Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas in Maltrata, Veracruz

This year I spent Christmas for the second time with my "Maltrata family."

with Rosa María and Ana Patricia
I arrived the afternoon of the 24th (and it was colder than I expected!). First we celebrated Arturo's birthday with a birthday lunch and later that evening we celebrated Christmas.

Arturo and Ana Patricia
As I learned in 2011 when I spent Christmas in Maltrata, there is much more emphasis on the 24th as it turns into the 25th, as opposed to celebrating the day of the 25th like we do in the US.

(To read about my Christmas in Maltrata in 2011, click here).

Family came over around 10:00pm and after some snacks and drinks we sat down around 11:00pm for a delicious meal of pierna (pork leg?) adobadaespagueti verde (green spaghetti, made with a chili sauce), chiles rellenos (stuffed chili peppers), ensalada rusa (salad of potatoes, carrots, peas and mayonnaise), refried black beans, and ponche (a warm fruit punch traditionally enjoyed around Christmastime). For dessert we had a "salad" of apples, peaches, walnuts and cream and buñuelos (a light, crispy disk of fried dough, also a traditional treat at Christmastime).

the nativity scene
Around midnight, and after we finished dinner, we made our toasts and then sang a lullaby to the baby Jesus figures before giving them each a kiss and placing them in the nativity scene. Then it was time for lighting firecrackers out in the street!

the nativity scene 
The morning of the 25th the kids woke up to presents that Santa had left and we had lots of fun playing with them!

Can you guess who the Ravens shirts and foam football were from? ;)

What a throw! :)

That afternoon we went up to the terreno (big yard, really) for a picnic of leftovers and made a bonfire when the fog settled in and temperatures dropped.

That evening the viejitos started to come out. From December 25th through 31st people dress up as viejitos, or little old men and women, and go door-to-door dancing and asking for treats or money. Traditionally they should be dressed as an old man and old woman that represent the end of the year that will "die" soon for the coming of the new year. There's a typical song that the viejitos are supposed to sing, but now a lot more (including the ones that stopped by) dance to popular music played on their cell phone or portable boom box.

I had one more day to play before heading back to the DF for a few days. Next stop: Minatitlán, Veracruz! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve Eve!

Merry Christmas Eve Eve for those of you that will be celebrating!

This year I celebrated Christmas early while my parents, grandmother, and I visited my brother and his girlfriend out in Napa, California. It was a fantastic visit, as was the rest of the month I spent in the States (more on that soon!)

Christmas in CA
me and Brandon
the family
Brandon and Brittany opening a present

I've been back in the DF for a little over a week now and my apartment is (slightly) decorated for the holidays.

Poinsettia or noche buena
My mini piñata
(Click here to read about the meaning behind
piñatas and the time I helped make some in 2010)
my mini Christmas tree
Tomorrow morning I'll go to Maltrata, Veracruz to spend Christmas with my "Maltrata family" and I'll spend New Year's with Edson's family in Minatitlán, Veracruz.

If you're interested in reading about some of my previous holiday experiences in Mexico, you might want to check out:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


It's so cold in Mexico City today! According to, it's currently 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) and feels like 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). According to my little travel clock, it's 63 degrees in my room. I'm not used to these kind of temperatures anymore - especially not in the DF!

Good thing I'm heading to Florida tomorrow where the high is supposed to be 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees on Friday and Saturday! Even more than the weather though, I'm so excited to reunite with some Elon (University) friends to celebrate one of my former apartment-mate's (and her Elon alum husband-to-be) wedding!

And from there I'll head further north to visit my family (and friends in the area)! It's the first time I'll be home for Thanksgiving since I've been living in Mexico! Woohoo! (Though, sticking to the weather theme, we'll see how things go with the cooler temps in Maryland).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Transportation stories

I had two strange experiences with transportation last week...

Lately I've been taking a taxi to the gym in the morning to make up for sleeping a few extra minutes. On Tuesday I got in the cab and it was both an old car and driver -- like one where your first thought is, "I hope your vision and reaction time are still good enough to get me safely to my destination."

He started off by telling me the history of the road we were on: University Avenue. He said that the UNAM used to be in the center of the city and when it was moved south to the current campus they constructed University Avenue to connect the former and current campuses -- which is also why it runs diagonally. (I could neither confirm or deny with my quick Google search, but it makes sense).

