Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: Down and Delirious in Mexico City

I almost don't need to visit Mexico City, I'm so convinced blogger/Twitter-er/foreign correspondent extraordinaire Daniel Hernandez nails the vibe in his 2011 book Down and Delirious in Mexico City. Definitely not a tour book, and not exactly a memoir, it's a collection of essays exploring the city's different subcultures. Punks, emos, fashionistas, hipsters, cholos, religious, etc. are among the observed. Meanwhile Hernandez, a San Diego native, explores his own relationship with these urban tribes.

We come along for the ride as he learns to embrace the city's passion, electricity, history, chaos and violence. Hernandez is not afraid to tour a neighborhood that used to be a trash dump to see the origins of Mexico City punk, risk his health in a sweat lodge ritual, or interview emos at a metro station as an anti-emo wave sweeps Mexico. Along the way we meet fashion designer/party boy Quetzal, late night bar companion Susana, and yellow and orange haired muse/philosopher Denise. Like an older brother Hernandez patiently explains the facts of life here -- kidnappings, street-level hustling, Santa Muerte, pollution, class differences -- at a level even a middle-class American who's never set foot in Mexico might understand.

Some of Hernandez's more interesting observations come when he turns his journalistic eye on himself and his own identity as a U.S.-raised Latino: "To capitalinos who know enough about what a U.S. upbringing produces -- our manner of walking, for one, quick and exasperated, our tentative Spanish, that starting pocho accent -- I am a gringo regardless of how dark my skin might be."

While he is technically an outsider, Hernandez appears quite at home in "the impossible megacity," which seems to satisfy his boundless appetite for excitement and new cultural horizons to explore.

The only things I didn't like about the collection are that I found it a little too focused on the hipster-esque side of the spectrum of Mexico City. *Another* interview with a fashion designer? The other thing is it seems like he wrote this for an audience who doesn't know a lick of Spanish and hasn't ever been near Mexico. If you've already traveled in Mexico, you will find some parts of the book very obvious. And using more Spanish (with translations, of course) would have brought the experience even closer, especially for those who know the language.

Despite this, Down and Delirious in Mexico City is a unique take on an amazing city. I highly recommend it, along with the author's blog.

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