Mexico City: Memory in Movement

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Friday marked the forty-seventh anniversary of the massacre of students in Tlatelolco. As is accustomed, thousands marched to commemorate the student movement-and denounce the repression and murder of hundreds of students, both then and now-in a lively and compelling display of student activism and solidarity. “2 de Octubre no se olvida!” was plastered in graffiti all over downtown while students chanted and waved banners, not simply moving memory but agitating it, shaking it from deep slumber.

It was the first time that I observed the march from outside. Ever since my study abroad stint at UNAM, I have attended the march both as a protestor and researcher. I’ve learned the emblematic protest chants and have felt my heart swell with pride when chorusing the UNAM university chant. I learned to deeply adore the sound of Goya! resound, bounce against hundreds of bodies, and fill Eje Central Avenue. There’s a segment of the protest route that goes underneath an overpass on Eje Central and Reforma- there the sound and noise of all the protestors builds an incredible power that makes every student feel, and has made me feel, invincible. It is an amazing experience.

But on Friday I was standing along the street observing with hundreds of residents and journalists. Standing on the railing of that overpass, I peered down and observed the protestors approach.  Right before disappearing underneath the bridge, the leaders of the march, the survivors of the Tlatelolco repression and student leaders of that 68 generation paused all lined up behind a banner, stoic and prideful. As if time and years of impunity, protest, and marches like these have sculpted them into seasoned warriors.

The protest advanced and following that older generation were multiple groups of teachers’ college students, normalistas. Their chants had a deep sonorous quality-chants almost one-hundred years old, written by peoples who inherited and still fight to uphold the values of a failed revolution. Observing the normalists march, I became overwhelmed and struck by their conviction and resiliency.

The noise began to build, and the sea of protestors began to steadily flow southbound, the women students of the teachers’ college, the political science students of UNAM, the engineers from the Polytechnic University, all composing an amazing symphony of resistance and presence. Dozens and dozens of university groups marched forward, each adding their chants and chorus to one beautiful amazing and overwhelming voice of protest.

I was struck by the beauty and solidarity of the march. All of a sudden this unity, this ruckus, this vision inspired deep and pure hope in my heart.

Mexico is a country that has suffered very deeply, for very long. For so long that disenchantment and bitterness has grown in the heart of many, who doubt and are unable to dream of a country of justice and love.

But bearing witness to conviction in its purest form, to fierceness and courage, to that amazingly public and unified expression of resistance, politicization, and memory, reignited the conviction, at least in my own heart. A conviction that not only is justice possible, but it exists in the hearts and desires of thousands upon thousands of mexicans, of students.

That Mexico-just like many other countries, just like many other cities, just like many other living and feeling people- deserves and demands justice and respect for life and freedom. That Mexico maybe  a country rotting in corruption, cynicism, and apathy but it is these conditions that incubates memory and resistance.

Mexico is alive. And Mexico has memory. Mexico gives life to movements and memories and dreams for better worlds.

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Mexico City: Metro Meditations

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Andre Roman Medina Photography

Twenty-five months living in Mexico City can do something to one’s sense of empathy, compassion and sensibility to the suffering and violence of city life.

When I first moved here I went into a sort of physical, emotional and spiritual shock. Meanwhile I completely fell in love with the city for its grandness and sublime beauty, discerning the smallest details and a specialness that set it a apart from any other city I had ever visited, I was overwhelmed by its class divisions, extreme poverty, discrimination against indigenous peoples, love for the foreign but disdain for otherness (rooted in a love for eurocentrism), and blatant arrogance of many of its denizens. This I discerned in every pocket of public space and in an endless array of social settings.

I remember joining all of my study abroad friends in nighttime outings to posh neighborhoods and witnessing-and participating in-a culture that completely ignored and looked down on the sleepy-eyed vendors who sold gum packs and cigarets. For many people the indigenous mother sitting on the sidewalk with her children blended into the building wall she leaned against: invisible only until you had the urge to take a drag from a Marlboro. I also recall sitting in a cab or squeezed into a city bus parked on a major intersection and playing spectator to children and adolescents performing as jugglers, fire eaters, clowns and mimes.  And the language one speaks here is riddled with sexisms, classisms, and racisms. Even in the marches-at this point I’ve attended so many, from #YoSoy132 to the year anniversary of Ayotzinapa-are vehemently misogynist and anti-gay.