He asked what I was studying and when I answered "Latin American Studies," he decided to give me me a free lesson on Latin America's history, complete with a diagram he wrote/drew... while driving.

Latin America's history, according to
my taxi driver
I know that the left side is Latin America, the right side is Europe, the top is before the Europeans arrived in Latin American and the bottom half is after. The top left (Latin America before the Europeans) includes the Mayans, Aztecs and other group(s) I can't make out. Other than that, I couldn't really tell you what's going on in his explanation -- though that might also have something to do with the fact that I was a bit more concerned about my safety and that his taximeter was overcharging me.

He also told me that he was an accountant and is now in the process of writing 8 books (I didn't ask if he's writing the books while driving as well).

Later in the week, on my way home from the gym I got into the the same metro car as Edson and his niece on their way to work, though I didn't see or hear them. I later got the text message - "que es lo que hablas cuando vas en el metro?" ("what were you saying in the metro?"). I needed to have the Polish National Anthem memorized by that night (more on that later) and had been singing to myself under my breath -- they just happened to catch me looking like I was talking to myself on the metro. :) 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Here in Mexico there's now quite a mixture of holiday celebrations. Mexico celebrates Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), also called Todos Santos (All Saints Day). You can read more about Día de Muertos and how it was celebrated during my visit to Maltrata last year here. However, Halloween has also made it's way into the mix. As a small example, last weekend I went out for sushi and we saw this advertisement:

It translates to: "Happy Halloween! This November 1st and 2nd, SushiRoll will give you your calaverita (Halloween treat): with a minimum consumption of $200 pesos (~$15 USD) or with the purchase of a SushiKids meal, we'll treat you to dessert!"

The thing is, it says "Happy Halloween" (celebrated October 31st), but gives the dates of November 1st and 2nd (when Día de Muertos is celebrated). Hm...

I've also seen a ton of costumes for sale! 

costumes at the Coyoacán market
"Trick-or-treating" isn't as common here like it is in the U.S. (though I think it exists to some extent when the kids "piden calaverita"?). Today I saw some kids dressed up in costumes on their way to school and there are some costume parties for adults - but I was still a bit surprised by just how many costumes and Halloween-themed things I've seen for sale considering it isn't the major Holiday.

Tonight Edson and I are going to see Wicked! I'll be dressing up as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Photos to come later! :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wicked in Mexico City!

One week from tomorrow I get to see Wicked in Mexico City!! I'm so excited!! It's one of my three favorite shows (Rent and In the Heights are the others, in case you were wondering). This is the first time the show has been (officially) translated to Spanish, which should be interesting. 

There will be two actresses alternating playing the role of Elphaba -- Danna Paola (she's only 18, whoa!) and Ana Cecilia Anzaldúa -- and Cecilia de la Cueva will be playing Glinda. 

Danna Paola as Elphaba
From Wicked México's Facebook page here  
Ana Cecilia Anzaldúa as Elphaba
From Wicked México's Facebook page here
Cecilia de la Cueva as Glinda
From Wicked México's Facebook page here

Ticket prices wouldn't be bad for Broadway, but are really expensive for Mexico: $821 pesos = $63.91 USD, $1,281 pesos = $99.72 USD, or $1,746 USD = $135.92 USD. I'm hoping it will be worth it though!

Here are a few previews of the show on Youtube:

Cecilia de la Cueva singing "Popular"

"Ciudad Esmeralda" ("One Short Day")

Dana Paola singing "Desafiando la gravedad" ("Defying Gravity")

Dana Paola singing "No hay bien sin castigo" ("No Good Deed")

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Article: Activists Turn to Direct Action

Activists Turn to Direct Action

October 19, 2013

Frontera NorteSur: on-line

U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Outraged by deportations, immigrant rights activists in the U.S. and Europe are turning to direct action to halt the forced removal of migrants.  And increasingly, undocumented immigrants themselves are willing to put their bodies on the line and risk deportation to force a change in national policies.

In the latest U.S. action, more than 100 immigrants and supporters conducted an October 17 sit-in at Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in San Francisco, blocking a bus with detainees destined for deportation.

