There is another Mexico that people haven’t examined very well. Let’s explore its beauty and complexities through photography.
Across the social media, we Mexicans have an inside joke when we witness an indescribable, but undoubtedly very Mexican, situation.
Usually it’s a video about some funny and dangerous mechanical game at a carnival. Or some people performing “forbidden dance moves” on the dance floor while playing cumbia music. I think that’s exactly how I would best portray Mexico to the world. It’s something unrepeatable, and without a doubt, you won’t find in any other country.
I have been a digital journalist in media and magazines for almost 11 years. In my experience, I have worked very closely with stock images when in charge of illustrating articles or social posts.
I have also noticed, unfortunately, that the vast majority of Mexicans have internalized racism and classism. Sometimes, we foster this through ideas of white complexion, slim builds, or that upper middle class is what to aspire to in life.
What’s more, I have a morena type of skin color. Sometimes, I couldn’t understand why some front pages or articles didn’t have people like me on them.
It’s true that “dark skinned” (prietos) or darker-skinned Mexicans don’t make magazine covers. This is for the same reason they often don’t make it to management positions, to be CEOs of big companies, to have luxury cars and houses, or to make it to the socialite pages. No matter how much we tried to propose photographs with a diverse range of people, there wouldn’t be indigenous or brown people in them. This was not because photographers have a discriminatory bias, but because it is difficult to see those populations with those traits in those situations.
Here, we dive into how to include everyone who lives within Mexico through photography. We also explore how to showcase the country’s beautiful landscapes, traditions, delicious cuisine, and true Mexican heritage.
Display the True Diversity of the Land
It is almost impossible to portray just one type of place when describing Mexico. The size of the territory and the diversity of the culture and people is vast.
Sometimes it makes me upset when I watch movies or articles that take place in Mexico. Filmmakers often automatically attach the sepia tone to stories that take place here. This makes Mexico look tame, decadent, and heated. When you come across the desert of Coahuila or Sonora, you realize that sandstorms or the wind itself are often responsible for painting the sky sepia and you understand the stereotype.
Still, we joke about that in Mexico. When we see ourselves portrayed in Hollywood movies, we laugh at how suddenly characters are in a city in another country with a blue, modern color palette . . . and when the story shifts to any place in Mexico, it is as if a filter is applied, and that everyday life is not there.
As a result, most of the images we see of Mexico and its culture are often limited or stereotyped. The mundane is often left out. We usually see folklore. Mexico City itself is a huge metropolis. Yet, you can also visit from Xochimilco, a beautiful, flowery township of wetlands with mariachis in trajineras, and tequila. You can also find the circuit where Formula 1 races are held. Don’t get me wrong, folklore is real. It does exist, but I fear it is overexposed
For many, life also takes place in small towns or cities like San Miguel de Allende, Tijuana, Acapulco, Merida, or Michoacan. People live among museums of gothic architecture that belong to the colonial period, as well as in houses designed for every type of environment and climate.
The State of Mexico, where I am from, has industrial activity abound. It’s full of factories and industrial companies, bicitaxis, modern buses, and suburbs of the past designed by famous architects like Luis Barragán. Don’t forget about adobe houses–like in Atenco–or cabins among forests like Valle de Bravo.
Include Authentic Mexican Clothing and Style
Of course, Mexicans (not all of us, at least) do not spend our days celebrating and partying among papel picado, making handicrafts, and sipping tequila. Women do not only wear dresses with shoulder-length ruffles, braids, and seductive red lipstick.
License these images via Daniel Ricardez/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock, Sashenka Gutierrez/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock, Teran Studios, Marcos Castillo, PAOLA ULLOA, Marcos Castillo, Alfredo Hernandez Rios, Carlos Santiago/Eyepix Group/Shutterstock, Cavan Images – Offset, and Luna Vandoorne.
Mexican folklore always portrays our fashion with the same style: Dresses, blanket shirts, and a white straw hat. I think that, in general, Mexicans have a very good sense of style. In the north, we have ponchos for the deserts and the cold of night, with hats, boots, and cowboy shirts. In the south, people wear satin skirts and precious knits, rebozos, or knitted sweaters to cover themselves from the “cool.” On the coast, people wear a more beach-focused look, with shorts and tank tops.
Show Off Celebrations and Special Occasions
One activity that I have found happening frequently in many public plazas is dancing! And I would dare to say that we don’t even notice how magical, healthy, and socially beneficial it is, because of how often we see it. We Mexicans love to dance! Some weekends we get together to practice our cumbia or salsa steps in front of an audience of spectators who don’t hold back their desire to move either.
Dancing does not even need to happen on a special day or calendar event, like the Day of the Dead. It’s an almost spontaneous situation that we all count on finding. Someone always brings a big speaker and a playlist with the best songs from Los Ángeles Azules or Alberto Pedraza. All you have to do is show up and wear comfortable shoes.
And speaking of Day of the Dead, it is the date I adore the most, along with September 16, Mexico’s Independence Day. I would like to quickly clarify that all representations of this holiday are valid! The Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2. It has been appropriated and adapted so many times over so many centuries, that wherever you go in Mexico, you are in for a profound experience. There are flowers everywhere. There is drink, food, different types of bread of the dead, colors, practices, solemnity, and dance. I would love for that to be seen in imagery.
In the State of Mexico, where I am from, there is a fair called La Feria del Alfeñique. Here, artisans and cooks sell a variety of autumnal sweets, as well as miniatures that represent the playfulness of the figure of death with professions or sugar skulls. (I know how grim it sounds when written like that!)
Even the most modern representation, a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, (the props from the James Bond movie Spectre for featuring the event in 2015) has become an attraction with which many of us approach the misunderstood idea of death.
Indulge Your Audience In Mexican Cuisine
Let’s talk about food. Regarding other aspects of daily life in Mexico, I would love that when seeing pictures of our cuisine, everyone would ask themselves, “What’s in that dish?” On so many occasions, we don’t know the exact ingredients or spices used to cook dishes.
For example, there are a wide variety of chiles species that are endemic to Mexico. Yet, the majority of the population only know a range of six used daily in our food—serrano chiles, chiltepín, cascabel, chilaca (which when dried becomes a pasilla chili), poblano, and jalapeño. Most of these species are quite accessible, but only focusing on a small variety of peppers harms other species that could become extinct.
I love, for example, pictures of people eating blue tortillas and all kinds of cheeses. But I would draw the line when lemon shows up in pictures, or tortillas are folded and toasted for tacos (we don’t actually do this), or when nachos (totopos) are shown as a special snack (in fact, they are actually quite common). But some of these dishes are considered to be exotic food, although that label is only used when wondering, for whom is it really exotic?
So while there are “traditional foods” in Mexico, it’s really impossible to be familiar with all of them. They change from region to region. Even their names vary from state to state. Between the country and Mexico City, there is even a debate about what quesadillas are really like. You may find yourself eating a tortilla with another ingredient, which doesn’t contain cheese (queso) at all!
Be Inclusive of All Mexican People
Finally, I encourage everyone to look at the multiculturalism that happens around us. For example, 2% of the population are Afro-Mexican or Afro-descendant, according to the official census of Mexico conducted in 2020. 20% of the population is indigenous, with people distributed across 70 groups.
There is also a large Chinese community in Mexico, known as the Chinese diaspora. We have a growing Korean population living in the north of the country. People of Spanish descent lived here after the colonization, but also from the Spanish exile that began in 1939.
Mexico is incredibly diverse among its people, landscapes, and cultural traditions. Showcasing this diversity through photography is an excellent opportunity to embrace this country’s unique beauty.
License this cover image via Daniel Ricardez/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.