Archive for the ‘Mexico City’ Category
“Normal is in the eye of the beholder.” Whoopi Goldberg
My cultural heritage has certainly influenced my life. And I think most people would agree that their own has been important to their shaping and development, enriched their lives and often, led to their life decisions. However, sometimes having a mixed or multi-cultural background can be confusing and even disrupting.
Since I know it well, I’ll use my own life as an example.
I really don’t know where I belong.
The U.S., where I live now, is full of bi-cultural and multi-cultural people. I should fit in. Right? However, I have yet to find a demographic group where I do. My problem may be that I have a foot in each of my three countries, both ancestral and from living in them.
I’m a foreigner in all of my three countries but conversely, I also feel at home in all of them.
On the surface, my English side predominates. I was born there and my father was staunch middle-class. However, I only lived in England for fifteen years, in my childhood and as a young adult. I’m fair-haired (well, these days it’s L’Oreal) and blue-eyed. I speak English with a British accent that Americans think is “posh”. It opens many doors for me would be a great asset if I decided to be a con woman.
My mother was born in New York and her father came from a long line of New England stock, some of whom came over on the Mayflower’s fourth voyage while others were Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. Two of my ancestors fought in the War of Independence on the American side, which makes me a DAR (a Daughters of the American Revolution).
Actually, the country where I lived longest was in Mexico, during my adolescence, married life, and for years after I was divorced. My children were born there. My mother was half-Mexican, on her mother’s side. Two of my ancestors signed its Constitution.
I love telling people that I’m part Mexican and watching their reaction: some draw back in surprise (or horror?) and their next comment almost always is, “But, you don’t look Mexican.”
Another reason why I’m confused is because of my chronological back-and-forthing between my three countries:
• Childhood in a seaside village in Sussex, England – easygoing, quiet, Sunday afternoon tea and cake at English Granny’s.
• Switch to Mexico City at ten years old – Culture shock, different language, customs, large, noisy, dirty, Sunday afternoon lunch/meal at Mexican Granny’s.
• Fell head-over-heels for Mr. Blue Eyes and landed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Marriage and quicky divorce, college, sharing apartment with friends, summer in Maine.
• New York City – Lived it up every moment of the year I was there – Camelot, Moon River, The Fantasticks. Began career in advertising.
• London – Swinging Sixties. Settled into career as advertising exec with a stint as airline PR. Lots of travel, booze, and craziness.
• Mexico City again – Marriage to a Mexican, two kids, divorce, career flourished, forced early retirement, failed food business, broke.
• Santa Fe, New Mexico – House sitting in the mountains, writing book.
• Tijuana, Mexico – How the hell did I end up here? Couldn’t walk, stuck in son’s flat, writing book.
. Mexico City again. Operation made me ambulant. Happy to be home but decided to go to U.S.
• San Diego, California – Accidental landing. Became one of America’s working poor. Phone room researcher. “Just want to ask you a few questions. Please, don’t hang up!” New career in Hispanic research. Wrote book about making new start to be published late 2011. Economic slowdown. Currently pursuing new work paths.
I’m not Mexican though given all my years there, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
I can’t count myself as truly English anymore since I left many years ago.
Although I’ve adapted to the U.S. – more or less – I still hanker for Mexico.
So where will I spend the rest of my life?
Each of my three countries calls out to me. Maybe I’ll return to what I know. Or end up somewhere entirely different.
What about you? How has your cultural background influenced your life?
“Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” Mexican proverb
“I speak of our public history, and of our secret history, yours and mine,
I speak of the forest of stone, the desert of the prophets, the ant-heap of souls, the congregation of tribes, the house of mirrors, the labyrinth of echoes.” Octavio Paz
The home where I’m staying in San Angel in Mexico City is filled with memorabilia and antiques – a blend that makes me feel as if it’s inhabited by figures of the past. I’m surrounded by colonial religious icons and antiques as well as a wall collage of photos of ancestors. Six generations of brides, from my great-great grandmother to my niece, gaze down at me. Proud mothers oversee small children long grown and gone.
The echoes of their lives seep into me and fill me with nostalgia for when they were here.
