay closeted for the rest of his life because of the expectations his family and friends have on him. It doesn’t help to live on the shadow of his already-married twin brother. After hearing his story I started thinking of how hard it must be to live in such an emancipated place that serves as the refuge of many like him, yet he doesn’t allow himself the right to be who he is.

His situation (and that of many others) got me thinking about the price/value of life. Life is hard, complicated and expensive as it is; if we think of life in New York City, those three adjectives take a whole new meaning. Being single in New York is possibly one of the hardest experiences imaginable (during the fall-winter season only). Long and stressful commutes, jobs hanging by thin threads, neighbors from hell and NYC MTA weekend changes make life in New York one of the most complicated in the whole metropolitan world (what ever happened to la joie de vivre?). Ridiculously high prices in rent, groceries, transportation, cigarettes and clothes make Paris look like Latin America from the wallet perspective of a New Yorker.

New York is hard, complicated and expensive to all of those who inhabit it, regardless of race, age, immigration status, and sexual orientation. Therefore, it would be fair to think that the freedoms and privileges that come with living in this great city would also evenly apply to everyone who lives here. However, that is not the case for that Brazilian young man who can’t discuss anything about his sexuality with his family (slash roommates), who obviously can’t have any boys over and has to invent excuses for his lack of female company. He still pays the same amount for rent, as do his brother and sister in law, same utilities and lives in the same New York where all the beautiful boys party wildly in Chelsea every weekend.

What a bad investment, isn’t it? To pay such an elevated price to live a life that is half-lived; to suppress, self-oppress and repress personal expressions and character, and thus become depressed. Evidently, the price of living the expected version of one’s life is greater than just living one’s life, but really, does it have a good return on investment? Closets in New York are usually small and dark. Really, why live in a closet that costs as much as a whole apartment? Living up to others’ expectations can leave nothing but unreal satisfaction and empty rewards, because at the end, you’re living someone else’s idea, not a life.

Why hang yourself in a closet when you can freely shop in the mall?

Monday, August 10, 2009

[¿] Viva la Malinche [!]

One of the reasons that I love living in New York so much is the amount of interesting people you can randomly meet. A few weeks ago I met an American, from Texas, who spent four years of his life in Oaxaca, Mexico. He even helped building a library for the children there. He is perfectly fluent in Spanish, often using words that I never use as part of my daily vocabulary. He paid a renewal fee for his visa every year he stayed in Mexico. He loved the people, the food, the culture, etc…

How plausible! –I think… and that’s it… I think. I wouldn’t do that. Ever. Go to Oaxaca for four years and live the Oaxaqueñean lifestyle (let me remark that Oaxaca is the poorest, or at least one of the poorest- states in Mexico). No, thank you very much. I am rather happy living in Manhattan, already planning my next European destination. What a malinchista I am!

If you are not Mexican, you might be wondering what in hell does malinchista mean. Well, let me introduce you to the term, to the legend. Malintzin –as she was called by the native indians in Central Mexico- was a woman who served as interpreter (and wife) ([!]) for Hernán Cortés (the most important Spanish conquistador of Mexico). Malinche is most likely the record of her name as the Spaniards mispronounced it. She was christened as Marina. And among the elite of the conquistador scene, she was referred to as Doña Marina – being doña a title of high respect. In fact, the red house -la Casa Colorada- that is visible from the park on the image above was the house Cortés gave to her, in Coyoacán.

La Malinche was already fluent in Náhuatl –the lingua franca of Central Mexico- and Mayan by the time she was presented to Cortés as a gift, among other women. She learned Spanish rather quickly, and that is how she became Cortés’ interpreter. She naturally belonged to an upper, educated class, and was, therefore, understanding of the tribes and peoples in the Mesoamerican area now known as Mexico, but that would later be known as the New Spain. This knowledge of hers allowed her to become more than just an interpreter for the great conquistador. She was said to be his best counselor, almost a strategist.

Nowadays, many Mexicans hold her responsible for the easiness with which the Spaniards conquered the Mesoamerican kingdoms. She is often regarded as some kind of whore who sold herself to the Europeans, someone who rejected her own culture and even participated in its destruction. Some others see her as some kind of savior of the race and preserver of her native culture, since she could have eased, to some extent, the magnitude of the conquest. Who knows…? Her truth remains uncertain, but her reputation is certainly very bad. “Malinchista” is now a term used to describe Mexicans who like and prefer foreign cultures and tastes to their own.

