Displayed within issue one of Williams’s 50/50 Photo Project are timeless images of the original Volkswagen Beetle scattered across the landscape of Chiapas and Oaxaca, México. I write this article to encourage you to view the Beetle beyond its nostalgic presence and recognize it as something that is being used within the daily lives of many Mexicans. In the words of Néstor García Canclini, let us make “intelligible what these objects mean for those of us who see and evoke them today,” and let us recognize how context creates change.
Viewing these images through an American lens, the Volkswagen Beetle is seen as a representation of nostalgia, allowing our minds to transport back to the past. The original Beetle is a hobby car that an owner takes for joy rides and maintains for aesthetic reasons. It is a status symbol, one of taste and European sensibility. However, this same car–known as a Vocho in México–is nothing of the sort. We may know this car as having a German identity, but I argue that it is just as Mexican as it is German.
The Volkswagen Beetle was manufactured in Puebla, México starting in 1967 and continued production into the 90s. Because of this, Vochos are seen on every corner and street of Mexico stretching from colonial city centers to mountain towns. This car is no status symbol or weekend joy ride, it is an economical vehicle that is so commonplace owners don’t have to worry about it being stolen or damaged while parked out on the street. The Vocho is not a vehicle of envy or pride, but an object repaired out of necessity for means of transportation. So, while you are looking at these timeless depictions of the Volkswagen Beetle remember that it is alive and well transporting goods and people to the places they need to reach all over México.
By: Kevin Williams
“A hierarchy of cultural capitals exists: art is worth more than handicrafts, scientific medicine more than popular medicine, and written culture more than culture transmitted orally.” (Canclini 136)
-Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity
I took a short trip to Detroit, Michigan where I became quite fascinated with the existence of an area called Mexicantown. This is a small portion of Southwest Detroit that is home to a large Hispanic population which was settled in the 1940’s by a flood of workers looking for those promising industrial jobs that once powered Detroit’s economy- it is here that I ate tamales. The tamale and its journey to my mouth is a story too long to tell in a short blog post. It is the result of layered histories and migrations which have produced: Tamaleria Restaurant Nuevo Leon. No bells and whistles here- just tamales. To the right of the ordering window hangs a large poster of Mexico reminding those visitors who pass through of the origins and traditions of the people that make up this small institution.
So I ate some tamales outside Tamaleria Nuevo Leon, and as I sat on the side of the road enjoying this hot steamy treat I pondered to myself, what is this place? This may seem to be a simple question, but like anything Hispanic- the history goes deep. Yes we can all locate it on a map: 2669 W Vernor Hwy Detroit, MI. But what actually is this place? I do not think it can be defined by the geographical borders that contain it nor can we say that it is Mexico. Here we have an amalgamation created by the journeys of those who have traveled and formed it.
This is the mapped area of Mexicantown, Detroit, and yes, it lets you know very little to almost no information about the place. However, perhaps the corn husk that formally contained my steamy treat, which sits in the shape of this cultural district can give you a better idea.