Friday, February 28, 2014

TED talk: "The danger of a single story" - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

I want to share with you a TED talk I listened to this morning. It's called "The danger of a single story" and was given by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi.

If you don't have ~19 minutes to spare, the short version is that she warns that when only a single story is told about a person or a country, it greatly limits the perspective and can result in misunderstandings. I really liked how she said, "The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."

This really reminded me (among other things) about my experience in Mexico. "Telling other stories" is one of the main reasons I blog. Yes, the stories on the news about drug cartels and violence in Mexico and undocumented immigrants making their way to and living in the U.S. are (usually) true. However, it's a very incomplete vision of Mexico. That's why I want to share my experiences here and add to the collection of stories: culture, history, travel, food, holidays, etc. Granted, it's based on my experiences and from my perspective (a white, female U.S. citizen living, studying, and traveling in Mexico), so these stories won't "complete" the vision of Mexico either. However, I hope to "add to the collection" and that readers can not only follow along with what I'm doing in Mexico, but also learn something new.

It also made me think of how I'm perceived as a U.S. citizen here in Mexico. Granted, this varies greatly person to person and, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi said in her talk, there are more stories available about the U.S. However, there are certain stories that sometimes dominate the conversation. I've heard, for example, that "all Americans are racist and anti-immigration." I have been asked if I eat McDonalds and other fast food regularly in the U.S. (no, I do not). I have also had a handful of now friends tell me that previously they didn't like gringos or that when they first met me they had no interest in getting to know me better when they found out I was a gringa. They had formed opinions based on the stories they knew. Based on our interactions and friendship, they told me that I have given them a different perspective. I don't represent everything in my country or all U.S. citizens, but I've added new stories to their repertoire.

I'd like to think that by truly experiencing and learning about Mexico and sharing some of my stories with others, both about Mexico on the blog and as a U.S. citizen representing, to some extent, my country here in Mexico, that I am living up to my responsibility as a global citizen and as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sunday at Paseo de la Reforma: Biking

On Sunday Edson and I spent part of the day at Paseo de la Reforma. Every Sunday between 8:00 am and 2:00 pm, part of Paseo de la Reforma is closed to cars, buses, and motorcycles and open for people (and pets) to bike, run, walk, skateboard, and skate.

Three (or four) Sundays of the month is the Paseo Dominical (Sunday ride), part of "Muévete en bici" (Travel by bike), organized by the Secretary of the Environment, with a route of ~26.5 km.

"Muévate en bici" map

The last Sunday of the month is the Ciclotón, sponsored by INDEPORTE, or the Institute of Sports, with a route of ~32 km.

Ciclotón map

On Sunday we participated in the Ciclotón -- apparently with approximately 60,000 other people. We tried to borrow the free bikes (you just need two official forms of ID and you can use them for up to 3 hours), but they were all out, the line was long, and we didn't see many being turned in. Instead, I rode an EcoBici (using Edson's EcoBici card) and Edson ran. EcoBici is a bike-lending program that, once you have a card (after paying the annual fee), you can borrow a bike from any bike station for up to 45 minutes. After returning it to the nearest (not full) station, there's a 5-minute wait period to borrow another bike.  

Along the way saw free hydration stations, various drink give-aways (Powerade, Fuze Tea, Sprite Zero, etc), a Zumba class, a yoga class, medical stations, staff/volunteers available to fix bikes, and stands selling bike gear.

Ciclotón staff (volunteer?) helping fix a bike

Can you spot me in the photo below?  

Where's Waldo Becca?
We rode/ ran from where we borrowed the first bike (along Reforma, near the Diana Cazadora fountain) to the Palacio de Bellas Artes and back again, about 7.6 km (4.72 miles).

our route
in front of the "Caballito" sculpture

From there we had lunch at the Colombian restaurant Pollos Mario. We shared bandeja paisa, ajiaco, arepas, and maracuyá (passion fruit) juice. Yum!

It was a fun day!

Friday, February 21, 2014

New mug, by Laura Barocio

Laura Barocio, an acquaintance I had met through the Ciudad de México Rotaract Club, makes awesome (and usually adorable) illustrations. She recently opened an online store and I ordered a mug that I fell in love with at first sight. Yesterday it arrived via DHL! Woohoo!

