We all have been touched by Alfonso Quaron’s film “Roma”. It is without question a cinematographic accomplishment that will inspire future generations of artists and which has revived an image of Mexico City we thought long gone.
Yet, I wish not to write about the film itself, but rather explore one of its many interpretations.
Over the last days, a plethora of columns, op-eds, debates on TV and coffee tables have surged in response to the film. "This is a clear example of the two Mexicos" one can hear in a background conversation between two modern intellectuals in a pub in Coyoacán; “we are a class society!, the movie clearly shows that!” can be read in one of the newspaper columns; even in shoeshine kiosks you will find this is a topic of vivid debate -“it glorifies modern slavery”- you will hear a shoe shinner explaining to his customer, while he cracks his cloth against his customers' shoe.
All of these are more than fair points and should encourage us to take action. Yes, Mexico suffers from racism and classism. Yes, women working these jobs are incredibly vulnerable. But no, definitely this is not a tale about the two Mexicos: the prosperous and the marginalized, the Mexico of “La Roma” and the Mexico of “Neza”.
Mexico City is monumental: the core of the city is inhabited by 9 million people, while the periphery is inhabited by an additional 12 million people. Every single day these millions of "Chilangos" move, interact and live, one could even claim “suffer” the city together, not in parallel worlds, but together.
It is true that for some “Neza” is no more than a myth, a legend, a foreign continent to which few dare to venture. But, at the same time, for the vast majority of Chilangos, the juxtaposition presented by Quaron represents none less that everyday life. Every single morning millions of people wake up in Neza and ride the subway into CDMX. They will be the ones serving, cleaning and building the city. If you care to look, you will also find the students, teachers and white collar co-workers.
While in Roma, the Neza people will learn new costumes, will set themselves new objectives and more importantly will learn to endure the hardships of life, such that when they get back to Neza, they can shape this city in close resonance to what they are taught is the “good life” in Roma.
This dynamic has been going on for decades already. Quaron’s film recreates in sublime detail the humble beginnings of Neza: in dust and mud. Today this iconic city is still far from being a neighborhood like "La Roma", yet, it is perhaps one the last places in the mega-city in which you will see the Banda de Guerra passing by, and the sweet potato (camote) seller and grinder (afilador) running down streets , which are no longer muddy, but that everyday become a bit more similar to the streets of Roma in Quaron’s memory.
In all fairness, the tale of two Mexicos exists, but it is not universal truth. For many, this tale is just a myth as the two realities collide every second that goes by in the city.
Mexico is a country of marked contrasts, difficult to explain to anyone, even to ourselves! However, hope and true purpose for the country can be found in the cracks that materialize when we put Roma and Neza aside, just as Quaron has done marvelously in his film.