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.