God knows I love Mexico [City] more than my words could ever express it… although even the angels know that my love for Paris is even greater. But then again, my Francophilia might have been acquired precisely because of my living in Mexico City… a place that was highly “parisized” by Porfirio Díaz -a Mexican president who governed the country for 30+ years. May he rest in peace at the cimmitière de Montparnasse. However, this post is about Doña Marina… I’ll write about Don Porfirio (and about la Doña, while I’m at it,) some other time.

I do prefer many aspects of different cultures and places to their Mexican counterparts, yet I always end up proving myself a true Mexican. For example, French is my favorite language, but no foreign swearwords ever taste as good as they do in Mexican (a huevo!); I love Stela and Rioja, but Corona and Corralejo stimulate my lips to better smiles; masaman curry and focaccia con prosciutto di parma are some of my top menu destinations, but my best vacations always involve a good pozole estilo Jalisco and tacos al pastor (con piña, sin cilantro y mucha salsa, de la que pica, por favor).

Yes, I am fully aware of the fact that I only mentioned edibles. I do like my table to be Mexican. I also like my TV to be American and my films to be Spanish and French. My ipod sounds best with New York indie and my bookshelf reads Folio and Strands more than anything else. I know Bruges and Antwerp better than I know San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, and I remember Parisian subway stations better than I remember the ones in Mexico City. I like Saint Germain des Près better than Polanco and the Meatpacking district is more fun than la Condesa [yes, I said it, what?] [!].

I could go on for pages and pages listing my contrasting likings, but I’ll spare you the pain, and will instead say that my foreign tastes don’t make me unique at all. Malinchismo is the Mexican name of a universal cliché. Thomas Jefferson liked France and so did Picasso and Van Gogh. Dalí liked New York, and so did John Lenon and many others. I don’t think any of the artists I just mentioned would have preferred a different nationality. I understand they were all quite proud of their own, and so am I… but as I always tell my disenchanted parents, Mexico does not burn in my bones. I don’t think any place does.

La Malinche might have been a traitor or a savior. I might be a malinchista or a “citizen of the world”, I might be considered many other things for that matter… but who cares about labels anyways. The truth is that we live in a very different era than she did, and we should also understand that life should be more appreciated than any country; what matters is what you say, not in what language you say it.

Traveling and living in different places should open minds and hearts; it should nourish curiosity and cause thirst of knowledge. What it shouldn’t cause is rejection or disappointment. La Malinche incarnates the mother of Mexicans better than Guadalupe ever will. She is no miraculous virgin, but she gave us an identity as spicy as habanero peppers and as inebriating as anís, and for that, I thank her.

Que viva la Malinche [!]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quítate, pinche naco!!!

Mexico City is by far one of the best cities in this continent. You can club till dawn (which is hard to do here in New York), you can shop for jewelry at Tiffany’s, Cartier and Bvlgari (all in the same block on Masaryk Ave), you can get any item from Zara in any size because in Mexico City alone there are more Zara stores than in the US. Education-wise, there are the French, German, Irish, American, British schools…  Just a few years ago the French supermarket chain “Carrefour” was present in Mexico. So you could go to Carrefour for a nice, crisp baguette and cheap French wine, to Wal-Mart for cranberry juice and to Superama for rice and beans. Mexico City gives you a glance at the world in many ways.

Unfortunately, all these pros are shaded by some terrible cons. Insecurity and pollution being the worst, in my opinion… however, there is a terrible “sickness” that affects the capital’s society, which acts as a detrimental force to the cultural and social advancement of the metropolis. It’s feared by every mother -who so lovingly teaches her children to eat with their mouths shut while keeping their backs straight. Understanding fathers are also cautious and strive to afford the best possible education for their kids, hoping they will never be infected by the plague.

A plague much worse than the swine flu, a sickness that attacks you faster than the avian flu: la NAQUEZ. In such an overpopulated city, such as el DF, this terrible illness has spread all over and is now a major aggravation for many, many inhabitants. Interestingly, nacos (people suffering from naquez) from el DF are often –incorrectly- referred to as “chilangos”. This is a clear misuse, for any decent “capitalino” (native of the Mexican capital) knows that a “chilango” is someone who migrated to el DF, or who was born of parents who migrated into el DF. Strictly speaking, I am considered “capitalino” because my family has been established in Mexico City for generations; however, I call myself chilango and don’t give a damn about it [!].

