Saturday, December 20, 2014

I'll be home for Christmas...

 Hundreds of Christmas piñatas for sale at a market in Atlixco, Puebla

It is only fitting that my last day in Mexico before Christmas was a beautiful sunny day. I will definitely miss being able to stroll through outdoor markets all day without a coat while I am home for the next two weeks.

Despite not having Christmassy weather, Mexico is still aglow with holiday cheer. I had the opportunity to visit the small town of Atlixco in Puebla to see their annual holiday lights festival last weekend, which was very quaint and cozy. 

Sunset view from one of the prominent churches in Atlixco, Puebla

 Festival de luces en Atlixco, Puebla

Christmas piñatas dangle from ceilings in nearly every store in Mexico Cit, each of their seven points representing one of the 7 capital sins. When people break the piñatas during the holidays, they can be forgiven and start anew with a clean slate. 

All of the piñatas

I also saw a free Christmas concert at my church, featuring traditional Christmas songs from Mexico, the US and other Latin American countries. Even the Endeavor Mexico office put up a Christmas tree!

Christmas concert at the Santa Rosa de Lima parish in La Condesa
I am still in shock that Christmas has come so fast. I have lived in Mexico City 6 months now, but it feels simultaneously like an eternity and a split second.

While cleaning some files from my computer this week, I stumbled upon a video I recorded nearly a year ago while practicing for my oral Spanish major examination in college. I had recorded myself speaking in Spanish to practice before the oral exam. Visibly struggling for words, I paused a lot, hesitant to make mistakes, and sported an accent not quite American but not quite Spanish either. After watching this old video, I decided to try something. Out of curiosity, I opened up my webcam on the spot and decided to record another little Spanish tidbit to compare it to the one I had found. When I played it back I couldn’t stop a wide grin from spreading across my face: I sounded like a completely different person. This new Spanish-speaker spoke confidently and fluidly in a nearly-Mexican accent. I replayed the first video again and heard my past-self saying, “Quiero practicar para hablar español con fluidez…esto es mi meta…” and I couldn’t help but saying out-loud to myself, still grinning wildly from ear to ear ,“Ya lo lograste.” 

That unexpected glimpse from the past reminded me of how far I have come and all I have learned this year. I graduated college, earned a fellowship, moved to a foreign country on my own, met new friends, and created a life for myself here that is making me sad to leave, even for only 2 weeks.
I have learned more than I could ever have imagined about business strategy, entrepreneurship, translating, Mexican culture, and myself. Remembering the first company profiles I wrote when I arrived at Endeavor Mexico in July, I realize that previously foreign business plan concepts are now completely familiar to me. During my first interviews with entrepreneurs and mentors I was shy and quiet, whereas now I find myself comfortable talking with mentors and entrepreneurs alike. Every profile I write expands my Spanish vocabulary, the elation of discovering new words never getting old. And I have even begun offering private English lessons to a handful of professionals and children; seeing their interest in learning a new language and watching them slowly improve brings me great happiness to help others along a second-language journey similar to my own. I will probably end up saying things like “Buenos días” and “Provecho” to people in New York by accident, as those everyday phrases have become second nature to me. And I have finally found a routine yoga practice, something I had always been interested in but never had the time to explore before.

 Spontaneous dancing at Guadalajara de Noche in Plaza Garibaldi

Part of me can’t wait to be back home, enjoying Christmas traditions amidst everything safe and familiar, but there is another part that is eager for the further adventures and discoveries that await me upon my return to Mexico City in January. I look forward to more unexpected surprises, like yesterday when I stumbled across a bunch of alebrijes (traditional Mexican art taking the shape of imaginary animal creations) on display after the 8th annual alebrijes parade and competition from the Museo de arte popular on December 13th.

 Some of my favorite alebrijes

I wish everyone reading this a very Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year – thank you for all of your support from near and far! ¡Hasta luego, México - nos vemos pronto!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Walk Interrupted

The duck pond in Parque México in La Condesa

I decided to go for a walk, eager to finally find some grass and trees in Bosque de Chapultepec where I could sit and read in peace. But my idyllic plans were interrupted by the harsh reality that I have been avoiding since I arrived in Mexico: my path to the park was blocked by thousands of riot-gear-clad police officers.

