Canadians likely have a passable understanding of what goes on around the edges of Mexico. Tourists know all about the pleasant coastal regions of Acapulco or the Mayan Riviera. And regular readers of the news will be grimly familiar with the bloody drug battles and debates over illegal immigration along Mexico’s northern border with the United States. But what about the vast middle of this storied country?
Hernandez fills in some of these blanks with a collection of essays on modern life in the capital city. “For the rest of the world, Mexico City is a megapolis defined by pollution, poverty, congestion and chaos,” he writes. “But what is often left unsaid is that it’s also a mighty society’s capital of wealth, excess and consumption. It is glamorous and cosmopolitan.” With a population of over 20 million, Mexico City is the largest city in the Americas and the third largest in the world. As Hernandez makes clear, it contains excesses of all kinds. It is a major fashion centre and cultural destination. Extreme poverty exists alongside extreme indulgence.
Hernandez’s focus is on youth culture in America’s biggest Big Smoke. Born in San Diego to Mexican parents, he takes readers along on his attempts to integrate himself into everyday life in Mexico City. There are religious pilgrimages, sweat lodges and soccer matches. We visit the homes of ordinary families, go behind the scenes at wild fashion industry parties and pass through a variety of dodgy neighbourhoods. Intriguing youth “tribes” based on music, fashion and other cultural totems are parsed in rich detail.
Such narrative strength, however, will present an obstacle to readers hoping for a broader treatment of Mexico City and its many conflicts. The biggest social issues at play—kidnapping, corruption, unemployment, pollution and cultural confusion—are discussed only to the extent they impact young Mexicans. Then again, self-absorption and a limited range of interests seem precisely in keeping with the book’s youthful focus.