All of these nuances and realities were so fresh and thus so shocking that they bombarded my senses, overwhelmed me emotionally, and deeply angered and confused me.  Unfamiliar with this social and culture way of being, I learned to navigate the city, adapting what I admired and needed, challenged and tried to ignore what I didn’t.

These first few months were overwhelming yet in a sense also exhilarating. Experiencing everything the first few times was incredible, and twenty-five months later, I still love riding the metro, still love peseros for what they are-an affordable tour of overpopulated D.F.-and I still love this city for the unforgiving beast it is.  But it was just a few days ago, coming out of a film in Cineteca Nacional, that I realized that the city has physically and emotionally exhausted me.

This realization was probably inspired by the film: seven brothers detail the joys and anxieties of living enclosed in a New York City apartment for eighteen years.  It was a light-hearted look into the lives they constructed within the four walls of the apartment, the 5,000 films they’ve watched and recreated,  from entire films like Reservoir Dogs to recreating Halloween seances, burning effigies and enjoying and ultimately questioning the liberty of seclusion.  Entering that space heightened my sensitivity to life outside once I left the theater. Thoughts on how despite the endless promise of creativity, love, and connection, many of us engage in unfeeling, self-centered and uncreative lives.

Once sitting in the Metro car, wedged between two drowsy darling viejitas, I closed my eyes and listened to the murmurs of those around me, the life, the laughter, and the deep and heavy drowsiness cradled by the rumble of the train. I saw that many people, including myself, refused to exchange a glance, a smile, a hello.  The Metro, has and will always be a perfect metaphor for Mexico City.  It is an overwhelming and extreme example of over-population, frustration, noise, alienation and humanity.

In the past few days I have been more observant, more receptive, and intuitive to what people and the city have to express to me.  Today, on my way to my favorite cafe in Downtown, I was again reminded why the Metro is a perfectly furious and intense expression of life in the city.

As the train zoomed northward toward Cuatro Caminos, the rain hit the window and the bright cloudy sky illuminated the faces of the row of people sitting across from me. Today, on a Monday morning, everyone was alert, eyes dashed from right to left, following each vendor as they hollered their sales pitch and made their way down each train car.

As I peered above a man’s head and watched the cityscape zoom past me I could hear the vendor with a stereo strapped to his back approach my car. His selection today: 100 MP3s of classic rock n’ roll. As David Bowie faded away the vendor skipped three tracks and there the sweet guitar of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord began to fill our car. My heart rejoiced because it happened to be one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums. Overwhelmed with this happiness that fell like a kiss, I closed my eyes to take it in, smiled and felt grateful to enjoy such a sweet song on such a sweet day. I fluttered my eyes open and saw the man across from me smiling as well.  This mobile melodic morsel lasted a few seconds as the vendor made his way across and disappeared into the next car.

A few seconds later  the next vendor came bustling in.  His performance: backflipping onto shards of glass arranged on a piece of cloth. As soon as people saw him approach they winced in disgust, uncomfortable, and avoided eye contact even with each other. A mother hurried her children to the other end of the car. Instead of running down one extreme of the car and onto the glass he begged passengers to give him change, appealing to our repulsion and disdain. He walked past us, his elbows torn and bruised from a previous work day, and made his way onward after not receiving any change.

Mexico City is this. It’s ugly, it’s painful, it’s beautiful and human. It’s deep deep apathy and indifference. It’s a struggle for survival. It’s moments of pure performative poetry-both painful and uplifting.

I don’t think I can ever become completely desensitized to this. Because the city finds ways to remind me of these struggles for survival while allowing me to experience moments of pure poetry. Moments that sweetly and brutally remind me that I am here, and that I’m painfully alive.

Tláloc destroys Mexico City

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Las lluvias fuertes que nos enviaba Tláloc finalmente lograron derrubar el piso de pierda volcánica.

