Meghan Dhaliwal: Photojournalism, Mexico City

Name: Meghan Dhaliwal

Age: 25

Current Country: Mexico City / D.F.

How long you have been living here for: 9 months

Frame of Reference: Before moving to Mexico, I spent my entire life on the east coast of the United States. I grew up in New Jersey, went to university in Boston and then moved to DC for work.

Current Company and Role: Freelance Photojournalist (Portfolio: http://www.meghandhaliwal.com)

Current Industry: Journalism

A short summary of your work experiences: I’m currently working as a freelance photojournalist, which means doing a bit of everything: Research, writing, editing video, shooting video plus taking photos. Prior to going freelance, I worked at the Pulitzer Center in Washington, DC as their multimedia person, which meant project development, working with photographers on grant, stepping in to help edit under deadlines, curating all exhibitions, designing our e-books and promotional materials, etc.

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THE MOVE: REALITY VS. EXPECTATIONS

Admittedly, I moved to D.F.  so that I could put an end to the long-distance component of the relationship I’m in. I also knew while I was working at my job in DC that I would eventually like to start working in the field. Mexico made sense because of my relationship but it also made sense because I would still only be a quick plane ride from my family, and the country is rich with stories. I expected it to be a hard move because I spoke no Spanish, but to be completely candid, it was so much harder than I thought it would be. I would spend weeks kicking myself for not finding the whole experience easier and more charming, and I think it was because I felt so isolated not speaking the language.

I expected it to be a hard move because I spoke no Spanish, but to be completely candid, it was so much harder than I thought it would be. I would spend weeks kicking myself for not finding the whole experience easier and more charming, and I think it was because I felt so isolated not speaking the language.

I live in Centro Historico, which is right at the heart of the city, and I don’t have many people in our barrio besides my boyfriend who speak English. I’ve learned pretty quickly (my Spanish teacher may have a different opinion) because I’ve had to, but the first few months were really tough. I had to learn to be a little easier on myself, which isn’t a strength of mine. But I’ve gotten way better at celebrating my small victories and not being so impatient with myself.

MEXICO IN A NUTSHELL

D.F.’s energy is definitely a little frenetic, with a color-outside-the-lines vibe that doesn’t really associate with any U.S. cities. The city is ancient; once the heart of the Aztec empire. It feels a little haunted by ghosts of then and now. It is also a city that truly values art, which I love.

D.F.’s energy is definitely a little frenetic, with a color-outside-the-lines vibe that doesn’t really associate with any U.S. cities. The city is ancient; once the heart of the Aztec empire. It feels a little haunted by ghosts of then and now. It is also a city that truly values art, which I love.

ITS COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Mexico City is magic. There are stories to be told and people to be met everywhere you go. I fall in love with every place differently, but Mexico feels like my first real relationship. Mexico and I…we have the good and the bad. We work through our problems. Sometimes I cry. I don’t know if I’ve ever had with anywhere else. I think I am still in the midst of finding its competitive advantage, which comes with having a strong understanding for the historical context of things that are happening in this country today, being able to speak and understand the language, and to have had traveled a bit more through the country- I’m working on it!

THE PEOPLE

I don’t know how to say this in a more eloquent way, but: everyone is awesome. My local and expat friends alike are the reason I have survived here. I think within the expat/immigrant community here, friendships form really quickly and become strong really fast because of our shared experience of not being from here.

LIFE AS A FOREIGNER

In general, people in Mexico are great and accepting of foreigners…even foreigners like me who speak terrible, terrible Spanish. The one thing that is hard right now is that when I tell people I’m from the States, the response I get would be: aren’t people pretty racist there? question because Donald Trump is always saying such xenophobic things, and people in Mexico are very aware that he is leading the Republican polls at the moment. So I always end up trying to defend where I’m from because I hate that people here think the U.S. is full of Trumps.

The one thing that is hard right now is that when I tell people I’m from the States, I’ll get the aren’t people pretty racist there? question because Donald Trump is always saying such xenophobic things, and people in Mexico are very aware that he is leading the Republican polls at the moment. So I always end up trying to defend where I’m from because I hate that people here think the U.S. is full of Trumps.

