Friday, January 31, 2014

Photo exposition: "Arena México: 80 Años de lucha continua"

Last weekend Edson and I visited the photo exposition "Arena México: 80 Años de lucha continua" ("México Arena: 80 Years of Continuous Fighting/Wrestling"), dedicated to Mexico's beloved sport, lucha libre.

The photos were displayed in the "open gallery"of Chapultepec Park (aka on the fence surrounding the park, along Paseo de la Reforma). The exhibit ran from September 9, 2013 - January 31, 2014.

Even the luchador "Blue Demon" made an appearance ;)

"Blue" in front of a photo
of the luchador "El Santo"
"Poke him in the eyes," "Pull his hair,"
"Throw him out of the ring,"
"In Mexico, lucha libre isn't a circus, it's a passion" 

To read about my experience at the lucha libre, click here (2013) or here (2010). 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Celebrating my birthday

I had a great time celebrating my birthday! (And I spread it out over a couple days, even better!) On my actual birthday I treated myself to a couple hours at the spa (at a very discounted price - thanks Groupon!). That night Edson took me out to dinner at Rosetta, an Italian restaurant in La Roma neighborhood. 

entrance to Rosetta
photo from Rosetta's fb page:

There's a good review of the restaurant here, on the "Good Food in Mexico City" blog, written by Nicholas Gilman in 2010. 

Some highlights from the review: 

"A lovely old mansion which had seen several previous incarnations (the last as an art gallery) has been lovingly restored by chef and owner Elena Reygadas and her husband, architect Jaime Serra. On the ground floor, tables are set in a high-ceilinged covered patio whose white walls are decorated with lightly brushed, discreet floral motifs." 

inside Rosetta, by day
photo from Rosetta's fb page:

"The smart, reasonably sized menu was designed by chef Reygadas. She trained under a bevy of multi-regional Italian chefs in, of all places, London, then traveled through the mother country itself gleaning the best recipes she could find. Offered are traditional Italian dishes, but not the ones you’re likely to see in any other restaurant outside Italy. You’ll find curious pastas like the lumpy malfatti and the little ear-shaped oricchietti. No clichés here. The chef chooses classic and traditional recipes according to what is seasonal and inspirational in the market. She brightens them up, but there is no unnecessary gussying or ‘re-inventing’. She states emphatically that her recipes are “deceptively simple”; she concentrates on using the finest temporal ingredients, and orients her menu to the climate as well. "

inside Rosetta, by night
photo from Rosetta's fb page:

Dinner was delicious! We toasted with sparkling wine and started with yummy house-made bread and a tomato, basil, and (Italian cheese I hadn't heard of, similar to mozzarella) salad. Then I had gnocchi with deer and Edson had risotto with rabbit and they were both delicious! (They make the pasta in-house as well). For dessert we shared a chocolate mousse with a crunchy hazelnut crust on the bottom. It was amazing!  

After dinner, Edson surprised me and took me to Plaza Garibaldi so I could be serenaded with "Las mañanitas" (the Mexican birthday song). For me, it's not a birthday without cake. Here in Mexico, it's not a birthday without "Las mañanitas," and there's no better place then Plaza Garibaldi.

It was cold out! (Clarification - cold for Mexico City). Their matching mariachi suits lost a bit of the effect bundled up under winter coats.

At the end of the song they wished me a happy 15th birthday (similar to sweet sixteen in the US) - hah! 

On Friday, friends invited us out for dinner. They were so thoughtful and gave me a magnet, coffee, and rum from the Dominican Republic. (Thanks again!)

magnet from the Dominican Republic
On Saturday we celebrated at La Santa Diabla in La Condesa. We were on the 3rd floor, which is beach-themed. It was just the right combination of bar and dancing that I was looking for.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to celebrate with me! It was the first time I had planned a get-together in Mexico with friends from different friend groups. I loved being surrounded by friends from my Master's program, the choir, friends I've met through Edson, and other friends I've met along the way :)

They surprised me, playing "Las mañanitas" and delivering a shot and a birthday cake (Thanks, Edson!)!