El gigante hueco, que en algún momento fue el Zócalo se expande cada vez más, devorando la corrupción, arrogancia, el racismo, y todas esas estúpidas sucursales Starbucks. Se borra sobre la faz de esta ciudad la banalidad que le impuso el neoliberalismo, se aniquila la estratificación de clases en la urbe, y se elimina la desigualdad por que Tlalóc de una ves por todas elimina la ciudad.

Ni queda el lecho del lago, la pierda volcánica, solo vacío. Al final, solo así logramos deshacernos de una violenta desigualdad de nuestra propia creación. Valió la pena rogarle tanto a Tláloc, a ver si podemos empezar de nuevo, a ver si no la cagamos.

Todo aquello me lo imagino mientras voy sentada en un Metrobus que ha estado inmóvil en el cruce de Insurgentes y Baja California por diez minutos. Diez minutos.

Cuando llueve así de fuerte como llovió hace dos horas todo se vuelve una mierda. A mi me encanta la lluvia tanto como me asusta, ver como azota contra sombrillas con una violencia milenaria, haciéndome pensar que Tlalóc  esta disgustado (quien no, con un mundo donde los Trumps y Peña Nietos son dueños del poder mediático y político).

Me encanta la lluvia, y a pesar de que mis jellies queden empapados y la sombrilla rota, estoy agradecida con Tlalóc por que nos bendice con caos, que es vida. Y me pongo a contemplar si algún día la naturaleza ejerce todo su poder de destrucción contra nosotros, contra esta ciudad monstruosa, qué sucediera.

¿Por dónde volveríamos a empezar? ¿Construiríamos lo mismo? Nunca me arrastraría del cráter si eso significaba vivir en un mundo lleno de Starbucks.

Mexico City: Mujer, amante del punk y delirio

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Alistándonos para salir de fiesta, tomando mezcal, The Cramps resonando por todo el depa. A dies minutos para la media noche, la ciudad nos apresura, le damos fondo a nuestras bebidas mágicas y vamos rumbo a alcanzar el último metro que nos llevará a las pistas ultravioletas infundidas de punk.

Ser jóven y amante del punk y todos sus derivados, de querer y poder bailar sin importarte en lo minimo quien o que te rodea — hombre, muxer, chavx, fresa, goth y todo lo que cabe en medio: bailamos. Entrega completa al fuzz de la guitarra y hondura del bajo, a la desesperación de las batacas y el delirio colectivo de cuerpos aplastando, empujando, moviéndose.

Ser mujer, amante del punk y delirio, y vivir en el DF. Las desveladas, los slams, lxs amigxs nuevos y las pistas de baile, innumerables como las botellas vacías de jumex y tequila. Memorias derramadas y esfumadas en calles sin nombre. Nada se compara a los slams de surf y garage punk de mis favoritas bandas rápidas frenéticas y chilangas. A los círculos de chavos banda chocándose enérgicamente en el corazón de Iztapalapa. A bailar rodeada de gente que dicta su movimiento colectivo a una música subversiva y alucinante.

Fui chavita, amante de punk por primera vez en la secundaria. Los CDs de The Clash de mi hermana y mi primer novio, que me dio la credibilidad necesaria para asistir a tokines en el barrio de Los Ángeles, me iniciaron en un viaje irreversible.

Avanzamos ocho años, surgiendo del metro Niños Heroes, cruzando Jardin Pushkin y reviviendo mi amor por el delirio musicalizado en la pista del MultiForo Alicia. Al llegar, agotó mi energía bailando al compas del caos. Y cuando los efectos de mi última chela se desvanece de mi cuerpo, bailo totalmente sobria, alentada por una energía inagotable, espíritu agitándose, ojos entrecerrados, cuerpo y alma libre.

Mandar a un chavo dos veces mi tamaño volando a través del slam. Pierdo los aretes, rompo mi reloj, me tumban me revuelco me levantan del suelo, delineador y pelo hecho desmadre.

Amante del caos, del desmadre, bailar, perder y encontrarme en el centro de la pista de baile, soltarlo todo.

El punk en la ciudad de México me hace mujer libre, loca, y delirante. La mujer combativa que siempre he sido.

