We Latin Americans have been exposed to Mexican culture since we were children. We have listened to their music, we have watched their movies and their soap operas (their telenovelas, as they are now almost universally known, even in English), we have created poor imitations of their rich cuisines, we have applauded their great singers and actors and praised their artists, and we have embraced them as our own. This apparent familiarity has led us to think that we know a country that actually remains a mystery.
I arrived in Mexico City over a decade ago with the intention of making my home there. On my first day of work at a well-known publishing house, my colleagues greeted me with a small sugar calavera, that skull seen everywhere on the Day of the Dead, with my name on it. â€śYou, too, are going to die; donâ€™t take yourself too seriously,â€ť they told me, their smiles crackling with irony. At the companyâ€™s front door, they were all working on a large altar to the dead, covered with flowers, fruits of all kinds, images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and smiling calaveras with the names of the dead on them, and the names of the living, too. During this festival to those who have passed over, the country takes on the air of celebration, of fiesta. Skeletons laugh, fall in love, sing, dance, cook many-colored dishes, and recite odes to the living. The underworld mingles with this one, and the inhabitants of both celebrate passion, excess. Mexico Cityâ€”â€śthe DFâ€ť (Distrito Federal), as everyone calls itâ€”is excess.