This is about when I discovered it was a trick candle that kept relighting....

Well, time for another photo since the candle is lit again...

Edson saved the day, making sure the candle stayed out (after numerous failed attempts on my part).

It was my first time celebrating my birthday in the DF and it was fantastic! Thanks to everyone who made it special! 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Article: The new face of the ‘carny’: Mexicans from Veracruz state increasingly run U.S. carnivals

The new face of the ‘carny’: Mexicans from Veracruz state increasingly run U.S. carnivals

By Published: January 2, 2014

The Washington Post

TLAPACOYAN, Mexico — After his sophomore year at college, James Judkins and a friend who was an aspiring juggler ditched their cafeteria jobs and ran off to join the circus.
Judkins learned to eat fire, train elephants, lie on a bed of nails. Then, in the winter of 1978, he drove his cargo van down to a town in eastern Mexico and performed what would become his most incredible trick.
The place was called Tlapacoyan, a lush mountain hamlet in Veracruz state where villagers eked out a living picking bananas and tangerines. His circus needed workers, so “I went down and found a few people.”
Thirty-five years later, Judkins sat at the table of honor recently in front of an auditorium full of Mexicans who now earn their livings at America’s carnivals, circuses and fairs. The town’s mayor-elect, Victor Apolinar, who once ran the pony rides at Judkins’s Circus Chimera, smiled from the podium.
“I want to salute our friends and brothers from the American Union who are present,” he said. “All the Tlapacoyans thank you for coming to this town.”
What does the word “carny” bring to mind? Barbed-wire tattoos and Marlboro reds? That culture is fading away. The new face of the American carnival worker is Mexican — more specifically, Tlapacoyan.
Each year, about 3,000 people from this small town and the surrounding villages decamp to the United States to man America’s Tilt-a-Whirls and fry up carnival-goers’ elephant ears. These seasonal migrants, who have found the jobs through word of mouth or family connections, make up a third to a half of the nation’s carnival workforce. Many were recruited by Judkins’s JKJ Workforce Agency.
Without them, said Monica Dowis, a manager at Paradise Amusements of Post Falls, Idaho, “we’d be out of business.”
“It would destroy the carnival industry,” said Betty Gillette, a carnival entrepreneur in Pittsfield, Maine, who has a sign on her office wall that reads “Powered by Mexicans.”
Grueling life on the road
The first words of English that Jose Ortiz learned were “two tickets.” He was 19, and he had come from Tlapacoyan by bus across the border and up to Illinois to load squealing children onto the Dizzy Dragons ride for Astro Amusement Co. Carnival culture confused him. The Gravitron. The Freak Out. The Ring of Fire.
“Corn dogs. People love corn dogs,” said Ortiz, now 27. “I don’t know why. Personally, I can’t stand them. But between funnel cakes and corn dogs, people go crazy.”
The work can be grueling. Each week, setting up and taking down rides, traveling from town to town, hosing down kiddie vomit. Researchers have found that pay often falls below minimum wage and workers don’t receive overtime pay. Customers can be demanding and racist.
“How do they call people, wet . . . wetbacks?” asked Jairo Huesca, who works with Guadagno & Sons Shows in Garden Grove, Calif. “They try to call us that. No, man, I’m dry. They think we are illegals. They harass us, you know. I’ve got papers. I don’t have to take that.”
The Tlapacoyans come to the United States on temporary work permits known as H-2Bvisas, specifically for non-farm labor. They spend up to 10 months on the job, then return home in winter. For many, separation is the most difficult part of the job.
“To be away from my mom and my wife and kids, it’s really hard,” Manuel Mendoza said.
Mendoza earned a degree in agricultural engineering from a university in Veracruz but could not find work that paid more than subsistence wages. With Helm & Sons Amusements in California, he has risen to supervisor. Farm­workers earn about $60 a week. Carnivals tend to pay about $350 to $400 a week.
“We cannot get that kind of money here” in Tlapacoyan, Mendoza said.
The workers generally sleep on bunks in trailers parked at the carnival grounds. They drive from town to town with the equipment and cook for each other. Several of them said they spend what little free time they have on quick shopping trips to Wal-Mart or other stores for basic supplies. Critics of the industry have described the housing as cramped and unsanitary.
