I was just finished putting everything inside my backpack when my mom called me out to have breakfast quickly before going to JFK airport. It was an early morning and during the month of Ramadan – but it’s also during my period, which I thought to be a blessing from God to travel to Mexico that is well-known for its hot weather.
I ran downstairs and was met by mom’s fried rice and her long list of concerns. She told me to be especially careful in Mexico City while I munched on my food. My mind, thou, was too busy worrying if there’s anything I forgot to bring like I usually do. Like that time I left my phone in its charging spot or my wallet in my home terrace.
I was aware of other things Mexico is well-known for especially since the U.S. presidential election began a few months ago. It’s hard not to. News about illegal Mexican immigrants and the bad things they do start to decorate the news day and night. I also have watched Hollywood movies which portrayed the whole place as one full with drug dealers and other criminals running around untouched by corrupted law enforcers.
But I wasn’t really bothered by it all. The media has made Indonesia synonymous to an untamed jungle and the United States as a very prosperous nation, which I know for a fact to only be partly right.
I boarded my plane and sat next to a guy that I’m guessing was the same age as my younger brother. He’s very quiet. I only heard him talking when he politely asked me to move so he can get out and use the restroom. His English had a strong accent to it, but all words were pronounced clearly.
I often wonder what would happen if we all speak the same mother language – would then the racist lose their excuse to discount foreigners’ worth of respect?
After I walked out the Benito Juarez airport and got into a cab, I felt a little frustrated. It was hard to communicate with the driver since he’s only able to converse in Spanish. It was my bad. I should have at least memorized a few basic sentences before getting here. I learned how scary it must have been to be in a country where only a very few people – or worse, nobody – can understand you.
He talked throughout the ride knowing full well I can only respond with a smile, nod or both.
I thought for a second to record our conversation conducted in two languages where neither party understand the other. I might as well speak in Bahasa Sunda, and it won’t make any difference.
But I tried very hard to understand what he’s saying. It sounded fun with all his hand gestures and happy face I saw in the rearview mirror.
“Goodbye…thank you!” he finally said something I grasp as he helped me take my luggage out of the trunk.
I got settled in my hotel room and looked out of a window. The sky was cloudy, grey and rainy, and I could see a crowd of people walking all around the city. Mexico City is the oldest urban settlement in the Western Hemisphere and that it is the world’s most populous metropolitan areas – much like Jakarta city I suppose.
I stayed in a historic district named Reforma where I saw many monuments to commemorate events and people during the cab ride. One of them was the famous Angel of Independence, which depicts the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence and was built to remember Mexico’s independence in 1910.
With my stomach rumbling and my mind prying of what’s outside, I decided to take a walk with a hat on.
Contrary to the stereotypes, the street was a safe place to walk around alone. There was a beautiful park full of couples enjoying each other’s companies, street performer showing off their magic tricks in hope for a few loose changes, street hawker selling stuff from churros to counterfeited DVDs, people coming back from office and school, as well as tourists taking pictures or selfies.
I bought churros and walked around some more enjoying the city. I noticed many motorized three-wheeled rickshaws running around the main street – looked a lot like a modernized becak.
I then decided to go to the narrower alley that seemed to promise great local food and settled on a small warung. It took me more than a few minutes to decide because I didn’t know what any of the written words on the menu means except taco and enchiladas and so I had fish tacos for dinner.
The next morning, I decided to walk to Plaza de la Constitución where Metropolitan Cathedral, National Palace, Municipal palace and a few other buildings stand proud and beautiful. It is apparently the largest public square in Latin America.
The day was still bright as I finished gazing the inside of the amazingly picturesque and spacious church and palace, and so I decided to meet up with a friend I made a few days before the trip.
He took me to a trendy part of the city where many bars, cafes, and parks were located called Roma Norte.
We each shipped a cup of tea while talking about the city and our life stories. The conversation somehow turned into Trump and his stand on Mexico. He also talked about how there are many immigrants here from many corners of the country as Mexico City is a central hub for business and government. The country, however, remains conscious of race. People of indigenous ancestry often inhabit the middle-to-lower neighborhood while those who are of European descent (Caucasian or criollas) live in a wealthier zone. It also goes without saying that being “white” could be a vital key element for social mobility and acceptance.
I also asked him of the many churches all around the city, and he told me that Roman Catholic Church has been an important part of Mexican culture since colonial times, thou, he added that he and most of his friends are no longer too religious. It abruptly stops during his parent’s generation.
We walked to a different neighbor and met with Sam, another friend I arranged to meet that day. She took me to a dog park she often took her dog to and settled in a bar to sit and talk. She told me of his euro trip and her aspiration to be a dancer.
I was going to stay and have dinner along with her boyfriend who just came back from a trip. However, the night had knocked and I have a morning road trip to Teotihuacan – an archeological site that is home to some of the largest ancient pyramid in the world.
It was a two-hour trip from my hotel.
Here’s a tip: do not forget to bring your summer hat because the place was strikingly hot and you’re going to do a lot of walk around the compound.
The place was flourished in Mesoamerica’s Golden Age and was dominated by two gigantic pyramids – sol (sun) and luna (moon).
The pyramids are important not only for its size but also for its significance; it’s a place that’s believed to be where the gods live and where civilians can communicate with them.
I didn’t go to the museum and a few other sites there because I had a flight to catch and was worried about the possible traffic.
As I waited for my flight back to NYC, I wondered why the mainstream media rarely show the Mexico I saw in the last few days. But I guess that’s the beauty of traveling, huh? It breaks stereotypes and put a stop on the unfair – borderline racist – portrayal of western medias towards third-world countries, at least on your own head.