cultural awareness

"A morenita in Mexico" by Uma Ramiah

Our friend and fellow morenita, Uma Ramiah launched a new project called We Are Gold Dust. The monthly newsletter celebrates “brilliance from brown girls” (holler!) in creative fields by delivering stories that showcase diverse faces in mainstream venues and conversations.

This is not another fleeting email in your inbox where you glance over the headlines before moving on to the next. Uma’s feeling and language about the contemporary creative woman shows a considered and culturally sensitive mind. You want to read more about the women in her sphere because if she’s selected them, then you know they are gifted and discerning. This month I was featured in the ‘Move’ section of We are Gold Dust alongside other brilliant women who believe in the power of experiences and travel. The newsletter is rounded out with ‘Cover,’ a section showing us beautiful brown girls dawning the cover of major magazines. Then ‘Taste’ takes us through Uma’s forward thinking pallet and shines light on emerging persepctives from chefs, movements and events in the gastronomy world.

Good feedback and reviews are always touching, but when someone gets it, I mean really gets what you’re doing and makes time to acknowlege all the hard work it takes to bring something into the world, well that just brings me to tears! Thank you Uma for investing the time to bring brilliance from brown girls to the top. We look forward to opening our inbox every month to this note about morenitas from around the world.

x Cristina Lugo x


A monthly letter from creative Uma Ramiah

A monthly letter from creative Uma Ramiah

A morenita in Mexico

Cristina Lugo is our pitch perfect brown girl guide to a culture so deep and varied, it stuns the soul. The Morenita Experience welcomes you to Mexico.

by: uma ramiah

There are some people in this world so infectious, so wild with zeal and talent, they seem to seep into your very bones. I have a number of these gems in my life. I just found another one in Mexico City.

Cristina Lugo knows and loves and experiences Mexico the way I think so many of us more displaced souls wish we did our own homelands: with depth, knowledge, glee, and a deep reverence. Her built-from-scratch business, Morenita Experience, curates luxury, insider experiences across the country for visitors looking to get past the tourist shit and feel just a little bit at home. I promise you, this is the only company I’ve encountered that actually does this. A few days with the Morenita team in Mexico City turned me from out-of-towner to insider, real quick, just as promised.

What’s the alchemy here? Morenita clearly sprung from something deep within Cristina: you can feel it when you spend time with her. The company is something she needed to build: like it’s filling a hole in her heart. She’s devoted to the (criminally underrated) elegance and intricacies and treasures of Mexican culture, and she’s fighting to share, celebrate and uplift them.

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“Mexico possesses something that’s worth the weight of all the Aztec gold unfairly turned into European royal jewels and coins: a culture so profound in its value, it has no price.”

I hadn’t visited Mexico before I touched down in its big city a few months ago. Such riches I’d been missing. Mountain air and wide boulevards, expansive architecture, unparalleled art and music, exquisite food (on the streets and in the Michelins - how unbearably little the rest of us know about the bright star that is Mexican cuisine). And of course, the beautiful everyday hustle of a big city filled with every kind.

It’s overwhelming. Where to start? A lucky connection through a friend and a little research got me in touch with the Morenita herself, her warmth and welcome palpable even over email. And the expertise: after years of working with the best restaurants, hotels, travel, and art and creatives across Mexico, Cristina’s able to encounter travelers, quickly get to the bottom of the kind of experience they’re looking for, and open just the right doors.

“I’m taking some chef friends to Xochimilco Thursday morning,” she offered. “Join us, no?”

Off I went to her world, one where an already vibrant and welcoming city feels like it’s become family, sharing all its best secrets. She whisked me off at the crack of dawn for a misty-and-mysterious boat ride to the ancient Xochimilco canals for a visit to Yolcan, a farm collective growing fresh produce for some of the city’s best restaurants. I ate a gorgeous breakfast of fresh-made mole and quesadillas with chefs and foodies and farmers, learning all about the ancient Aztec farming techniques Yolcan’s working to preserve.

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“Every idea, every experience, every detail is created with intention. We have our finger on the pulse of Mexican culture and are committed to showcasing it through luxury travel experiences. Morenita Experience is the insider’s encounter every traveler wants to take home.”

Another night was dinner at a Japanese-Mexican standing-room-only speakeasy for natural wine and some of the best bar snacks I’ve ever munched, followed by late-night stop in cowboy boots for all-night cumbia dancing at a neighborhood spot lined with red leather booths and a light up dance floor.

