Monday, May 16, 2011
Interview with Daniel Hernandez concerning his new book, “Down & Delirious in Mexico City”
Daniel Hernandez, a resident of Mexico City since 2007, is a former staff writer of the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly, and currently, lead blogger at La Plaza, the Los Angeles Times Latin America news blog. His journalism and writing has appeared in El Pais, Gatopardo, The Guardian, on NPR, and in numerous other outlets. Daniel holds a undergraduate degree in English from UC Berkeley.
Daniel’s first book, Down & Delirious in Mexico City: The Aztec Metropolis in the Twenty-First Century (Simon & Schuster), is a vivid, enthralling and, at times, heartbreaking recounting of his journey to Mexico in search of his origins and cultural identity. Daniel agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to discuss his book.
DANIEL OLIVAS: What compelled you to go to Mexico City in search of your roots? Do you wish you did it at a younger age?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: The first time I had consciousness about a huge, huge city full of mexicanos and somehow tied to my heritage was 1985 when we were watching the news about the earthquake. My mom was crying. We had no relatives or even friends in D.F. -- we're from Tijuana, three generations back -- but I understood that this was a national tragedy and we were all affected by it, even on the north side of the border in San Diego. I think through grade school and college I always had a lingering fascination with D.F. in the back of my head, and when I'd meet people who had been there, I thought, 'Why not me?' I was intrigued with the idea of seeing it through the eyes of someone from the border, and how I would fit. I don't regret not going any time sooner than after I finished school. (Although I do regret not doing at least a semester abroad at UNAM. That would've been cool.)
DO: What did you learn about Mexico City? What did you learn about yourself?
DH: Oh my, so much. I think your answer here is the book itself.
DO: Why did you decide to spend time primarily with Mexicans who can be described as non-conformists and “on the fringe” of the Mexican establishment?
DH: I don't think the people who appear in my book are entirely "on the fringe." In fact, to me they seem very normal, very everyday, very similar to millions of other chilangos. But it is true that the people I met along the way are not the usual people -- powerful moguls, celebrities, victims of the drug war, ex-pats -- that are often associated with Mexico today. For the book, as I assimilated into Mexico, I simply went where I felt most comfortable, most invited, and most at ease. The relationships built up organically by themselves. So I am glad I am able to illuminate, through these brief chapters, only a small bit the lives of only a small number of my neighbors and fellow urban subjects.
DO: Did your experience change how you view the United States? Could you settle in Mexico permanently?
DH: My view of "los United" has changed tremendously throughout this experience in Mexico. The U.S. doesn't seem like this Shangri-La anymore, the golden ticket, "the" place to be. It seems alien to the rest of the world, and Mexico certainly feels as though it's part of the world. Does this make sense? It's like, in Mexico you get news from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and it isn't filtered through the lens of American power, reaction, dominance. So many people I've met, so many of the people who appear in the book, could care less about the U.S. or even less about the prospect of moving there. That was jarring for me at first, considering the way immigrants are portrayed in the U.S. and among many Mexican Americans, and then so refreshing. It made me re-think my own notions of citizenship and nationalism. Which is to say, Mexico is far from perfect. It's going through a lot of stress and terror right now. It's just a different animal. One that, for the moment, I prefer.
DO: Mil gracias for spending time with La Bloga to discuss your new book.