The money sent back to relatives has helped transform Tlapacoyan, which means “place where you wash” in the indigenous Nahuatl language, reflecting its heavy rains and rushing rivers. In 2000, 129 people in Tlapacoyan owned computers; 10 years later, that number had risen to 1,754, according to the government statistical agency. The number of families living in homes with running water and floors other than dirt also has increased steadily. The growing economy has attracted several new medium-size Mexican chain stores to the city of 58,000.
Jairo Huesca used his savings to buy cattle for his father’s ranch. Juan Pablo Juarez pooled about $13,000 with his neighbors to build the Virgin of Guadalupe Church. He built his own house and supports eight relatives on his carnival salary. “I don’t have a car, but I’m happy with what I have,” he said.
Mayor-elect Apolinar used his early savings to put a concrete roof on his home. Now his political fortunes depend on the influence of the carnival workforce. After he left the circus, Apolinar ran Judkins’s recruitment office in Tlapacoyan, where he was responsible for choosing candidates for carnival jobs. Demand always outstripped supply. These were precious gifts that Apolinar doled out, and his influence grew even though he was part of no political party.
Carnivals have eased residents out of debt, financed surgeries, paid for iPhones and flat-screen televisions. “These remittances are what maintain us,” Apolinar said.
Seeing workers’ home town
Judkins, who lives in Rio Hondo, Tex., has organized a December festival for the workers in Tlapacoyan for the past eight years. Some American carnival owners take the opportunity to visit their employees.
“My husband, he didn’t want me to come here. You know, all the horror stories of Mexico,” said Dowis, of Spokane, Wash., whose carnival employs about 40 Mexicans. “But I felt that’s the part that was missing. I want to know how they live, what their world is like. They all come, they see my house, they know the way we live in America.”
From the balcony of the Hotel Oriente on Tlapacoyan’s main plaza, DBowis spent hours watching the goings-on. Truckloads of cattle and oranges. Parades for the Virgin of Guadalupe celebrations.
Every few minutes, one of her employees would drive by, wave and ask if she had everything she needed.
“You’d have to go to Riverfront Park in Spokane to see all these people. And they just hang out and they chatty-cath and they talk, not a care in the world,” she said. “In the U.S., there’s no caring anymore. Nobody goes out of their way to do something for somebody.
“ ‘Buenos dias.’ ‘Buenas noches.’ Not in America. You know, people don’t even look up and smile at you.”
Dowis and the other carnival owners have nothing but admiration for their Mexican employees. Hiring them is expensive. It costs about $1,000 per employee to arrange for bus or air travel and documentation.
They would rather hire Americans, if they could find ones willing to do the job. “They don’t show up,” said Gillette, the Pittsfield carnival operator. “They don’t want to work.”
To hire foreigners, the carnivals have to show that they cannot find enough American workers. They’re required to advertise their openings in newspapers. If anyone responds, the companies must call back at least three times and then send a certified letter.
“I put an ad in the newspaper for 40 positions,” said Jeanette Gil­more, owner of Smokey’s Greater Shows, based in Maine. “Travel. Work on weekends. Live in a bunkhouse. Last year I did not get one response. Most I’ve ever had was four.”
The Tlapacoyans say they must wear uniforms and be clean-
shaven on the job. Tattoos have to be covered with long sleeves. They take drug tests several times a season. On Sundays, they wear ties. They study English words: cotton candy, candy apple, snow cone. They are trained to be courteous.
“The carny is supposed to have no teeth, look awful,” said Juan Pablo Juarez, a Tlapacoyan resident. “We try to project another picture of the carnival. We’re not the same.”
Judkins spent the week of the festival running between events: torchlight processions, musical performances, dinners. At the soccer tournament for rival carnival teams, he moved through the stands, seeming to greet every fan by name.
Near the end of the final game, Judkins went down onto the field to photograph the penalty shootout. The victors fell onto the field in a happy tangle of limbs while the fans stood and cheered.
The winning team?
Judkins smiled. “Heart of America,” he said.
Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Article: Can We Really Deport Justin Bieber for That?

