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Mexico City First Stop in the New World

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“Mexico City is poised to be part of the vanguard of this century. Culturally, economically, and politically, it can be seen as the capital of the Spanish-speaking world.”

-David Lida, First Stop in the New World

David Lida’s book, First Stop in the New World, is an anecdotal joy ride through Mexico City at street level. Told in short glimpses, Lida pieces together a rich menagerie of life in a city that is predicted to bloom, prosper, and grown out of control in the 21st century.

“The capital of the 21st century,” reads the subtitle, and this prediction is the heart and soul of the book. By showing the highs and lows of life in Mexico’s capital, Lida sets out to pave the way for the world’s acceptance of Mexico City as the next global capital of culture and commerce.

Lida writes that First Stop in the New Wold is, “a journalistic, anecdotal street-level panorama of Mexico City. The book highlights the place’s paradoxes – that it is home to the richest man in the world, but half of the population lives in poverty; that criminals and cops are difficult to distinguish; that consumerism is ostensibly shunned but outwardly embraced. It journeys through the realms of sex and crime, money and religion, politics and entertainment, art and soccer.”

I am unsure if Lida has his blinders off when making the claim that Mexico City will become the world’s next cultural capital, but the stories that he tells in this book are highly enjoyable to read, regardless of whether they prove any off-handed prophecy.

Lida writes that, “. . . by 2050 the city will expand some forty miles west to envelop the city of Toluca, about sixty miles due south to swallow Cuernavaca, and another sixty miles to the north to absorb Pachuca, resulting in a gargantuan entity of some forty-five million inhabitants.”

In lieu of this pervading onslaught of urbanization, I feel that Lida’s book has come at the perfect time. Mexico City is now on the precipice of rapid change, and Lida’s book stands as an indelible snapshot of a city that is caught perilously between the actions of coming and going.

First Stop in the New World starts out with a description of the urban stage upon which the stories of the book play out. Lida gives an introductory explanation of the “Hypermetropolis” – a word that is often used to describe what Mexico City is rapidly becoming – and how the eyes, and money, of the world are gradually drifting towards the urban heart of Mexico. He then shows maps and explains the genesis of the city that was once the capital of the Aztec empire, complete with an explanatory time-line of how it developed into the urban monster that it is today. From this starting point, Lida then leads the reader on a journey through the the highs and lows of Mexican City life.

Talks about globalization, sexuality, the Mexican media, art, gentrification, customs, slang, religion, work, and oddities formulate the backbone of First Stop in the New World. Lida digs deep into the meat of the city with the razor scalpel of a journalist, as he cuts out anecdotal descriptions of the people and places in Mexico City. Taken as a whole, this collection of short literary time-bombs provide the reader with a rather complex, though complete, impression of the the people of Mexican metropolis stand at the beginning of the 21st century.

Lida, who has lived in Mexico City for the better part of the past 18 years, has obviously had the opportunity and willingness to befriend all levels of the urban social sphere. From the grossly rich to the dire poor, Lida interviewed, conversed, and befriended businessmen, prostitutes, professional wrestlers, street vendors, and seemingly anyone else who could serve as an instillation in his non-duel portrait of Mexico City.

From First Stop in the New World:

“The clock behind the bar at El Nivel, the oldest cantina in Mexico City, runs backward, an apt metaphor for the spiritual condition of two of its clients on a recent Friday afternoon. Fiftyish, rumpled, crooked smiles on their faces, they sat with their arms around each other’s shoulders, not only as a gesture of solidarity, but to keep from falling on the floor.”

The above quote is a taste of the colloquial, friendly tone that Lida maintains throughout the book. It was written as if Lida was having a simple, warm conversation with his readers, and he openly invites us to walk through his door and really experience the vibrancy and depth of Mexico City and its people.

First Stop in the New World is truly a great primer to prepare for a trip to Mexico, or a book that will pull at the memory cords of even the most weathered traveler. This book was written from the street, and leaves a tangible record of a city that carries high promises through the gates of the 21st century.

Interview with David Lida

Blog of David Lida

Riverhead Books, First Stop in the New World


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Filed under: Mexico, Travel Writing

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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