In addition to my mug, I loved all the details: a decorated box, decorated packing envelope, and a postcard print of her illustration "Nature Flows."

decorated box it arrived in 
decorated packing envelope
My new mug! "Buenos días" ("Good morning") 
mug and postcard of her illustration "Nature Flows" 
You can check out more of her work on the following websites:

-her blog (

-her online store (

-her Artist Facebook page (

-Facebook page of her series "Niñas monstruo" (Monster girls) (

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The choir is going to sing on TV!

The choir will be performing TOMORROW, Friday, February 21 on the television program "Creadores Universitarios", which is broadcast from 7:00-7:30pm (Mexico time = Central Time Zone) on FOROtv (Channel 4 or 104 for cable).

It looks like it will probably be posted on the web site ( as well, though I'm not sure if it will be broadcast live or posted afterward.

If you can, check it out!

**Update - It looks like it might be broadcast live at

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mondays at the tianguis

Happy Monday! (I hope those of you in the U.S. that have off for President's Day are enjoying it. It's just a regular Monday here). 

Today's gift for buying fruit at the tianguis (open air market held on certain days - in the case of my neighborhood on Mondays): a (giant!) mango on a stick with tajín (seasoning made up of chile, lime, and salt). Yum! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Article: Last Flight of the Monarchs? A Plea for Help for the Dying Butterflies

The Monarch butterflies that migrate annually between Mexico and the U.S. and Canada are on the decline. 

Monarch butterfly
El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, 2011

If you're in an area where the Monarchs pass through, you can help by planting milkweed. Read more in the article below. 

Monarch Butterfly Fall & Spring Migrations

To read about my visit to El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán in 2011, click here.


Last Flight of the Monarchs? A Plea for Help for the Dying Butterflies

Valentine’s Day is usually prime mating time for these iconic beauties. But now their numbers are frighteningly down. How America’s gardeners can help save this remarkable butterfly.

Michael Daly
The Daily Beast

Right around Valentine’s Day, the Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico get frisky again.
"They start mating and getting really sexy," says Chip Taylor, the 76-year-old director of the Monarch Watch research and conservation program at the University of Kansas.
Toward the end of February, the butterflies begin their annual migration north from their mass gathering site in a Mexican forest, laying eggs, then dying as a new-born generation continues on. The cycle of life and death and life repeats itself for as many as four generations over as many as 3,000 miles, until the final wave wings out across widespread destinations in the Midwest and the Northeast and Canada.
None of the butterflies that begin the journey are still alive at its end, but the knowledge of their winter home somehow survives. The proof comes in the early fall, as they begin to head south, these butterflies not reproducing and able to survive the whole way, retracing the route of their predecessors.
The Monarchs were beginning this annual journey a dozen years ago, when thousands of them fluttered through the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
“Souls,” one firefighter softly exclaimed.
And souls are exactly what the migrating Monarchs are traditionally believed to be in Mexico, a notion that has seemed confirmed every November for as long as anybody could remember, when the Monarchs’ annual arrival coincides with the Day of the Dead. 
Only this past November, the Monarchs arrived late. And there were far fewer of them than ever before.  They occupied only 1.65 acres of the forest that is their final winter destination, whereas in other years they had occupied as many as 45 acres. Their numbers are estimated to have dropped this year to 35 million from a high of 1 billion in 1996.
Part of the reason for this precipitous decline is likely climate change.
But the biggest factor is thought to be an accompanying decrease in milkweed, where the Monarchs lay their eggs along the way.
And that can be traced largely to the greatly expanded planting of genetically altered soybeans and corn that are able to tolerate herbicides. The accompanying use of these poisons has proven deadly to milkweed.
One twist to it all is that the milkweed is the only plant that can provide Monarch larvae with a chemical that makes the adults toxic to predators, which are warned away by the bright colors of the wings.
For some time, Monarch Watch has recruited amateur trackers to help it monitor butterfly populations and document the migration. The organization is now also asking volunteers to plant milkweed, most particularly in Texas, where the first wave lays its eggs, but also wherever else the Monarchs might venture.
“We need gardeners all over the country to be involved,” Taylor says. “It’s really easy. Take an existing garden and just plant some milkweed plants and a few nectar plants.”
Seeds and instructions for milkweed can be obtained via the organization’s website, People already growing milkweed include Justine Drennan, the youngest daughter of  John Drennan, a New York Fire Department captain who was critically burned in a Manhattan fire in 1994 that killed two other firefighters. He fought for life for a biblical 40 days before he finally succumbed.
At the burial, Fire Chaplain Mychal Judge was just finishing the Our Father prayer when a Monarch that must have been nearing the end of its northward migration alighted on the flowers set beside the coffin. The butterfly closed its wings as if in prayer at the Amen, then opened them again and fluttered off into the sunlight.
Seven years later, Judge and a dozen of the firefighters who had gathered at Drennan’s grave that day were themselves killed at the World Trade Center. And, in the aftermath, those thousands of Monarchs passed through, their colors even brighter against the smoke and ash.
Drennan’s widow, Vina, got a call from an older daughter saying that a butterfly was banging against her window.
“Well, let it in and give it a beer,” Vina Drennan said.
This week, Vina reported that Justine is planting milkweed. Other supporters of the milkweed effort include Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
Whoever you are, there can be no better way than planting milkweed to honor the souls of those you miss on Valentine’s Day, when the surviving Monarchs down in Mexico are getting frisky.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blog update

