So Close, Yet So Far: Three Weeks in Mexico

Distant kin of my native Dominican Republic. A fellow Latin American nation. Despite having lived my whole life in the United States, I’d never visited Mexico. The narrative of this country was shaped by ignorant politicians and hyperbolic representations of either cartels or privileged American spring breakers in Cancun. In the USA, Mexico is a concept that is less nation with rich heritage and treated more punching bag for xenophobes and racists.

All throughout my Watson year, I was enamored with the possibility of going to faraway places like Indonesia and Ghana, but not as captivated by the possibility of travelling so close. It wasn’t until I was in Prague, when I met a really talented Mexican skater and tattoo artist, that I considered spending the last month of my Watson year in Latin America. He told me that there was a growing population of female skateboarders and showed me a video of a skater named Jenni Mung. I was floored by how effortless her front heelflips looked and couldn’t believe that I hadn’t considered Mexico or any other Latin American country during my Watson travels, especially after spending time in India with Norma Ibarra.

I started dreaming about swimming in sinkholes that I later learned were called cenotes. I envisioned myself on top of strange pyramidal structures, skateboarding past majestic architecture surrounded by girls speaking Spanish. When I awoke, I grabbed my laptop and searched on Instagram, Facebook, Google, Thrasher – everywhere. I reached out to Norma Ibarra (lapir0), a Mexican-Canadian skate photographer who I had the pleasure of meeting during Vol 2 of the Girl Skate India tour, and asked her about her many skate projects, including skatebroads, ucanskate, and skate witches. I realized that my time in Europe felt like my favorite Rumi poem, one that I’ve returned to repeatedly since I came across it during a bout of deep depression in Spain:

Tending Two Shops” by Jelaluddin Rumi
Don’t run around this world
looking for a hole to hide in.

There are wild beasts in every cave!
If you live with mice,
the cat claws will find you.

The only real rest comes
when you’re alone with God.

Live in the nowhere that you came from,
even though you have an address here.

That’s why you see things in two ways.
Sometimes you look at a person
and see a cynical snake.

Someone else sees a joyful lover,
and you’re both right!

Everyone is half and half,
like the black and white ox.
Joseph looked ugly to his brothers,
and most handsome to his father.

You have eyes that see from that nowhere,
and eyes that judge distances,
how high and how low.

You own two shops,
and you run back and forth.

Try to close the one that’s a fearful trap,
getting always smaller. Checkmate,
this way. Checkmate that.

Keep open the shop
where you’re not selling fishhooks anymore.
You are the free-swimming fish.

That fearful trap for me was the familiar. Running around the same cities, same places, searching for something new but running into the same thing over and over. Mexico was an opportunity to dive into discovery. Reflect. Be productive while also relaxing and experiencing LIFE. And also seeing if I’d really grown and accomplished my goals, if I could make the most of this experience.

Some highlights from my time in Mexico include:

  • Rabioso sessions with girlfriends followed by beer and pizza at el perro negro and the occasional punk / metal concert and mosh pit 
  • My first day in Fishbone skate park, where I met Malina, the founder of the Mujeres en Patinetas collective
  • Filming with Baruch at San Pipí (San Cosme… if you go there in person you will understand why it’s nicknamed San Pipí)
  • Skating Alameda and Bellas Artes
  • Spending day in coyoacan at museo de Frida Kahlo, local shops, eating elote and connecting with Arturo
  • Interviewing Chula Skateboards about their work promoting women in skateboarding through brand activism
  • Dancing salsa in Guerrero and then post punk raving in la Roma with Sinuhe
  • living with Nyree and Sebastián near Mercado Medellín 
  • That difficult skate sesión at bosque de Aragón that ultimately led me to a tree and also made me reflect on “work twice as hard to get half as much ” situation 
  • Living with Aranza and Jan, talking about everything from architecture to earthquakes to childbirth to love
  • Swimming and cliff jumping in cenotes in Cancun
  • Skating street and drinking cubanas all over CDMX with Belen and Veró
  • Filming my first street 50-50
  • interviewing chula Skateboards 
  • quesadillas de chicharrón in Obrera
  • meeting Vicky and noemi at juice stand in Saturday market in obrera 
  • meeting Roberto on my way to Cine Tonalá and filming my first street wall ride with him in this super sketchy park
  • Playing bass and singing in Spanish while rocking out with with Jose Miguel and Rudy at Max’s home studio near Chapultepec
  • My first earthquake?!? Minor but scary experience to know that at any point the ground can open up beneath you and swallow you whole
  • That amazing impromptu ladies session at San Antonio where I learned how to boardslide and we skated through Bellas Artes together holding hands in the middle of rush hour!
  • Taco X Skate tour with UCanSkate

In the three short weeks I spent in Mexico City, I dedicated myself to learning more about how Mexican women skaters navigate the pressures of family, religion, patriarchal public spaces, insecurity, sexual violence, and Americanization through skateboarding. How do they carve out transient zones of freedom for themselves and band together as collectives in order to mitigate the pressures these complex social issues place on individuals? Why, in a context that all the odds are stacked against them, do they continue to skateboard?

Like many countries I’d visited, women skateboarders in Mexico often skated together in groups of two or more. Many described their skateboard as a weapon, a form of protection against the machismo and uncertainty that reigns the cobblestone streets they rattled through. They also felt that skateboarding offered them a unique vehicle to explore spaces in their city that would otherwise not be accessible or of interest to them. Together, we would traverse through some of Mexico City’s most iconic spaces like Bellas Artes and Chapultepec, as well as more crime-ridden neighborhoods like Agrícola Oriental, to find skate parks, scope spots, and attend events. Spending time with these skaters and witnessing the raw talent gave (and still gives) me so much hope for the future of women’s skateboarding in Latin America.

I am so grateful to have listened to my heart and follow it where it wanted to lead me: a community of women who really are kicking ass and taking names, challenging the norm and carving out their own spaces through the many cracks in Mexico City’s pavement. Meeting so many collectives of women who were challenging a culture so similar to the Dominican one I grew up in, one who violently policed gender yet showed so many signs of progress and change. The girls here showed me how deep passion can go, how pleasure and joy are communion are forms of resistance, how we are stronger, together. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than that of their love, time, and support. Que sigan rifando, con dios delante nos veremos prontitoooo!!!!

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