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.
Two young vendors taking their break at the University metro stop.
Here I interview a man who fries up potato chips and bananas fresh.