Pen's Pals: A Journey to Heal in Mexico City

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Photographer Christopher Nechodom, raised in Richmond, Ca and now living in Mexico.
Photographer Christopher Nechodom, raised in Richmond, Ca and now living in Mexico.  (Drea)

Richmond-raised photographer Christopher Nechodom retraced his family’s roots to a small town in Mexico. In doing so, he left behind the pricey Bay Area — a place that he loves dearly but was costing him more than money; peace of mind was at stake.

After experiencing a series of traumatic events: a victim of armed robbery as a kid, losing a close friend to homicide as a young adult, and then narrowly escaping the tragic Ghost Ship Fire that took the lives of 36 people in 2016, Nechodom says he’s now on the path toward healing. “I think the fire just opened the floodgates,” Nechodom tells me. “And it also forced me to finally get in touch with my own vulnerability and really address that trauma.”

Christopher Nechodom poses for a photo while wearing a beanie hat on his head, and a mid-90s Warriors jersey under a jean jacket.
Christopher Nechodom poses for a photo while wearing a beanie hat on his head, and a mid-90s Warriors jersey under a jean jacket. (KOLA)

Now a resident of Mexico City, Nechodom spends his time between the capital city and the state of Michoacán, where his mother’s side of the family is from. The time spent in the state where he has roots allows for reflection and connection, while in Mexico City he has access to business opportunities and artist circles.

The downside to what he’s seeing in Mexico City? Post-pandemic regulations in the U.S. have allowed for more people to work remotely, and a large number of people are choosing to work from Mexico. This adds to the already altered face of Mexico City, but now Nechodom is seeing rapid changes that are reflective of the same gentrification he saw in San Francisco.

When we talk, he tells me that part of his work is to inform people on how to immigrate to Mexico in a socially responsible manner. This is in addition to working on his personal growth and healing, and his photography portfolio.

This is the first episode in the Pen’s Pals series, for more info on this project click here.

Read the transcript

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Christopher Nechodom.

HARSHAW:  I’ve seen you in many iterations. I’ve seen you do photo exhibitions in downtown Oakland. I’ve seen you in Brooklyn. But now, where are you?  

NECHODOM: So now I’m in Mexico City. I finally decided to move down here to Mexico. And being a dual citizen, knowing the language, I just really felt like I was returning to the motherland. Within Mexico City, I live in a small colonia called San Miguel Chapultepec, which is a very residential area. But I have my apartment and my studio here.  

HARSHAW:  What about your day to day, what does it look like to you?  

NECHODOM: Most of my days I come here to the studio, which triples as my office, darkroom and workspace, because I’m just not a work from home kind of guy. So I’m here at the studio, and then I head back home later. Me and my partner, we cook a lot, so we’re just at the house. We’re pretty low key these days. I think the pandemic definitely shifted that. 

When I first got here five years ago, I was definitely much more out and about, you know, networking a lot more at all the art events and all that and I still make time for that but I’m definitely transitioning to an era of my life where I’m much more self-centered, but rightfully so. 

HARSHAW: You mentioned to me before that there’s a whole communities of expats. Have you noticed any signs or menus in English or things that cater to folks from the United States? 

NECHODOM:  I’ve met people that have lived here multiple years and still only have a very basic understanding of Spanish because they can get by without it. And this is honestly out of every other country I’ve been to, I’ve never seen so much English being spoken, just in general. 

It’s one thing if you’re a tourist and you got a little book and you just learn how to say bathroom and like, excuse me. Okay, you’re just trying to get by. But if you want to live here, if you want to dwell and integrate and interact with actual local Mexicans, you need to learn Spanish. 

HARSHAW: Do you miss home? 

NECHODOM:  I miss two things about home. I miss the access to nature and I miss my people, my friends and my family.

HARSHAW: If there was one thing you’d write home about, from your time in Mexico, what would it be

NECHODOM:  When you say write home about, I’m thinking about what would I write my mom like writing a letter to my mom, like how it’s been for me.  I think she would be really proud of me just telling her that this place has definitely helped me heal, has inspired me creatively. She was definitely a little bit sad to see me go far away again, especially after being in New York for four years. Me leaving again was hard on my mom at first. But I remember when I was doing it, I was like ‘Mom, I need to do this. I need to do this for myself,’ and I’m really glad I made that decision as hard as it was. Now moving here, I’ve created a whole community here and we just gotta keep it going.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.