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I heard YOU on NPR

Wednesday August 12, 2009  at 7:34pm
Okay, so I’m probably waaay more excited about this whole thing than this sweet girl who just wrote me 10 minutes ago– even so I have to share her email with you.

This morning I finally had a news spot air on NPR’s hourly newscast at a decent hour: 8 AM MST (10AM EST). The spot was on Janet Napolitano’s visit to the 6th annual Border Security Conference in El Paso. It was awwwesome to hear the spot as I got ready for a reporting trip to Juarez. A spot may only be 1 minute of audio, but a good deal of work can go into putting one together.

The girl who wrote me was at a workshop I gave on audio production. She’s part of a fledgling organization called Latinitas founded by an El Paso native. The organization is meant to give young Latinas interested in media professions confidence and leadership skills. Feedback like this is what makes volunteering your time to such causes more than worth while.

Here’s her email (minus her name of course!):

Hi Ms. Uribe or Ms. Ortiz or Ms. Ortiz Uribe, I’m not sure which one you go by,
My name is ——; I was at the Latinitas Media Academy in July when you presented. I just wanted to say I heard you this morning on NPR! You were great. It gave me a bit of a thrill at the end and of course I just HAD to say “Oh yeah, I totally know her.” Well, I kind of do! Anyway, your presentation at the media academy was really cool and taught me a lot, and it was awesome to hear you coming out of my radio this morning.

Thanks so much!


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Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 10:06pm
Today was a great day. Five years ago, when I came to Mexico City for the first time, I spent a week, along with 20 other American students, in a neighborhood called Santo Domingo. This is a sometimes rough neighborhood inhabited by people of humble means and fiery personalities. Santo Domingo is full of character.

Today I revisited this barrio, a place close to my heart.

Santo Domingo was founded in 1971 by a group of “land invaders,” people from other parts of the country who simply settled the land without the niceities of property titles or taxes. The land is made of unforgiving volanic rock. Once they were settled, the new colonia joined together to fight the city’s effort to kick them out and petitioned for services like water and electricity. They were badasses, many of the leaders were women. Now the neighborhood is now huge (I got a couple of different population estimates, not sure which one is correct) and the founders’ grandchildren now run and play in Santo Domingo’s streets.

To get to Santo Domingo I had to take a pescera, or minibus, from the center of Coyoacan. Thanks to my classmates I had an address and the name of a community center. Otherwise, I was going cold. I didn’t really expect to remember my way around. The pescera dropped me off right a the entrance to Santo Domingo. It’s really distinct, a sort of open air tunnel in between two buildings whose walls are plastered with posters advertising punk bands and rooms for rent. Here is where the nostalgia hit.

Suddenly I felt that “out of body” sensation. There was instant recognition. The angle of one corner against the other. The long uneven street with it’s multicolored businesses all attached to each other block after block. It was as if had time traveled in an instant. I swear my vision even got a little fuzzy for a split second. Almost like when you dream something for the second time: it feels unreal but you have the sensation you’ve been in the same place before. So yes, I experienced a twilight zone sensation as I took the first steps into the neighborhood.

Luckily the very next sensation I felt was elation. I think I almost skipped up onto the sidewalk of the first block. I took out my recorder and pushed record. I slipped out my camera and clicked away. I passed an arcade, a panaderia, an internet cafe, a tortilleria.

“Donde esta La Escuelita,” I asked a man and his son hauling a water jug into a doorway. Oooooh, it’s a ways they said, maybe seven or nine blocks. “That way,” they said and pointed straight ahead.

“Bien. Gracias,” I said.

Life isn’t so much about the destination, it’s also about the journey. The long walk to la Escueltia was just that. It was Wednesday and there was a tiangis (outdoor marketplace) set up along the street that went for several blocks. I’ve seen may markets in multiple countries, but they cease to bore me. In Santo Domingo, el tiangis is set up under mostly red tarps that cast a red glow on the vendors and merchandise underneath.

There were hammocks, meats of all varieties and cuts, ripe fruits and vegetables, sizziling tacos, fresh chips, popcicles, socks and more. The chip man, who also fried up banana, chatted with me a while and gave me a bag of his goodies. A fruit vendor sliced me a portion of pomegranate. The seven-year-old popsicle seller posed for a picture. Osea, super chido!

Way at the end of the market were the shoes and old clothes. There I turned left and a few blocks later was at the Escueltia. I asked an old woman cutting roses where Doña Xucha (aka Doña Chuy) lived. Just round the corner, she said. Yay! I asked her about the restaurant that sold cuitlacotche quesadillas. Next door to the Doña’s, she said. Whoo whooo!! I practically ran.

I found the house easy enough. Carved out of volanic rock by novice architects, the homes in Santo Domingo are built like mismatched puzzle pieces. A bathroom connects to a kitchen, an open air “hallway” on the second floor, a guest room in hidden behind a garage in the basement.

