Mexico City as the Director of ‘Roma’ Remembers It (and Hears It)

Mexico City as the Director of ‘Roma’ Remembers It (and Hears It)

The area’s popularity among the wealthy began to fade around the middle of the 20th century, as many residents moved to increasingly fashionable areas further from the city center or to newly developed suburbs. They were replaced by a middle class — professionals, government bureaucrats, business owners, said Enrique Krauze, a prominent Mexican historian and writer. Crime and other complexities of urban life also became more prevalent.

“In 1970 and 1971, the years that Cuarón recreates in ‘Roma,’ the neighborhood was a laboratory of real, not idealized, coexistence, with its prestigious schools and its cabarets and brothels,” Mr. Krauze wrote in a recent essay about the social and cultural significance of “Roma.”

Cuarón lived on a quiet side street in the area known as Roma Sur, or South Roma. When he was young, Roma Sur was less affluent and more run-down than the northern half of the neighborhood, Roma Norte.

People would disparage his area by calling it “Roña” — meaning “scab.”

I told him I lived in Roma Norte. “The right side of the tracks,” he said with perhaps a tinge of sarcasm.

Roma was hit hard by the devastating earthquake in 1985, which accelerated the flight of the affluent and the disintegration of the neighborhood. In the past decade, however, Roma has rebounded and has become a vortex of the bourgeois and hip once again, supporting a thriving cafe society, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and bars. In this renaissance, the lines of distinction between Roma Norte and Roma Sur have blurred, though not completely.

“I think Roma Sur is still edgier,” Cuarón said, adding that he appreciated how Roma Sur still supported many mom-and-pop businesses and tradesmen’s workshops — some of the same textures he remembered from his childhood.

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