“Undocumented, unafraid,” chanted a group of youthful protestors.

“I’ve been in that bus before, and I remember how powerless I felt, said Dean Santos, youth leader of the Asian/Pacific Islander organization ASPIRE. “Now, I’m coming back with the power of our communities in an effort to stop the separation of families.”

Father Richard Smith, Vicar of St. John the Evangelist, also participated in the direct action. Quoted in a press release from the Dream Action Coalition, Father Smith expressed the personal and religious motivations of his action, telling the story of a congregation member who was detained and separated from two young boys that did not know their mother’s whereabouts until she called them from Mexico ten days later.

“It’s stories like these I hear over and over again in my neighborhood, and they break my heart…Jesus himself said whomever welcomes the stranger, the immigrant, welcomes Him.”

The San Francisco action was the most recent in a growing wave of direct actions organized by immigrant youth activists and their allies since the summer. Earlier protests included the reentry and detention of the
Dream 9 and Dream 30 at the borders of Arizona and Texas, respectively, as well as the blocking of detainee transport buses and the temporary shutdown of an immigration court in Phoenix and Tucson this month.

Camila Ibanez, the U.S. born daughter of Bolivian immigrants and a New York activist,  published  an essay this past week on the movement that’s gelled into the #Not1More campaign.
The Phoenix action, Ibanez wrote, was part of the national campaign aimed at “pressuring President Obama to take administrative relief and put a stop to deportations.”

According to the Dream Action Coalition, deportations under the Obama administration are nearing the “milestone” of 2,000,000 people, or slightly less than the entire population of New Mexico.

Combined with the October 5 mass demonstrations of tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies in nearly 200 U.S. cities and ongoing lobbying by advocates, the direct action movement is ratcheting up pressure on Washington to take action on immigration reform.

The impact of a reinvigorated movement was evident in the tone of President Obama’s October 17 speech in which he called on Congress to pass immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship as one of three legislative priorities before the end of the year.

Obama repeated the message in his October 19 weekly address.

“The Senate has already approved the legislation with strong bipartisan support. The House should also do it,” the President said. “The majority of people that live in the United States believe that this is the correct path. It can and must be done by the end of this year.”

Whether lawmakers will rise up to the occasion is another matter altogether. As the dust settled from the drawn-out confrontation over the budget and debt ceiling, the House packed up its bags for a few days and the Senate took a week off from business.

In France, meanwhile, thousands of high school students staged demonstrations and barricaded several schools last week after the deportation of a classmate to Kosovo triggered a new movement and a political crisis for the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande.

The deportation of Leonarda Dibrani, a 17-year-old of Roma (Gypsy) ancestry, has focused attention on French deportation practices, as well as Interior Minister Manuel Valls, an immigrant from Spain who became a naturalized French citizen 20 years ago.

Recently, Valls made controversial remarks about the presence of the Roma in France. Demonstrators demand the return of Dibrani and another deportee, 19-year-old Khatchik Kachatryan of Armenia. According to
the French Union of Secondary Students, thousands have participated in demonstrations in Paris, Marseille and other cities.

Interviewed by the foreign press from Kosovo, Dibrani echoed the words of some young immigrants forced to return to Mexico from the United States. “I don’t speak the language here (in Kosovo) and I don’t know anyone,” Dibrani said. “I just want to go back to France and forget everything that happened.”

In the wake of growing protest, Hollande’s government is reportedly reviewing Dibrani’s deportation.

Additional sources:, October 18, 2013,, October 18, 2013. La Jornada/AP/AFP, October 18, 2013. Mexican Editorial Organization/AFP, October 17 and 18, 2013. San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 17, 2013. Article by Rebecca Bowe., October 17, 2013. Articles by Camila Ibanez and Sarah Lazare.

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription

Monday, October 21, 2013

A wedding in Zumpango

Back in September Edson and I were invited to a wedding in Zumpango in the Estado de México (State of Mexico). We weren't exactly invited by the bride and groom, but rather by two of our friends that were padrinos

As I've mentioned in some previous posts, padrinos are a staple in many celebrations in Mexico, such as baptisms, XV años, and weddings. For a baptism "padrino" basically translates to godfather ("madrina" to godmother and "padrinos" to godparents). For other occasions the closest translation I have is "sponsor." For weddings, for example, the bride and groom ask close family or friends to be the padrino of different aspects of the wedding, such as the wedding rings, the bride's bouquet, the reception venue, the cake, etc. Our friends were the padrinos of the cake (or cupcakes in this case) and were given the chance to invite a few people as well. 

