Catching up . . .

I’m so ashamed . . . it’s been several weeks since my last post. At least I can be honest and say it hasn’t been for lack of work, I’ve been extremely busy wrapping up my internship, driving home, getting ready to go to Sudan to teach english. I had an amazing time at the Sun Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and during a photo-teaching excursion to Mexico City with Project Luz.

The above photo are my students, from right to left: Adrian, Nidia, Mari, Yoharelly, Fernando, and Ana. We brainstormed over what to do for our short time together and settled on the glorieta where mariachis and norteno musicians wait to be hired. The kids had to learn audio, and some had never really even shot photos before but I was so impressed by their enthusiasm and natural eyes. I loved watching them interview the musicians, learn from their trails and errors, it was such a wonderful experience. Although I’ll be catching up on my posts soon, I just really wanted to share the amazing project my kids put together. I shot none of the photos and collected none of the audio, although I supervised and helped edit.

Here it is:

Here are some of the kids’ great photos, I included two from each:

Adrian’s photos:

Ana’s photos:

Fernando’s photos:

Mari’s photos:

Nidia’s photos:

Yoharelly’s photos:

I can’t believe how lucky I was to work with these amazing kids, I hope that more photographers can join the project next year!

One from the past

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Could you get any cuter than this . . . ? I don’t think so, it’s the daughter of a young pilgrim from the South of Mexico at the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe, so adorable.

Virgen de Guadalupe project

chalma97_lresPilgrims from Chalma, a town near Mexico City, march back with their Virgin de Guadalupe to place her back in their town’s church.

So a while back I started a project on the Virgen de Guadalupe . . . she is an apparition of the Virgin Mary that appeared on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City shortly after the Spanish ‘conquest’ of Mexico. Her brown skin and eyes and her duality (she appeared on the same hill where Tenotzin was worshiped) has given her an interesting duality and as Mexicans have spread around the world so has she.

Im adding some photos that I’ve gathered while working on this project below with descriptions:

Here she appears on a $5 phone card in Austin, Texas

Here she appears on a $5 phone card in Austin, Texas

A girl carries a Virgen de Guadalupe purse, representing her heritage rather than faith,  in Austin, Texas.

A girl carries a Virgen de Guadalupe purse, representing her heritage rather than faith, in Austin, Texas.

A man wears a cut off t-shirt with her image in a bar in Austin, Texas.

A man wears a cut off t-shirt with her image in a bar in Austin, Texas.

A Virgen de Guadalupe statue, used for tourist photos at the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico, is put in storage during swine flu in April 2009.

A Virgen de Guadalupe statue, used for tourist photos at the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico, is put in storage during swine flu in April 2009.

A pilgrim from Chalma, outsdie of Mexico City, shows off his hat, with an airbrushed Virgin of Guadalupe on it on his way home.

A pilgrim from Chalma, outsdie of Mexico City, shows off his hat, with an airbrushed Virgin of Guadalupe on it on his way home.

A printer in El Centro has place a Virgen de Guadalupe alongside photos of naked women that he collects.

A printer in El Centro has place a Virgen de Guadalupe alongside photos of naked women that he collects.

A young girl sells images of the Virgin of Guadalupe at the Insurgentes metro station in Mexico City.

A young girl sells images of the Virgin of Guadalupe at the Insurgentes metro station in Mexico City.

The virgen sits outside a parking lot in Tlalpan, Mexico City.

The virgen sits outside a parking lot in Tlalpan, Mexico City.

The Virgen of Guadalupe decorates a trendy store in Condesa, Mexico City.

The Virgen of Guadalupe decorates a trendy store in Condesa, Mexico City.

El Bulico (the rooster as he is known in town) shows off his bike decorated with decals of the Virgen of Guadalupe and anything else he's found while working in the states from the past thirty years.

El Bulico (the rooster as he is known in town) shows off his bike decorated with decals of the Virgen of Guadalupe and anything else he's found while working in the states from the past thirty years.

The sweatshirt featuring the Virgen of Guadalupe is from a clothing line based in Japan where a lowrider culture and appreciation for Chicano art has thrived for the past twenty years.

The sweatshirt featuring the Virgen of Guadalupe is from a clothing line based in Japan where a lowrider culture and appreciation for Chicano art has thrived for the past twenty years.