San Angel, a former colonial village in the southern part of Mexico City, is reminiscent of a bygone era, with narrow, cobbled streets lined with town house fronts that often disguise stately residences. However, modern day has leaped in with a vengeance on the main street, Altavista, dotted with exclusive restaurants and designer name boutiques. One jewelry store, in a mansion surrounded by a large garden, reeks of wealth and splendor. What kind of extraordinary jewelry is sold in such a setting?
“I speak of the markets with their pyramids of fruit, all of the flavors and colors, the smells, the tide of voices – water, metal, wood, clay – the bustle, the haggling, the conniving as old as time.”
The two sides of Mexico are evident where, just a few blocks further on, I walk into the San Angel market, selling everything from cheap clothing to stinky, highly flavored, cooked meat taco stands.
It took fifteen minutes on foot to scale the socio-economic ladder.
“I speak of the buildings of stone and marble, of cement, glass and steel.”
I walk along the 19th century boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma, towards downtown on a Saturday afternoon. Both sides are like small parks, tree-lined with spacious walking paths.
Some sights, such as the bicycle lane with families cycling down it, are new. (On Sundays, this main street is closed to all traffic except for cyclists.)
Other sights such as the high-backed, carved stone seats, have been there over a hundred years. My great-grandparents would have passed them in their carriage. My grandparents probably sat on them, as did my mother, and my younger self as a child.
Sadly, one by one, the gracious Victorian mansions on this avenue have succumbed, and been turned into 30-50 story financial and bank buildings. I count seven – maybe a couple more – of what I think of as the “old ladies” left, and these have been turned into banks, real estate offices and – horrors – an Oxxo store (similar to a 7-11).
Echoes follow my steps. Mine – as a child, an adolescent, a young woman walking along this avenue.
All the streets on one side of Reforma are named after rivers. I lived in four: Rio de la Plata, Rio Nilo, Rio Tigris, and Rio Guadalquivir.
My mother’s friend, a former Italian countess, owned the red, Moorish style house on the corner of Rio Nilo. A gracious house with marble floors, intricate curves and steps, and sudden specks of sunlight darting across mosaic walls, it was hushed and gloomy except for the garden, a place of enchantment out of the Alhambra.
Now it’s a Uruguayan restaurant, confirmed by boisterous voices and the smell of roasting meat. This former residential street is also home to restaurants of all types and ethnicity, even a Bread & Cie.
I glance at my former apartment across the street. What used to be the bedroom that I shared with my new baby is now a candy and soda pop store.
Echoes of our laughter follow me as I walk away.
On the corner of Rio Guadalquivir street is a slightly shabby building, a remnant of the 1950s.
The first condominium in Mexico.
How my great aunt sniffed at the idea that her close friends, Mexican film director Fernando de Fuentes and his wife, Elena, had bought one. “They won’t even own the ground they live on.” There, I gave my first English lessons to their granddaughters. It was two-floor splendor with all the latest in architectural advances. Today, it’s been divided into offices.
Further along this street is the ground floor apartment where I lived as a young married woman. The door is open so I glance inside. A real estate office.
Flashes of faces. Newborn baby. Little boys. Working mother. Days of wine and roses. All of us feasting on our youth. Where are they/we now?
All echoes of this city.
I have become the past, a walking relic of this city’s history.
Or have I?
On to Sanborns at Reforma and La Fragua, the second in this restaurant chain to be built after the traditional “House of Tiles” (1903) downtown. A hangout for young people in the 1950s and 60s. It always reminded me of my secret dates here with my first husband, Mr. Blue Eyes. I used to know my way around it, blind. Now, the whole layout has changed and I scramble to locate my friends. They, like me, are former high-flying professionals. Now in their sixties, they have found new opportunities in Mexico. They tell me what I’ve heard from others: there’s a big demand for bilingual, bi-cultural people like us with our skills and experience.
“Come back, Pennie. This is where you belong,” they say.
Do I want to become part of this city’s present and then of its past, again?
What do you think? Would you return to your past to make a new start?
“Is that music coming closer or receding, are those pale lights just lit or going out? Space is singing, time has vanished: it is the gasp, it is the glance that slips through the blank wall, it is the wall that stays silent, the wall.”
Excerpts from “I Speak of the City” by Octavio Paz
A honk, a shout, and I turn to see a car hurtling straight at me. One second and two steps back, and the car brushes by me.
What the hell? The light was in my favor. That car ran a red light and didn’t even slow down when I stepped off the curb.
I stumble across the street, thinking in Spanish, “No me tocó” – “It’s not my turn.”
A few more paces and I stop, tears in my eyes.
God, I’m angry, but at myself.
Here I am in Mexico City, where I lived for most of my life, acting like a blind tourist.
I’ve been away too long and become used to American ways.
Before, I knew drivers here don’t give a damn about pedestrians. People on foot, considered the lower order of beings, are the ones supposed to watch out. In those days, I always had a car. The only place I ever walked was to the supermarket two blocks away, and my high heels were a major impediment.
These days, I don’t wear heels, and I walk everywhere I can. For me, walking in Mexico City is both entertaining and a chance to revisit old haunts and renew memories.
I look up and see that I’m standing in front of a house that I once knew well. There, I met my first husband, an American who looked like a young Clint Eastwood with startling blue eyes. At seventeen, I was no match for his brash come on. We were married and I went to live in the U.S.
Then I found out his export business was not Mexican curios.
Bye, bye youthful dreams, but at least I’d got away from Mexico City, a place I’d wanted to leave almost from the day I arrived.
I first came – or was brought – to live in Mexico City when I was ten years old. Even in the fifties, this overcrowded metropolis was a shocking contrast to my seaside village in England. An ocean away, another continent, another culture. From a cool, clean climate to a hot, smelly one.
That move cost me my home, my father, my school, my friends, and my cultural identity. Letters from England took three weeks to a month to arrive, phone calls were too expensive to consider, and a trip “home” cost a small fortune.
I hated the food, the dusty odor that hung over the city, my grandparents’ home with its marble floors and high ceilings – the complete opposite of our comfy abode in England. I hated the kids at school, and the school, and Spanish – those yammering sounds – so much that I refused to utter more than the most basic words for one year.
If I didn’t learn to speak Spanish, for certain I’d be sent back to England.
All that happened was I got poor grades in school and nobody wanted to be my friend. Not that I cared. I didn’t want to make friends anyway.
After a year, my mother divorced my father and found a poor choice as a replacement.
Mexico became the home that I couldn’t wait to get away from.
After discovering Mr. Blue Eyes’ true occupation, I returned to England to find myself a foreigner in my own country. But I regained my father, my British accent, and even a former school friend, and in time, became a true Londoner of the sixties.
I’d have remained in England all my life, but circumstances drew me back to Mexico City. I meant to stay for two years, make a lot of money (in dollars vs. a low wage in English pounds), and get ahead in my chosen career – international advertising. Instead, I met my second husband, had two kids, and stayed another thirty years. While my kids grew up, I had a wonderful life, a high-flying career in a top ad agency, a beautiful home full of laughter, and many enduring friendships.
In those years, Mexico City became “home” for me.
Despite this, I missed the English-speaking world, one where I’d not be a foreigner.
So, in my fifties, after a forced early career retirement, I moved to San Diego, California. Ten years later, I had a comfortable existence with plenty of freelance work and time between jobs to pursue my writing.
To my surprise, I was homesick for Mexico. I missed my many friends, my Mexican family, the food, and even its craziness. Then I’d come to Mexico City to visit and I’d miss my easy going lifestyle, newfound friends, and my family in the U.S.
“You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.” Maya Angelou
Am I like my half-American mother who grew up in Mexico, went to college and lived in New York until she met my father who took her to live in England? She was always saying how much she missed Mexico. After she returned, she hankered for anything English, missing everything except for the weather. For the rest of her life in Mexico City, she complained about “this country” and how much she wanted to return to “her” country, the U.S.
Mexico contains many of my memories, and much of my past.
In the U.S., I’ve carved out a new life, I’m forging new memories, and a future – but I miss the warmth of the familiar.
Or is home wherever I am?
What do you think?
I’d love for you to give me your opinion in the Comments section below.
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