morenita master class

The Story of México Told in One Woman

Morenita means brown girl, brown woman. When I started Morenita Experience almost a year ago, like any creative start-up, I went through the exercise of developing a brand identity, starting with a name. Something that instantly communicated the idea I would offer to the world amid my personal and professional experiences. At the heart of what I wish to express is a deep love and respect for my culture coupled with exposure to the many faces of México.

Morenita embodies these many faces in the most positive sense. I continually get the same reaction when I tell people the name of my business.

“Hello, my name is Cristina Lugo.”
“Nice to meet you. What do you do?”
“I own a travel experience agency called Morenita.”
Head tilt.
The the overwhelming feeling that 'yes, that makes sense, that feels right.'

Morenita is la Virgen de Guadalupe, morenita is the matriarch, the nucleus of Mexican family and society, morenitas are las señoras en la calle vendiendo quesadillas. Morenita is me recognizing our Aztec and Mayan greatness. Morenita is a term of endearment between father and daughter. Morenita is a positive reflection of racial diversity. Morenita is the story of Mexico told in one woman.

I'll explain.

In so many parts of the world, calling people out by the color of their skin is negative, a judgement, a divisive behavior and product of colonial systems: it makes us turn against each other. But when you walk the markets of México, it’s a kind gesture to hear vendors call out “qué le damos güerita!” ("What will it be, blondie? or, white girl") It’s a way of saying ‘I see you’. Similarly, when called morenita, I am understood, I am celebrated, revered for the history and traditions painted on my skin like tattoos of a collective memory too precious to forget. I don't understand when people say “I don’t see color”, trying to remove themselves from the accountability that all humans face when confronted by their participation in racism. If you don’t see color, you don’t see me! Because I am so colorful! If you don’t see me, then how can we relate to each other, how can we have a real conversation?

México is predominantly a Catholic faith country. The Virgin Mary (we know her as La Virgen de Guadalupe) is our most important religious icon. We lovingly refer to her as morena, mi Virgen morena, mi morenita. We pray to a brown-skinned indigenous woman, we rely on her guidance and protection. 

It’s also no coincidence that MORENA is the the political party that just won power in Mexico’s most recent presidential election under AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a brown skinned man. Believe it or not, in Mexico we've usually had white Mexicans running the show. Morena references a rhetoric of “power to the people!”. The visual of a brown fist in the air, that for many marginalized people around the world including the United States, is held as a symbol of pride and positivity.

I grew up in a tourist beach town. I was born in Sinaloa and raised in Puerto Vallarta. I am super gringa by all accounts (y'all already know), born in México yet surrounded by expats, raised by my gringo dad, playing soccer at my gringo high school, then off to gringo college in Wisconsin of all places, all the while listening to American hip-hop and other imported gringo pop culture. I began to experience Mexican music, traditional culture and even food, as an adult.

My professional life was spent in high end hotels and restaurants, surrounded by great minds like Enrique Olvera, people who took the rich ingredients of Mexican heritage and coupled them with the highest and most refined global standards. Whether they understood it or not, they were building a new México. Whether the world understands it or not, Morenita is redefining travel, redefining how you experience Mexico. How Mexicans recognize and understand themselves. Morenita is very actively participating in being the solution. I've lived in like, 5 countries? (I think.) I speak 3 languages. I'm a global citizen, but I am first Mexican. My connections on the ground and experiences throughout my years working in the highest levels of gastronomy and hospitality have taught me that, sure, it’s very much who you know, but it must be anchored in authenticity if I’m to carry out my vision. This cultural narrative needs to be REAL if Morenita is actually about what it says its about.

If you read the July newsletter you know how devastating Anthony Bourdain’s death was for me. He understood us as a country, he understood the potential and dimensional complexities of our culture. One of Bourdain's critiques on the world's prejudice toward the Mexican experience was that it should be cheap, "this is frankly a racist assumption that Mexico ..should be cheap. That's not right." We've been seeing Mexico elevate its game in the food realm for years now. But take Bourdain’s statement and apply it to art, architecture, craftsmanship, the booming wine industry, and you’re seeing México through my contemporary and cosmopolitan lens. México is the most fascinating destination in the Western Hemisphere, this is the cradle of centuries of the most enchanting traditions and history. Discúlpenme, pero, why should anything here be cheap?

This is the lens I use when designing products like the Xochimilco Sunrise Experience. You want to ride around the canals on those colorful little boats, get a little tipsy and listen to mariachi? Cool. That's fun for me too. But I'd rather use every contact I can think of to get the exclusivity to Yolcán, a large farm crop inside those canals, where no tourists ever access, and serve a gorgeous breakfast at sunrise with indigenous brown women making you fresh blue corn tortillas on the spot, while their 3rd generation Xochimilcan farmer husbands explain the agricultural methods they've used since the beginning of time. Linen table cloths, talavera dishes, exotic birds flying over you, and the feeling that Xochimilco, this UNESCO nature reserve, if only for this morning, belongs entirely to you. The same vegetables and herbs you see growing there are only sold to the best restaurants in México City in an effort to support fair trade and maintain Yolcan's vision of sustainability and cultural preservation. When your private driver takes you to dinner that evening - in our luxury town cars, of course - you'll see world-famous restaurants like Pujol and Maximo Bistrot will have prepared your meal with those same ingredients that earlier in the day the farmers at Yolcan described so passionately. That is a Morenita Experience. In many ways, traveling around the world discovering international food cultures, then returning home to collaborate with visionary chefs who wanted to expose the potential of our history, is my true north and vision for the Morenita Experience today. I can say with great pride and responsibility, that via my experiences personal and professional, I am the story of México told in one woman.