To the right of the traditional Virgin Mary image is an image of the Virgen of Guadalupe in Miami, Arizona.

To the right of the traditional Virgin Mary image is an image of the Virgen of Guadalupe in Miami, Arizona.

The Virgen of Guadalupe decorates a toolbox at a production studio in Monterrey, Mexico.

The Virgen of Guadalupe decorates a toolbox at a production studio in Monterrey, Mexico.

A Virgen de Guadalupe in a bakery in Morelia, Mexico has money and a small toy gun at her feet.

A Virgen de Guadalupe in a bakery in Morelia, Mexico has money and a small toy gun at her feet.

The Virgen of Guadalupe chalk painted onto a wall in a wash in Nogales, Sonora, Arizona.

The Virgen of Guadalupe chalk painted onto a wall in a wash in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

A man waiting for deported family displays a Virgen de Guadalupe prayer card, wrinkled from being inside of his wallet, at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Nogales, Sonora

A man waiting for deported family displays a Virgen de Guadalupe prayer card, wrinkled from being inside of his wallet, at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Nogales, Sonora

A diabetic patient is seen in the mirror next to her decorated Virgen of Guadalupe before leaving for dialysis in Phoenix, Ariz.

A diabetic patient is seen in the mirror next to her decorated Virgen of Guadalupe before leaving for dialysis in Phoenix, Ariz.

Her image decorates blankets on sale for tourists in Tijuana, Mexico.

Her image decorates blankets on sale for tourists in Tijuana, Mexico.

A virgin decorates a store in Tijuana, Mexico.

A virgin decorates a store in Tijuana, Mexico.

A virgin in a bottle sits for sale outside a church in Tijuana, Mexico.

A virgin in a bottle sits for sale outside a church in Tijuana, Mexico.

A Virgen of Guadalupe blanket sits in the back of a dollar store owned by a Chinese family in Washington D.C.

A Virgen of Guadalupe blanket sits in the back of a dollar store owned by a Chinese family in Washington D.C.

A Virgen of Guadalupe painting sits for sale inside a gallery in Washington D.C.

A Virgen of Guadalupe painting sits for sale inside a gallery in Washington D.C.

Vladimir Cuevas, a San Fransisco artist sits in his studio with over fifteen paintings of her image. Those pictured with him will be placed in a church built for the Virgen de Guadalupe in Manila, Philippines

Vladimir Cuevas, a San Fransisco artist sits in his studio with over fifteen paintings of her image. Those pictured with him will be placed in a church built for the Virgen de Guadalupe in Manila, Philippines

A Virgen de Guadalupe made in Vietnam hangs in the home of Anita Madrigal, who collects her image, in Woodland, California.

A Virgen de Guadalupe made in Vietnam hangs in the home of Anita Madrigal, who collects her image, in Woodland, California.

My friend Natalia shared this picture form when she was a teenager and snorkeling in Acapulco, Mexico on a family vacation.

My friend Natalia shared this picture form when she was a teenager and snorkeling in Acapulco, Mexico on a family vacation.

This isn’t all of the content but it’s a start and a lame reason as to why I haven’t been posting anywhere near as regularly. Since reporting is wrapping up this weekend for me, one interview in L.A. and another in Gila Bend, Ariz. I’m excited to start wrapping up this project and preparing for Florida, only five weeks away.

Flight back home to Phx, AZ

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The ride back home . . . I’m now in AZ for a while, but it’s exciting because tomorrow I graduate! Obama is also our commencement speaker and I plan on sneaking in with my camera bag, should be fun.

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Over the Mexico City skyline . . .

Final night out in DF

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Met some new people for drinks/dinner at Groove in Condesa Saturday night. It was an interesting night, definitely won’t forget it . . . Anyway these were the ones I liked.

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Pawn Shops are seeing bigger business in the city


Writer Alexis Okeowo and I headed out to the Nacional Monte Piedad in the Zocalo Thursday morning. The Pawn shop, which is over 200 years old and takes up nearly a block of an old colonial building and provides low interest loans to Mexicans.

In the case of this pawn shop your goods are held for three months, interest free, then another three to four if you’re willing to pay the interest. At the conclusion of those six to seven months though the goods are taken by Nacional Monte Piedad and resold. This building specializes in only gold jewelry and watches.