For me, the importance of this article is not so much the future of Justin Bieber, but taking a closer look at the deportation system and juxtaposing Bieber's situation with that of many immigrants in the U.S. 


Can We Really Deport Justin Bieber for That?
Written by
American Immigration Council
Immigration Impacto

As lawmakers continue to debate immigration reform, Justin Bieber may have provided us with an excellent opportunity to examine how aggressive and unforgiving our deportation system has become. Police raided Bieber’s Los Angeles mansion following allegations that he egged his neighbor’s house. Police also found drugs in his home. This is the latest in a series of problems for Bieber, who was accused previously of using drugs and hitting a photographer. Bieber is not an immigrant but instead in the U.S. on a temporary, renewable visa; however, due to his crimes, he could find himself removable.
Your average immigrant could be deported for such offenses or even less dramatic ones, as 68 percent of legal immigrants (including permanent residents) are deported for minor, non-violent crimes. And there is no statute of limitation in the immigration laws. Immigrants can be put into deportation proceedings for crimes committed years—even decades—earlier.
For decades, the U.S. has been expanding the list of relatively minor crimes that lead to automatic deportation. For example, hitting a photographer, as Mr. Bieber was alleged to have done last May, could result in a conviction for battery, a crime of violence punishable by up to a year in prison in California if it leads to serious injury. This could be classified as an “aggravated felony.” An aggravated felony conviction not only leads to automatic deportation, but it also bans a person from the U.S. forever.
Kellyann Jeanette Charles, the wife of a U.S. citizen and a lawful permanent resident for over a decade, is an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago who faces deportation based on a shoplifting conviction that is considered an aggravated felony. Although the combined value of the merchandise was only $200, Kellyann, the health proxy for her younger U.S. citizen brother with schizophrenia, may be separated from her family in the U.S. forever, becoming one of many immigrants who are punished disproportionally for minor crimes that are arbitrarily categorized as “aggravated felonies.”
“Aggravated felony” is a misleading name for a category of crimes that make immigrants automatically deportable. “Aggravated felonies” are not necessarily felonies nor aggravated, though they trigger mandatory deportation and permanent banishment. Originally, the label “aggravated felony” only applied to some of the worst crimes, such as murder and drug trafficking. However, for immigrants the list keeps growing and today “aggravated felony” covers more than thirty offenses, including simple battery, theft, filing a false tax return, and failing to appear in court, and leads to mandatory imprisonment and generally no defense against permanent deportation.
Additionally, any immigrant or visa holder convicted of any drug-related crime could also be deported. Our immigration laws make virtually any conviction for violation of any controlled substance law (other than one incident of possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana) a deportable offense.
Bieber will likely have the best lawyers that money can buy, and the authorities will not be anxious to deport a celebrity. However, most immigrants are not so lucky, and we are currently deporting immigrants in record numbers—about 400,000 per year, many for minor, non-violent offenses. Immigration advocates have long argued for more discretion in the immigration system so that judges can make determinations based on all of the circumstances in a person’s case, taking into account not only the seriousness of the crime, but other mitigating factors and ties to the United States. As we continue to debate immigration reform, we should consider the effect of mass deportations on families and communities, and we must ask ourselves what kind of system does not distinguish between a murderer and a shoplifter when it metes out punishment.
See more at:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Happy Birthday to me!

Today's my birthday!

my birthday....a few years ago :)
This is the first time I've been in the DF for my birthday. I celebrated my birthday in 2011 in Ixtapa- Zihuatanejo, Guerrero with my friend Karen, in 2012 in Maltrata, Veracruz with my "Maltrata family", and in 2013 back in the States with my family and Edson.

