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

Image source

‘‘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.

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.