La naquez, however, is not an aggravation exclusive of Mexico City. There are nacos all across the country –and the world, for that matter-, but Mexico City being so horribly overpopulated has a major concentration of people infected with the disease. Let me explain the symptoms. A Mexican naco will most likely:

[!] Be devout of the virgin of Guadalupe and might even have tattoos of her over his/her body. They also have Guadalupe memorabilia in their homes and vehicles, such as stickers, candles, and figurines…

[!] Listen (almost exclusively) and dance (exclusively) to popular musical genders such as cumbia, bachata, salsa and reggaeton.

[!] They speak with a certain intonation and inflection that is very characteristic of the lower classes, who have no access to prestigious private schooling. Naturally their vocabulary and mastery of the Spanish language is very deficient, and they mispronounce words and use others that aren’t even words.

[!]  They lack sophistication and sense of socially accepted fashion, style and manners. Typically unilingual, they have little or no interest for foreign cultures. They might be nacos, but never malinchistas, which is more than I can say (stay tuned for the “Viva la Malinche” post).

All these symptoms could be corrected and the malady could be cured, only, and only, if the most terrible symptom is not present yet, which is:

[!] Lack of interest in a better (or at least more socially accepted) behavior and lifestyle.

No one is responsible for his or her socio-economical status at the moment of birth. If Deyvis is born to a poor couple that already have another four children (Mary Crysty –who was conceived by Lupita at the early age of 16-, Yeyson, Yenny and el Prieto), he can’t be blamed for that. He shouldn’t be blamed either for being raised in la Doctores, Neza, Tultitlán or any other guetto in the Mexican capital. It is definitely not Deyvis’ fault he has to attend public elementary and middle schools. Beto, his dad, is a grease monkey after all, and he can provide only so much money to his household. And that is not Beto’s fault either.

Alas, poor Deyvis was born a naco, and there is little, or nothing he can do about it. He was taken to la Villa at the age of three for his “presentación” (catholic ritual to thank God that the child made it healthy to the age of three). He danced the Sleepy Beauty waltz at his graduation of public elementary school. He was a “chambelán” (accompanying dancer) for his sister and cousins’ quinceañera parties (the most obscene demonstration of naquez). He was raised watching soccer and lucha libre every Sunday. He played la “cascarita” (informal soccer practice on the street or park) con los otros weyes de la colonia (with the other dudes from the quarter). He’s shopped for groceries, clothes, music and auto-parts at the “tianguis” (open air market, somewhat characteristic of the lower classes) since early childhood.

You could say poor Deyvis is a product of his society, a victim of his situation. Yet, when he dares going to Santa Fe, Polanco or la Condesa (highly reputable neighborhoods in el DF), he is glared at, rejected from clubs and bars, suspected of shoplifting at the stores, and yet, when poor Deyvis accidentally hits Ximena with his elbow while walking beside her, he will be very apologetic and say “ay, perdone señorita” (oh, forgive me, miss), to which she will reply “ash, fíjate!! Pinche naco!!” (ugh, just watch it! Damned naco!). Ximena, Regina and Fernanda will just glare at him with a disgusted expression on their faces, wondering what a naco like Deyvis is doing so close to Konditori (my favorite Danish restaurant, but certainly not Deyvis') in Polanco.

Poor Deyvis will leave the scene feeling humiliated, ostracized. He will think of Ximena, Regina and Fernanda (those three beautiful, fair-skinned, green-eyed bitches), as “pinches viejas mamonas” (damned snob girls), but he knows, deep down, he knows his opinion of them matters nothing when compared to the opinion they have of him. He is aware of his socio-cultural inferiority. And it is on the bus ride on his way home that Deyvis is presented with the individual, personal opportunity: Should he start paying more attention to his English and Computer-Use (yes, third world countries have such classes in public schools because computers are not available to everyone) professors? Should he start reading books? Should he stop wearing an América (his favorite Mexican soccer team) jersey all the time? Would it be possible to stop being a pinche naco, and be socially accepted in spite of his name, skin color and height?

If Deyvis says “yes”, he is in the right path. His self-commitment to progression not only makes him a better person, but will also lead to better opportunities for him and his family. He is choosing to do more with the resources available to him, regardless how scarce they might be. That is plausible. On the other hand, if he says “no” and decides to remain a pinche naco… then it might be me the next one to mutter “quítate, pinche naco” (move over, you damned naco!) next time Deyvis doesn’t move to let me walk past him on Anatole France street.