Hola readers!

As some of you may have noticed, I've added new pages to the blog: "Maltrata, Veracruz," "Choir," "Travel," and "Holidays & Celebrations."

All of my posts will continue to appear on the "Home" page. However, I realized that many of my posts fall into these four categories, so I created a separate page for each for easier viewing by topic.

(And don't forget, you can always click on a "label" on the right-hand side to view posts relating to a specific topic).

Article: Farm Bureau Warns Enforcement-Only Immigration Reform Would Harm America’s Food Supply

Farm Bureau Warns Enforcement-Only Immigration Reform Would Harm America’s Food Supply

Written by
February 13, 2014 
The on-the-ground harm of enforcement-only state immigration policies is clear. The “self-deportation” style laws in ArizonaAlabama, and Georgia all dealt severe blows to the states’ economies, particularly the agricultural industries. A federal enforcement-only approach to immigration reform would have a similarly harmful impact, leading to a decline in food production and higher food prices in the United States. That is the major finding of a new American Farm Bureau Federation report, which examines the impacts different immigration reform scenarios would have on the U.S. agricultural economy. According to the report, enforcement-only immigration reform “would raise food prices over five years by an additional 5 percent to 6 percent and would cut the nation’s food and fiber production by as much as a staggering $60 billion.” Fruit production would fall by 30 to 61 percent, vegetable production would plummet by 15 to 31 percent, and livestock production would decline by 13 to 27 percent, based on the Farm Bureau’s data.
In the states that tried enforcement-only approaches, there wasn’t a ready supply of skilled native-born workers waiting to take the place of departing foreign-born workers. Whether at big corporate operations or smaller family farms, many fruit and vegetable crops  are labor intensive and not easily mechanized. It takes a skilled worker to speedily assess the ripeness of a tomato, for instance, and accurately sort produce. And the work is often in hot, humid environments. Such workers are not easily replaced. After states passed anti-immigrant laws, crops went un-harvested and literally rotted in their fields, leading to significant losses. In Georgia, for example, HB 87 led to an estimated $300 million loss in harvested crops statewide and $1 billion loss in total economic impact for the state’s economy during the 2011 growing season.
Alternatively to enforcement-only immigration policies, the report finds that comprehensive immigration reform—including components of enforcement, a redesigned guest worker program, and opportunities for skilled agricultural laborers already working in the U.S. to adjust their status—would lead to virtually no effect on food prices and little impact on farm income and production. And American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said there needs to be immigration reform that improves the current system. “Status quo is not a viable option for anyone involved in this issue, and as a nation, we expect better,” Stallman said. Currently, the H-2A nonimmigrant visa is the primary alternative to farmers’ hiring undocumented workers. Yet many observers, farm employers, and worker advocates consider the H-2A program dysfunctional. As the report indicates, “farm employers cite the cumbersome nature of the program and the high wage and benefit costs that the program imposes. Worker advocates cite inadequate protection for workers, poor housing conditions, and employer failure to live up to worker payment provisions by making prompt and full payment of wages due.”
There are immigration proposals on the table in Congress that would address some of these issues. The Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill (S 744), passed in June 2013, and the House’s HR 15, introduced in October, contain proposals to reform nonimmigrant visa programs, including the proposed new W visa, blessed by both business and labor interests. Even the recently released GOP principles on immigration reform acknowledge there is more to be done to fix immigration than simply addressing enforcement. Specifically, S 744 and HR 15 contain a W visa program that is more flexible and less bureaucratic than the current H-2A program, while providing protections for both foreign and U.S. workers. And the Senate bill also provides a legalization program for agricultural workers that would allow farmers to keep the experienced but undocumented workers upon which many agricultural employers currently depend.
Through thoughtful, comprehensive immigration reform that addresses updates to immigration pathways and encourages immigrant integration, farm employers will be able to more efficiently hire the workers they need, workers will have the protections they need, and a large segment of the population will be able to live out of the shadows, better able to integrate into the communities in which they already live and work.
See more at:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The choir's multicultural concert at the Chemistry Department

