A 16th-century manuscript depicts the construction of the city of Tenochtitlán, with Aztecs strengthening the land using the chinampas method. DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images
Adelina walked briskly everywhere — and never more so than on her daily errands to the open-air mercado near my aunt’s house in Mexico City. My 8-year-old self would try to keep up, braids flying, as I watched our housekeeper’s shopping bags swing on her sturdy shoulders in a kaleidoscope of bright hues. Earlier this year, when a plastic bag ban took effect in Mexico City, news outlets noted a comeback of the traditional reusable bags Adelina once carried, which are made of plastic fiber or ixtle fiber from the maguey plant.
But bags like Adelina’s have always been popular in Mexico’s traditional mercados. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of those daily visits to the market during family stays in my parents’ native Mexico City. We’d pile those bolsas de mercado with everything from chiles, squash, and tomatoes to freshly-plucked chickens, which dangled from hooks above the food stall counters. Then we’d head to the tortillería to pile our bags with stacks of hot, freshly-made corn tortillas.