I was shuffling through photos from my last trip to Mexico City (2019), and I found a couple from Mercado Roma, a market in la colonia Roma – la Roma neighbourhood. The building housing the old market was renovated and inaugurated in 2014 as a breezy space for specialty foods and craft stores, as well as a wide variety of small restaurants and bars (its façade, pictured above).
Of course it is now impossible to think of la Roma without making the connexion to the critically acclaimed movie “Roma” (written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, 2018; currently on Netflix), described in Rotten Tomatoes as “a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst [the] political turmoil of the 1970s.” For those of us who were children in Mexico City in the 1970s, this story, set in La Roma, fills the film with vignettes which might seem directly taken from our everyday childhood memories; the narrow patio used as an impossibly tight car garage, the ubiquitous earthquake, that “Las Américas” movie theatre (which is now an auditorium and was staged, along with a whole two blocks around it, to look as it was in the 1970s, just for the movie), and the general atmosphere of houses, streets and family trips, are just uncannily accurate. For many people, the best aspect was the portrait of the Mexican society in the city in the 1970s, with class struggles, divorces on the rise and political upheavals, all witnessed by Cleo, a humble maid and main character.
In my particular experience, in addition to all of the above, one character that left an impression was Cleo’s boyfriend, a guy who transformed throughout his few short scenes from a regular young man into a militant “porro” (a term coined back in the 1940s referring to youth at the service of authorities to control, threaten and in some cases, eliminate, student protesters.) There is a scene directly addressing this kind of violence and government repression, as it happened during the infamous Corpus Christi massacre (date of real-life events, June 10, 1971). I was a young kid back then, but two of my siblings were teenagers, my oldest brother just turning 18 that year, and I still remember him coming home and warning my mom not to go out – and stay away from windows – because the police were frogmarching and shooting at protesters on the streets; it could have been from that day, or even earlier, on that fateful October 2, when there was an even worse student massacre in Tlatelolco, just a few days before Mexico hosted the Olympic Games, in 1968.
I cannot help but think of the protest and repression motif in the movie as a very timely cautionary tale. But then again, it seems like we are still on that path; for example, on September 3 2018, almost 50 years after the Tlatelolco massacre, a student protest was violently repressed in a high school in Mexico City by an organized group, which made use of homemade bombs, rocks and metal rods to hit and lance protesters. Further protests followed at the two main universities in the city (UNAM and IPN) to demand the end of violence and the expulsion of “porro” groups from schools. And then there is the repression, threats and abuse of power from authorities that are seen in other Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, once a power and example to the rest, and in the escalating violence during recent protests in the United States. All these are symptoms of weakening democracies; we are quickly reaching the breaking point, and then apathy will not be a choice, but the imposed norm, and activism might not survive, if democracy dies first.
I always prefer to end my posts with a positive note, so let’s go back to my photos at Mercado Roma, and take a look at the delicious snack with which I was treated that day (aaah, those simpler days!), courtesy of my friend José Luis. We chose a stand called “Guendaroo” with their slogan “así sabe Oaxaca” – “This is how Oaxaca tastes”:
Their menu was short, but had an interesting assortment of antojitos (“little cravings”):
I have posted about enchiladas, chilaquiles, molotes (gorditas) de plátano and enfrijoladas (click on highlighted text for stories and recipes.) We chose to share a tlayuda, one of the most representative food items of Oaxaca, a Mexican state along the Pacific Coast, which is a thin and crispy artisan corn tortilla (some may be seen on the counter, in the photo of the stand, above). Tlayudas may be topped with a layer of pork lard cracklings and refried beans, fresh vegetables and quesillo (Oaxaca style string cheese); add-ins such as Mexican chorizo or tasajo (regional salted beef) are also popular. My friend does not eat red meat, so we asked for no cracklings and no add-ins; the photo below shows my half of the tlayuda:
In “Roma”, Cleo, the main character, came originally from Oaxaca and in the scenes with her friend and co-worker, she speaks a form of Mixteco, one of the indigenous language and dialect groups of Oaxaca. Another important group of languages in that region is the Zapoteco; “Guendaró”, or “Guendaroo” is the Zapotec word for “foodstuff, nourishment, or dish” according to the Zapotec-Spanish dictionary “Diccionario del zapoteco istmeño a español”, by Oscar Toledo Esteva. The choice of restaurant and snack that day was a coincidental homage to Cleo’s background.
In my next posts, I will be sharing my take on the iconic tlayuda, prepared both as a vegetarian option, and with the equally classic tasajo on the side.
This post is dedicated to my very dear friends Adriana and José Luis, who are always the most gracious hosts, whenever I am in Mexico City.