Category Archives: mexican

My Day of the Dead altar

Photos I shot of my Day of the Dead altar.

A Mexican tradition which involves mainly going to the cemetery for an all-nighter and literally dine with the dead. For some reason this has transformed into making the recreation of the tomb at our homes, schools, offices, and malls.

Maybe is the lazyness of going to the cemetery during the wee hours of early November 2nd. After all in places like here in Mexico City it can get overcrowded. Yes, he have not only traffic jams and packed subways, also cemeteries.

There are endless ways of doing a day of the dead altar. Some very odd, others very Catholic. I may say I’m no scholar but actually I am an Anthropologist, so I’m gonna tell you what I use and put.

A must is cempaxochitl flowers (also known as cempazuchil). These are the flowers of the dead. Then I put food, candles, and objects.

For food what I put were amaranth skulls (these are the original ones used by the Aztecs Mexica), sugar skulls (more modern and popularized by White American hipsters for some odd reason), bread of the dead (which is made and sold only during these days), some like my mom like to put their favorite meals when they were alive, perhaps also alcohol drinks and cigarretes (against hipsters’ advice they can’t do any more harm in the other side).

With candles many make crosses, circles — I make a native cross signaling the fours cardinal points. Yes, indigenous peoples had crosses, not Christian though.

Some put photos of the dead, I prefer objects.

If you like Mexican traditions and stories yoy may enjoy my novel Till Stars Shut Their Eyes.

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Family at the Mexican border

Photo I shot at Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

While interviewing him, this man worked on construction structures. These structures hold cement columns, and also seem to hold the survival of this family.

After giving me permission to take portraits of him working and of his son, he explained the hardships of living in such conditions. This place was (and still is) at the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo.

Nuevo Laredo is considered an international trade hub, where goods and people pass through from the US into Mexico and vice-versa. Because of its strategic position it has attracted the best riches can get and the worst poverty can summon. This the dark side of this city and the whole of the US-Mexico border. A couple of miles from this place the United States begin.

When I presented this at my university in the American side, they were baffled and even incredulous that such scenes could exist on the other side of the river where they live, work and sleep.

If you’re interested in Mexico and inequality you should look into my novel, Till Stars Shut Their Eyes.

Family at Mexican border. Copyright 2006 Miguel Omaña.
Family at Mexican border. Copyright 2006 Miguel Omaña.

Nuevo Laredo / Laredo International Bridge

Photo I shot at Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas / Laredo, Texas.

This is International Bridge #2 at the US-Mexico border. Below streams the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo as it is known to Mexicans).

Nuevo Laredo and Laredo have several international bridges. Nuevo Laredo has three and Laredo has four — the disparity is because Laredo also borders another state. One of those bridges is used exclusively for trade, where epic cues of transfer trailers cross several times a day in both directions. There’s also a railroad bridge which nobody counts but is there nonetheless.

These bridge, officially known as Juarez-Lincoln bridge (in honor of both presidents that live the same time and also faced divided nations) it is used for cars only. Pedestrians use Bridge #1, the oldest of them all. But in bridge #2, where I shot this photograph, people tend to go and sell whatever they can from pirate DVDs, pillows, figures of saints and like in this cases lollipops. They sell them in the Mexican side of the bridge, which gives them safety from the occasional American officer checking things out.

The US-Mexico border has many realities, and this is just one of them. Unlike what politicians in Washington or Mexico City think every border city or region has its own goodness and difficulties. In this case the Laredos (or Los Dos Laredos as they are also known in Spanish) are a commerce powerhouse. It is considered the fifth most important trade spot in the whole world, and the first in the whole of Latin America. And Laredoans don’t take it lightly (and Nuevo Laredo people too), they have pride on the fact that commerce between North America and Latin America takes place here. This has attracted one of the brightest people but also one of the worst kind at the same time. For obvious reasons in the Drug War, if Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are pivotal in international trade so it will be in illegal activities and smuggling.

US-Mexico international Bridge. Copyright 2015 Miguel Omaña.
US-Mexico international Bridge. Copyright 2015 Miguel Omaña.

Mexican teen Gloria

Photo I shoot with my model Gloria.

I always shoot undiscovered faces or girl-next-door inexperienced ladies. Hence, most of my models have been from Mexico or Texas. It is amazing to work with them because they have a genuine drive for what the artistic side of photography represents. Eventhough I retribute their time spent in the form, they do it for the gratification of proving themselves.

I’ve discovered “civilian” women that focus on how much they are gonna earn are not only tough to work with — photographwise — but they’re actually not good at it… at all. When the art springs from the heart, amazing things can happen. That is why I stick with undiscovered girls, and not only teens like in this case — but also adults or even moms. And let me tell you, I love this approach.

Friends of friends, instagram girls, or just ladies I literally meet on the street — I invite them. Some decline, most don’t. Any other photographer may have different approaches, experiences, or well… even more budget. This is my way of doing photography art, I enjoy it and from what they’ve told me so the ladies.