Cristina knows how you want to feel in a city you don’t know. How you want to let the best of it seep into your bones, just like she does. And she does it with such grace, whether gently informing and redirecting a couple Dutch tourists making faces at that gorgeous traditional mole for breakfast, or a giving a wild ride of an introduction to the world of Mexican modern art.

“I refuse to perpetuate the notion that a culture as rich as ours, one that has enlightened all of humanity with its many gifts in the form of music, art, dance, food, natural resources and breathtaking sights, should be cheap.”

We tourists can be so damaging, with our deep need to be entertained, with how we feed greedily on the places we visit, with how we trod joylessly down too-well trodden paths. Morenita encourages another approach: an open-hearted, curious one that’s structured with respect, and that uplifts independent creatives, chefs, farmers, artists, musicians and small business owners. Cristina also rejects the celebration of “cheapness.” She’s pushing for Mexicans to value their own culture, and price it accordingly.

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A delicious bonus: the definition of Morenita? Brown girl. As Morenita’s comms director Bella Luna writes,“Cristina named a luxury travel service - that for the most part caters to an American & European wealthy 1% - MORENITA, a term that refers to a brown-skinned woman, to the Virgen de Guadalupe, to Mexico’s indigenous heritage.”

She goes on:

“Perhaps this is the dawn of a new era where brown-skinned women will be held as ambassadors, as The Face, as the reference for Mexico. If we are truly honest with ourselves, there is nothing more appropriate, no greater justice, than having Mexico represented by una mujer morena. Perhaps it’s through the story of women like Yalitza or Cristina or so many others like them that Mexico rebuilds its pride and notion of self-worth and finally understands that all things Anglo are wonderful, but in Mexico, from now on, the more Mexican, the more morenita, the more valuable, the more desired, the higher the worth.”

Get it, Morenita, Cristina, you gold/dust woman. We’re behind you.


Thank you Uma! We can’t wait for more gold dust next month! Subscribe here.

And connect with Uma on instagram @wearegolddust

Self-worth and net worth in Mexican culture

Mexico possesses something that’s worth the weight of all the Aztec gold unfairly turned into European royal jewels and coins: a culture so profound in its value, it has no price.

Cristina Lugo at Chapultepec Castle (Photo source IG @morenita.experience)

Cristina Lugo at Chapultepec Castle (Photo source IG @morenita.experience)

I’m a 3rd generation American who moved to Mexico two years ago to reconnect with my heritage. While living here, on more than one occasion I’ve sat next to a table of travelers in shock … by how cheap their bill was. They did the conversion and blurted out ‘Oh wow, that was only $20 bucks!’. Instead of leaving the table pleased with the unique food experience they just had, perhaps even the friendly service, they left elated by the conversion of pesos to dollars. I wondered, how could we help foreigners look past this and open their eyes to the real gold in front of them?

As I was brainstorming how to communicate this notion of Mexican self-worth for this piece, I remembered reading about La Malinche. La Malinche was a female interpreter who helped the Spanish conquer the Aztecs by revealing secrets and vulnerabilities to the invaders. She became Hernan Cortez’ concubine, bearing his children who would become the first mestizos, or Mexicans. I sometimes wonder if she did it on purpose, a silent revenge for being given as a slave to the invading Spaniards. On a side note, that would be an interesting historical fiction novel, a revenge story told from her political point of view of taking down the nation who sold her into slavery. Anyway, the historical figure has now become a term used in contemporary society to describe a behavior, malinchismo.

Image source MxCity.mx

Image source MxCity.mx

‘‘I refuse to perpetuate the notion that a culture as rich as ours, one that has enlightened all of humanity with its many gifts, should be cheap.”

My understanding is that malinchismo is equal to self-loathing, the act of looking down on one's culture, while elevating others as better than or superior to. In Mexico specifically, it means thinking American culture, in large part due to its economic and military strength, is superior to Mexico’s, regardless of the fact that, without ever invading other countries, Mexico once hosted one of humanity’s most evolved and sophisticated civilizations. In conversation with Cristina Lugo, Founder of Morenita Experience, she asked me: “Bella, did you know that for years the Spanish filled boats with thousands of tons of Mexican gold, which were then turned into coins that fueled their European monarchies for centuries? Can you believe the irony? Today, people from so-called “first world” countries come to Mexico to vacation and still, after all the immeasurable wealth that was taken from us, they aren’t expecting to spend a considerable amount of money while they’re here. They’re expecting it to be cheap. How much of that is the byproduct of an unfair history, and how much of that is our fault? I refuse to perpetuate the notion that a culture as rich as ours, one that has enlightened all of humanity with its many gifts in the form of music, art, dance, food, natural resources and breathtaking sights, should be cheap”, said the passionate entrepreneur.  

