- Leading up to the summer, I was in a bit of a creative rut with my photography. Mexico City was the perfect place to get some reps in after returning from Europe. The next couple of posts are dedicated to Mercado Jamaica. Markets are my favorite places to shoot and a good way to get a pulse on a city. While I lived in the more gentrified, trendy, and international neighborhood of Roma Norte (more on that later), I spent nearly 50 percent of my time in this market which is nestled in a more working class neighborhood away from the expats and the hype. The market is most famous for its selection of over 5,000 floral varieties, but also has large areas dedicated to meat, produce, food stalls, and misc gifts including stalls full of piñatas.

- I turned 33 on June 4. Typically, I like flying under the radar on my birthday. The attention makes me uncomfortable. So this year, I worked my shift at the hospital and flew out to Mexico City to celebrate with some anonymity. If you know me, you know I love my solo trips. Partially for the adventure but also to recharge and appease my painfully introverted tendencies. I can do my street photography at my pace and fully take in a city at every level; the noises, the smells, the food, the music, the people, the culture.

- The flower section is situated deep in the market, and you’ll know you’re close when the aroma starts dominating your senses. Most of the stalls are located along a dark and humid corridor. Take a long walk end-to-end and you’ll witness vendors unloading truckloads of flowers, clipping them for prep, arranging elaborate bouquets and wreathes, and selling their goods to the locals. Despite the roof being made of mostly sheet metal, intermittent see-through ceiling panels help illuminate the flowers, like spotlights of filtered natural light. The first stall that caught my eye had a Mexican flag hanging above a wall of glowing sunflowers.

- Between zone focusing with wide open aperture and shooting 200 iso film in low light, a lot of my favorite compositions from the market ended up blurry.

- Mexico City’s urban landscape was once dominated by Volkswagen Beetle taxis. Today, some repainted and repurposed remnants of the old fleet remain.

- Mexico City is having its moment. And why not? It’s a city overflowing with beauty and culture. People have always flocked to Mexican coastal towns but only recently has its capital city overcome the stigma of being unsafe to foreigners. So much so that entire neighborhoods west of the the city center are essentially being gentrified by foreign money and investors.

I stayed in a house (pictured) nestled in the middle of Roma Norte, only a block away from the now famous Panderia Rosetta and two blocks from the trendy Tauqeria Orinico. My host was born in the neighborhood and grew up in this home. He recently converted it into an Airbnb once it was undeniable the direction the neighborhood was going. For him, there are pros and cons to this recent development. He’s an Airbnb host so his livelihood leans heavily on tourism. But it’s also frustrating to see the neighborhood’s character being reshaped by wealthy foreigners. He tells me that the neighborhood is almost unrecognizable compared to what it was 10 years ago. The growth is so rapid, he no longer can keep up with all the businesses moving in and often times learns of new spots from the visitors he hosts.

It’s a tough balance to strike and I hope there’s an equilibrium that can exist between Mexico City flourishing in the international spotlight and its ability to retain its roots, identity, and culture. I hope foreigners can be mindful of where and who our money goes to. Eat at the street stalls, shop at the markets, venture out of the expat neighborhoods. It’s worth making that connection with the community.

- My favorite tacos were from this stall situated right outside the front door of my AirBnB. Women on the right hand-make the tortillas to-order and the man on the left runs the grill. Order first and pay later. Help yourself to the makeshift salsa, sauce and toppings bar. Eat standing and share a moment with those grabbing a quick meal on their way to work or school.

- Specialty coffee has definitely carved its place in Roma Norte’s landscape. Constela Cafe, only a block away from my airBnb, was my favorite. I’m a sucker for spaces where concrete, wood, and light are intertwined. Constela checks all the boxes.

- We sought relief from the sun inside the church, watched the Mayan shamans perform rituals outside, and got souvenirs from the street vendors outside the gates. The colonial-era Catholic churches felt very familiar to me; they’re similar to the churches in Manila erected in the same time period. In fact, I imagine Mexico City is similar to what Manila would look today if it wasn’t bombed to oblivion by the Americans and Japanese during WWII. The architecture is similar, and there is countless overlapping between Mexican and Filipino cultures.

- On the last day of my trip, my host and his gf took me into the Centro to show me Mexico City through a local’s lens. When @josecuadriello first welcomed me into his home, we clicked immediately. We’re the same age with similar dispositions and a shared appreciation for niche interests; i mean we both grew up on mid-2000s hardcore music - that’s deep lol. But more importantly, we have a shared perspective and outlook on life that is rare to find, especially being raised in two different countries with completely different cultures.

It was great getting to know them as we walked the historic cobblestone streets of the Centro. We passed the university he graduated from, ran an errand at Mexico City’s oldest pharmacy, dropped his guitar off at a street lined with music shops, ate at two taco institutions, watched him and his gf get matching piercings lol, sought shade in the church at the main square, and watched the shamans outside.

We finished the day at a bottle shop, without @josecuadriello even knowing I was a beer nerd like him. The three of us raised our glasses to close out my trip and I’m forever grateful I left Mexico with new friends that feel like family.

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