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Mexico Plans To Restrict Social Networking

by Elena on February 16, 2010

Police in Mexico

Imagine you wake up one morning and suddenly there are restrictions on your Facebook account.  Think of the upheaval when Facebook merely changed its landing page and design, what do you think would happen if users couldn’t sign in at all.  Most people would freak out because let’s face it, there is something about the book of faces that can be very addicting.

The Mexican government plans to implement every social network addict’s nightmare by restricting social networking sites, starting off with Twitter.  Twitteros, users of Twitter, have been causing some havoc in Mexico City and around the country, by creating accounts used to alert people of alcohol checkpoints.  Police in the US have also faced this problem when Americans tweet about the locations of alcohol checkpoints or officers lurking in the shadows waiting to catch you speed.  While this does cause some concern among authorities, users of social network sites like Twitter hardly agree it constitutes placing restrictions on accounts.

Alerting other Twitter users about alcohol checkpoints is irresponsible but not necessarily unlawful.  You can’t arrest someone for telling their friend that they saw a police officer on such and such street, however when you post it on Twitter it reaches a much broader audience.  This is were things get complicated.  In Mexico City the law states a 5 year prison sentence for people who “in any way help a delinquent avoid investigation by the authorities or escape their actions.”  Does this include helping drunk drivers get away from police?

The Mexican drug war creates a much bigger problem for social network sites.  Why you may ask?  Well think of it this way.  Kidnapping and escalating drug violence is on the rise in Mexico.  If a kidnapper is looking to get information about a person they plan to abduct, where do you think they are going to look first?  Where is the easiest place to find information about where a person lives, who their friends and family are, where they go to school or work, what they look like, or where they hang out?  Facebook is a kidnapper’s dream because it provides all this information in an easily accessible homepage.

Scary huh?  The sad fact is that if you have family in Mexico, you know someone who has been affected by the rising violence and crime, in particular near the border.  But the question is whether or not it is necessary to restrict or shutdown these sites as a matter of public safety.  There are plans to set up a police force to monitor Twitter and the like, for unlawful activity or death threats.  While this can provide some peace of mind for some, there is still the fact that drug cartels are known to infiltrate the police department and even the military.  The same problems seem to persist.

If you are unaware of the severity of the drug situation in Mexico take a look at the LA Times’ Mexico Under Siege, which offers interactive maps, statistics, and up to the date news on the ever growing situation.  There are also many horrific stories coming from people who live in these war town areas.  Stories about corrupt military, officers forced to hide and avoid the drug cartels, as well as the fact that police cover their faces for fear that the narcos will recognize them and exact revenge on one’s family.  The fact that narcos are using technology is not new and security experts acknowledge that “drug traffickers have an intelligence network and, as far as I know, at this moment in time it’s more effective than ours.”  This forces law enforcement to become more involved with technology and social media, places one wouldn’t normally imagine police activity would be necessary.

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Children Playing in Cuernavaca Mexico

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Tepoztlan Mexico

Photo © Elena Vazquez

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Day of the Dead

by Elena on November 3, 2009

Day of Dead SkullsWhile it may appear that celebrants of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) are mocking the dead, with all the over the top colors, sugar skulls and dancing skeletons, but in reality the tradition is meant to honor those who have passed.  It isn’t a sad occasion, but rather playful, because displaying these caricatures of the dead, known as calaveras, lessen the fear and sadness of death.  Rather than feel sadness, participants celebrate and remember their loved ones by offering their favorite food and drink.  Check out these pictures of Day of the Dead celebrations from all over the world.

Day of the Dead SkeletonThis day coincides with the Catholic holiday All Saint’s Day on November 1st, the day after Halloween, however Dia de los Muertos lasts two days.  The Day of the Dead dates back to the pre-Hispanic era, when the Aztecs would honor the goddess of death.  The rituals have lasted and evolved with time, and the importance has remained.  The Catholic Church was at first vehemently against such a holiday, however realizing they couldn’t deter its following, they moved it to All Saints/Souls Day in hopes of amalgamating both traditions.  Throughout Mexico, and parts of the United States, the Day of the Dead is widely popular and a very important part of their culture.Day of the Dead food offeringsSugar skulls another important part of the ritual.  Usually you will see them with the name of the person deceased on the top of the skull.  These skulls are given as offerings and later eaten by friends and family.  It is an interesting dichotomy between the sweetness of life and sugar versus the sadness off death and skulls.  You can see these sugar skulls at every alter and Day of the Dead celebration.  Many people take the time to decorate them together, further cementing the importance of gathering as a family.

Mexican Sugar Skull is a site completely devoted to these sugar creations for Day of the Dead.  They have a step by step guide and recipe on how to make them yourself.  You can make them with egg white or meringue powder, depending on which recipe you choose.  A writer for the Baltimore Sun posted a slightly easier recipe to follow.  Not all of us have meringue powder lying around.