Doña Chuy was of course very happy. We took a tour around her house and she explained how she had breast cancer four years ago. “Me operaron,” she said. “They operated me”. And she lifted up her crimson colored blouse to reveal her masectomy. “Look,” she says. “You see my scars? Here and here.” She said she had to undergo 30 radiaton sessions. As we toured the house two little ones trailed at our feet.

One is Bernardo, just a toddler when we stayed five years ago, he is now seven. The other, Carolina is four. She’s Doña Chuy’s new grandaughter. We sat and chatted a while. She told me about her daughter who’s living without papers in Mansfield, Texas. They communicate via messanger. Her son Toño, rigged up an internet connection and got them a webcam.

Next stop was Huaraches Leti. Yes. This is were I first discovered love in the form of fungus. I’m referring to cuitlacotche, the thick black mushroom that will sometimes infest an ear of corn. A Mexican delicasy. Ay Dios, que rico! This modest restaurant was also where I first tasted mamay, a scrumtious fruit that resembles an avocado only larger and a warm pink on the inside. I ordered a liquado (shake) de mamay. Ay, ay, ay, Diosito! I must have spent two hours in that place chatting with the customers and the owners who I discovered were from Oaxaca.

After lunch I visited some of the other families where we lived. Many weren’t home unfortunately. But I remembered the houses and how frrrreaking fun our stay was. I’m talking about, if my life had a greatest hits CD, Santo Domingo would be one of the tracks.

Bueno, so I said my “Goodbyes” and “I’ll be backs” and took another green pescera (resembeling a 60’s flower child van) and headed to the metro stop.

And as I climb the steps up the the station, who should I run into but the dudes with the backpack stereos and pirated CDs. They were on a break, sitting on the floor preparing their merchandise. There was about five of them, young guys in Hollister shirts and multiple piercings. As is usually the case, I hesitate for just a second just before walking past them, then that voice interupts and says, “Andale, go talk to them.” Aaaaah, alright. So I swivel around and say, “Hey you’re the guys playing Michael Jackson on the metro. Business is good?”

They laugh ( a good sign). I introduce myself and slowly creep closer till eventually I’m plopped on the floor alongside them pulling out my recorder. I had a good interview and got some good sound. The beginnings of a story maybe? Maybe.

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Monday, July 20, 2009 at 11:05pm
My recorder took a beating today. I guess that’s a good thing, it could have been me instead.

Today I had an interview with The News, Mexico City’s only English language newspaper. I decided to take my recording equipment and camera on this trip into the city. I tried to hold my little digital recorder, which is about the size of my outstreched hand, inconspicuously. I got a few stares, but those who did turned their attention elsewhere pretty quickly. I saw my Micheal Jackson vendor again, only today he was selling the best in reggeton. I have to say the metro ride this time was a little dull. That’s what happens when you come prepared.

But “the experience” of the day came on my way back .

Just outside the entrance to the Chapultepec metro, the sidewalk is lined with tent vendors. Among the vendors, I heard a man with a trumpet-like voice making bets as a group of people huddled around him. He had a small high table set up and on top of it he was switching around three black bottle caps. Underneath one of these bottle caps was a tiny spikey red ball, maybe a candy. Interesting, I thought. Good sound.

I pulled out my recorder, got up next to him, and pushed record. Within 5 seconds a chubby woman with a tough face and a younger man wearing a baseball cap shoved their way in front of me. “Esta grabando” I heard them say to each other. “She’s recording.” They muttered other things I couldn’t make out. I moved over a couple steps and kept recording. The woman and man moved to block me again. It was clear they were protecting the guy with the bottle caps. I decided not to make a scene and simply continue recording.

But I was asking for trouble. They noticed I hadn’t stopped. All of a sudden the woman throws her arm up in the air and shouts out something to the bottle cap man, knocking my recorder out of my hand. It flew above my head and landed with a terrible crash on the concrete behind me. #$%^&!! When I turned I saw the batteries had fallen out and back flap had come loose. #%&* !! Again, as is usually my nature I remained far too calm. I picked up my bruised recorder, turned to the woman and said, “Senora, you should be more careful.”

Dumb response, I would think later on the metro. But in that moment I had no clue who those people were and what they were capable of. And I didn’t want to test things any further by challenging them. I hung around for about a minute longer and then decided, okay it’s time to go. And as I turned to go, another man, this one taller and somewhat meaner looking with an open cell phone in his hand tells me, “Don’t be recording.” I paid no attention and walked past him.

More than upset, or frightened, I felt a little sad and disappointed. I had just finished a great weekend in the city. People have been incredibly kind and generous. Now this? Que mala onda. I thought to myself, I should have told that woman, “Look, if you don’t want me to record, why don’t you just tell me.” Later when I told the story to my host family, the father gave a wry chuckle and said, “That’s the city for you. You should of told them you were from the New York Times and collecting the unique sounds of the city.” Maybe he was right. But at the moment, the last thing I wanted to do was point out that I was a foreigner.

And worst of all, the recording didn’t survive the crash.

Although it looked dire at first, the damage to my recorder was minimal. A few scratches at best.

