Amiguitos y viajitos. Being with people, going on trips.

3 April 2020

Natalia spent her first term of her study abroad at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. In this blog she tells us about her experiences of Mexico and their festivities.


This is the profounder foreground to the scene I set in October’s blog 1: I’m writing about the times I spent with people during my stay in the “Ciudad de México, CDMX”, Mexico City. I’m back in England, but my emotions are still swilling around in a glass mixed with the last of the tequila and the songs of “el Divo” Juan Gabriel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of3Y_IcbbuU&index=3&list=RDMM8Cxry9cLFQI

It was my first time in the Americas and among strong changes in environment, I was meeting Mexican people- no reservations about breaking into longer-than-I-had-known-possible conversations, and I was reciprocating by being my excited and apparently very “un-British!” self, all the while ignoring a strong jetlag that was deepening with the start of 4-hour classes.

I took modules in the UNAM’s “new and cool (chido)” course Desarrollo y Gestión Interculturales- anthropological, sociological... and with the most inclusive first semester students.

Thankfully I started waking up, listening better, enjoying my classmates’ openness and ironically also closeness with me and among each other- an intimate social language of hugs, kisses, and diminutives like “cuídate, amiguita”.

I heard this phrase all the time, “look after yourself, friend”. I was fine, left alone by the privilege of white skin and a noticeably foreign face (an uncomfortable concept). By contrast, Mexican women are victim to horrific rates of sexual abuse from strangers, teachers, even their uncles or fathers. I read cases denounced with marker pen on the inside of the Women’s cubicles on campus- it was like a solidarity forum. Social media and marches are banding people together, too, in the face of this and femicides.

I resume, with difficulty:

And so even brighter resonated a generosity I had never-before experienced. Sharing food, going around houses for Pan de Muertos in October, some of my peers even gave me spontaneous “souvenirs from Mexico” when we met, like Sébas's green-white-red-green-white-red beaded bracelet which his aunt had made. It put how us UCL-ers treat our exchange students to shame. These new acquaintances were inspiring, making me think.

Still, everything was new to me, and that wasn’t calm, it was intense. Something of an “all-out” characteristic first glistened before me when I was with my flatmate Diana in the Estado de México (the state around the top of Mexico City) for Día de la Independencia, 15th September. We ate Pastel Azteca and Chiles en Nogada, then her parents took us to the evening celebrations in Tultepec, the city renowned for fireworks. Turns out they knew the presenter of the stage entertainment and made sure I would be part of it: brass band, folkloric dancers, and a UCL student pulled up on stage with tricolour chalk on cheeks and Mexican “moño” in her hair, the presenter goes "Gracias a Natalie, who has come from London to learn about Mexico!” I was gobsmacked but what to do but give a speech thanking them and dance the Zapateado with the presenter? Later, a procession and when the bell struck at 11pm, foam everywhere. Several hours later I would be eating Posole (broth made with maíz, Mexico's staple crop, and possibly a chicken’s foot) in Diana’s father’s primary school friend’s house, setting off firecrackers in the cul-de-sac and wondering in a rural night air what had happened earlier on.

So I perceived strong patriotism in Mexico. Extremely few people I met had travelled abroad, barely any were of mixed nationality: perhaps this adds to such, and to their striking enthusiasm for teaching me about their country, about Aztec mythology, words in Náhuatl or Mayan (these are language options at the UNAM; I heard many more Mexican languages in a poetry festival at the Sala Nezahualcóyotl). So much so that last month I bought Trevelyan’s “Illustrated English Social History: 1” from Treadwell’s in Bloomsbury, because I probably ought to start learning about my country.

I also observed Roman Catholic pilgrimages: during a late-September field trip in the eastern state Tlaxcala for San Miguel Arcángel (celebrations went on ‘til dark, we heard the Doppler effect of fairylight-adorned Chevvy trucks bouncing past our host’s house at 2am), and in December for the Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, around the capital’s Basílica de Guadalupe itself. This is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world! Whole groups arrive wearing matching custom shell suits stating their origin; some carry glass cabinets housing a statue of the saint inside.

I wasn’t so far from religious belief: Classmate Emiliano and his household in Xoco have just “received” San Sebastián as part of their town celebrations, and he sent me over fifty photos and videos.

Yes, another thing: my Mexican compañeros (or gender neutral, compañerxs) are avid Facebook users. The content they share spans from the beauty of Oaxaqueñan food preparation to recent warnings about kidnapping attempts in Metro stations and advertising student-run self-defense courses. What to think?

By: Natalie Russo