We interviewed a few different families after I had spoken with a guard on Monday who commented that apart from the usual numbers, there was an extra amount of people pawning their goods or paying the interest to extend their loans since Monday. Sure enough thirty minutes before the doors opened the line was nearly to the end of the block. By two to eight it had just wrapped around the second wall of the building.

Im including some of the audio interviews we did with the translations below, but I didn’t cut myself out so you can hear the questions. This was hard to do, many people didn’t want to talk to us.

Of course many felt bad about pawning their things at all, as many were bringing family jewelry. Mexico is a much more cash based economy and while Americans would ride out credit cards for a week of no work, many here don’t have that luxury. The cash from the loan allows them to get by as some people we talked to, from a house wife to travel agent to cell phone owner confirmed.

The Olmedo family, made up of mother Estella Olmedo and sons Javier Olmedo, 35, and Marco Antonio Olmedo, 27, were within the first ten in line:

Pawning: Some bracelets, little bracelets, Yeah they’re our property. We came to “refrendar” when you have stuff in pawn and your time is up, you can come and pay interest to extend the loans.

A: Javier Olmedo – I have a cell phone shop and Marco has a barber shop.

Q: Did the influenza affect you a lot?

A: Yes, a lot, there were no people.

Q: Did you close them?

A: Javier and Marco: We had them closed, or we would open for minutes because there were no people out there.

Q: How low did your business fall?

A: All: Ooohhh like 80 %, no 90 %, we had only like 10% of normal business

Q: So it affected you a lot?

A: Javier: Yes, the truth is it did.

Q: Do you think you would be able to take your things out of pawn if you hadn’t had such bad business during that week.

A: Javier: Yes. Exactly.

Second in line was travel agent Julio Martinez

Q: What is your name?

A: Julio

Q: And your last name?

A: Martinez

Q: And what are you bringint today to pawn?

A: Well some alajas,

Q: Whats that?

A: Rings, jewelry

Q: What is your job?

A: Travel agent

Q: So have you been affected a lot?

A: Yeah, a little a little,

Q: How much did your business drop over the last week or so?

A: Well generally its been low, but its gotten worse over the past few weeks for obvious reasons.

Q: So in a percentage how much would you say your business has dropped?

A: 60 percent, maybe more, there are no sales, no one traveling into Mexico

Q: So people in and around the city aren’t traveling?

A: Here in the city, for what corresponds to me, I imagine that similar circumstances are affecting other people to a lesser or higher degree . . . but in my case it is really affecting me

Q: Can I take a picture of what you’re pawning?

A: No, but they’re alajas and in Mexico thats rings, things like that.

Q: So they’re things that belong to your family?

A: Yes, of the family.

Q: Does it make you sad to pawn it?

A: Well it’s a moment in which (the alajas) work to help you. And you get a margin of time to recover them.

Q: So it’s not normal, but it’s done from time to time?

A: You do it during events, so during an event like this.

Q: So I imagine the economy and the influenza hitting at the same time . . .

A: Well they hit at the same time, and they hit us too. The influenza hit us, but also the question of the economy.

Q: Do you think that businesses now have permission to be open things will get better?

A: Yes, yes yes. Now with more activity, even if it is a little, you start to sell, and then you get some business, and that allows you to solve things that you have to solve.

Q: When do you think you’ll be able to take them back out?

A: They give you a margin of two to three months so in that time, so you have to take them out during that time to not lose them, so some where around that (2-3 months)

Q: Is this your first visit?

A: I’ve known this place for several years, when you end up in circumstances like this we visit it.

Q: Have you seen your business improve or is it still slow?

A: It’s going slow, but it has to improve as the situation improves and as we apply ourselves (to our work)

Lastly a homemaker, Maria Eugenia Rodriguez, who made sheets, tablecloths, etc on the side, who said a boost in business from making homemade cubrebocas, or facemasks, had helped her. She was extending her loan and was nearly last in line in the neon orange shirt.

Well we came out even [her home business], but I missed going out, we couldn’t go out to the street for several days. It was a hard situation for us, because the fears of going out and then being trapped inside . . .

