Mi casa, tu casa. At friends’ houses.

3 April 2020

"Mi casa, tu casa". Natalie spent the first term of her study abroad in Mexico. In this blog she shares her experience of Mexican hospitality.


Being invited around friends’ “casas familiares” gave me much-appreciated insights into Mexican home life, whether there for “cena” or “peda”- dinner or fiesta. No, I didn’t travel all 31 states- and I don’t believe visiting another country is a touristing tick-off list- but being in residential areas, away from the foreigner's eye and under the eagle’s wing of my pals, was my favourite thing.

You pick up on unifying features: embroidered toilet lid cosies, beds layered with sheets and fleecy blankets, airbrushed first communion photos on the walls, 20L bottles of ePura or Bonafont (the debate over which is the better water continues), people sitting round the dining table hours after eating... the heart of meandering conversation, debate, discussion...

On my final trip of the year I took the combi, a mini-minibus linking Mexico City with the Estado de México, up to southern Ecatepec with my roomie Uc (her Mayan nickname). This is the way she and my other flatmates visit their parents at the weekends and bring back “Toppers” of food which fill our fridge for the commencing week. Some of my classmates travel similar routes back and forth every day for university, a few hours each way. These combis are a frequent target of threatening armed theft, and in these instances, passengers must comply, hand over valuables and that is that. Drug-related violence in the Estado is also a visually scarring reality yet sitting and talking about it could be dangerous for residents.

We hopped out of the combi, having passed tarpaulin-covered markets called “tianguis”, arrived at the house and watched several episodes of “The Crown” before the beep of the sorbet vendor’s trike sounded down the road. It is made by hand- “artesanal”- and was sublime.

On weirdly similar tangents: back in the city I watched the Coldplay documentary with “súper-tierno” Pedro, the UCL-band’s best Mexican fan. And my university buddy Antonio’s flair for speaking English (“I want to speak *British* English”) meant that a beyond-spontaneous trip to his family homes in Jalisco and Michoacán was marked by his frequent interjections of Disney’s “Into the Woods” soundtrack, notably around the turquoise Lake Camécuaro. I enjoyed his often very fun and always frank attitude.

Frank: when at Uc’s, relatives had come down for dinner from the state Hidalgo and all 6 adults summoned one of the children to the dining table for an over-one-hour-long crack-down on her bad behaviour at school. It was a shameless telling off and powerful plea with each adult taking turns... Although Uc tried to distract me with the equally fascinating photo album from her 15th birthday party, this was moving me with its underlying show of great love and determination. I’d never seen anything like it.

The 15th birthday party, the “quinceañera" celebration, is notorious for every Latin-American girl (if you want it). Puffed-out and strong-busted dress, heels, a Mass at church, photos with every guest, and her own pre-choreographed dances with the boys of honour (cue multiple outfit changes). A step into womanhood.

And I was stepping further in the Mexican huaraches I’d purchased in the central square, the Zócalo; in particular, attending house parties not so much in a “casa familiar” as on the roof terrace of one unique “casita” where lived a community of Mexicans, Argentinians, Spanish, a Dominican, a French, a Welsh, and a fellow UCL-er, and where us and more would “perreo” to Reggaeton (I.e. dance very closely together to occasionally wincingly sexist lyrics), next track: Cumbia, a partner dance. Next: Reggaeton-Reggaeton-Reggaeton-Cumbia-Cumbia-Reggaeton. Mmmmm and the taste of hot Mexican Christmas punch. “Ponche”. https://www.goya.com/en/recipes/mexican-christmas-punch.

On the days running up to my departure from a quite-literally incredible time in CDMX, there was no calm to the storm. Sometimes the best place to be was back in my Mexican home, the flat where my “amiguitas” and I were safer, greeted by the smell of Pnol and washing-up powder and the cleaning rota, and supplied with flatmate Ale’s cough remedy of lemon halves, cinnamon, oregano, honey, and a Bougainvillea leaf boiling on the stove. They’d help explain why my versions of amicable-only behaviour had still landed me in misunderstandings with some boys (I still ponder upon times when I felt pretty objectified) and they’d tell me about their days of tests, social service, being with friends, we’d boil the kettle for coffee and I’d probably buy tamales from downstairs whilst the others carried on working, we’d laugh at all the crazy scenes heard from outside our window and then turn out the light and say “Buenas Noches”...

This last photo was taken by Uc at the end of a march for abortion rights in Mexico.


By: Natalie Russo