ON CULTURE AND VIBES

I think the informal economy here in the city definitely plays one of the biggest roles in shaping the culture and the vibe of the city. Six out of ten Mexican workers work in the informal sector, so with that kind of prevalence, it affects just about everything here (whether you notice it or not).

The informal sector is, of course, made up of people whose work isn’t regulated by the government–a lot of people who sell street food, goods from small markets called tianguis, etc. I interact with people who work in the informal sector every day (usually for food…can’t resist those 14 peso quesadillas) and I imagine most other people who live in D.F. do too. This piece by Quartz does a much better job than I can of explaining the impact of the informal sector, so I highly recommend checking it out even though it is a couple years old. 

Also, foreign industry—right now especially from Asia—is bringing in a lot of folks from China, Japan and Korea which naturally leads to an integration these cultures into the city. It seems that the majority of businesses that are coming in from Asia currently are mostly manufacturing companies –so large factories for Suzuki and Samsung are popping up outside the city. I was just reading that in the state of Guanajuato, there are so many people from Japan coming to work that many of the hotels feature NHK News, a Japanese news station. 

“…It seems that the majority of businesses that are coming in from Asia currently are mostly manufacturing companies –so large factories for Suzuki and Samsung are popping up outside the city. I was just reading that in the state of Guanajuato, there are so many people from Japan coming to work that many of the hotels feature NHK News, a Japanese news station.”

THE WORK CULTURE

So, as a foreign freelance journalist, I might not be able to give an accurate representation of the work culture here as I work in a bubble. I have my partner (also a journalist) and we have our network of friends in our industry here, but we all basically spend our days when we’re not in the field in our houses working. When meeting people for work, they are generally pretty accepting and easy to work with.

meghan2My insanely messy work desk. But as you can see, at least I take my vitamins.

meghan3My dining room table, where I work when I’m too overwhelmed by the mess I’ve made for myself on my desk.

ON BUSINESS: THE FOREIGN AND LOCAL JOURNALISM INDUSTRY

 Both the foreign journalists and local journalists in Mexico bring a lot to the table. The local journalists here know this country so well—they know the ins and outs of the drug war, and unfortunately become casualties of this conflict far more often than any foreign journalists. Local journalists help foreign journalists navigate this complex country. And the foreign journalists based here produce smart, nuanced work. Many of them know this country like the backs of their hands. What can be frustrating is the lack of interest in stories about Mexico from news consumers in the States and elsewhere. But that is a whole other story.

Generally, world news organizations are looking for stories about immigration and the drug war. Those are incredibly important stories to tell and tell well, but they aren’t the only stories Mexico has to offer. 

Generally, world news organizations are looking for stories about immigration and the drug war. Those are incredibly important stories to tell and tell well, but they aren’t the only stories Mexico has to offer. 

 

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Images above: The one year anniversary of the Ayotzinapa students going missing. A deeply gloomy day.

THE RANKS:

  • Ease of travel/ getting around 8 (there is transportation everywhere and it comes pretty consistently but oh my gosh it is so crowded. So this got bumped down a few points because of comfort)
  • Beauty and appreciation of the city6-10 (This city is STUNNING, full of history and art and beautiful things. But it can also be really rough around the edges and if you’re not looking for the beautiful stuff you get distracted by the hundreds of shops selling Minion piggy banks and umbrellas.)
  • Security 6 (Mexico City is safe, and our neighborhood is safe. But sometimes little things happen and I definitely use precautions that I would use in any other major city.)
  • Ease of setting upN/A (I had a ton of help with all of this stuff and honestly don’t think I can rate it fairly because I’m spoiled and had my partner and my friends helping me with all of it.)
  • The dining, retail and lifestyle scene– 8
  • Facilities and outlets to lead a healthy lifestyle7 (There are gyms and grocery stores but in our neighborhood they are a little less than in others. Also doing things like going for a run in the Centro is really hard unless you go very early in the morning because there are so many people on the street.)
  • The social and networking scene – 8
  • Personal growth 10
  • Affordability of the city – 9

Learn more about the ranking considerations here

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