fronteras: a re-encuentro with the borderlands

I find myself deeply re-reading Migrant Imaginaries, a book by Alicia Schmidt Camacho, that explores the historical and contemporary dynamics of the transborder migratory circuit that traverses the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

I first read this book back in 2011 while a student at UC Santa Cruz, as part of my favorite undergraduate course of my Latin American and Latina/o Studies major. This book recaps various perspectives from early border scholars like Americo Paredes and late twenty century Chicana feminists like Cherie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. It overviews what I come to interpret as the fragmented mexican imaginary: México de afuera, México de adentro, México profundo and México fragmentado – or as Americo Paredes once identified it, Greater Mexico: the borderlands.

As I re-read Imaginaries, I prepare to apply to the Fulbright program, hoping to conduct a research project about contemporary transborder solidarity in the context of increasingly violent and hostile domestic policy on both sides of the border.

And much like that time of intellectual and personal growth experienced and endured as a student, I deeply connect these parts as chapters of my perpetual awakening as a I traverse through many borders, through many worlds. Only that today I feel more well versed in the ritual of positioning my experience before theories, of the conversation and exchange of these as spiritual and intellectually healing and enriching processes.

It is incredible how while coming across this literary and theoretical treasure via an on-line search for my literature review, I remember having seen the “luminous Santa Niña de Mochis” as an image by artist Alma Lopez that graces the cover of a book already buried in my bookshelf. Years since graduating, years since first leaving to Mexico City (and the subsequent choreographies of crossborder traversing), and an entire life living within the borderlands, it is a literal and intellectual unearthing. A wiping away of collected dust of the passage of time, the dimming of college-aged epiphanies, and a re-encuentro with the remnants of the intellectual parlance among compxs. Only that now, post-everything that I’ve lived seen felt and experienced since that time of intellectual incubation, everything is suddenly more illuminated, más tangible, más fuerte.

Supongo que de eso se trata la construcción, this is construction. Como las palabras sirven para articular las experiencias que tejen las teorías, que en alguna vez pudieron articular nuestrxs silencios y ausencias, what once was inarticulate even to our own imagination. Y que con la persistencia del tiempo y del viaje podemos borrar hasta las fronteras entre teoría y practica, y fomentar y compartir los aprendizajes del proceso cíclico que se experimenta como andantes de fronteras. The erasure of the borders that sever theory from practice, and the possibilities there incubated:

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She inhabits the borderlands. She stays, awakens the dead, and tries to “make whole what has been smashed at this unnatural boundary.” Santa Niña de Mochis, habitante de nuestras fronteras, “she is the maker of worlds.”

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Mexican Political Surrealisms

Some Context: This is a piece I wrote on the presidential inauguration of  PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in December 1, 2012.  This reflection was a product of the political youth attitudes of that year, which were particularly agitated and mobilized as a result of the #YoSoy132 student movement (in which I participated in and researched from May to December of that year). The mood was tense and students were disenchanted and exhausted; #YoSoy132 was unable to prevent the conception of a premeditated political plan to bring the historically corrupt PRI to power. Due to the more recent examples of protests, particularly in Mexico City, against the new telecommunications lawI was able to dig this up and thus reflect on the patterns of repression of social protest in Mexico since EPN’s inauguration in 2012:

 As I write it is December 1st, the first official day of Enrique Peña Nieto’s political reign over Mexico.  Today, I saw the signs of times to come cloud over Mexico City.  Instead of the usual orderly but maintained chaos of downtown Mexico City, I observed people walk the glass-shattered streets contemplative, anxious, sin rumbo.

 Today I took the metro from my apartment in the south of the city up to the Centro Histórico.  I was hoping to catch up to the protesters who were marching in rechazo, repudiation, of the legitimacy  of Enrique Peña Nieto, who was inaugurated at midnight on December 1st. As they marched toward east to El Zócalo from el Angel de Independencia, they were met with hundreds and hundreds of grenadiers, heavily protected police force armed with shields and equipped with tear gas.  The grenadiers had been mobilized to prevent the march, in which families, students and children had participated in, from reaching el Zócalo, which sits situated right under the vigilance of the government palace.  I didn’t see the confrontation unfold but when I arrived to El Centro and got off at the Bellas Artes metro stop, I saw glass-shattered avenues, overturned barricades and graffitied walls. Huge groups of spectators looked onto the groups of grenadiers, positioned defensively with their shields forming a barricade against potential agitators.

As I stood with the crowd, I was overcome with the shared sense of anxiety, discomfort, and outrage.  Standing there I observed how the protestors, now scattered among the crowd and around the perimeter of Bellas Artes, continued to confront the police with an armament of rocks, sticks, and shouts. I observed how a group of around thirty people scattered for rocks and proceeded to throw in unison and succeed in pushing back the police force a couple of yards.  The protestors shouted to the police forces, “Who are you protecting?” “You’re protecting asesinos!” “You should be protecting us!”

 I thought to myself, whom are they protecting?  Enrique Peña Nieto is the young face of the PRI, a party that, if as children of the Mexican diaspora we inquire to anyone of our parents or grandparents, will admit has a notorious, violent, and repressive political track record. It was under PRI’s 71 yearlong governance that the Mexican government repressed and ordered the assassination of hundreds of student protestors in the Plaza de Tlatelolco in 1968, in one of largest massacres in Latin America of the last century. It was under PRI governance that students were again repressed in El Halconzao in 1971.  It was under PRI governance that Mexican society became desensitized to political corruption and repression of social protest.