Mexico City: Añoranza

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¿Como nombrar este sentimiento que me paraliza de tristeza al contemplar sus amaneceres desde la memoria? ¿Qué es esto que me agobia de desesperanza de cerrar los ojos para abrirlos y encontrarme parada a la altura de uno de sus innumerables cerros, a la altura de todo su caos? ¿Qué es esto lo que siento, qué es esto que me a afligido por cuatro largos, hermosos, increíbles, dolorosos años?

¿Como y porqué nombrarlo?

Este amor, este sufrimiento, es el principio y fin de mucha poesía, mucho silencio, mucho mal entendimiento. Fuente inagotable de inspiración y principal tema de debate. Con el fin de racionalizar la poesía, de teorizar acerca del laberinto que es el corazón, me entorpezco con sentimiento, con nostalgia, con añoranza.

Lo que sufro, siento y no pienso, es la poesía encarnada y sollozada. Evidencia de que he sentido un amor inigualable. Que por haber partido por primera vez hace cuatro años, estoy conectada eterna e ineludiblemente con la ciudad. La partida, la ruptura en pleno amor, justo en los más intensos y hermosos momentos, cuando duele más. Cuando es imposible regresar.

Si me hubiera quedado…si hubiera vivido, amado, habitado la ciudad ininterrumpidamente, ¿hubiera bastado el tiempo? ¿me hubiera sentido plena de amor, satisfecha de sentir?

Pero me fui. Y siento. añoro. amo.

Nunca dejare de extrañarla. Nunca dejaré de pensar en ella cuando me encuentre muy lejos. Pese a una felicidad distinta inspirada por otros lugares, pese a la tranquilidad meditada, pese a la sabiduría de los tropiezos, de las distancias, del amor. Nunca.

Siempre me va a doler no estar allí. Siempre me va a doler aunque regrese. Siempre.

Mexico City: Muse

Chad Santos Photography

It is difficult to explain this even to myself.

A wave of emotion overcomes me upon admiring this beautiful picture by Chad Santos of the Valley of Mexico. Burdened with euphoria and bliss, I am surprised to deeply feel and validate a truth that’s lived inside of me for such a long time, a faithful companion in all of my journeys in the past four years.

In my frantic desire to be within and be surrounded by this city, I realize that although physical proximity is and will always be a priority for me when in comes to DF, what I have deeply yearned for is to absorb as much of its essence in order to mold my spirit and being after the beauty of its vastness and its absolute singularity.

A mujer in love with a city. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of people in love with Mexico City. Out of so many of us, constantly growing and multiplying, sharing and encouraging, I wonder how many love it so deeply and so differently as to want to imbue their life and their being with some of its best, most spiritual, most haunting and thus most human qualities. I find myself contemplating how many of us begin to think and feel that this overwhelming love is the beginning of a process of root shaking growth, of emotional and spiritual cultivation.

I entertain this new revelation: I love Mexico City in order to become more like it.

To imbue each detail, each part, each morsel of my days with the qualities and characteristics that have irremediably enamored me. Its restless nature. The love and warmth of its public space. The millions of opportunities to share a smile, a drink, a poem, a sunset with absolute strangers. The sonorously rich cadence of twenty-seven million people rising with the sun and moving through the entirety of its surface, swarming in beautiful choreography of the every day bustle both above and below its concrete lake bed. The opportunity to share anything and everything with it and with its inhabitants, relishing it all in the solace and solidarity of solitude. The scenes, the films, the music, the sunrise, the Sunday strolls, the Saturday café con leche y chocolate croissants, the freedom inspired while on the brink of a kiss, on the brink of a taxi collision. The marvelous of the everyday, the quotidian of the surreal. The fluidity of life within chaos, hope comforted by unpredictability, resting and growing within the unfamiliar, expansion of the self and of the spirit within endlessness.

All of this has inspired me to write profusely and ceaselessly. It has inspired fleeting and soul-searing love affairs. It has inspired my activism, my journalism, my voice, my political and spiritual commitments and expressions. It has inspired such a shift in my cosmovisión that not one thing I do upon rising and upon laying to rest has remained unaffected by my connection to it. It has inspired such profound irreparable change. An unleashing of an incessant river within me, that nourishes my spirit and sprouts the creative projects that serve as ode and poetry to its inexhaustible capacity to inspire this sort of love in us.