México boasts more than 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

I’ve always felt that travel is one of the greatest luxuries of the human experience. I asked Cristina to share what she’s most proud of when offering a luxury travel experience to global travelers. She quickly provided a concrete example. “México has over 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites”, she stated. “Do you know what that means? A United Nations World Heritage Site is important to the collective interests of humanity. It is protected by international treaties and may signify a remarkable accomplishment for all humans, serving as evidence of our intellectual history on this planet. Mexico is one of the countries with the most World Heritage Sites and Cultural intangibles in the World. As a country, as a culture, what Mexico represents is important for all humans everywhere.” In México, cultural value is measurable. So again, why do we devalue ourselves and communicate this notion of cheapness to travelers giving them free reign to label us in that same manner?

Is it Malinchismo? Yes. Is it time to wake up? Absolutely.

A farmer waters his chinampa garden in Xochimilco in southern Mexico City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo source National Geographic

A farmer waters his chinampa garden in Xochimilco in southern Mexico City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo source National Geographic

New President, Mexican Indians at the Oscars

Since living in México, I’ve seen an incompetent racist become President of the United States, witnessed the breakdown of the EU with Brexit, a nationalist lunatic win power in Brazil, and for the first time in México, an election free of fraud and tampering where the people voted for a political party that has never taken power before. It is fact, the rotation of political earth is now clockwise.

Photo source Cristina Rodriguez La Jornada

Photo source Cristina Rodriguez La Jornada

On December 1st, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took over as President of Mexico. He spoke about tourism being an important part of our countries sustainability and richness. Once I got to a TV and saw the stage, the production, the amount of people gathered in the Zocalo, the historic center of our city where the Aztec build their temples and colonial invaders built atop them, the smoke from the indigenous ritual burning behind him and the dozens of Mexican indians surrounding him... I’d never seen anything like that before in the modern western world. It’s only been a few days, and many promises still have a way to go before being met, but at least from what I saw on that stage, something is changing. For me, it feels like the type of change that disrupts and ripples into a collective mentality of greater self-worth.

Cristina Lugo at Kiosko Morisco in downtown Mexico City, a testament of Mexico’s Arab & Muslim roots. Photo source IG @morenita.experience

Cristina Lugo at Kiosko Morisco in downtown Mexico City, a testament of Mexico’s Arab & Muslim roots. Photo source IG @morenita.experience

For me, that disruption also comes from companies and people like Morenita Experience and Cristina Lugo. Cristina named a luxury travel service - that for the most part caters to an American & European wealthy 1% - MORENITA, a term that refers to a brown-skinned woman, to the Virgen de Guadalupe, to Mexico’s indigenous heritage. If that’s not disruptive, I don’t know what is.

You’ve seen ROMA on Netflix, right? Alfonso Cuaron’s (the Mexican filmmaker genius who brought you Y Tu Mama También, Gravity and Children of Men) latest masterpiece starring a brown-skinned Mixteca indian, today gracing the cover of VOGUE magazine. Her name is Yalitza Aparicio, and she will most likely win an Academy Award soon. Es una morenita. Her VOGUE cover was incredibly disruptive here in Mexico: it was the first time a Mexican indian was seen in that glamorous, aspirational context. It made you want to be brown, if not browner.

ROMA actress Yalitzia Aparicio. Photo source VOGUE Mexico.

ROMA actress Yalitzia Aparicio. Photo source VOGUE Mexico.

Perhaps this is the dawn of a new era where brown-skinned women will be held as ambassadors, as The Face, as the reference for Mexico. If we are truly honest with ourselves, there is nothing more appropriate, no greater justice, than having Mexico represented by una mujer morena. Perhaps it’s through the story of women like Yalitza or Cristina or so many others like them that Mexico rebuilds its pride and notion of self-worth and finally understands that all things Anglo are wonderful, but in Mexico, from now on, the more Mexican, the more morenita, the more valuable, the more desired, the higher the worth.

“Prietos, indios, y aquí estamos en la portada de VOGUE.” - Karen Ramos (IG @naturechola)


Bella Luna (IG @theplaylust) is a writer from California, a restaurant investor in Mexico City and a Morenita Experience collaborator. You can find more of her work here.