Summer Book Week: Stuck Between Two Cultures in Mexico City

All week long, we’re kicking off the summer by featuring books by current and former alt-weekly writers.

In 2006, then-L.A. Weekly staff writer Daniel Hernandez explored Mexico City’s burgeoning scene of artists, hipsters and partygoers for a cover story, while admitting that for reasons he couldn’t explain, he found himself addicted to the city.

Spending time in Latin America’s cultural capital proved to be so addicting that Hernandez — who ¡Ask A Mexican! columnist Gustavo Arellano has credited as “the man who made my career” — was compelled to move there and write a book about it.

After nearly four years of immersion and a manuscript that “ran up something like 82,000 words,” Hernandez finally released his book, Down and Delirious in Mexico City, earlier this year to rave reviews. Self-described as “a collection of first-person reported essays,” the book offers a fascinating portrait of a city whose inhabitants have as much in common with their counterparts in megacities such as Los Angeles and New York as they do with their fellow citizens in the surrounding countryside.

Each of the chapters is worthy of a stand-alone feature story, with vividly recounted tales of the self-destructive fashionistas and phone-stealing transsexuals, among others, that Hernandez encounters as he travels through the city’s nightclubs, cantinas and street markets.
Hernandez gives each of those characters a fair treatment, and declines the temptation to sensationalize or engage in the cultural voyeurism that’s all too common in books of this sort.

Quite the opposite, throughout the book Hernandez shows an eagerness to become a part of the subcultures he is writing about, a desire to fit in and find a sense of belonging despite his fundamental “otherness” of being born and raised in the U.S. and instantly recognizable as such. At one point in the book, the San Diego-born Hernandez notes that “Mexico City is making me more instinctively aware of my Californianess.”

Even though he’s finished with the book, Hernandez doesn’t plan to leave the addictive megalopolis any time soon.

“I am comfortable here,” he said in an email. “I expect to be doing some coverage of the presidential elections next year. After that, who knows.”

Down and Delirious in Mexico City: The Aztec Metropolis in the Twenty-First Century

Previously: The Stranger-Than-Fiction Senate Candidacy of South Carolina’s Alvin Greene

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