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Debut Book Explores Mexico City

In Down and Delirious in Mexico City, the son of Mexican immigrants confronts his heritage

The majority of Down and Delirious places us right next to Hernandez as he traverses the city. "We are riding on swooping, speedy overpasses crowded with traffic that seems to have no use for lanes. Cars and trucks flow with the instinct of blood cells … It is a landscape of scratchy urban flatness, then rolling hillsides of structures that disappear into a white horizon of haze — the smog."

But through that haze we see the city, from so many perspectives and neighborhoods that we are left either dazed by its enormity or feeling a bit of whiplash from the constant shift in settings. Hernandez is at his best, though, when he slows down enough to focus on some of the charms and contradictions that obviously make Mexico City such an evocative place to describe. Take, for example, the trendy Condesa neighborhood, where the privileged class lives and plays: "On weekend nights, cocaine dealers in discreet automobiles prowl the neighborhood's leafy streets delivering drugs to thumping apartment parties … the sort of people who see recreational cocaine use as a matter of social entitlement. Not everyone does it, of course, but it is everywhere."

Although he never fully enters the "national narrative of Mexico" he seeks, Hernandez does include himself throughout Down and Delirious, at first sharing his exuberance for the city and later facing the remaining questions of his identity. "After three years of living here, I am still referred to as güero — a white boy — by strangers on the street ... I am a gringo regardless of how dark my skin might be. I am a Mexican gringo, if you will."

Try as he may, Hernandez remains in a world neither here nor there, reflecting perhaps the more sobering reality that for the immigrant — regardless of which direction he may be traveling — it is the journey itself that becomes the more crucial narrative.

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