They’re means [government regulations] that we have to respect, because as a caregiver of a family if there is a dangerous situation, well you know if you go out you can bring back something bad to your house.

It was interesting to talk to people and to see what you can do in an economy that is so heavily cash based as opposed to the credit based American economy. I’m sure if the government had continued to have shops/restaurants and businesses closed things wouldn’t have gone as well or as calmly as they have so far.

Castigado! You’re punished!

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So are you ready to learn about the most awfully painful card game?

A few days ago when fellow writers Camilo Smith and Alexis Okeowo and I headed to the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe we found it deserted.

No tourists and nearly no worshippers except for a handful nuns and a couple renewing their vows the area was deserted. Most stalls were shut down with no one to sell to because of Mexico City’s action to shut down public places, including areas of worship to help prevent the spread of swine flu or H1N1.

So what do those die hard vendors and taxi drivers around the basilica do when there is no work? They play Castigado!

Estos chavos, made up of a taxi driver, nearby vendors were playing castigado or punished one (of which I could fine no links online):

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So how does this work? Well it’s pretty simple, below are a few cards since this game doesn’t use a normal U.S. style card deck.

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But it’s pretty simple, you are trying to drop the cards in your hand. Each person places a card down and then whoever placed the lowest card collects the deck. It keeps going until one poor soul . . . during this game it happened to be this guy:

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Is stuck with the deck. So now why is this so awful? Well they put the deck in front of him and tell him to select a card without looking. This guy chose something like the 10 King of coins, anyway they start flipping each card and each symbol equals a punishment, done as many times as it is printed on the card, until the card he called appears.

So for example the six of spears means six jabs in the side. This continues until they reached the card the kid called at first. You had to feel sorry for this guy, his card was fourth from last.

Spears = jab in the side

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Sword = punch under the chin

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and the absolute worst:

Coin = pinch your eyelids (some guys don’t just pinch one eyelid but both at a time)

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Of course there was the shoulder punch, and one other, but overall the top three stood out.

Here are some pics of the game before it got crazy:

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And here is the after photo I took of him:

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Thank goodness there are things to do in this city again . . . I was getting ready to play castigado, join the neighbors for some 9pm karoake last Saturday, or just feel as sad as this little dog looks outside the grocery store:

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Shooting today, shooting tomorrow

Went out shooting with photographer Brian Frank today, he is based in Mexico City and a pretty amazing photographer. I shot some, but his stuff, which will be featured in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday I believe is just awesome.

Frank shooting below:

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Some of the pics I shot today, we went from La Merced Market and were kicked out, then to El Centro Cathedral, to some neighborhoods and finally to Garibaldi plaza where mariachis gather, it was a fun day.

La Merced Market:

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Kite flying in El Centro neighborhoods:

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And the interesting “printer” from el centro:

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And other pics I liked:

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Picnic in the park

In the hopes of feeling like we’re not all just spending out time at home (because all movie theatres, museums, large parks, public places, bars, restaurants, schools, and pretty much any other place people might gather being closed) we had a picnic in Condesa’s Parque Mexico . . . nice day for sure.

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And just playing in the park:

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La Basilica de la Virgen

basilica05_lresStatue vendors use to photograph pilgrims and visitors with, one of many tucked away since there is no one to seel the photos to.

Today writers Alexis Okeowo and Camilo Smith and I headed out to the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in the North of the City (Red line Villa-Basilica exit). Because of the H1N1 virus or swine flu the basilica, a place of worship for thousands daily, is holding small masses outdoors and tomorrow will shut its doors completely and only televise one service at 9am.

The virus really has made this city of 20 million plus seem small and slow as a little town.

basilica03_lresMore stored statues . . . absolutely no one to sell to.

We took a stroll around after the service through the deserted courtyards, after hearing the prayer to help end the pandemic, also listed in this prior post.

basilica08bw_lresNuns stand in the back of the basilica

basilica13bw_lresThe faithful look up to the mantilla of Juan Diego.

Nuns stroll through the basilica.

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Church service Saturday afternoon:

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And the ride back home . . .

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And one last one . . .

basilica09_lresLa Virgen de Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego at Tepeyac hill, where the basilica is built today.

Tomorrow . . . a post on Castigado or Punished . . . most likely one of the most entertaining and disturbing card games I’ve ever seen . . . check back!