Moment of truth?

November 18th, 2014

graven image

I would like to continue to post jolly observations about Mexico City and my progress as a writer. But the truth is that no one around here is feeling very jolly these days. It’s complicated. When I first noticed the enormous public outrage about the kidnapping, torture and, most probably, murder of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, last September, I kind of wondered why everyone was reacting so strongly. Among the people expressing their shock and rage were many of my own friends. I couldn’t help but ask myself, where have these people been for the past ten years? Asleep, like Rip Van Winkle? Don’t they know that in Mexico people are murdered and disappeared every day, victims of a state – politicians, the police and the armed forces – that colludes with drug cartels and gangsters, or are the gangsters themselves?

Some people said that what made the Ayotzinapa incident different is that the victims were young people studying to become teachers. That sort of logic makes me uneasy. Back in 2010, on one of my cases as a mitigation specialist, I had to travel twice to Ciudad Juárez. In the Monday morning newspapers, they would report on how many people had been murdered over the weekend. The victims were equally innocent – waitresses who worked in a nightclub, or guys who worked in a taco stand – murdered because their bosses had not paid their tributes to the local extortionists. No one rallied around the waitresses or taco guys. But their murders were no less unjust than those of the students.

Finally, I – and many others, I think – have come to see Ayotzinapa as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Numbering in the tens of thousands, Mexicans are protesting en masse all over the country, and huge demonstrations are planned for this Thursday, the anniversary of the Mexican revolution. People are protesting against a government that has been all about selling a false image about nonexistent social and economic progress to the rest of the world. A government dedicated to crony capitalism disguised as political reform. A government that, at least for a while, convinced conservative institutions such as the World Bank and the Woodrow Wilson Center that there is an emerging middle class in the country – a social class that exists only in their collective imaginations.

It is difficult for me to imagine where Mexico will go from here. What worries me is that, while there is a long tradition in this country of public protest, there is virtually no civic culture. There is no understanding of how citizens can work, however slowly, stubbornly, and perhaps even inadequately, to make changes in government. (It also troubles me that, as far as I can tell, impeachment does not exist in the Mexican political process.) What I have seen happen before is that protest movements rise up. The government reacts insufficiently, or not at all, waiting it out until the protesters get tired, and ultimately the movement dissipates and then disappears.

While I don’t think there is any reason to be optimistic, I hope against hope that this time will be different.

Labels: Mexico City



It’s here

November 6th, 2014


The first printing of my book Las llaves de la ciudad (The Keys to the City) sold out after it was published in 2009. So my editor at Sexto Piso asked if I would write some more material for a new edition. It’s a series of pieces I wrote about people in Mexico City– from a 13-year-old girl who lives on the street, to guys who sell Nazi paraphernalia at the Lagunilla flea market, to a deafmute transvestite who works as a waitress at a beer joint in Tepepan.

Among the new chronicles are one about a woman who sells earphones on the metro despite being chased away by the police, a cop who patrols the canals of Xochimilco in a motorboat, and a gringo who got a license to be a taxi driver in the city as a means to complete an art project.

On Thursday, November 13, at 7:30 pm, at a marvelous new cantina called El Laberinto, on the corner of Sinaloa and Cozumel in the Colonia Roma Norte, I will be presenting the book, which is in Spanish, with my friends Francisco Goldman (author of the recently published The Interior Circuit), and Mariana Hernandez of Radio Imagen. There will be a mezcal cocktail on the house. Please come to get a signed copy or just to say hello.

Labels: Mexico City



Those hilarious “cut-ups” at the TSA

November 3rd, 2014


On a recent trip to the U.S., a friend gave me a book that I had ordered on Amazon and had delivered to her apartment. (Amazon sends books to Mexico but shipping charges are whoppingly expensive. So when I’m in the States I try to have books sent to people I know and then pick them up.)

I suppose it was a bad idea to leave the book in its shipping box unopened. I never do that, but this was an art book, and I wanted it to arrive undamaged. In any case, the TSA thought something fishy was going on, and before my flight home, examined my luggage top to bottom. They burrowed around my suitcase, finally opening the package to find nothing more life-threatening than printed matter. They included a circular that made it clear they had been through my belongings.


The officer who did the inspection must have had other things on his mind that day, because when he finished giving the once-over to my boxer shorts, dirty laundry, dental floss and so forth, he left his Master Mechanic box cutter inside the suitcase. I now possess a powerful weapon. Did he even notice it was missing? Are there plenty more where it came from? People in the U.S.: these are your tax dollars at work.

Labels: Mexico City



If you happen to be in the Bay Area

October 20th, 2014


I will be speaking to students of the Creative Writing Program at California College of the Arts this coming Friday, October 24, at 4:30 pm, as well as reading them a chapter from the novel on which I am putting the finishing touches. The event, free and open to the public, will be at the Writers’ Studio of the San Francisco Campus, 195 De Haro at 15th Street. After, I will take questions from the audience, and try to reassure them they are not wasting their parents’ money on their tuition.


Labels: Mexico City



A word to Tezcatlipoca

October 6th, 2014

C iglesia

I have been spending a lot of time in a town called Malinalco, finally finishing a book that I have been working on for what seems like a century. The closest other place of note is a town called Chalma, which has a sanctuary that is the second-most visited religious institution in Mexico, after the Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The other day, after dropping off someone in the Chalma bus station, I stuck around, because as many times as I’d passed through to get to Malinalco, I had never visited the church. I thought it might be a good opportunity to put in a word to Tezcatlipoca (often known as the “black Christ” of Chalma), and ask for a safe passage for the book into the world at large. But it was a Sunday. The lines to get inside were dizzyingly long in the blazing sun and I didn’t have a hat. I thought it prudent to plan a return in the middle of the week.

Labels: Mexico City