Mercado Sonora is a traditional market near the center of Mexico City. Sure you can find traditional pottery, colorful balloons and balls and toys but what makes this place unique are the traditional herbs, occult objects, and live animals.
If you have a difficult time seeing animals mistreated I recommend you don’t walk through the center of the market. Stick to the passages on the outer edges or go around to the back and enter from there. From the backside of the market it is more obvious where there are animals and where there aren’t.
What kind of animals? Dogs, cats, goats, chickens, reptiles, birds, and fish mainly. The craziest thing I saw was probably baby alligators. It smells bad and the animals are not well kept. There are Pit Bull and Chihuaha puppies everywhere; cats piled on top of each other; crowded goats; I could go on. It wasn’t pleasant but I am glad I saw it as it is real, and it really is happening. I would rather be informed than ignorant.
Okay, now that we are past the animals the reason to come here is for all the occult objects. Statues, dolls, candles, soaps, potions, incenses, amulets, etc… Everything you need for a proper ritual. Also lots of herbs, dried flowers, bark, thorns, dried fish, toads, reptiles, pelts, horse hair, you name it.
I don’t practice Santeria and I’m no anthropologist but I know that Santeria has its roots in the Carribean and is a mix of West African and Catholic religious rituals. It made its way to Mexico via Cuba in the 1960’s when a lot of Cuban Revolution exiles settled in Mexico. Since then Santeria in Mexico has taken on the local traditions of a deeply catholic nation as well as elements of indigenous traditions.
What this looks like to the outsider visiting the market is a hodgepodge of every occult and religious symbol you can think of. Seeing statue after statue all lined up and countless burlap sacks of herbs, I can’t help but think of all the people who work to manufacture and harvest all this stuff. What role besides economic does Santeria play in their lives?
It can seem a little kitschy until you see people walking around with their lists buying what they need to do who knows what.
If you go, be aware of your belongings and surroundings as there can be pickpockets. Don’t try and take pictures of the live animals unless you want to engage in some kind of confrontation. Asides from the animal peddlers most of the merchants were tolerant if not friendly and many of them are happy to answer questions. You can even get a cleanse which involves being hit with leaves, spun around and having alcohol spit on to you. Be respectful as a lot of people take this very seriously.