Whitney Mallett Goes to Mexico City


This is the second installment of Whitney Mallett’s sporadic travel column. See her guide to shopping the malls of Dubai. Where in the world will Whitney go next?!

I was sitting around a living room in Mexico City dropping acid with two models, a Supreme Court lawyer, and a Norwegian who described himself as “a lady who lunches.” The models with faces like Bratz dolls both came from up North, the same region as El Chapo. The lawyer grew up outside the city in the well-to-do suburbs. The Norwegian was fluent in Spanish thanks to doing a year of high school abroad in La Ciudad de Mexico. I sunk deeper into the couch trying to imagine if this would be what my life would be like as an “expat.”

There’s a lot to love about Mexico City: goth girls at the reggaeton parties; fresh guacamole from the market; walking around the Art Deco buildings in Condesa; the wailing voice of a woman calling out in Spanish, asking if you have junk for sale, the same recording in every neighbourhood blasting from a roving pick-up truck’s loudspeaker. But you can’t ignore that part of the appeal is getting to be a lot more bougie than you can afford to be in any major city in the US or Canada. One hundred pesos is five US dollars. You can go to a fancy ass restaurant and order everything you want including a few drinks and it’ll be like $30.

Airbnb and Uber make it easy to be a transplant. It’s cheap and easy to find a place to stay, to get chauffeured wherever you want to go. But there’s emotional security too for “digital nomads.” The singularity means even if you’re in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar language, your apps are still the same and you spend at least half your life anyways staring at your phone. As the internet has fractured audiences and subcultures into smaller and smaller subsects, it’s also decreased regionalism. The same trends trend in the urban hubs of queer underground culture all around the world. You follow the same people on Instagram. They play Princess Nokia at all the clubs and everyone knows the words.

But here everything seems less processed, less privatized, and less Protestant. The culture’s less waspy and still it’s a colonial country plagued by colourism so all the perks of being white remain. Everyday people at the bodega and the market don’t seem annoyed at my sunburnt gringo face when I don’t understand the numbers in Spanish and just hand them a large denomination bill. We packed 12 people into a seven-person UberXL and the driver didn’t say anything. I’m not sure what’s white foreigner privilege and what’s just rich kid from here privilege (a lot of them are white, too). The driver blasts the national anthem on the radio. At first I think that if we get pulled over by the cops, his outward display of patriotism might save us from a ticket. Then I learn no one gives a shit and all radio stations have to play the anthem at the stroke of midnight.

Mexico City is the new Berlin. A few years ago I heard someone announce it. All the kids who show at Berlin galleries show here too. All the same techno DJs play. I’m pretty convinced the world doesn’t need any more artists. We need icons, storytellers, and energy-producers but there’s more that fill those roles than roles need filling. The global order, though, seems to depend on an artist class. We’re all pawns in somebody’s real estate scheme. Or is there a bigger, more sinister conspiracy? I went to a corporate-sponsored music festival on an army base called NRMAL where we had to put money onto a wearable tech accessory to pay for food and drinks. Wherever you go, the future is cashless, vowel-less, and terrifying. But I like it better here than most anywhere else.