Although it looked dire at first, the damage to my recorder was minimal. A few scratches at best.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 10:46pm

This morning I awoke after only two hours of sleep feeling nervous. My plane to Mexico City was scheduled to take off in four hours.
I woke up just before 6 AM to pack.  Yesterday I spent most of my day escorting the foreign editor for the French newspaper, Le Figaro. He dropped in the day before, tasked with writing a piece about U.S. immigration policy in the and how it affects the daily lives of undocumented immigrants. My original plan was to spent the day preparing for my trip to Mexico City, but that didn’t happen.
 The consequences weren’t dire anyway: extra spending cash, a couple glasses of excellent french wine and a shrimp cocktail for lunch. Gracias, Chris por la recomendacion.  So I didn’t start preparing for el D.F. until about 6 that evening. I didn’t go to bed till 3 am. Lot of pendientes!! Exchange money, pick up disinfectant, wash clothes, pick decent outfits that wouldn’t catch a thief’s attention, print out directions and phone numbers for myself and my anxious mother.
Perhaps it was lack of sleep, then, that gave me the jitters early this morning. It was also the reality sinking in. I would be spending the next two weeks in Mexico City, basically on my own. Would I accomplish my goals? Would I be safe? If a story opportunity came up would I be able to follow through? Would I end up spending more than I’d vaguely calculated?
I couldn’t linger in those thoughts, though. I had a flight to catch, a bridge to cross (by foot) and a 20 minute drive to the airport in a city that was witness to a dozen gruesome murders the day before. “Dios mio, andale Monica apurate,”  I told myself. “Hurry up!” 
My grandmother dropped me off at the foot of bridge of the Americas. Lucky for me she didn’t accidentally run any red lights and used her brakes properly. From the bridge it was a fifteen minute walk lugging my suitcase and lab top up and over the international crossing, above the Rio Grande canal, past the military checkpoints and up to the Juarez tourism office. There a friend’s mother was waiting. She was nice enough to disrupt her sleep schedule and drive me to the airport.
From there things went very smoothly, much to my surprise. No heavy inspection at the airport, no problem with my Mexican ID card, just “Pasele senorita” all the way up to the terminal, where an hour before my flight I discovered I’d forgotten the book I’ve been reading: David Benioff’s “City of Thieves” a tale set in WWII Russia. I had to settle for an old “This American Life” pod cast (turns out it was one of the mediocre episodes).
Flying out from Juarez to D.F. is pretty darn cool. I did it once before on my way to Oaxaca. First there’s the brown parched and mountainous landscape of the Chihuahuan desert. Then all of a sudden there’s this stretch of golden smooth sand as if someone had spilled it from a sand pail. Later there’s these emerald and turquoise colored lakes ( I didn’t see those this time…I fell asleep). And of course, Mexico City from the air is quite impressive. Some parts resemble the mess of multi-colored confetti and streamers left on the floor at the end of a full blown New Year’s eve party. Then you fly by downtown past the Latinoamericana tower where there’s so many buildings jumbled together it looks like the city is never ending.
Finally, my anxiety began to be replaced by excitement. After landing, I followed some good advice and bought a ticket for a certified taxi. I stepped into the car and confidently stated the directions I memorized during the flight. “Ya sabe, senor, donde enfrente de los viveros de coyoacan. Entre la calle Lerdo y Benito Juarez.” 
Coyoacan is famously known as Frida Kahlo’s neighborhood. It’s beautiful and certainly lives up to it’s artsy reputation. In this big bad city, Coyoacan feels like a warm cocoon. I walked to an ice cream parlor with the 10 year old daughter of my hosts not feeling a care in the world. This isn’t the feeling I expect when I wander out into the rest of the city.
I’m staying in a side bedroom of an apartment which belongs to the woman who takes care of the NPR correspondent’s dogs! Yes. I was supposed to be staying at the correspondent’s house BUT there are three dogs and three cats to contend with. The dogs are outside during the day and one in particular likes to jump on you. It being the rainy season, his paws tend to be muddy. That makes it very difficult to leave the house in clean clothes, since you have to cross the patio to exit the house. The cats stay in a section of the house that has the living room and kitchen. I’m allergic to cats and I could barely last 10 minutes in that area. Cooking is out of the question. So that’s why I’m staying with the family who cares for this small zoo. She and her family have been so hospitable. I’m extremely touched.
It’s a shame about the house though….it’s SPECTACULAR. The garden is lush and lovely on a sunny afternoon. The rooms are beautifully lit with natural lighting. There are wood beamed ceilings. Hermoso. If I only came to Mexico City to see this house, it was well worth the trip. But anyway, maybe I’ll try staying there this weekend. I could go borrow a cup of fresh jalapenos from the Washington Post correspondent next door.
This is a garden view of the lovely house where I wish I could have stayed.

This is a garden view of the lovely house where I wish I could have stayed.

Bueno, tomorrow is another day. I need a good night’s sleep. Un abrazo.

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