Mexico: A Country Obsessed with Walls and Fences

My favorite walls

My favorite walls in Mexico are those that have flowers spilling over them.

In Mexico, most properties — especially houses — are hidden behind huge fences.

While I wish so much of Mexico wasn’t hidden, I understand this fence-me-in obsession on a homeowner level, perhaps because I grew up Texan? We like our personal property, and we like it private — unlike my in-laws’ neighborhood in Minnesota, where there are no backyard fences, which stunned me at first.

In Texas, though, most homeowners wouldn’t dream of fencing in their front yards. Yet in Mexico, the entire property is often ringed by a high wall, making homes of even modest means fortresses of stone and concrete.  The need to give in and build a wall is complicated, especially for American homeowners here who try to live here, sans walls.

For a country obsessed with walls, then, it follows that the walls are not merely practical forms of keeping the world out. They also become perfect space for art and advertising, easily erased and re-painted when the need strikes.

As in many countries, street art in Mexico usually surfaces first on walls.

Street art in Mexico usually surfaces first on walls.

An ad for a music group's performance - "Alacranes" means scorpions.

An ad for a music group's performance - "Alacranes" means scorpions.

Another music group's announcement.

Another music group's announcement.

Comex, a chain of paint stores, is as common as Starbucks is in Manhattan, for obvious reasons. Muted tones are not their specialty. Our apartment, for example, is painted in “Oaxaca Red,” “Gouda,” and “Tulum,”  courtesy of Comex. The bright colors help cover up the reality below — drab concrete (furnished by a similarly-named business in Mexico, Cemex.)

Who needs a sign when you can write it on the wall?

Who needs a sign when you can write it on the wall? This is probably Comex's Gouda color.

Of course, when you’re pondering cultural trends in Mexico, it doesn’t take long to find ancient references. Walls and wall art feature prominently among the sites of the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs, Toltecs….

Excavated from the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan.

A mural excavated from the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan.

And walls — or at least the murals painted upon them — figure heavily in not-so-ancient history, as well.

Famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera took inspiration from the ancient murals.

Famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera took inspiration from the ancient murals and the ancient people of Mexico. (Note: I'm not entirely sure this is one of Rivera's? There are so many good muralists in Mexico that I tend to get them all confused...and assume they're all Rivera.) Aren't her tattoos -- murals for the body -- gorgeous?

I have to wonder: This national obsession with walls is perhaps why there wasn’t a bigger outcry when the U.S. announced the building of the border fence?  Which I await eagerly to be torn down. Eagerly, folks. If only to save the South Texas/Northern Mexico flora and fauna. Obama? You’re in Mexico this week — want to announce you’re tearing down one of the dumbest creations of the 21st century?

Photos by Mark Hess and Bob Walsh

4 thoughts on “Mexico: A Country Obsessed with Walls and Fences

  1. Mark Hess says:

    That is a Diego Garcia mural – its from one of the murals that’s at the large government building (can’t remember what its called but its sort of like the White House where the President has an office) on the Zocalo – btw – we learned from our tour that this particular woman is a prostitute. Garcia always painted his prostitute figures with their hair down.

    • Alicia says:

      The name is Diego Rivera, he was a famous muralist and even painted one at the Rockefeller center in New York. The building is called Palacio Nacional (National Palace) He was Frida Khalo’s husband.

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