Mexico City Chief Advisor and Foreign Affairs Coordinator Diana Alarcón González

I Learned English by Watching Hawaii Five-0

Mexico City Chief Advisor and Foreign Affairs Coordinator Diana Alarcón González | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Diana Alarcón González is the chief advisor to the mayor and foreign affairs coordinator for Mexico City. She was previously the head of the Policy and Development Analysis Unit at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and her most recent book is The World Economy Through the Lens of the United Nations. After joining a Zócalo/Scripps College event, titled “What Does a Feminist Foreign Policy Look Like?,” González called into the virtual green room to chat about her pandemic reading list, growing up in Tixtla, and searching for a Zócalo in Riverside.

Q:

What did you have for breakfast this morning?


A:

I had papaya, a homemade muffin, and coffee, with a little bit of oatmeal.


Q:

What kind of muffins do you make?


A:

All kinds. I have a basic recipe, and then I do all kinds of variations, playing with different grains with different fruit, nuts. They're very delicious.


Q:

What recent city initiative are you most proud of having supported?


A:

We were one of the founding cities for the creation of Change, which is this network of cities for gender equity. This was a very exciting process because we had six mayors around the world, with very strong leadership on issues around equity, especially gender equity.


Q:

How did you get into trouble as a kid?


A:

I grew up in Tixtla, a small town in the state of Guerrero, which is on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Back then, everybody knew each other and we, as children, could run around the city. It was very small, so it was mainly around the countryside, little creeks, little rivers, climbing trees—all sorts of wild things. I got in trouble for lots of adventures.


Q:

What's the best thing you've read during the pandemic?


A:

I like [José] Saramago. He's one of my favorites. I just read Levantado del suelo. It was so powerful that I am still doing my second Saramago reading of the year. It’s on my table, ready to start reading.

I just read a very powerful book, a collection of short stories called La peste negra, the black pest. From what I am reading on the back cover—[the author, Nina Berbérova] was a lady who lived in Russia, went to Europe, and settled down in the United States. She kept writing, although she was not being published, and as an old person, a friend or a family [member] sent one of the writings to a publisher and they discovered her. So in her 80s, she started enjoying the publication of her writings and she's fabulous. This is my latest discovery.


Q:

What was your first job in politics?


A:

I have been politically active since I was in junior high school in Mexico City. After my years in the countryside, my father decided to send me, alone, to Mexico City, in 1967.

1968 was a year with lots of social conflict in Mexico. My junior high school was next to the school of teachers. All my teachers that were coming from that teachers' school were politically active, but there was a lot of repression. Police were coming to take over our building all the time. And so I started by supporting and going to demonstrations in solidarity with my teachers.

Those were years of turmoil. June 1971 was another one of those dark episodes of repression in Mexico. Many students were killed and so on. I was in that demonstration. And of course, from that time on, I was politically active all my life. So it was not a job, although it was more than full time. My political appointment now is probably my first political job.


Q:

When in your life have you experienced the most culture shock?


A:

When I first came to United States. I came to study for graduate school. I had a kid by then, an eight-year-old boy. When I arrived here, everything was shocking to me.

On the first weekend, we decided to go to the Zócalo—to the main plaza, to downtown. We wanted to walk around, to see people, to have an ice cream. We discovered that there was no such thing. We kept going around, looking at the map, and on the map, it said, City Hall. So we figured, "OK, it must be downtown." And the streets were completely empty. It was so shocking. After several weeks, we found out that people get together in the shopping malls. That's where people were.


Q:

If you could time travel to any year, past or future, what year would you time travel to?


A:

I don't think I want to travel to the future. I think I would go back to the ’60s—’65, ’67, when I was a child going wild in the middle of the mountains and a lake. That's what I go back to. I was very happy there.


Q:

You got your PhD in Economics at UC Riverside. What was the most difficult class you took there?


A:

The first struggle was getting to understand exactly what was said in the classroom. When we got to Riverside, I had taken English classes and so on, but not enough to understand a class in English or people on a daily basis. There was a series that was called Hawaii Five-0. Every day we used to run home to turn on the TV, and the challenge was to understand what they were saying so we could understand what was going on in the series. That's how I learned English. I got used to the accent, the framing of discourse, and so on. It was hard at the beginning.

Probably my worst nightmare as a student was Microeconomics. It was very technical, very mathematical-oriented, and very strange.


Q:

What is your favorite household chore?


A:

Cooking—I love cooking. I come from a family with a long tradition of cooking. My great grandmother, during the Mexican revolution, survived and raised her family by cooking, by selling food on a daily basis, and becoming one of the best cooks the town. And from then on, the tradition of cooking and good, healthy food carried on in my family.


Q:

What’s the last thing that inspired you?


A:

These years that I have been in the government of Mexico City, our mayor [Claudia Sheinbaum] has been a source of inspiration. She's a very strong person, very capable, very smart, hardworking. She has her heart where her responsibilities are. She's a permanent source of inspiration, I would say.