Mexican author, Silvia Molina, writes the novel, Gray Skies Tomorrow, a narrative of a young Mexican girl who travels to London to attend Oxford University and her life there within a two-year span. Although not exactly an autobiography, the author writes first-person and describes events in her life as well as fictional events as she compares her new, exciting life in London, where she meets other fellow Mexicans and Latin Americans she shares her common interests with to her old life and culture in Mexico.
The author portrays the vibrant life of Mexico City in contrast to the way of life in London through tiny details of climate, economy, and culture. In the book, the female protagonist contrasts the dreary weather of London to the tropical weather of Mexico. Seeing that Mexico has a dry season half of the year, it would be understandable why she would complain how “it’s raining today” or similar phrases about being cold or cloudy in every chapter. Campeche, the city where the main character is from and speaks frequently about, is located in the southern part of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Campeche has a tropical-wet climate with Cenozoic formations and deposits like Mexican amber, clay, shale, etc. Because of the tropical climate caused by the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and the maritime tropical air masses (mT), 83% of the area is covered in tropical rainforests and leading to great lumber resources and industries- hence its name- since there is not much agricultural areas (notes). In the novel, the characters have a dialog reminiscing on the staple foods they ate in Mexico.
The protagonist asks the other character, “[describing] his early years in the tropics- ‘You’re from Villahermosa? You know, I was born in Campeche. You like cashew nuts? ’” (Molina 17). Many of the staple crops of Campeche are maize, chili peppers and beans, fruit and nuts like cashews (notes). Molina writes about these crops in the novel quite often to provide a contrast to London’s staples. For example, she speaks to one Englishman and mentions, “In Mexico we have a very large woods and every day is a fiesta there.
You can do whatever you want, take the kids to the zoo; there they ride horseback or make little tips in carts pulled by goats… They climb the trees, go on the swings, cry for cotton [candy], also you can row [boats] just like you do here some places” (Molina 87-88). Goats and horses were not introduced until the Spanish arrival in the country, since then, these livestock had flourished in the Mexican culture and are used in both Mexican and United Kingdom ocieties.
Although most of the book describes the wooded area of the land, Campeche has a coastal climate (since it is adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico) and landforms such as beaches and lagoons which shelter a varied ecosystem bursting with marine life. This coastal area (where the capitol is located) was dominantly under the Spanish-European influence (notes). Molina is proud to be a Mexican, yet she can relate to these Londoners and the European lifestyle.
The Spanish brought urban morphology to Mexico, especially in cities like Campeche City and Mexico City, where the main character lived in Mexico. The grid patterns of the cities brought upper districts into the central area, where Molina lived as her father was a popular ambassador for Mexico in Europe. Molina grew up in this prominent- industrialized community growing up, giving her a better understanding how the city of London works. Although London specifically does not have an actual grid system, it does have some similarities to Mexico City.
For example, market places are located outside the larger parts of the city which are full of stands and are quite crowded. A comparison of London’s Portobello Road market is quoted, “We get off the bus at Portobello Road. I ask Lucinda what’s the meaning of so many people and all those hippies everywhere. It’s like La Langunilla, she explains. ” (Molina 45). Both markets are very popular on the weekends, and full of tourism and vibrant items to sell, but have known for tricking people who are not careful into buying fake or cheaply made material (Fodor’s Travel).
Although it is similar to compare the urban life of Mexico and London, there are some city structure ideas that are quite contrasting. One thing Silvia Molina is not used to in London is the set-up of the public Healthcare system. In the novel, she has a conversation with her friend, Lucinda, as she goes to a clinic: “She encourages me: ‘You have no reason to be nervous. Here these things are normal, not like it is in Mexico. ’ And in Mexico I wouldn’t have the money to see a doctor.
‘It’s really good they don’t charge here, right? ” (Molina 46) With the private healthcare in Mexico in the late 1960’s and the influence of religion on the economy, prescriptions like birth control became extremely expensive and condemned by the church so it was not widely used. Molina did not have much money and could not afford to buy anything really with the pesos she was given monthly being worth half of what euros are (RSS Exchange Rate). The public healthcare established in the United Kingdom is useful for students like her who could not afford it otherwise unlike Mexico where just visiting a doctor could cost a fortune.
With the impact of the geographical climate and economy, Mexico’s culture may have a few impacts from Europe, but geographically the aspects of culture within Mexico is completely different because of the influence of indigenous cultures in the area. Mexicans take pride in their traditions, whether it be the food, the attire, or even the set up of “fiestas” for holidays and events. Molina and the other Mexicans in London speak highly of their customs and culture in London.
For one instance, Molina speaks of a traditional fiesta they partake in to provide a Mexican cultural experience for the English, “they have sent for ground corn meal, our dear tortillas, our dear chilies, hibiscus drink, tamarinds, tequila, sugar cane and crab apples for the punch, tortilla chips, earthen pots… how great it is to eat a bite of mole, to see the oranges stuck with little tricolored flags made of rice paper which give that special Mexican flavor to our food, to the offerings to the dead, to Independence Day” ( Molina 53).
Mixing the pre-conquest civilizational culture of using hibiscus plants in the area to make drinks and clay from the earth to make cooking utensils and art to the post- Spanish conquest culture of growing sugar cane on haciendas created a vibrant history and diverse culture that makes Mexico (notes). Even how and why they serve the food in Mexico is particular to its area. Molina explains this Mexican tradition, “The plates are served heaping, without leaving a bit of their surface visible.
If I were an anthropologist, I would tell you that is the custom in Mexico because they always think it’s their last meal, that tomorrow Gabriel will blow his golden horn” (Molina 56). Catholicism shaped the social life and culture of the people of Mexico after the end of the Aztec and Mayan Empires. About 84% of the Mexican population is Catholic and can be described as the predominant religious factor of the cultural geography.
Catholic schools are quite popular in cities like Mexico City, and conversation of Christian religion and common Mexican items like pinatas are brought up to explain the common subject as the main character points out, “I asked [my teacher] what is sin. And her position was: It’s like a pinata, something that appears valuable from the outside, but it’s necessary to break. Breaking a pinata makes a fiesta” (Molina 55).
Pinatas were also brought by the Spanish and are commonly used in Mexico today at parties. Traditional Pinatas are made of clay and paper and shaped as donkeys, stars, baskets, dolls, and roses. Children break the pinatas which are filled with prizes like candy (Molina 55). In the end, Molina’s novel shows the globalizing world and the similarities of Mexico and the United Kingdom during this time period.
However, the book provides the evidence that proves that Mexico is its own specialized world. The climate and the geographical features along with the history of the land offers a culture that can only be found in Mexico, whether it be in Mexico City of Central Mexico or Campeche which is located on the Yucatan Peninsula. The author provides a great description of the life in Mexico in comparison to her venture in London, giving the reader of taste of her homeland. ?