Guillermo Jean

Remember the Cumbia de la Influenza? The H1N1 virus had scarcely become a Twitter trending topic and some tipos had already written and recorded a song about Indiana Jones rescuing Chilangolandia. Couple that anecdote with the fact that on any given night in Mexico there’s a DJ somewhere playing “Rock With You,” or “Beat It” for a rabid crowd of Michael Jackson fans and you shouldn’t be surprised that a Sonoran Norteño group, Los Picadientes de Caborca, have already come up with a purely Mexican version of MJ’s classic, “Billy Jean.”

Since I couldn’t be in Los Angeles to pay my respects, this is how I will thank the man who inspired my first awkward gabacha dance moves:

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Riding Lessons at the Polls

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I’ve been working on a profile of a candidate who ran for a municipal election, so on Sunday it was off to the polls. (That man in the picture is not the candidate. He’s part of the 30 percent of the population that turned up to vote.)

I was told by the campaign manager to arrive for a press conference at 11 am on election day. Silly chilangabacha that I am, I believed him. I showed up right on time and was told to come back at 1 pm. I decided to wander around aimlessly and happened upon a dusty little book store. You know how in cartoons an old lady will put a pie in a window and a “finger of aroma” will reach out and grab Bugs Bunny by the nose? That’s kinda what happened to me, but with Alan Riding’s excellent novel, Distant Neighbors. Instead of pie aroma, it was the fragrance of musty pages that drew me in.

The timing of picking up the book, an essential guide to Mexican culture and history, couldn’t have been better. The 11 am press conference got pushed back to 1 pm, then 4 pm and finally 8 pm. During my nine-hour wait, Riding taught me that, “Arriving an hour or more late for a dinner party does not merit an apology; to the contrary, it is arriving on time that is considered rude.” Oops.

Distant Neighbors also outlines Mexico’s turbulent and colorful political history in such a way that after two years of living here I think I finally get the gist of the political timeline of the past century. So the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) are the dudes who ran the country from 1929  until Vicente Foxy Fox won the presidential election in 2000 under a dual ticket of Mexico’s Green party (PVEM) and the right-wing PAN  (Partido Acción Nacional). Foxy’s successor was Felipe Calderon, also known as Fe-Cal (you know, like caca) by some of his detractors. Why the stinky nickname? Well it depends on whom you ask. Some members of the PRD (Partido Revolución Democrática) claim that Calderon stole the 2006 presidential election from their man, Manuel Lopez Obredor, a la George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 – only Lopez Obredor is still out there contesting the vote, while Al Gore is making movies about sweaty penguins.

Are you still with me? Basically, there are as many political parties as there are saints’ days in April in this country, and everybody wants a swing at the piñata.

This wasn’t a presidental election, but  the race for Congressional seats, governorships and state and local seats was nonetheless interesting.The old school PRI gained footing in places such as the DF suburbs like Ecatepec, Neza and Chalco, thanks to the fancy footwork of its new star, Enrique Peña Nieto, a guapetón widower with a telenovela girlfriend. PAN fell flat in several of its favored districts and the PRD had predictable less-than-hair-raising results. The real stars of the show were the 10 percent of voters who chose to nullify their votes by putting a giant “X” through the entire ballot.

If all of these acronyms have your head spinning, you can either go track down a copy of Distant Neighbors, or watch the following video of the press conference that finally happened nine hours after I showed up.

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Puelto Lico

The “rr”s started rolling into “l”s on the flight from Mexico City to Panama. “Bienvenidos a boldo,” said a flight attendant named Frank, whose gelled hair was approaching Daddy Yankee helmet-head status. I even comprehended all of the captain’s warnings before they were  translated into English, which is nothing to sneeze at considering two years ago I thought Juanes was saying goodbye to someone named “Lepido.”*

The rest of the transition from Mexican to Puerto Rican Español was gradual, as though a handful of syllables parachuted from the plane at each 1,000-mile mark across the Caribbean. By the time my connecting flight from Panama had reached San Juan, “como estas” only had enough syllables for “o as.” Still, when I arrived at San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, I tried to forget the fact that it usually takes me about a month to translate a Calle 13 song. (“Quitate el esmalte” se dice “take off your nail polish,” i.e., let your hair down. *)

I’ve been living in Mexico City for a year and have had to perform all kinds of important tasks –  everything from getting my tooth pulled to cursing out a dude who cut in front of me in the Banamex line – in Spanish. I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a regional accent. Not this Chilangabacha.

Alas, I was gobsmacked by my first opportunity for on the ground communication. “Cuanto cuesta un taxi al Caribe Hilton?” The tipo with the huge cubic zirconia studs in his ears looked at me like I was dragging around a dog on fire instead of luggage. “Uhhh, what?” I continued the rest of the exchange in English, with my ego deflated.

