Since I can remember my partner and I have planned to bring our first baby to Mexico for a year or so, so they’d be exposed to the language, know the Mexican side of the family, and always feel that there was no compromise to be made between an Australian or Mexican identity; our baby would be Mexican and our baby would be Australian, all at once.
So here we are, a fortnight into our life in Mexico City with baby Camila (7 months) in tow. The realities of packing up our Sydney house, saying goodbye to friends, leaving my mothers group (and Camila’s little friends) behind, cooling my job prospects, and seeing both my parents tear up as our bus pulled away… were all harder and much more real than I’d imagined.
Initially we are staying in the vacant flat of an aunt, north of the city in a slightly dodgy neighbourhood. I’m under orders not to go out after dark, so try to get out for a stroll in the day with Camila in the Hugabub – since this pavement was not built with strollers in mind. Having her in the carrier for a couple of hours a day has the added benefit of calming her in her new surrounds. Camila is a carbon-copy of her wooly-headed, coffee-coloured dad – has been since birth, and in Sydney I’d got so used to, “Oh, look at that hair!” as I walked about that it’s funny to have her ignored while they stare and comment on me and mine instead, “chht chht güera*!” (*güera = fair-skinned / light-haired)
The first time I lived in Mexico I was studying at university – I use the term ‘studying’ loosely – and rampaging with a mad group of Australians, Brits and Canadians. This is despite promising myself beforehand I would interact only with the Mexican world and Spanish-language. This group was something special though. The chaotic sounds of the streets and the slight sense of insecurity was thrilling. Even the effect of the food was the subject of hours of revolting jokes amongst us. It was a blast. This time around, mama’s in Mexico, and it’s a different perspective. Stepping into going-too-fast taxis with no seat-belts, trying to work out which part of the cabin would have the least impact in an accident (I’m going with behind the driver; I figure he’ll instinctively save his own side); breastfeeding and entertaining a baby between urgent bathroom trips; and trying to get her down for her afternoon sleep amid a cacophony of novelty car-horns, food-cart whistles and shouts is really something else. Breast-milk supposedly gives her antibodies to any illness I happen to have however, so at least baby wins there.Often I just want to eat, there’s nothing in the house and I’m drawn out in ravenous desperation but want to be invisible. Inevitably Camila and I are met with curious stares, I feel on guard, and it’s a relief to step back inside our little ‘compound’ afterwards. I wonder if they think I’ve just stolen her off someone here. This morning she and I headed to a little restaurant two doors away and ate chilaquiles. It’s a great spot, marked only by a door on the street so once we’re inside I can relax and not feel so watched. “Gordo o gorda? …. ah, gordita!” asks the waitress with a smile (fat boy or fat girl? Oh a fat little girl!). It’s these little steps out and about without my husband that I have to gee myself up for, that build my confidence and sense of independence here. So much for that wild independent traveler.
Soon we’ll be in a nicer, more central suburb where I don’t stand out quite so much and where people are too busy to care anyway. Even with all of that though, it’s lovely to be back in Mexico: to eat the food, hear the language and be part of such a crazy, busy, colourful city where there is always something on. The economy is developing rapidly and you can see signs of it everywhere. Inevitably (or not?) a large percentage of the population is being left behind, and as always you can see signs of that, too. But we are finally back where it all began for our little family. Funnily enough we are staying a street called Belén. My partner and I met at a house-party in Casa Belén – a house named after its street – in a different Mexican city, all those years ago. If that’s not auspicious I don’t know what is. So you just go right ahead and bring it on Mexico!