Sugar Skulls
Makes 50 small skulls

Ingredients
2 egg whites
1 tablespoons pure honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups granulated sugar

Sugar Skulls

The beauty of the celebrations are accentuated by the bright orange marigolds that are used to decorate the alters.  Local markets are colored orange and red with thousands of blossoms decorating the squares.  Known as the flower of the dead, the marigold was used by the Aztecs as offerings to the dead.  These flowers are said to attract the dead to the offerings.

Day of the Dead - Marigolds and Markets

Day of the Dead Marigolds and Makets 2

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Move Over Busker

by Elena on September 9, 2009

Well the rest of my life lay in front of me
I was pedaling down the road
When I saw nell gwynne and her oranges
And I’ll have one of those
She said move over busker, don’t bang your drum
Move over busker, your time will come
-Paul McCartney

After posting about street performers, I perused through my photo collection and picked out some more of my favorite busker photos.

In the southern Spanish city of Granada there is a rich amalgamation of three very different cultures, histories, and religions: Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism. Home to the Moorish palace La Alhambra, Granada has a flavor that sets it apart from the rest of Spain. The Mirador de San Nicolas (lookout point) faces the magnificent Alhambra, and I highly recommend to anyone visiting this small city to go here just before sunset. The lookout is located in the Albayzin, a neighborhood with small winding streets and white-washed houses with colorful gardens. Set upon a hill, the Albayzin is a perfect location to view the old palace.

Flamenco Performers sing near Alhambra
At Mirador San Nicolas there are always people singing and playing guitar. The group we saw this particular day really epitomized every stereotype I was looking forward to: the raspy voices (most certainly due to years of heavy smoking), the incredible strumming of the Spanish guitar, the rhythmic clapping, and the melodic improvisation of flamenco singing. Those c

ouple of songs, played to accompany the sunset, were enough to send a chill down my spine, and toy with the idea of quitting my day job in order to sit around these hills, smoke cigars, and learn to play flamenco guitar.Flamenco performers near Alhambra
No one else could wear a mullet and a white turtleneck cutoff and still look as badass as this man right here.

Flamenco Performer near Alhambra One of my favorite things to do in Mexico, or in any place for that matter, is to roam around the local markets. They are full of life and delicious food. I also find that they are a great way to see the people of the city go about their daily routine. I took this picture in Tepotzlan, Mexico around the time of the Day of the Dead. You can see a bushel of marigolds in the foreground of the photograph. These neon orange flowers are prevalent around this time, when people use them to decorate altars and pay homage to those who have passed. Right after I took this shot, the guy in the bright yellow shirt chased me down for a small tip and some friendly flirtation.

Performers in Tepotzlan Mexico MarketJust outside of Vancouver, about an hour or so on bus, you will find Capilano Park, home to the 450 ft long and 240 ft high Capilano Suspension Bridge. When we finished crossing the bridge and exploring the park we noticed a 3 person band getting ready to play. They weren’t buskers in the traditional sense, (look at the name tags) but rather park employees. Nonetheless people gave them tips after they sang some Elvis, Johnny Cash, and other crowd favorites.

Vancouver BuskersBarrio La Boca in Buenos Aires is known for its brightly colored facades, its Italian immigrant population, and a slightly dodgy reputation. If you ignore the obvious tourist traps and souvenir shops, you can almost imagine the immigrants painting the houses bright colors, in order to give life to this rundown part of town. Nowadays it has become somewhat commercial, but you can still enjoy the tango performances at one of the many cafes.

Tango Dancers in La Boca Buenos AiresTango Dancers in Buenos Aires La BocaGrauman’s Chinese Theatre is exactly what you picture it to be, tacky, commercial, over the top, and just a bit uncomfortable. My discomfort is mostly due to an overzealous Elvis impersonator who got a little handsy. Nonetheless there is probably no other place you can see Jack Sparrow, Elvis, Zorro, Spiderman, Minnie Mouse, Jessica Rabbit, and even Chucky (you know the maniacal, homicidal plush toy that made you fearful that your toys would come to life in the middle of the night) all in the same place.

Los Angeles Chinese Theater Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles provides quite the contrast to the massive structures that crowd around the business sector. The performers, street vendors, restaurants, and cafes serve as a taste of Mexican culture a small tribute to a community with such a large population in this city. It is small and unassuming, but I tend to love areas such as these. I really enjoyed the fact that I could get a peeled mango on a stick, a massive dulce de leche stuffed churro, and agua de jamaica at one of the nearby vendors. The headdress of the performer below was amazingly massive, and from what I can tell there are many performances such as this one taking place nearby.

Downtown Los Angeles

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