“TRUMP, BUILD THE BIGGEST FUCKING WALL YOU WANT, YOU’LL NEVER BREAK OUR SPIRIT. LABEL US WHAT YOU WANT, YOU’LL NOT ROB US OF OUR SPIRIT. BECAUSE HERE IN MEXICO, DESPAIR IS NOT AN OPTION.”
November 8th, 2016. Sunny Side Up presents Mexico City’s new cultural generation as they document their defiant election-night fuck you to Trump.
It’s approaching 2am in Mexico City’s rough-around-the-edges Tepito neighbourhood. Like everywhere on the planet, the official confirmation that Donald Trump has won the American presidential election triggers a wave of disbelief, as newsflashes hit the cell phones of Scarlett, Luis, Miguel, Cici, Daniella, Vince, Gaudalupe, Lion and Charlie Cheeseburger. As with so many other sections of society, this group of young Mexicans sat eating late-night tacos now face the realities of Trump’s mindless rhetoric. In short, if you’re dumb enough to believe him, these kids are the thieves, drug cartel members and rapists he wants to keep out of America.
In reality, Scarlett’s a street artist, wears a gold glitter jacket and pink scarf, and covers the walls of Mexico City with posters depicting the voluptuous female nudes that she live-draws. Right now though, Scarlett has her head in her hands; tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s just so fucking fucked up,” she says, squinting in the harsh strip lighting of her surroundings. (Besides Scarlett and her friends, the vast 24-hour Mercado de Comida Garibaldi food market is empty, give or take the odd Mariachi singer taking a beer-break from local performing duties, and the homeless crashed-out on the floor).
A third-generation Mexican – born in El Paso, raised in San Diego – Scarlett is what some consider a pocho, a kind of Americanized Mexican, who, as she explains, was “conditioned to ignore [my] culture and Spanish language” because her grandparents had been seduced into leaving their homeland to pursue the American dream. “But, adds Scarlett wistfully, sipping on a bottle of Corona, “that dream only really applies to white Americans.”
Once at college, Scarlett felt the urge to reclaim the identity she’d never known: she sought out her maternal grandmother, learned Spanish, took Chicano studies, and got in touch with her roots, finally relocating to Mexico City two years ago, where she’s since established herself as a strong female presence in the local street-art scene.
— Beyond the tears, how does the news about Trump make her feel?
“I’d be lying if I said it’s not going to compound my identity crisis. Like, I was once fired from my job in California for being Mexican, yet over here I’m mocked for being a gringo. But you know what,” she adds, welling up, “I’ve never felt so fucking proud to be Mexican.”
To the left of her, Vince slurps on bull-meat chilli soup and offers a shoulder to cry on. “Come on, babe,” he says, “Don’t get down. You’re better than that. We’re better than that,” he adds, nodding over to the rest of the group. With his pompadour hair, head-to-toe tattoos and black biker jacket over white vest, it’s no surprise to learn that super-slim-build Vince is arguably the most famous player on Mexico’s flourishing rockabilly scene. Lead singer with Los Rebel Cats (his 70-year-old father, Vincent Van Rock, is the band’s guitarist; they have matching band logo tats on their upper arms), he’s signed to Universal Records (“unheard of for a rockabilly band”), hosts an influential national radio show, designs flyers, and plays sold-out gigs in the States just as often as he headlines rockabilly festivals in the city he’s always called his home.
For a young Mexican whose music, identity, and entire life looks to the romance of Americana, the election result is messing with Vince’s immaculately be-coiffed head. “It affects me on so many levels,” he says. “The country whose culture has so influenced my life is now being run by a guy who’s telling his people to be wary of me. And on a practical level, I’m lucky enough to visit and play in the States on a regular basis. If that is compromised by Trump’s bigotry…” He stops himself, mid-sentence. “I mean, how the fuck will I get to the Vegas rockabilly festival if the border laws change?”