Today the choir performed at the Facultad de Química (Chemistry Department) at the UNAM. 

I think this was our most international/ multicultural program yet. We only had 2 songs in Spanish! The program included: 

Salve Regina - Lars Jansson, arranged by Gunnar Eriksson (in Latin) 
Bogoróditse Djévo - Arvo Pärt (in Russian) 
Daemon irrepit callidus - Gyorgy Orbán (in Latin) 
Magos a rutafa - Lajos Bárdos (in Hungarian)      
Pletykázó - Gyorgy Ligeti (in Hungarian) 
Kalkagunga Yurdu - William Barton, arranged by Gordon Hamilton (in an aboriginal language from an area in the north of Australia, with didgeridoo rhythms and syllables) 
Kasar mie lagaji - Alberto Grau (in an African dialect - not sure which)            
Naranjitay - traditional Bolivian song, arranged by Luis Graff (in Spanish)                   
Louva a Deus - music by Milton Nascimento, arranged by Sergio Sansao (in Portuguese)       
Peze Kafe - traditional Haitian song, arranged by Sten K. (in Haitian Creole) 
Prende la vela - folkloric song from Colombia, music by Lucho Bermúdez, arrangement by Alberto Carbonell (in Spanish) 

*Post edited to add photos. Photos courtesy of Laura Figueroa.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A weekend in Maltrata

I made a quick trip to Maltrata this weekend to celebrate Mama Juanita's birthday. I arrived Saturday around noon and had a bit of time to catch up with the family and play with the little ones before all the guests starting to come over.

with my little buddy, Axel
We've got a budding photographer on our hands - Axel took this photo
After a bit, family and friends started to arrive, along with a man who serenaded Mama Juanita, singing and playing guitar (starting of course with "Las mañanitas,"  the Mexican birthday song). 

We enjoyed chicken soup, mixiotes in salsa verde (read more about mixiotes here), both white and red rice, refried black beans, handmade (corn) tortillas, and a delicious salad I want to try to recreate at some point (lettuce, apple, cucumber, peanuts, walnuts, raisins, pineapple and probably other ingredients I'm forgetting). People came and went throughout the afternoon, probably 40-50 in total.

the (delicious) cake
Mama Juanita, before cutting the cake
Mama Juanita, her daughter Rosa Maria, and her grandson
that shares her birthday
On Sunday I had a few hours to spend time with the family (and play, of course!) before heading back to the DF. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Long weekend in Acapulco

Last weekend was a 3-day holiday weekend for Constitution Day (actually February 5th, but always observed the first Monday in February). A friend of ours is temporarily living in Acapulco, Guerrero for a work project, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend to visit him and his wife and play in Acapulco. We weren't the only ones with the idea of escaping to the beach: we saw license plates from Mexico City and the State of Mexico everywhere! This was my first time in Acapulco and I really enjoyed it!

