A one-legged, crutch-wielding beggar in the streets of the Tepito market years ago called me a “Gringo m___erf___er,” with a look of disgust on his filthy face. I proudly responded with a smile, “No, soy Canadiense!” He smiled back at his error, for ‘gringo’ is a derogatory word for Americans in Mexico City. I am not American, therefore I am not a gringo.
Other than that one occasion, I have never been harassed in Tepito. This is a popular misconception about this sprawling bootleg market that winds down any and all side streets between the Metro stops Lagunilla and Tepito, for what seems like miles and miles. It is not dangerous – it is safe! At least, I feel safe…
Tepito is part of the daily life of Mexico City, filled with people eking out an existence however they can. It’s where everyone shops to get cheap deals. I can spend all day there, and I usually do, a couple of days per trip I take. Some vendors sell the latest Chinese knockoffs of comic book superhero figures, others sell women’s faux designer jeans or men’s sneakers, all brand new. In areas where the whole street is closed off due to all of the vendor tents, women set up mobile beer stands and offer frosty beverages to the passers-by.
Let’s take a look at Tepito, shall we? By the way, I usually take a VW Bug taxi from my hotel to the Lagunilla metro station instead of to the Tepito station, as Lagunilla vendors have more cds and dvds than at Tepito. Then I walk back to the hotel when I’m done, by following the signs that say ‘Zocalo.’
Open Google Streetview, and copy and paste this:
José Joaquín Herrera, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, Distrito Federal, México
You’ve just been dropped into part of the Tepito market. With the image zoomed out (the default view), you should see the Metro sign for Lagunilla at the upper left, and the Metro sign for Tepito at the upper right. In between and around those stops, and leading back to the Zocalo, down nearly every side street is shopping! Click and drag the map so you can see more of the bottom left – that’s where the Zocalo is in relation to where you are.
Now go back to your street. When the Google Streetview car drove down this street, it managed to capture the market during the day. If you zoom in all the way, you’ll see the roofs of tents. Click and drag the little yellow man (above the Zoom tool) onto the street. So you’re there! It might not look like much right now, but take one step, and the view changes to a busy street! Now you can walk around and take a look at what’s for sale! You can seriously get lost in the moment of this virtual walkabout (I certainly did when I tried it), and I encourage it. Have fun!
So you’re back – did you find anything interesting? Did you look up by Lagunilla at all of the tents? Go ahead and take a look (zoom out a bit) – there are so many it is unbelievable! I look for the rock n’ roll stuff in Tepito. In that massive jungle of tents by Lagunilla is where they’ll be. Tees, cds, and dvds. Dvd and cd shopping in Tepito is ridiculous. They are generally 5 to 10 pesos each. Fifty cents to a dollar. Many of the vendors sell the latest pop fluff, or current boring movies, so you have to really look to find the good stuff. Finding a rock and roll vendor selling bootlegs is the best. I paid $1 for the Trojan box set on cd! Other vendors specialize in live concerts from around the world. It is the weirdest feeling to be in a giant Mexico City street market and checking out a dvd of live footage of Motorhead in Montreal. How in the hell did that get there?
I’ll be honest – I have another secret, personal reason why I look so hard for cool vendors selling cool stuff – I’m looking to see if I’m being bootlegged. For real! And it happens too! Being the drummer in the Tijuana Bibles, we played in Mexico City, we’re known there, and our cds have been bootlegged there. It is a source of deep pride for me, whenever I find us being bootlegged in Tepito.
The best was finding my feature film Enter Zombie King being bootlegged. IN SPANISH! The vendor was selling other Mexican Wrestling films, and there I was, right in the middle of El Santo and Blue Demon films. Shocked, I laughed and looked at the long-haired, rocker vendor, pointed to myself and my film, and said “Soy el director!” He laughed out loud, and without a moment’s hesitation said “Thirty pesos.” Chuckling, I ponied up and bought three, and he threw an extra one in for free. I was so proud!
This is why I love Mexico City so much. I feel personally connected to it via pop culture. If some music that I helped write, or a film that I directed, puts some money into the pocket of a Mexican street vendor, I don’t have a problem with it. It makes me feel special. And lucky. I don’t see Blue Rodeo cds for sale there, that’s for sure. I don’t get philosophical about what’s actually happening (no royalties to our band etc), it just is what it is. A source of pride.
So that’s the Tepito market! I hope you enjoyed walking the streets. Next up is who tattoos me when I’m in Mexico City. Until then, Viva Mexico!