For Carlos aka Charlie Cheeseburger, one of Mexico City’s most sought-after tattoo artists, this is as much a time to reflect on what this group of young Mexican creatives should be proud of, rather than what they might be stripped of if Trump has his way. “Mexico City is the last huge metropolis in which magic still exists,” Charlie explains. “The city’s full of chaos and mess, and we’re all like sardines in the middle of it, but the energy created by that dynamic is a lifeline for anyone wanting to express themselves creatively.”
Charlie was raised in the industrial city of Torreón in the north of Mexico, a place where, as he wryly jokes, “being an artist certainly didn’t do me any favours.” Fed up with the all-too common violence that defines the region’s drug cartels, Charlie moved to Mexico City four years ago. Trained in graphic design, he set up a clothing brand, took an apprenticeship with a tattoo artist, and since going independent in tattooing – no longer bound to any one parlour – the moniker Charlie Cheeseburger commandeers respect in the local community.
“The unity of the people here is incredible,” he says, referring to both the diverse group of kids this evening and Mexico City as a whole. And he’s right. Between them, you’ve got a badass Latino hip-hop head, a touring indie rock band, a young female model, an entrepreneurial barista, and a rockabilly throwback. But it works, because when you’re the largest metropolitan area in the world’s western hemisphere (the Greater Mexico City population is currently estimated at 21.2 million people), you have to get along. “In comparison,” adds Charlie, “What the fuck does Trump stand for? Fear, division and isolation.”
And for the past 45 minutes, he also stands for America.
What had been planned as an evening of relief and celebration amongst this group of kids has been thrown a serious curve ball. But for Charley, Scarlett, Vince, make-up artist Daniella, actor Lion, model Cici, and barista Guadolupe, an increasing sense of emotion, of defiance, and of euphoric rebellion emerges as the night progresses.
A couple of hours and a Mariachi bar later, they’re together on a precarious rooftop in the city’s Colonia Roma district. Vince breaks into song, a Spanish language take on a Carl Perkins oldie; couples who weren’t couples when the evening began are now making out; everything’s gone way emotional; everyone’s shooting Polaroids, someone procures giant sparklers from a local street-mart stand; and it’s obvious to anyone that despite the electoral events, Mexico City has – tonight, at least – a freedom and a sense of danger that, say, New Yorkers only ever read about these days. Scarlett, who’s broken out a bottle of wheat paste and is decorating a nearby wall with one of her curvy murals, agrees. “It’s no secret. Mexico City has all the ingredients that once made New York City or Berlin the places people can only fantasize about today. Rent and food are cheap here, and the palpable sense of danger gives it an edge, and a sense of urgency.
For Luis and Miguel, lead singer and drummer respectively for psych rock band Vaya Futoro, Scarlett’s Latino-American dual identity is relatable. Having spent time playing in bands based in both Mexico and southern California, they know what it’s like to have a foot in each country, each culture, each community – which makes Trump’s plans to further divide the two nations as baffling as it is threatening. While today Vaya Futoro are gaining international recognition (they recently played Liverpool’s Psych Fest, as well as co-headlining the Shacklewell Arms alongside Fat White Family), the band loosely formed a decade ago in Tijuana, the troubled Mexican border town where Luis grew up.
“We made the collective move to Mexico City,” he says, “because Tijuana isn’t conducive to people going out listening to live music; they’re too scared of getting caught up in cartel shootouts. That’s the reality of life there: when I was 16, my father was kidnapped for several days by the cartel because he is a mid-level doctor and they were trying to prove something by pinpointing civilians. So when Trump’s spewing his bullshit and hyperbole about us, you just have to maintain some perspective, and then cast him aside as a loudmouth.”
— What about Trump’s claim that Mexico is a portal for all kinds of violence?
“Violence and crime are the result of s ocio-economic issues,” says Miguel, “not just because Mexicans have violence in the blood. People don’t understand that. One of those people is Donald Trump.”
And what about Trump’s threat to build the wall, and have Mexicans pay for it? “Trump – ” announces Luis, “build the biggest fucking wall you want. You’ll never break our spirit. Label us what you want, you’ll not rob us of our future. Because here in Mexico, despair is not an option.”