After a hiatus of 20 years, I had an overwhelming urge to revisit the Mexico I first came to know as a teenager, and it took the better part of a year to prepare for my trip. In 1953, my parents spent 3 months traversing the country in a '47 Pontiac woody station wagon, and perhaps by osmosis, I inherited a desire to follow in their footsteps. Much has changed there, and a lot is just the same. As soon as I returned home, I wanted to go right back.

For this project I used 3 cameras: Holga, Hasselblad, and a Lensbaby on an old Nikon. My view of México went in and out of focus; sometimes I needed to photograph the ruins clearly, for example, as formal portraits of classical architecture. Other times I felt like I was in a dream state, contemplating the remains of city states that once were, crumbling into rubble in the dense jungle, some of them brought back by careful restorations. I had to shoot accordingly. A couple of observations came to mind: first, these advanced cultures collapsed rapidly, some after hundreds of years of reigning supreme in their respective realms (a lesson that the West should pay close attention to: if it can happen to them...). The other was that the descendants of these Lords of the jungles—whom you see everyday at these same ruins, selling trinkets to tourists—deserve a better way of life. The INAH has "upgraded" many of the sites since I was last there (with fancy entrances, food courts, bookstores, etc) and it felt like a Disneyland-ization of sacred Maya sites (which don't seem to belong to the Maya people or their culture, although that's the idea they're selling to us tourists).

Finally, there are dichotomies clearly visible throughout México—a richness of spirit in the face of grinding poverty, dualities of life and death played out on a daily basis, the vast cultural achievements of ancient peoples and the struggle to survive in today's indigenous communities, violence and beauty, faith and despair. The many Méxicos get under your skin and it's hard to shake them loose.


I sat alone on the top of the Palacio in Palenque—it was my birthday—and listened to the howler monkeys bellowing at the top of their lungs at 8:30 in the morning. Although the site was beginning to fill up with tourists, I could feel its power. The place still has a lot of juice. This was my first visit here; my parents came at a time when only a couple of the temples had been excavated and they hiked through the ruins completely alone. Now, I fear all these archeological sites are at risk of being loved to death...too many visitors, too many tour buses—one feels perdido en Mayalandia. But at the same time the tourism seems to support the local economy; I just wish there were some other way to put food on the tables of all the humble households that border the ruins. I hate the way this set-up makes the Maya people become "the Other," the exotic.

A few days later in the Highlands of Chiapas, I felt moved to tears walking through the church in Chamula, the floor covered with soft pine needles and flickering candles, clouds of burning copal incense, and the whispered prayers of shamans and believers hanging in the air—the determination to keep their traditions is strong, still resisting the incursions of outsiders (like me). It gives one hope. I don't pretend to understand the complicated situation there—I can only honor the people.

The sometimes strange juxtapositions you run into on the road are jarring: I stumbled into a tiny one-room store (the front half of a wooden house) in the middle of the Lacandón jungle to buy a bottle of agua mineral and some snacks, only to look up at the wall where a large satellite tv was broadcasting a program about high fashion week in Paris. A Lacandón Maya, dressed in the traditional long white tunic, was quietly swinging back and forth in a hammock in the next room, watching the tv. I felt like I had entered some other dimension and I couldn't imagine what he must have been thinking.

Final stop: México DF, which has probably doubled in size since the last time I was there to visit my then-boyfriend at Christmas in 1976. Even in a lifetime, you could never get to know all of its neighborhoods. It is wildly diverse, an unfathomable jumble of the modern stacked on top of the ancient. It felt rather melancholy to me, and bursting at the seams. I think chilangos (Mexico City natives) are courageous and tenacious.