I had forgotten to check if there would be any protests today. It just seemed like a normal sunny Monday afternoon. It wasn’t. Another march for the 43 students missing in Guerrero State would begin at 4pm, starting in the historic center at the Zócalo and ending at the statue of the Ángel de la Independencia. It was only 2pm and but Paseo de la Reforma, the main street of the soon-to-be march path, was already lined on either side by police vehicles and armed officers. They held their riot shields and masks loosely at their sides. The strong sun brought sweat to their foreheads as they leaned against their trucks, waiting. The air around the trucks felt charged. The officers stared like hawks as I walked past and I immediately felt uncomfortable.

After a quick u-turn I was back on my way towards La Condesa neighborhood, where no protests would take place that afternoon. Instead hipsters in thick-rimmed glasses skateboard the streets, cafes serve gourmet dishes with English names, and dogs are dressed in sweaters and booties for their afternoon walks. Back in the comfort of my cosmopolitan neighborhood, I felt sick. Just a 15 minute walk from my apartment, thousands of civilians would march in protest of President Enrique Peña Nieto´s government and the disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa.

Many Mexicans have expressed their frustration, disgust, and calls for justice in several marches since the students´ initial disappearance in September. These marches have been mostly peaceful, although ending in clashes between police and groups of protesters. Despite the potential dangers of arrest and violent confrontation, Mexicans continue to march again and again, determined to make Peña Nieto´s government accountable for this atrocity that occurred under its nose. Today´s march in particular also remembers the nearly 100 political prisoners originally arrested during a protest on December 1st, 2012 during Peña Nieto´s inauguration, of which only 60 have been freed while the others remain held under what protesters claim to be false charges. Yet I have also met Mexicans who are frustrated by the disruption and inconvenience that these recurring protests have caused. They believe protesting doesn´t achieve anything; people should just keep going to work and supporting the economy instead of derailing order through protests.

As a foreigner living in Mexico, I can only observe and try to gain a better understanding of what is going on in this city I have come to call home. But I feel helpless. I would like to think that my presence as a fellow at Endeavor Mexico is making a positive difference, but it sometimes feels that helping promote entrepreneurship is not enough in the face of social injustices.

I am increasingly aware of my privilege as a foreigner. While President Peña Nieto faces a rapidly declining approval rating (39% approval, 58% disapproval - an 11% drop since August) and calls for reform build, I am looking forward to going home for Christmas in a few weeks, where I will be able to leave behind the social unrest, pollution and insecurity of Mexico City for two whole weeks in exchange for reunions with family and friends. I feel like a hypocrite: I call myself an advocate for social justice, yet when I find myself in a city boiling with calls for social and governmental reform, I´m dreaming of Christmas vacation.

These thoughts haunt me while sitting around a man-made pond in a park in La Condesa watching ducks, surrounded by tourists, foreigners and pure-bred dogs. Everyone else in the park seems perfectly content to ignore the police preparations that are being made just blocks away and the protest scheduled for that evening. My eyes watch the ducks as they scramble for pieces of bread tossed by a child from the side of the pond, but my mind is back on Reforma, remembering the suffocating feeling of walking among all of those police officers and wondering what will happen to the thousands of protestors who will walk that same path later today, and, more importantly, if their efforts will make any difference.

I don´t know what to do, but I know that I can´t ignore it. I remain hopeful that peaceful reform is possible. I am aware that as a foreigner, there is little I can (or should) do here. It is up to Mexican citizens to demand government reform or not.  What I can do is continue to write thorough company profiles for Endeavor, supporting high impact entrepreneurs in the country, and remain an attentive, open-minded, and respectful foreign observer, sharing what is happening here with those who read my blog, and working to improve my own understanding of Mexico in the process.

Source, NPR Article: