By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Today, the Mexico City art scene is considered one of the liveliest and most interesting in the world — almost two decades after its truly rich period. Massive contemporary-art collections like La Colección Jumex and high-profile galleries like Kurimanzutto are forging ever stronger cultural and curatorial ties with Los Angeles and New York, where, in 2002, a massive show about D.F. art at P.S. 1, “Mexico City: An Exhibition About the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values,” cemented the Mexican capital’s international art rep. The art scene that was once notable for its disjointedness, its daring and its direct contact with the churning megalopolis has been all but institutionalized. The bridge-and-tunnel effect in the D.F. has gone global.
Sometimes, when the metro is too crowded, the air is too thick, the noise just won’t stop, you have to get out of the city. On my last day here, I sneak away for a day to Milpa Alta, in the southern part of the Distrito Federal. Of the D.F.’s 16 delegaciones, those to the north are densely urbanized, while the southern ones are rural and mountainous, reachable only by car or bus. Of these, Milpa Alta is the farthest from the city center and the least populated. It’s known for its strong population of Nahuatl Indians, the descendants of the Mexica, or Aztecs, and its cactus production.
In the election, Milpa Alta became the latest formerly PRI-run delegation of the D.F. to fall to the PRD. “We’re out of here,” shrugs Efren Ibañez Olvera, the Milpa Alta director of economic development. “We know there are currents. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” As of October 1, Ibañez Olvera and the rest of Milpa Alta’s bureaucrats and officers will be replaced by PRD appointees. They tell me that they will return to their villages and farmlands and wait for the next local elections, in three years, to see if they can retake the local government.
Our conversations are punctuated every minute or so by a deafening fireworks blast. No one flinches. A procession for the town saint is weaving its way through the stone-and-dirt streets. Along with mariachis, and people carrying idols and images of Christ, one man busies himself with launching missilelike fireworks that fly into the sky with a screaming trail of smoke and explode a few seconds later, as if out of a siege in the Mexican-American War.
In the central plaza of Villa Milpa Alta, the largest of the delegation’s 12 villages, Indians and men in vaquero hats go about their work, selling fresh meat from a sidewalk stall or colorful brooms from a tin pail. Young couples sit on benches, holding hands. Vendors sell drinks and snacks. A book fair is taking place under a large tent. All around the town, PRD campaign propaganda is stuck to the walls, scratched off or graffitied over. Old people watch time march past them.
“What we need is support. We need hospitals, playing fields, highways,” says an old gent who would only say his name was Señor Salazar, 70.
Señor Salazar and I get to talking: about life, about Mexico, about politics, about the elections, about why poor people are happier than rich people.
“The poor man is happier, because the rich man doesn’t sleep,” Señor Salazar argues, pointing a raisiny finger into the air. “The rich man gets spent quicker. Look at me. Here I am, sitting in the garden, poor.” He laughs.
“Mexico has been a rich country, a rich country, but its governments?” He pauses and whistles. “Who knows? Who knows what’s happened?”
As we speak, a young Nahuatl guy practices his skating on the square. He wears a green Communist cargo cap and baggy jeans, has black-painted nails, and introduces himself as Baruch Molina Perez, 22, a student. He insists that I come to meet his family in the next town over, Santa Ana Tlacotenco, because his grandparents speak Nahuatl and they maintain a few ancient traditions of the Mexica. We pay 2.5 pesos each to hop on a rickety microbus, and make our way to Santa Ana, past hill after hill of green cactus fields.
The Molina Perez family lives high up, near the village cemetery, in a house made entirely of concrete — the floors, the walls, the ceiling. It’s very cool inside. The doors are glass and appear to come from a U.S.-style hardware store. All the comforts of the middle class are here: welcoming furniture, electronics, a fish tank. They offer me sweet, homemade cinnamon tea.
Baruch’s father, Antonio, a wedding-and-party videographer, says his family is native to the land of Milpa Alta. Their line goes back to before the conquest. His parents speak Nahuatl; he speaks only some; and Baruch, hardly any. The traditions of their people, he says, are fading fast.
“I have no desire to live in the city,” says Antonio, who is wearing a baseball cap. “I don’t believe in politics. I don’t believe in political parties. Or in religions.”
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