A = Mexico City, B = Acapulco, Guerrero
source: Google Maps
What I did not enjoy, however, was the traffic! Between the 3-day weekend (which also coincided with payday), construction, and a ten car pile up on the highway on our way there, the 5 - 5 1/2 hour bus ride became 7+ hours both ways. Yikes!

We arrived Saturday afternoon and went out for some yummy seafood. While we were staying in Acapulco Diamante (the "new Acapulco") on the southern end of the bay, that evening we went to "old Acapulco" on the northern end. Our first stop was to watch the cliff divers at "La Quebrada" (which means ravine/ gully/ gorge) -- a famous Acapulco attraction.

statue of a cliff diver at "La Quebrada" 
Cliff diving at "La Quebrada" is a tradition that started in the 1930's (thanks, Wikipedia), when young men would compete for fun, seeing who could dive from the highest point into the water below. Later the divers began asking for tips. Nowadays, the divers are professionals (though apparently the diving profession often runs in the family) and there are various shows throughout the day, for a 40 peso (3.00 USD) entrance fee. 

view of "La Quebrada" 
waiting for the show to start
The show started with the divers coming down the stairs built into the cliff wall, making their way through the audience. 

divers making their way down the steps, through the crowd
At the bottom, they dove into the water, swam across, and then scaled the cliff wall. 
climbing the cliff wall
climbing the cliff wall
The divers prayed to the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe before diving from 28 - 35 meters (92-115 ft) into the water below. The inlet is only 7 meters (23 ft) wide and the depth of the water can vary from less than 2 to almost 5 meters deep (6 - 16 ft) depending on the waves. Because of this, timing is crucial and the divers wait for the perfect wave to come in and the water to rise before diving. 

all the divers at the top
getting ready to dive
It was very impressive! Here's a video from the show:
(Note - It's a compilation of various dives. I mostly edited out the long wait times between dives)

after the show
after the show
with the diver statue after the show
From there we grabbed dinner and then had some drinks at a deck bar while we watched people bungee jump next to us, (almost) over our heads.

bungee jump platform
On Sunday we went to Revolcadero beach.

Playa Revolcadero
Playa Revolcadero
That evening we went to watch the Super Bowl. Yay football! (Though it wasn't quite the same as watching the Ravens win last year!) We headed over to "La Isla" ("the Island"), the open-air shopping center that's apparently a hotspot in Acapulco Diamante. We thought we'd go to the restaurant/ bar Carlos'n Charlie's, but they wanted 1,000 pesos (75 USD) per person! No thanks.

in front of Carlos'n Charlies
We ended up watching at the open-air restaurant / bar "Perros y burros" ("dogs and donkeys"), enjoying burritos, hot dogs, and beer in glasses held up but metal hooks that reminded me of a science lab. As usual, I missed the entertaining commercials (just normal boring commercials here), but I definitely didn't mind the weather!

watching the game at "Perros y Burros"
On Monday we had another beach day. I don't know the name of the beach, but it was further south (?) and less populated than Playa Revolcadero.

in the distance you can see the cliffs that were
right next to us at Revolcadero Beach
After a couple hours at that beach we headed further south and found a restaurant on the beach. The place was fantastic! I wish we had more time there. There was a restaurant, picnic tables and hammocks under a palapa, a pool, and of course the beach (with palapas for shade).

our lunch spot
the beach at our lunch spot
the beach at our lunch spot
the beach at our lunch spot
We picked out a huachinango (red snapper) for lunch...

fresh fish
the boys with our fish
... and then swam in the pool and relaxed in the hammocks while they cooked our fish.

 We enjoyed our red snapper "a la talla," salad, rice, and sopes, as well as our ocean view! 

My lunch plate: salad, rice, fish, and a sope

Unfortunately, from there we pretty much had to eat and run to have (just barely!) enough time to shower, pack, and make it to the bus station. It was a fun weekend and a great mini escape from the city!