Facing a (Not so) Blank Map

I am a map person. Maps inspire me in a way few things do.  Especially when I’m studying the map of a place I have the chance to learn with my own two feet.  Months ago, pulling up Mexico City on Google Earth or a touristic fold-out map of the city was like staring at a blank wall. The city’s grid was saturated with words that sounded clunky in my mouth and names of neighborhoods, streets and historic sites with no images, memories or experiences attached to them.

Opening Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City, for the first time today, I found myself on the border of a world that I’m soon to be a part of. Its first pages are maps of the Historic Center and the city’s 16 districts, the subway lines and the Mexico Valley. I got a jolt of map-induced electricity that awoke me with the reality that for the next 12 months, I will be living smack dab in the belly of that beast of a city. Monstruo–which John Ross uses to refer to Mexico City– means “monster” in Spanish. The word refers every bit to its size as to its prehistoric origins as the capital of the Aztec world–and the complex, marveling, and messy trajectory which has brought the city to where it stands today: ruins amidst luxury high-rises amidst slums in a seemingly infinite megalopolis.

21.2 million people live in Mexico City (including the metropolis), making it the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The valley has served as the site of invasion and revolution, destruction and global industry, and is facing enormous consequences–environmental, social, political–for its exponential growth. It is now my turn to make an abrupt landing directly in a small but historic Quaker community striving for solidarity in a city with many challenges to its goals of sustainability, social cohesion and peace.

I’m not there yet, but almost. Only two days until I head south to join the community at the Casa de los Amigos for a year. I’m so eager to meet everyone and become involved with their various projects. I’m especially looking forward to the Hospitality and Migrant/Refugee Rights programs. (Which I will explain in more detail later, promise!)

On the day I arrive, a delegation of activists/miners from Chiapas will be coming to Mexico City to take a public stand against exploitative mining practices in their region in Southern Mexico, one of the poorest regions in the nation which has a long history of indigenous and land-rights struggles. Their presence in the Casa will be my introduction to solidarity hospitality work, and I will have the opportunity to gain the on-the-ground perspective of miners on extractive industries around the world. I’m incredibly excited to meet them and learn from them.