We made good time on the way so we stopped to see the Zumpango Lake. 

Zumpango Lake
We didn't go to the religious ceremony, but went directly to the reception. We got there right on time, which meant we were some of the first people there. The reception was held outside under a huge tent. There were around 70 tables with 10 place-settings each.

There was also a stage for the multiple musical groups that played throughout the afternoon and evening. The reception started with the mariachis playing.

mariachi band 
Edson was excited to sing along with the mariachis (or was it about unintentionally matching the tablecloth and decorations?)

beautiful hydrangea centerpieces (and coctails - yum!) 
Once the bride and groom arrived they had the civil ceremony, which is separate from the religious ceremony. 

civil ceremony 
We enjoyed sopes for an appetizer - yum!

As time the afternoon went on, more and more and more people showed up.

with our friends Elvia and Joel
We enjoyed consomé, rice, carnitas, and barbacoa for the meal.

I've lived her a while - I now eat my soup
accompanied by a tortilla :) 
me and Edson
The bride and groom included multiple traditions throughout the reception. One included the men pinning money onto the groom.

the final result of the money-pinning
The bride and one of her bridesmaids went around collecting money from the women in a pretty container (wouldn't want to mess up that beautiful dress!).

Another tradition they included was the víbora de la mar, where the bride and groom each stand on a chair, both holding onto one end of the veil and surrounded by friends to "protect" them while a line of children, then women, then men weave their way through the dance floor, purposely bumping into the bride and groom.

They men also tossed the groom in the air and then made him drink liquor out of his shoe (eww!) and the bride did the bouquet toss (though here there are always two "fake-outs" before actually throwing it the third time).

(I don't have photos of a lot of things since both my camera and Edson's phone died - oops).

Elvia made around 800 cupcakes for the wedding (whoa!). Here's about 500 of them with the color-changing display.

After the mariachis finished a bossa nova band played.

note the sax player on the dance floor 
There was also a rock band and two bands that played cumbia for dancing, including the famous group La Sonora Dinamita.

It was a fun afternoon and evening!

Oh, and the hydrangea centerpiece is now happily living in my living room :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Article: Despite Flawed Votes, Mexico's Electoral Reform Push Unlikely to Go Far

Global Insider: Despite Flawed Votes, Mexico's Electoral Reform Push Unlikely to Go Far

By The Editors, on , Global Insider
World Politics Review

Late last month, Mexico’s opposition insisted on electoral reforms before it would support the ruling party’s efforts at energy reform. In an email interview, John Ackerman, a professor at the Institute of Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), explained the need for and obstacles to electoral reform in Mexico.

WPR: What did the conduct of Mexico's most recent elections indicate about the need for the electoral reform?

John Ackerman: The last two presidential elections, in 2006 and 2012, demonstrated that Mexico is far from establishing a trustworthy institutional democracy. During both elections, there were widespread accusations of fraud, and the electoral authorities behaved in a partial manner by covering up irregularities. In 2006, authorities turned a blind eye to gross violations of the electoral code, refused to conduct a full recount and even denied citizen access to the ballots after the election. In 2012, extreme cases of media bias, vote-buying and overspending by the winning candidate went almost without notice by the authorities.

Citizen confidence in public institutions and the political class therefore has reached a historic low. Many Mexicans wonder whether a “democratic transition” has even occurred at all. The Mexican authoritarian system historically held periodic, supposedly “free and fair” elections, which were in fact rigged beforehand. The widespread impression is that this “electoral authoritarianism,” or “perfect dictatorship,” as the writer Mario Vargas Llosa described it, continues to today.

WPR: What are the parties' interests in changing the system?