This year I'll be treating myself to the spa (thanks, Groupon!), Edson and I will go out for a nice dinner tonight, and I'll extend the celebration and go out with friends on Saturday!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Singing for Poland's National Independence Day

Right before I left for my visit in the States, I had an awesome opportunity to sing with the choir at an event for the Polish Embassy to celebrate Poland's National Independence Day (November 11th, though the ceremony was November 12th).

the outdoor reception
(Polish Embassy in Mexico's web site)
In between speeches by the outgoing Polish Ambassador, Anna Niewiadomska, and other presentations, we sang the Mexican National Anthem, the Polish National Anthem ("Mazurek Dąbrowskiego"), the Anthem of Europe ("Ode to Joy" in English, "Ode an die Freude" in German), and 2 Mexican songs. 

Polish Ambassador Anna Niewiadomsk addressing the guests,
the choir onstage behind her
(Polish Embassy in Mexico's web site)
We sang the Polish National Anthem (in Polish) and the Anthem of Europe (in German) in a 4-part harmony. Somehow we pulled it off and they were impressed with our Polish pronunciation! The Ambassador also said she had never heard the Anthem sung so "musically" (or something along those lines). Definitely a compliment!  

The Polish National Anthem (though we sang a 4-part harmony version instead of in unison):

Anthem of Europe:

The Mexican National Anthem, however, was in unison. Did you know that it is prohibited to alter the Mexican National Anthem in any way? No 4-part harmony arrangements. No improvisation. No changes. It's written into Article 39 of the Constitution. That was the first time I had heard that!  

Mexican National Anthem: 

Afterward we enjoyed delicious food (a full buffet of Polish dishes) and drink (vodka from Poland and wine). It was a fun day and an honor to sing for the event!

International Festival of Lights

Back in November Edson and I went to the International Festival of Lights in the historic downtown.

Here's a short YouTube preview of the event:

Though I guess the more correct statement would be we tried to go to the Festival. Within 10 minutes or less of arriving, it was pouring down rain so we only saw the Parque Alameda and Bellas Artes in the rain.

Here are the only 3 photos from out attempt: a colorful Bellas Artes and my improvised newspaper hat.

Pumas v. Cruz Azul

Back in November Edson and I went with some friends to the Pumas v. Cruz Azul fútbol game at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario (at UNAM). Pumas were absolutely terrible last season (the new season is just starting again - hopefully they'll be better!), but we were a mixed group of Pumas and Cruz Azul fans so we decided to go. 

Well....we were all Pumas and Cruz Azul fans except for Edson, who is a Club América fan and therefore decided to go "incognito" so as not to be recognized at such an "embarrassing" game. 

We sat right night to a large section of Pumas fans.

While fans were there to cheer on their team, they also expressed their frustration at the terrible season.

"Pumas amarte duele" ("Pumas, it hurts to love you")
In the end they tied, which I guess worked out well for our mixed group. And hey, at least the Pumas didn't lose again....

"Fiesta de Muertos" in Coyoacán

For Day of the Dead, Coyoacán hosted a "Fiesta de Muertos" ("Party of the Dead"), including a Feria (festival / fair) of chocolate (like hot chocolate) and pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread), altars, and cultural events.

There were lots of stands selling food and drink - and lots of people there to eat!! They were obviously selling chocolate and pan de muerto, though we also saw crepes, atole, lots of tamales, sugar and chocolate skulls, food from Honduras, ice cream, and more! 

flavored atoles and café de olla
it was packed! 
sugar and chocolate skulls
sugar skulls
Honduran food
chocolate skulls
candy skulls, skeletons, and caskets
posing with the Catrina 

a tamal with mole - yum! 

with my pan de muerto (I went the untraditional, but
delicious route and got it with nutella in the middle)
and chocolate
so many people! 

We also saw the altars / offerings: 

lucha libre version of Día de Muertos
with the Día de Muertos version of the Chapulín Colorado

the Día de Muertos version of the Chavo del Ocho

baking pan de muerto
posing as a Revolutionary soldier and "Adelita"
(female soldier) from the Mexican Revolution
After taking in the sights (and eating and drinking our way through - ha!), we went to Corazón de Maguey for a cocktail with mezcal.