I guess I should have looked at this list of slang before I arrived because these types of interactions happened througout my five days in San Juan. I caught on a little bit, but my confidence was definitely knocked down a couple of notches. I finally  felt better when I ran into a Chilango in the “jugo chino” line. “Que pedo con esa pinche idioma, guey,” he said. That, I understood.

* The song is actually called “A Dios Le Pido” or  “I ask God.”

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Mariachis Need Caffeine, Too.

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Have you ever wondered what fuels Mariachis on their all night Cielito Lindo binges? You thought it was the spirit of Mexico, didn’t you? It turns out, no. These musicians make it through their work day the same way millions of other Chilangos do – with a burnt-ass cup of Oxxo coffee.

Also, notice how the people sitting at the Oxxo tables pay them no mind. They’re too busy enjoying their yummy rubbery hotdogs and Coca Cola products to notice the harbingers of culture standing right next to them! And no, the mariachis didn’t ask for requests. Oxxo is a place of convenience, not debauchery!

I’m not saying this to hate on Oxxo. Yes, they’re kind of the epitome of evil, but they were also the glue that held this city together during the H1N1 outbreak. During normal, non-swine flu times Chilangos go there for everything from cacahuates japoneses to personal lubricant.

I wonder what else the mariachis had on their shopping list that day.

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On Flour Tortillas

Image via http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com

Image via Homesick Texan

So Chilangabach@s, I’ve been extremely apathetic lately. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s because I’m trying to take advantage of the days before I have to give up my Cablevision. I keep staring at my empty WordPress page and the words just don’t come! But today, I have been urged to write again about a subject very near and dear to my corazon – flour tortillas. I don’t care if one of their main ingredients is lard, I love them so much, I could write a dissertation about it – too bad these guys already beat me to it.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I’m listed as a “flour tortilla fan.” I added this tidbit as an homage to my California roots and I’ve been surprised by the responses that statement has elicited. “Flour tortillas are for wimps,” read one”; “Corn or nothing!” read another, and each was like a dagger to my lard-arteried heart!

But why do I care so much? Whyyyyyyy? (Insert childhood montage a la Wonder Years. Grandma holding dusty rolling pin floats by, a young Chilangabacha and sister attempt to make peanut butter and jelly burritos). Like a hipster crying into his Pabst Blue Ribbon, I now realize that flour tortilla love is a big part of my So-Cal identity, and I’m not the only one. One of my high school classmates took his love of tortillas all the way to Buenos Aires where he opened a franchise called California Burrito Co. Homeboy has lines for miles! My informal research revealed that 9 out of 10 Chilangabach@s throw a flour tortilla on the burner at least once a week.

Yes, I do concede that corn tortillas have been a food staple since Mexosaurus Rex times; however, that was like a conquest and two revolutions ago. Since then a lot of ish has gone down, including the introduction of flour mills to northern Mexico and the United Statesian border. Somewhere along the line abuelas in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas started feeding them to their pocho grandkids and a comfort food was born.

Every time I made an apocolypto-prep run to the market during the swine flu outbreak I instinctively picked up at least three bags of tortillas, so I could have something warm and lardy to cling to when the three horseman arrived. By the time the scare was over I had enough to make burritos for weeks. That reminds me, I think some of them are turning green on my shelf. Time to stop clinging.

I don’t have anything against corn tortillas, corny folks or even Great Cornholios. I just loves me my burrito wrappers and I’ll defend them furevur, rolling pin in hand.


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Mexico in 14 Seconds

Talk amongst yourselves.

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The Bronzen Child

EdgarFelipe Calderon says it’s time for all of us in the tourism industry  to tighten our Teva straps. He’s unveiled a new plan, Vive Mexico (Mexico Lives), to help bring bodies back into hotel rooms. The plan involves getting big time celebrities to talk up the country like it was their favorite plastic surgeon or yoga instructor. Here’s an excerpt from the Vive Mexico press release:

“I invite everyone to let visitors from abroad know that coming to Mexico is a great experience, that Mexico is not only a beautiful country, but also a strong country, capable of dealing with and overcoming the greatest adversity and that we welcome them to our beaches, cities and towns,” he said.

The people of La Gloria, the so-called epicenter of the epidemic, were way ahead of Fe-Cal on this one. They may not have Bono or Shakira, but they have their own little gel-haired rock star, Edgar Hernandez. Locals don’t see Hernandez as “Patient Zero,” like the rest of the world paints him, but as the strong little boy who was the first to survive the virus. And you better believe them dudes was all over his notoriety like miel de maple on hotcakes. Not even a month has gone by since H1N1 mania, and the local artisans have already completed a bronze statue in his likeness.

Local authorities say the statue, which depicts Edgar holding a frog in one hand as a symbol of the biblical plague, will do wonders for attracting tourists. I concur! Not only did little Edgar survive (both the flu and the subsequent media storm), but he lived on to become his own statue! He’s an inspiration for us all. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m booking my tickets to La Gloria today.

*Photo from Notimex via Yahoo Mexico

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