Thursday, January 16, 2014

Coffee with Azucena

Last update at 12:59 CST January 17, 2014

At the time of writing this post, the autodefensas (self-defense) groups in the Apatzingan region in Michoacan are battling with narco-traffickers and the military (for more information on autodefensas visit Borderline Beat or  La Jornada).  I sat down with Azucena Pimentel, former television producer and journalist, to talk about what is happening in Michoacan and Mexico. Though I do not share Azucena's opinions, I felt it important to share them here because there are many sides to Mexico. Azucena is someone with whom I share a part of my life in Mexico. We've had many debates about politics and I wanted to sit her down and ask very concrete questions about how she sees things in Mexico. In my own opinion, corruption is the root of all of Mexico's problems. Once we can figure out how to reduce it, then we will find a more balanced state of affairs. As for violence, I'd like to point out that of the fifty most violent cities in the world, five are in the USA. In the meantime, I'd like to continue to use my blog as a place where I can share what it is like to live life in Mexico.

If I were an alien that had just landed in this moment, how would you explain to me what is going on in Michoacan and Mexico in regards to security? In Michoacan there is an ancestral tradition of planting, growing, harvesting and selling drugs, it has always been that way, for generations and generations, that is what has been done in Michoacan. And at this moment, they [narcotraffickers] are fighting in and for Michoacan.

Why are they fighting? Well, we can’t be completely sure, it is difficult to know why but we can venture to guess, based on journalistic investigation. The reality of the country changed when the PAN took over the presidency…

When the PRI relinquished power after 70 years? Exactly. The PRI negotiated the power, [but] the government has always been corrupt and inept.

Why? Well, there is a root to all of this. I’d say it’s twofold. First there is a socio-economic gap in Mexico. And secondly, because of the lack of education. The reality of the country in general shows that it is completely brought under by corruption; it (Mexico) is being looted.

Several weeks ago, I read on your one of your social media sites that you tell your child to get out of Mexico as soon as possible. Why do you feel that way?  Nationalism, patriotism, love for your land, those things seem to me to be stupidities. I think that they are mistakes, grave mistakes, because you are defending things that you believe to be exempt from error. For example, people will live in places like Nuevo Laredo where violence isn’t even news anymore, because that is where their land is, where their home is, where their patria is: they won’t leave because they can’t sell their home or business yet they might be killed one day and their home and business will still be there. I chose life. I chose a place that has culture, education and reciprocity in the community. Identifying as a Mexican, at this point in time, is embarrassing for me. I’m looking for the opportunity to leave this country because there is no hope; each day the situation is worse, it is extremely grave.

The reality of the country changed when the PAN took over the presidency…

But what about being optimistic?  What optimists are lacking is information.  The most important thing is to be alive.  Safety, security, is priority number one and in our country there is none.

And what about posts in social media that quote Governor Fausto Vallejo regarding safety in Michoacan? I don’t read those posts, I don’t even pay attention to them because there is no way out. One of the reasons I quit producing the news was because I got sick of counting deaths, because that is what my job turned into: counting corpses. The situation is just getting worse and worse. Maybe in twenty five years things will get better, but who has those twenty five years of life to invest? I don’t. And that is why I am working towards leaving [Mexico].

Leave and go where? There is violence all over the world… Of course, but I am talking about leaving but not going to places like Syria or Beruit. Take Canada, for example, someone is murdered there and it is national news, I think the only thing we should have to worry about [in regards to safety] is the temperature, the weather.

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Yet these security issues are relative. Don’t you think? For example, you don’t really hear about school shootings in Mexico. I am not the one saying it [that Mexico is not safe], statistics are saying it. Of the twenty five most dangerous cities in the world, nine are Mexican. Mexico is the country where the largest amount of journalist are murdered, more than in Afghanistan! In Spain, when people don’t have money to pay their mortgage, they commit suicide. I think that these people deserved to die because they bought into that discourse that we are sold. If I don’t have money to pay my mortgage, I pick up my things and I leave because I am convinced that wherever I am, I will work with what I have. Because I have no problem starting again from nothing, because if you don’t have anything, you have more of a reason to leave and try to build something better. Which brings me back to nationalism. People misunderstand nationalism. Nationalism creates xenophobia and intolerance. The Spanish are masters at that. When there are immigrants in their country, they are yelled at in the streets. Two friends, one has a Ph.d in history and the other has two post-doctoral degrees in mathematics, where yelled derogatory names by a Spanish youth recently. I think that borders are ridiculous. Can you imagine if they didn’t exist?

I think the only thing we should have to worry about [in regards to safety] is the temperature, the weather.

Photo Credit: La Jornada
Finally, right now we are living through another safety issue with the auto-defensas. What do make of all of this? The auto-defesas is nothing more than the people who are sick of being abused by organized crime and the indifference of the government. It would be arrogant to give my opinion about they [auto-defensas] are doing. What they are doing right now, they are more united than any government group. It is to be expected that if the government continued to not defend people, that they were going to get sick of it and take up arms.

So it would be safe to say that auto-defensas are the next step in the evolution of this situation? Exactly.

Figuring out why things are they way they are in Michoacan and Mexico is something I enjoy doing very much. That is why I ask a lot of questions to many different people. Here is a video that, if you want to know more about violence and drug cartels in Mexico is worth watching. It is almost twenty minutes long and it is presented by Rogrigo Canales from Yale University.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Aquiles 744: Asian Cuisine in Downtown Morelia

The next best thing to traveling is having the opportunity to try food from a particular region or country.  Many local expats complain that it is almost impossible to find good Asian food in Morelia.  Let alone fresh and healthy Asian food. Yet when Rodrigo Vazquez opened Aquiles 744 he set out to do just this: fill Morelia’s quality Asian cuisine shortage.

Occupying Hotel Portico’s street-level corner space, just a walking distance from Morelia's iconic Jardin Villalongin,
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the restaurant is small (seven tables and a bar). But what it lacks in space, the owner and chef make up for it in quality and service.  Friendly and efficient wait staff explain each dish while offering choices to those who are unfamiliar with the dishes.  
Photo credit: Aquiles 744

The menu features food from different Asian countries like pancit from The Phillipines, bulgogi from Korea, nasi lemak from Malaysia, and pad thai from Thailand. Vazquez offers a variety and selection of Asian dishes and he insists on staying faithfull to the original.  

For those who want something different that features freshness and flavor, visit Aquiles 744. Check out their Facebook page for more information on hours, menus and specials.