Street party in Mexico City’s Roma district

Whoops and applause echoed through Mexico City’s Roma district when the eponymous film by Alfonso Cuaron picked up two early Oscars on Sunday, locals returning the love shown in the black-and-white ode to the director’s childhood home.

In something of a payback for Cuaron’s moving tribute to a childhood growing up in 1970s Roma, city officials set up giant screens in a park. Three hours ahead of time, dozens were already camping out to watch the live Red Carpet broadcast from Los Angeles.

Cheers went up in the park when “Roma” won the best foreign language Oscar – a first for Mexico – and director Cuaron won best cinematographer. Similar scenes played out elsewhere in the city.

A block away, down Avenida Alvaro Obregon, a central artery of Roma that is today crowded with cafes and bookshops, people wove through a nostalgic photo exhibit depicting scenes from the same streets and era as the movie.

As if they were outtakes from Cuaron’s set, the photos from a 1970s magazine caught scenes of a woman in curlers climbing into a large American car, balloon sellers, and a lone skyscraper among a sea of block edifices.

Cuaron’s depiction of growing up in a nearby, rambling, upper-middle-class Art Deco villa under the warm, unassuming gaze of the family’s live-in domestic worker, Cleo, raised difficult questions about the divides in Mexican society. [nL1N20I0CE]

It also captured scenes of Roma as a well-heeled district in a city bursting with modernity, with shiny new cars and sparkling hospitals, set against a backdrop of turbulent politics that included a brutal crackdown on a student protest.

Both “Roma” the movie and the neighborhood carried echoes of the city’s past and evolution, said Carlos Solar, a shopkeeper, standing beside a placard in the photo exhibit about Yalitza Aparicio, the actress who plays Cleo.

“The colonia Roma is emblematic in the context of Mexico City. It’s an old quarter, more than a century old,” said Solar. “It’s significant, it’s symbolic. It carries for us very painful memories, like the earthquakes, especially 1985.”

Built on a spongy part of former lake bed, Roma was particularly hard hit by major earthquakes in 1985 and 2017 and still bears some scars. Many of its wealthier residents moved out in the 1980s, and it became poorer and more bohemian.

Solar’s eyes welled with tears of pride as he spoke of Cuaron as “Alfonso,” who he said was an old university classmate.

Patricia Ramirez, 33, a sociologist, said she had come that afternoon out of academic curiosity, to witness the reception of the movie in Roma itself, which has gentrified again in recent years.

“Many people have a false perception of the district,” as an exclusive enclave said Ramirez, who said she grew up on the “other side of the tracks,” surrounded by trash and blue-collar laborers.

The district, she said, laughing, had in effect democratized in parallel to the country.

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