There is nothing in this world that I abhor and despise more than self-inflected ignorance. That is the one sin I judge in others. I see true naquez as the personal decision of leading a low lifestyle. Such lack of personal ambition saddens me and disgusts me at the same time. People should never be blamed or judged for their circumstances, but for their choice of not changing them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I was born and raised in Mexico City. I was never rich, yet never poor... let's just say I had access to certain things. My family could never afford a trip to Russia, but they took me to see the Kirov and the Bolshoi. They didn't have the chance to send me to New York for the summer, but they took me to the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. I didn't have the chance to go to France for a year to learn French so I went to the Alliance Française instead. You get the idea.

All of the above-mentioned events took place in my natal Mexico City... city that I love and that I don't intend to inhabit ever again (but you never know, right?). My life in el DF (as us, the natives of the City, prefer to call it) not only exposed me to the obscenity of living in a megalopolis -along with extreme pollution and insecurity- but also gave me a glance of the world.

It was in Mexico City that I tasted Moët & Chandon champagne for the first time and where I had the [un]pleasant introduction to Siberian caviar and YSL cigarettes. It was in that city that I started my childish addiction to Le Petit Ecolier cookies and Bueno bars and Nutella.

My parents didn't exactly intend to create in me a fascination for foreign cultures and tastes. It was rather organic, yet always supported (and paid for) by them. I think they find me quite interesting; as if I'm this bad -yet terribly charming- son of theirs, who left them in good ol' Mexico to take over the world!

Naturally I don't have intentions to take over the world. They simply paid for enough schooling to make me fully trilingual at the age of 18.

What would you have done -or would do- if you were 18 years old in Mexico City and spoke English and French fluently? Wouldn't you just get out of the city to breathe real Parisian air, instead of the one in the Chanel and Louis Vuitton boutiques on Masaryk Ave? Wouldn't you go to Belgium to eat chocolates and waffles chez Wittamer, and not chez Garabatos (on Masaryk, still)? Wouldn't you rather have a walk in Central Park in the fall instead of just watching it in some cheap romantic American film…?

Well, that's just what I did. And you know you would have done it too. [!]


El NeoChilango [!]

Natives of Mexico City are often referred to as "chilangos" by the rest of the country. Legend has it, it's because chilangos have the body of a chili pepper -"chile"- and the face of a monkey -"chango"-, hence, "chilango"*. Usually we are very disliked by the people outside of Mexico City.

Having being raised in the city, I could never understand why my cousins from other states criticized my hometown so much. I just arrived to the conclusion that "everyone hates the best"... until someone from Culiacán, Sinaloa, told me that it was because us, chilangos, when visiting other cities of Mexico, when we go to, say, the park, we do remarks similar to "uh, this is the park? it's so small!", or "this is the mall? there are just like 20 stores in here!", or worst of all: "Ay Dios mío! (Spanish for Oh my God!), Este es el antro?! (this is the cluuub?!) Está chiquitito y lleno de nacos! (It's so tiny and it's full of nacos! (please refer to the "naco" post) ni siquiera sirven martiniiis! (they don't even serve martiniiis!). When I was told this explanation, I completely agreed. We can be obnoxious with our remarks about other cities in Mexico. We are right nonetheless. They are ever so small and blah. (Judge meee) [!].

*About the reasons behind the stereotypical "chilango": 

If there were approximately 30 million inhabitants in your city, just face it, many of them would be ugly. That is the case of Mexico City, where thousands and thousands of other Mexicans come with the hope of making a better life. These Mexicans are usually poor, and usually with a high concentration of native-Mexican blood running through their veins, which is beautifully represented in their traits... traits that are tragically abhorred by Mexicans with fair skin. These immigrants tend to have children, who tend to overpopulate the Mexican capital... alas, more chilangos are born every day. 

Luckily, I don't give a damn when people call me chilango. I'm indeed proud of it. I may be considered ugly by many, but still, I don't give a damn about that either. I am very tasteful and that's what matters. And I'm not ugly anyways... So that's the "Chilango" part of the name of this blog. The "Neo" is just a prefix signaling renewal... to break up with the cliché. Because I don't want to be part of a cliché. Not ever. I'm just a chilango who does not intend to inhabit Chilangolandia -Spanish for Chilangoland- ever again (that's what I say now, but who knows what I'll say tomorrow) [!].