Processing an Earthquake from Afar, or Mexico City on My Mind

Proudly standing on the balcony of the Harvard office in Mexico City, where I was based during my fellowship in 2015. In the heart of Colonia Roma, the historic building had been the office of the Ambulante Film Festival when I worked for them in 2013. 

Amidst the slew of natural disasters this month, the earthquakes of the last several weeks in Mexico have hit closest to home for me. The great devastation of the September 19, 2017 earthquake in Mexico City literally destroyed apartments I formerly inhabited during various stints living in Mexico, not to mention the wreckage (psychological, physical, social, etc.) it wrought to millions of others, extending beyond federal district boundaries and into neighboring towns with fewer resources, minimal attention from government agencies, and less media hype.

A view of Mexico City from the Castillo de Chapultepec. I took this photo at the end of my first summer in 2013, fully enamored of “el DF” and scheming about how to get back and study this magical city further. 

Processing this tragedy that is afflicting a place and a people I care so deeply for will take me time. For now, I want to share a piece by Francisco Goldman, a favorite journalist and neighbor (I lived on Plaza Rio de Janeiro, just doors down from him the last time I lived in Mexico City from August to December of 2015). His personal essay, “A History of My Mexico City Home, in Earthquakes,” published yesterday in the New Yorker resonates with me, both because of his literal proximity to my old stomping grounds in Roma, but also because I share his tendency to attach myself emotional to the spaces I inhabit, the spaces that have transformed me.

Paco expresses himself better than I can, so I will stop myself here and share two quotations from his piece. I suggest you read the rest of the piece for yourself.


“It struck me as odd how few people talked about the fact that this earthquake occurred on the anniversary of the 1985 one, as if it were in bad taste to mention the mind-boggling coincidence. In any case, there was nothing that could be said about it that would make any sense.”

“Chilangos, as the people who live here are called, are devoted to their city; their solidarity comes from the exacting and exhilarating challenge of living here. Mexico City stands apart from the rest of the country as a bastion of progress and idealism, always representing a last best hope in a country elsewhere controlled by the corrupt pri and narco powers. When Minister of Governance Juan Carlos Osorio Chang, the most powerful figure in the cabinet of the unpopular President Enrique Peña Nieto, turned up at a rescue operation downtown for a photo op, volunteers and workers chased him out, jeering and calling him an opportunist.”


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