My photography teacher from university once told me not to rely on paying models, to find other way of paying them like photo prints. The reason because I pitch in a bit of my budget in them is various reasons. I like to give in something in return of their time spent. There is nothing more important to me than time. To leave their jobs to go straight for a shooting instead of home, or to be changing wardrobe instead of the movie night she had prepared with her boyfriend, that means tons to me. The other reason I do pay a small amount is to keep them happy in order to have the possibility of a shooting in the near (or far) future. After all, many of them are not my friends or colleages, but raw strangers. And to believe in me based solely in my work and my words is huge.

Gloria. Copyright 2006 Miguel Omaña.
Gloria. Copyright 2006 Miguel Omaña.

Mexican girl dancing at gas station.

Photo I shot as part of documenting trades of Nuevo Laredo.

In the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border there’s a niche for young girls as dancers at gas stations or convenience stores. Usually known as edecanes, these girls usually work during weekends. Just before the sun sets one can see them getting ready with their huge speakers and strident music.

Many dancers represent a certain brand, beverage, or beer, although generally they are present to pull customers to that particular convenience store. Does it work? Who knows, because people have to go to convenience stores anyway — don’t they?

This culture of girls dancing in the streets with few clothes — literally — does not exist in Central Mexico or Mexico City. Habits and way of seeing things do change from region to region here in Mexico (just like the American South is so different from say, the West Coast).

Mexican girl dancing at gas station. Copyright 2013. Miguel Omaña. Mexican girl dancing at gas station. Copyright 2013. Miguel Omaña.

Mexico’s most dangerous elections to be held in a few hours.

In a couple of hours Mexico will have the most dangerous elections in the worst political climate ever. A complicated situation that has been amounting for the last 500-plus years. Midterm elections are tomorrow morning in a nation disenchanted by democracy, the worst approval for a president, omnipresent state-sponsored racism, followed by massacres and protests.

The fail state environment is undeniable thanks to social media.

It is the toughest moment of Mexico and yet the government and electoral body are playing it 20th century style, unwilling to recognize people are more knowledgeable thanks to social media and the internet. The monolithic Televisa, ever-present TV network was once responsible for the cover-ups of much of the governments wrongdoings. Most notably the 1968 student massacre, the 1970’s “dirty war” against communist rebels, the 1980’s economic debacle, the 1990’s political assassinations, and the 2000’s drug war. But now, in the 2010’s the fail state environment is undeniable thanks to social media, internet, and foreign media coming into the country by cable or internet. Televisa and the government are still operating as in the 1970’s, having major headlines of troubles in Venezuela, riots in the United States, and the Middle East, but oddly in our facebook and twitter accounts Mexicans are sharing and commenting on news generated by citizens itself.

Democracy is undermined in Mexico.

The key is information. For so long there has been an institutionalized effort to block information from the common Mexican. They have gone from the patriotic extremes, like prohibiting the old movies that recounted the El Alamo battle in Texas, to the annoying “nothing is happening” ideal of a make-believe nation. But now almost anyone who can fairly handle a mobile phone with camera can record video or photographs of things happening in Mexico — from police corruption, politicians sex escapades, and worldwide violence (literally many are battles in the drug wars). If not, we can see it at Fox News, CNN, or other media. This has undermined president Enrique Peña Nieto and his presidency and the belief of democracy.

A few hours ago the military and federal police were deployed to four states awaiting violence.

Now many municipalities and states are tonight in a true state of rebellion. A few hours ago the military and federal police were deployed to entire states like Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Puebla. Teachers, students, natives, and community vigilantes have stormed in the last days into INE (National Electoral Institute) facilities, offices, and warehouses were electoral material is kept. Some political party offices have been burned in Chiapas. INE offices have been bombed in Puebla. Tonight there is no access to many towns in Oaxaca and Guerrero, taken by the people itself to impede elections from happening. In an electoral office in Oaxaca the soldiers fled from the people who were burning ballots. People in Oaxaca still reported in the afternoon many helicopters continually hovering over cities and towns, as if prepared for the worst.

It may not be as fast as the Arab Spring, but the uprise in Mexico is happening.

We don’t know, and I guess no one can know, what will happen. This never happened in Mexico. Something similar, but not so grave actually, started what we all now know as the Mexican Revolution. If you know Pancho Villa, you know something about that uprise that exploded in 1910. 105 years later here we are. Many people are actually surprised there hasn’t been a proper revolution in Mexico. Although after the drug cartels took hold of many places, citizens rose in vigilante groups against them and the government alike. Many towns in Michoacan are self-ruled, and many more in Guerrero state want to be the same. It may not be a revolution that may start as fast as the Arab Spring, but slowly but surely things are becoming more violent in a nation that has endured hardships, violence, and poverty.