Ackerman: The old guard and now ruling Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) has successfully returned to power by using its old authoritarian tactics of overspending, electoral abuse of public funds, media manipulation and vote-buying. It will therefore make every effort possible to block advances in electoral reform, particularly in the areas of oversight of campaign spending, media independence and voter freedoms. The PRI will prefer to keep the discussion in the realm of bureaucratic reforms to the key electoral agencies—federal vs. national structure, for instance—or on broader issues such as re-election or runoff elections.

The principal opposition parties, on both the right (PAN) and the left (PRD, Morena) are pushing for oversight reform, guarantees of media impartiality and for greater political independence for the electoral authorities. But in the end it is in the interest of the leadership of all of the parties to keep things as they are, since the present situation helps keep the current leaders in power on all sides of the political spectrum.

WPR: How is this process likely to play out?

Ackerman: We will probably see minor adjustments to the electoral system designed to appease the political opposition and get them onboard for other reforms, such as the highly unpopular energy reform bill designed to privatize the oil industry. But, in the absence of widespread citizen mobilization, it is very unlikely that the ruling party, which dominates but does not fully control both houses of Congress, will allow profound electoral oversight reform to go forward. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

XV Años in Maltrata

Last weekend Edson and I went went to Maltrata for a XV Años, or 15th birthday celebration.

A XV Años is a BIG celebration -- a bit like a "Sweet 16" in the US in that it's an extra special birthday, but I'd say generally more important and symbolic. It's almost always for females and marks their transition from girl to woman. The quinceañera (girl celebrating her XV años) tends to wear a princess-style ball gown (think fitted top and big poofy bottom). The celebration usually includes a Catholic mass to give thanks and later a party with dinner, dancing, and some symbolic traditions.

view of  Maltrata from the bus on the highway
This XV Años was a bit different than most because it was for Roy. His father shared at the party that when Roy was born the nurse said he wasn't expected to live more than 2 or 3 months. Later they said he'd never walk or talk. He's defied those odds and is an active young man full of life. This XV Años was truly a celebration, as much for his parents, family, and friends as it was for Roy.

Roy dressed up as a charro, or Mexican horseman, and rode a horse from his house to the church for mass.
on his way to the church
in his Charro suit
There was mass at the church to give thanks.

Mariachis accompanied Roy and his family and friends from the church to his house for the party.

leaving the church to mariachi music
leaving the church to mariachi music
procession through the streets on the way to the party
procession through the streets on the way to the party
Roy singing along with the mariachis 
The theme of the party was charros and horses, including these awesome centerpieces.

table centerpieces 
I got to hang out with my two little buddies, who were looking sharp in their suits (though I only have photos with one since the photos of little-er buddy seem to have disappeared).

We ate, and drank, and were merry, though I have no photos of our meal.

Again, how awesome is Roy's charro suit?

We did the vals ("waltz," though probably not how you would imagine), in which the females "danced" in a circle while Roy's female family and friends took turns dancing with him in the center.

dancing with Roy

We also did the "baile del guajolote" or "turkey dance," which is typical at many of the celebrations in Maltrata. Baskets are prepared as gifts for the padrinos ("godparent" or "sponsor", depending on the occasion). They include a turkey (or two), whose head sticks up out of the basket, secured between dowel rods decorated with tissue paper, as well as food (such as tortillas and mole) and even drink (like tequila) inside the basket. At this party there were 3 baskets for the 3 padrinos, each with a turkey decorated with "sombrero" and cigarette in it's mouth, concha bread on the outside of the wrapped-up basket, and items I didn't see or ask about inside the basket.

2 of the 3 guajolote baskets

There is a certain song always used for the baile del guajolote. The men dance with the (heavy!) baskets, taking turns, and the women dance with incense, flowers, or bottles of alcohol. However, I've also been to several events -- this one included -- where after the men have danced for a bit there's a call for the women to dance with the guajolote.

men dancing with the turkey baskets
Here's a video of the baile del guajolote from Roy's XV Años. This was Edson's first time doing the baile del guajolote so everyone wanted to make sure he danced, and yours truly danced with the guajolote as well (though I'm practically an expert at this point - hah!) 

Roy and hisfamily
the cake
Roy dancing with his aunt
my little buddies hanging out
Later on a band played and there was lots of dancing.

Roy singing along 
And later in the evening Roy opened his mountain of presents. 

Roy opening presents 
It was a very special and fun celebration and another great visit to Maltrata!