Merida, Mexico, is a city where walls have been erected to create a split in space and time. In this old colonial city, I see these walls as the parting (poisoned) gift of conquistadors, whose guilt and shame for having superimposed their decaying culture on a populace orphaned by their Mayan leaders had to be hidden by grand infrastructures. The numerous churches and plazas, now attended by the descendents of these same orphans served as a mechanism to pontificate and legitimise cruelty and hierarchy as a divine mission.
The architecture of the city reflects the fractured past of this country, the beautiful colour palette adorned on the walls marries with pavements and roads filled with cracks, fissures, dogs, cats and rubbish. The streets have been laid under a blazing sun, and its pedestrians have been tasked with walking in the humid air. The conquistadors, who had decided that something separated them from the locals they had colonised, built high walls, pulled together like a citadelle, to create shading and a parallel world — the colonial Upside Down world.
Free from facing the realities of their crimes, those who could trace their lineage to the old country, gathered, leisured and built an ontology away from the prying eyes. They imported the ideas, tastes and aspirations from capitalist Europe. Barred from the Upside Down world, those whose roots sprouted from the land, more accustomed to the heat, continued to live their lives outside, in the open. This tradition continues today.
In contemporary Merida, both the material and societal infrastructures remain. A parallel Mexico exists simultaneously, superimposed on the same geography but enabled by the citadelle to live side by side without seeing each other. As a tourist, with a privilege of exemption, you can be privy to both worlds: on one hand you walk through the bustling streets of ambulantes and taqueria trucks without the weight of history on your shoulders, and on the other, your privilege (white skin) opens the door to the Upside Down world. A world where profit margins and homogenisation of power drawn on ethnic lines elevate its disciples to a higher status.
The restaurants, cafes, and bars behind the walls bring home comforts and provide us with a bridge into the world I temporarily left behind. On the streets that…