What I carry with me, what nourishes me on my journey that is this life, is the affirmation that I am as great and expansive as that city. Of looking within and seeing a reflection of that which I love without measure. A reminder to live and love in homage to this gift: I am serendipity. I am unpredictability. I am vast. I am endless. I am alive. 

Mexico City: Performativity a lo Chilango

In Mexico City, everything is performative. The dress of denizens reflect social positioning, sub-culture loyalty, political affiliations and both economic privilege and injustice. The majority of Mexican people, like individuals and entire communities globally, use clothing to express themselves – fresas flock to the gigantic malls of the city that house transnational clothing chains like Zara and Bershka, rockeros punkeros and goths do their shopping on Saturday mornings at El Chopo tianguis, and autonomous and revolutionary minded students and people opt to thrift, recycle and trade clothing in direct resistance to the mass spending that characterizes Mexico’s consumer habits.

But there are also people who are not given this option of personal and social expression through dress: a large population of Mexico City lives in severe poverty, surviving off the pocket change of the millions of transients that pass them by on Metro station entrances, intersections of major avenues, and important pedestrian streets in the city’s center. Meanwhile many people live without the choice nor the ability of economic consumption, their presence is an important part of Mexico City’s collective identity. It is a city of contradictions, where abundance and scarcity live in the same neighborhood, walk the same streets, and struggle to make themselves seen, heard, and noticed.

Performativity encompasses not only dress, but many aspects of cultural expression such as language, social relationships and especially in Mexico City, corruption. Just like people work on sidewalks to gather change, many police officers, underpaid and unscrupulous, often ask for mordidas or pay-offs from young folks caught drinking out in public, from motorists accused of traffic violations and from unsuspecting denizens identified as srewable. This performance is intimidating as they menace people with arrest and if you’re a foreigner, deportation. Witnessing the performativity of corruption and poverty of Mexico’s police force is not cool at all, trust me.

Yet for me, the most aesthetically pleasing and insightful example of urban performativity in Mexico City remain to be the hundreds of street performers, mimes and movie characters brought to life on weekends in el Centro Historico. Panhandling is turned into a ritual that involves entire families and public life in the city and is a view into this society’s perpetual hunger for constant entertainment, a direct result of unceasing consumption of television and mass media.

The pictures that follow, taken by the talented photographer and chronicler of Mexico City, Chad Santos, illustrate the faces that both symbolize necessity and epitomize the happiness of many of the city’s children: the Joker, Neyteri, the Rocker, el Payaso, y la Catrina.

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The Joker, impeccably cynical, attracts both young and adult boys alike. The eery shadows and contrasts between grey, blue and black hues of the growing night in El Centro frame his stage: limitless urban space.

 

 

 

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The research, time and artistry of DF’s public and street side celebrities represents the DIY attitude that characterizes DF living. Yet there is something deeply beautiful about it all, the crafting of the faces of Mexico City, los rostros de la ciudad, adapting and transforming them, the limitless possibility of becoming something and someone else.

 

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Their faces, perfectly crafted and painted, pay homage to contemporary norteamericano culture, a lo Chilango. But it seems that even street performers themselves are capable of believing that they can become these idols. For minutes, hours and entire evenings, he is Gene Simmons.

 

 

chad santos_payasoLos payasos, clowns, are among the most widespread streetside musers in DF. Exhausted and often overwhelmed faces are costumed in bright colors. They share jokes in the metro, juggle on Reforma and offer balloon animals and smiles in el Centro. Happiness to momentarily lighten the ceaselessness of everyday life of an often overwhelming city.

 

chad santos_catrinaLa Catrina is a quintessentially Mexican expression of beauty, immortality and pride. It is an aesthetic inspired by Posada and appropriated worldwide, especially on Nov. 2 (Día de los Muertos). In Mexico City, children gaze upon el rostro de la catrina,  an admiration and assertion that lo Mexicano, us mexicans, us too, are beautiful.