In Mexico, the harshest slang word for a homosexual is puto. Therefore, if you are ever in New York with a Mexican, it is always an easy laugh to take him to Chinatown, where you can pass by this store, which offers the Far Eastern version of puto.
Nonetheless, in all the years I divided my time between Mexico City and New York, it never occurred to me to actually go inside and ask anyone what Chinese puto is. On my last trip I did.
The cakes inside the plastic boxes, which are of a jelly-like consistency and look like they would be the preferred meal for a baby, someone over 90 years old, or a space mutant, are made of puto.
When I saw this man sitting inside the store, I was hoping that he would be able to tell me something more about puto, but I was afraid that he would turn out to be a recent Fujianese immigrant with no English skills. It turned out that he spoke with a thicker New York accent than my late Aunt Sadie, who was born and raised on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. He told me that puto is sweet. I asked if it was eaten as dessert. “Some people do it that way,” he said. “But a lot of people mix it up for breakfast with salty sliced pork. That’s the good stuff.”
Besides being a writer, I am also a mitigation specialist. Principally, I assist lawyers who defend Mexicans facing the death penalty in the U.S. I go to the towns where they are from and interview family, friends, teachers, classmates, colleagues, nuns, priests – anyone who can give us information that might inspire mercy in a jury, in the hope that they will give them life without parole instead of a death sentence.
Since emarkbing on this work, I have become ever more attentive to legal matters. Therefore, I couldn’t help but notice this two-story setup on East Broadway, on the fringes of Chinatown in New York, across from Seward Park. It would appear that in New York State, when they talk about “passing the bar,” they are not kidding.
I was in New York last week for a brief work trip. On the #2 train between midtown and Harlem, this trio norteño entered and played a spirited version of La bamba (which is actually a canción jarocha from Veracruz. Still, they have to cater to the crowd: La bamba is probably the best-known Mexican tune among gringos after Cielito lindo). I told the bass player that I live in Mexico City and that there are a lot of itinerant musicians on the metro there. “I know,” he said. “There are too many of us. That’s why we’re here.”
Last time I checked there were 80,000 police to protect the eight million residents of the Federal District. (El D.F. is only the central part of greater Mexico City, with its population of 20 million.) There may be more cops today; before he was elected mayor two years ago, one of Marcelo Ebrard’s campaign promises was to increase their number to 100,000.
This is an off-the-charts per-capita ratio compared to other big cities. According to a New York Times report in September of 2006, nine thousand police officers were enough to protect the four million residents of Los Angeles, and New York made do with 37,000 for eight million citizens.
Mexico City cops come in a dizzying variety: preventive police, investigative police, transit police, tourist police, mounted police, auxiliary police, bank police, diplomatic police, industrial police and customs police, among others, each corps with its own uniform.
In the last decade or two, the police department stepped up efforts to hire more women. Mexico City law enforcement is legendarily corrupt, and apparently, the logic was that females are less prone to bribery and other commonplace forms of malfeasance (a notion that tends to be laughed at by Mexican males).
One thing is certain – policewomen are given uniforms with pants so tight that, regardless of whatever infractions of which they might be guilty, they would never be able to get away with smuggling.