Mexico City -- A City of Layers, Meanings, Struggles

I landed in Mexico City from Chicago on Saturday, October 7, only the third time I had ever done so in my much-traveled life, even with family members residing here, including a half-brother I only got to know about ten years ago (he was one of the children my father left behind when he came to the United States in 1956 to stay).

I came as an invited participant to the Sixth Annual Mexico City Book Fair (Feria del Libro), held in the central Zocalo of the city, a contested space with Aztec dancers, tourists, indigenous vendors, Lopez-Orador supporters, Zapatista activists, and striking teachers from Oaxaca (not to mention the break-dancers and other street "shows").

From October 6 until October 15, several tents housing books, music, chairs, and speaker systems will have filled up the Zocalo (the main plaza of this massive city). This is apparently the only public book fair in all of Mexico.

Organized by the city's Secretary of Culture, the book fair is also paying homage to two key cities: Los Angeles and Havana. In the Los Angeles pavilion, Tia Chucha's Bookstore & Cafe has been recreated (after we shipped tons of books). Silverio Pelayo, one of our fantastic hired help, will be here until the end of the book fair to hold down the display and sale of books.

I have been on several panels and readings so far (with a couple more today, October 10). The first one was on Saturday to honor an amazing poetry collection by Natalio Hernandez (published by Conaculta), entitled "Hummingbird of Harmony" (its title, like the rest of the book, is translated into English, Spanish, and Nahuatl, the principal language of indigenous people in the country).

I talked about the importance of taking in all our roots, in particular the fundamental one that unites all Mexicans: the indigenous. And that in LA, many Chicanos, Mexicanos, and Central Americans are reclaiming their traditions, their tongues, and stories. I also got to read a poem in all three tongues. Here's a short sample of the work:

In Tonati

In tonati:
xochitl tlen moyolitia
cueponi queman tlanesi;
cochi ipan toyolo


El Sol

El Sol:
flor que nace
dentro de nosotros
abre sus petalos
al amanecer;
duerme en nuestro corazon
al anochecher


The Sun

The Sun:
A flower that is born
within us,
it opens its petals
at sunrise;
it sleeps in our heart
at nightfall

Also present were the indigenous writer Mardonio Carballo and Mexican theater actor Luisa Huertas, who read many of the poems in all three languages.

I'm staying at the historical Magestic Hotel bordering the Zocalo (I stayed here during one of my earlier visits). It's a colonial structure with amazing tile work. Now owned by Best Western, it has not lost any Mexicanness. On the 7th floor is a terrace (where the restaurant is located) that overlooks the whole plaza.

Many of the invited participants include some of Cuba's most well known writers, important for opening up a dialogue that is blocked at various levels by the United States government.

From Los Angeles, a "motley" crew of artists, writers, and photographers have arrived, including my good friend, Tom Hayden, and a number of well-known Chicanos (some of whom are not from LA), including Harry Gamboa, Lucha Corpi, Ruben Martinez, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, and Luis Valdez.

A wonderful intra-lingual and multi-voiced performance by Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Ruben Martinez ended the evening for me, held at the historical Museum of Mexico City. I'll comment more on the Feria del Libro and other things "Chilango" in future blog posts.

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