Chicano Chilango: The Mexican-American Migration To Mexico City

By Rodrigo Cervantes
Published: Friday, December 21, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Friday, December 21, 2018 - 1:06pm

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Carlos Dominguez
A bandanna featuring the Mexico and U.S. flags owned by Carlos Domiguez.

MEXICO CITY — For many Mexican-Americans, Mexico City might seem distant both culturally and geographically speaking. But others, instead, are moving there.

They are Chicanos turning into "Chilangos," inhabitants of Mexico City, following their roots and dreams, favored by their binational understanding — while facing some culture shocks.

Ritchie Valens And Coffee

Destinnie Bujanda and I met at a coffee shop in the hipster neighborhood of Roma, in Mexico City, where she moved a year ago. Her original plan was to be here for just a few months.

“So... it’s been a year! Craziness!” Bujanda said while laughing.

Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ
Texas borned Destinnie Bujanda works for a record label in Mexico City.

She was born in El Paso, but while visiting relatives in Mexico City, got a job representing an Austin-based record company.

“I decided to come to Mexico City to visit them… can we pause? This is distracting me! It’s very distracting for me! It’s very fitting, though!” said Bujanda, as she laughed with the background music.

We interrupted our chat as the coffee shop played Ritchie Valens’ "La Bamba." She said it’s the anthem for Mexican-Americans like her, an identity she embraces more after living in Mexico City, even despite language and cultural barriers.

“I’ve felt like I’ve grown a lot, and I think this city has helped out a lot with that. I think it’s welcoming to Mexican-Americans,” said Bujanda.

Bujanda explained she had to adapt to things such as Mexicans being more “dressy.” She recalls to struggle speaking in front of others like a “Pocha” (someone whose Spanish is strongly influenced by English). She likes the term “Chicana” as part of her identity, as well as her border roots.

“I tell people I’m from the border most of the time,” Bujanda explained. “Living in Mexico is really interesting for me because I do feel more American, but when I used to live in Boston or D.C. I definitely felt more Mexican-American,” said Bujanda.

The Changing Face Of Chicanos

According to the Pew Research Center, Mexican-Americans are by far the largest Hispanic-origin population in the U.S., accounting for nearly two-thirds of the Latinos.

A record 33.7 million Hispanics of Mexican origin resided in the United States in 2012, according to their studies on the U.S. Census.

Two-thirds of Mexican-Americans were born in the U.S., while the remaining third immigrated from Mexico.

Anna O'Leary
Anna Marie Oleary is head of the Mexican American Studies at the UA in Tucson.

But the statistics might not fully represent the new diversity, according to Anna Ochoa O’Leary, head of the University of Arizona´s Mexican-American Studies Department.

“You know, the U.S. always forces us of having one culture, one language, one of everything,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary said the identity of Mexican-Americans and Chicanos has been reinvigorated through “mestizaje,” or racial and cultural mixing, as well as with recent migrations.

The Pew Research Center says the size of the Mexican-origin population in the U.S. has risen dramatically over the past four decades as a result of one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. Fewer than 1 million Mexican immigrants lived in the U.S. in 1970, but by 2007 it reached a peak of 12.5 million.

And the new generations of Mexican-Americans build their lives on both sides of the border, empowered by education, binationality and globalized jobs.

“There’s nothing we can do to change that. We can only work to make things better for these populations that are shared between the two nations,” said the researcher.

‘Googling’ An Identity

Shamara Valdez works in sales at Google in Mexico City, where she moved just a few months ago.

“I think it’s definitely going to influence the way that I view things and how I see my identity of, not feeling like I’m fully Mexican, but not feeling like I’m fully American,” said Valdez.

Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ
Shamara Valdez from California at the Google Headquarters in Mexico City.

She’s originally from Coachella, California, and her parents migrated from Sinaloa.

“I always grew up with a very (big) emphasis on my culture, on Mexican traditions, on food, I had a quinceañera, my parents were always very proud of that,” said Valdez.

However, both of her parents were concerned, once they heard her plans to move to Mexico City. But she told them she already had something settled work-wise and would be a learning experience.

“I try to see it from their side, and they sacrificed so much for my brothers and I to grow up in the United States and reach the American dream, but I kind of put it back on them, as they have always installed on me to staying connected to my culture, and this a way for me to do just that,” Valdez explained.

Valdez used a common expression among Chicanos to define herself: “Ni de aquí, ni de allá.” Meaning: not from here, neither there.

She wants to embrace her Mexican side and does not want to be perceived as a stereotypical American.

“Yes, I’ve grown up in the United States and that’s my experience, but I’m also not here to say ‘this is how we do things’ and ‘this is how things should be done.’”

Valdez says she is proud of her immigrant roots and wants her experience in Mexico to make a difference on the political tensions linked to the border.

“We are talking about building a wall, uh, I’m here for breaking that down, right? That’s my role,” Valdez said.

A Dual Citizen

Carlos Domínguez surfed on the Airbnb website, showing me the high demand of visitors to the apartment he co-owns. He works in the IT industry and recently became a dual citizen.

“I was part of the whole era in the '70s when we identified ourselves as Chicanos,” said Domínguez, who grew up in San Francisco.

Carlos Dominguez
Carlos Dominguez at his apartment in Juárez, Mexico City.

O’Leary explained those who identified as Chicano or Chicana in the origins of the term were fighting for social justice.

“The Chicano term was an attempt to return or at least embrace one's roots and position in society and open up for dialogue the issues of colonialism and everything that have entered into the history,” O’Leary said.

But Domínguez said his identity has changed after experiencing Mexico City.

“I really identify myself more as a Mexican, after four years living here, but my roots are Californian, Chicano, or whatever you wanna call that... Mexican-American,” Domínguez said.

Domínguez explained his Mexican citizenship makes life less complicated, although he still has to deal with traffic and all the problems that a big city brings. But he enjoys living here for things other Mexican-Americans mentioned, like the food, the friendly and cosmopolitan vibe, and the architecture.

And there’s something else, condensed in a famous saying he recalls: “Allá se vive para trabajar, acá se trabaja para vivir.” Meaning: Americans live to work, while Mexicans work for a living.

Domínguez even got a tattoo with a map of Mexico and the California star to celebrate his identity.

“In my professional world a tattoo might be a little more edgy, so I put in on my wrist, I cover it with my watch and then I’m good to go!” said Domínguez.

But another benefit that comes with dual citizenship is the right to vote in both countries.

And Domínguez thinks Mexican-Americans will be very influential in the near future for both nations — and those who experience Mexico City will have an important voice.

“The barriers that we grew up with are being torn down with technology, and I think Mexico can definitely flourish and Mexico City is where you want to be,” said Domínguez.