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The first time I moved to Mexico City, almost four years ago now, I was a young master’s student interested in seeing migration from the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border. While I learned a great deal about how Mexican scholars and community members think about migration, that semester was much tougher than I expected. I was surprised and ashamed by how homesick I was.
I considered many places home: Louisville, Ky., where I was born, and Birmingham, Ala., where I went to college. I had most recently been living in Boston for graduate school. But Mexico City was different: I experienced the complete cultural immersion I wanted — my Spanish itself improved immensely — but I felt exhausted by all the acute cultural differences that came with living in a new country, and at times I felt misunderstood by my peers.
Several people back in the United States had warned that the city was dangerous, especially on public transit, and especially for women. I heeded their advice for a while. I, too, was overwhelmed by the city. Sometimes I hated being surrounded by so many people. What if I got lost — or worse?
Ultimately, I realized that avoiding traveling through the city by myself was no way to live. By taking certain precautions, I could still live a full life in Mexico City, as I might in any other big city with pickpocketing and street harassment. Even though the greater area’s 20 million residents overwhelmed me, I decided to look the city in the eyes and not turn away. After that, I began to feed off the city’s energy; I felt powerful traveling on my own.
And eventually, I fell in love — with the country and with another human being. After five months, I returned to Boston to finish my degree program, and I realized that Mexico had changed me profoundly. I spent the next year reflecting on the surprisingly deep cultural significance of how people wash dishes; FaceTiming my Mexican boyfriend; and coming to a new understanding of myself.
The time away also confirmed that I wanted to return. As my graduate program came to a close, I applied for jobs and moved back to Mexico City. I went to do what I love, which is fighting for migrant rights and teaching courses on migration and theology, and I went to be with the person whom I love.
From the beginning, Mexico City’s history fascinated me, and I was enamored of the artesanías, or crafts, the shops, the food. The political struggle and the marches inspired me. Most of all, Mexico City afforded me the opportunity to live life with regular people, to go into people’s homes and invite them into mine, and to love and be loved. When I married my partner earlier this year, I was happy to marry this city, too.
A few months ago, deciding to move away from Mexico City became one of the hardest decisions of my life. Returning to the United States was always my long-term plan, but I had wanted to stay in Mexico a while longer. But after two years, my contract was coming to an end, and a dream opportunity as a community organizer came up in Birmingham, one of my many homes. I loved the idea of building grassroots social movements in the South alongside an organization that I trusted.
I didn’t want to imagine having to do long distance with my partner again, but he encouraged me to take the job: He said this was an investment in our future. We yearn to live in the same place again — and we will — but for now our long distance is a reflection of our deep commitment to one another. He will continue to anchor me to Mexico City, a place I have come to love so much. And no matter where we live, we are both forever connected to “aquí y allá”: here and there.
Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Park, was the backdrop for so many joy-filled memories, including stealing kisses at the castle, watching “Swan Lake” and the Ballet Folklórico and wandering through museums. At a potluck where I knew no one, this park gifted me with friends who spoke English and could relate to my childhood in the United States. We spent the whole day together, eating lunch, playing games, paddle-boating in the lake and chasing each other through the park on our way to find the car. I’m thankful our friendship continues to this day.
I’ll miss standing at the center of the Zócalo, the main square in the city, and feeling like I’m at the center of everything. I’ll miss the views from the bell tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral. I’ll miss the Templo Mayor, a constant reminder of the ancient history that lies beneath all of Mexico City. I’ll miss Diego Rivera’s intricate murals on the walls of the Palacio Nacional. I’ll miss the outdoor ice skating rink and ice tubing slide that emerge every December, even in 70-degree weather, and I’ll miss the books fairs and cultural festivals that fill every meter of the square.
Tepotzotlán inspired me to think romantically about my close friend, who is now my life partner. This “pueblo mágico” is perfect for a Sunday afternoon getaway and for falling in love. Go to the market for the quesadillas (cheese optional) or the pozole or the bread with cranberries and cream cheese.
El Ángel de la Independencia, or the Angel of Independence, reminds me of Mexico City residents’ revolutionary spirit: In addition to being a tourist attraction, it is the designated gathering place for marches and protests. As a foreigner, I wasn’t supposed to join marches critiquing the Mexican government, but I did gather at the statue for my fair share of protests about U.S. issues. We participated in the Women’s March, protested the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and marked one year of Trump’s presidency by calling attention to the number of people the United States had deported to Mexico.
Before I left Mexico City, my partner and I had become regulars at this restaurant, and I was a regular for delivery, too. Their tag line? “Italian food made by Italians.” I’ll miss that pizza I can’t pronounce with the large, delicious sun-dried tomatoes.
This stand’s charcoal-grilled cheeseburgers (with pineapple, please) cured my homesickness more times than I can count. I have eaten a lot of terrible burgers in Mexico City, but these restored my faith in the country’s ability to get it right.
At Mercado de Coyoacán, or Coyoacán Market, I bought my wedding dress, picked out my first “real” Christmas tree and acquired many mundane things (think: watch batteries, blender parts and lots and lots of produce). But it’s the prepared food that I won’t forget: the tostadas de ceviche, the enchiladas, the pescado al mojo de ajo and the mango enchilado.
My friends and I named my apartment after Frida Kahlo’s “Casa Azul” — also known as the Blue House — because of its blue terrace and its proximity to the real thing. It will always be home. It was the first place I lived alone, and then it became the first place my partner and I lived together. It was where we planned revolutions, danced cumbia and reggaetón, ate mounds of good food and celebrated our civil wedding.
Visiting Mexico City? Find Amanda’s recommendations mapped out here.