 In 2006, in San Salvador Atenco in the state of Mexico, protestors and community members were severely repressed by federal and state police.  What began as resistance from flower vendors against displacement from their areas of work, escalated into a confrontation between the police and the community.  This battle, waged by the police with clubs and malevolence, ended with more than two hundred deaths and arbitrary arrests and the rape of more than two-dozen women.   Under the governance of Enrique Peña Nieto, violence against women, repression of social protest and political corruption skyrocketed in the state of Mexico.

This is the government that was democratically elected the first of July of this year? The #YoSoy132 movement organized in May of this year was a direct response to the political and societal implications of the return of the PRI, especially with Enrique Peña Nieto as candidate.  #YoSoy132 tried with vigor and creativity to dissuade the Mexican public from supporting the PRI, but through an elaborate election fraud scheme of vote buying,  political corruption and media manipulation, Enrique Peña Nieto also known as el copetón, was elected into office.

Now, what awaits Mexico? It’s a vicious cycle.  A cycle of outrage, disenchantment, violence, and resistance.  A cycle that has repeated again and again in Mexico, sexenio after sexenio.  In a recent Skype conversation with my father, he explained to me that it was now my turn to learn and live in carne propia the mechanics of political and social manipulation of the PRI, lived experiences he and so many other Mexicans from past generations know very well.

Memory and the Politics of Forgetting

In Mexico, memory is restricted to arched building of the Museo de la Revolución and to the portraits and exhibits that this and other frozen representations express and transmit. For movements of the izquierda, these are the only symbolisms of revolution and resistance available as platforms for more contemporary social protest, whether it be established as the beginning of a student protest like that of #YoSoy132 or an encampment of teachers protesting educational reforms.

I’ve always been intrigued by memory in all of its manifestations and relationships. Throughout my experience as a student of Mexican politics and culture, living in Mexico and working for an organization centered around journalism and policy, I have become slowly but steadily fascinated with understanding memory as movement, as protest and resistance. This fascination is also a product of my own nostalgia and affinity for social justice. As the daughter of the undocumented migrant transborder experience – the reality of the mexican barrios in Los Angeles and Mexico – and the social science researcher I have recently become, I am committed to listening to and recuperating the testimony and voices of the oppressed. I think these voices have much to attest to, to tell us about what we have been forced to forget and therefore must recognize, to remind us of the histories that allow us to view realities with more clarity and with a stronger sense of the continuities of political repression. Although this recuperation is an important part of the struggles for justice, love and dignity, it is also important to understand why these experience have been silenced by the official political powers that be with the help of those with the social responsibility to inform our communities. I think, to understand memory – how it is generated, made digestible and catalogued – is to understand how communities understand contemporary political and social realities. In order to understand this, we must examine the role of media in society, and the interests that interfere with the way we understand what happens in our world.

Media controls and manipulates reality – by determining what is written about certain political and social moments of note, by determining what gets shared with the public, and by determining whose perspective is reflected among the newspapers’ pages, newsrooms, magazines, blogs, and social media outlets. It so happens that the most influential and followed media sources are the big names with the reputation of promoting the official political ideologies, interests and agendas. In Mexico, mainstream media outlets have and continue to promote the perspective of the Partido Revolucionario Institutcional – from the lack of coverage and manipulation of the facts of the student massacre in La Plaza de las Tres Culturas in October 2, 1968 to their support and reluctance to elude to the corrupt presidential elections and lack of transparency around Enrique Peña Nieto’s political campaign of 2012. If the media, as is documented in media studies literature, is responsible for developing the “first draft of memory”, what then are the implications of a skewed coverage of political and social realities on not only the public’s understanding of what goes on in their local, national, and international communities but also the ways in which they remember their past?

In response to the ways in which memory is usurped and manipulated by the political apparatus and its extensions in the media – in other words, as an organic creative production of survival, life, and dignity – there do exist groups and communities that create and nurture the silenced and ignored testimonies of alternative histories, of oppressed and ignored perspectives of history. In Mexico, these communities can be found in the caracoles of Zapatista territory who, since 1994, perturbed the world that negated to acknowledge the five hundred year long oppression of indigenous communities. It began a una guerra contra el olvido, war against forgetting. These communities can be found in the restlessness of youth of all classes and of all backgrounds who were born into a country dominated by neoliberal economics and corrupt political practices. The corruption of the PRI, as knowledge transmitted to these youth communities by their parents and testimonies of older generations, only add to this shared anxiety. These inquietudes have recently became articulation through the #YoSoy132 movement in the second half of 2012. These are only a few examples of movements and flows to create consciousness of experiences yet to be validated by the official political apparatus. They teach us through example that we mustn’t wait for it to recognize how it has systematically oppressed so many communities.

We must pay attention to memory and to the recognition of experiences of oppression and how the media isn’t interested in this reivindicación as we are. We must take responsibility as local, national, translocal, transborder communities. ¿Quién lo ha hecho? What can we learn from memory? What can we teach ourselves and others with what we are only now choosing to remember. Este trabajo nos queda a nosotrxs. Yo escribiré, I will write and share and attempt to bring together these memories and make them platforms for not only symbolic transcendence but opportunities to change the way we look at ourselves in the present and to determine what we want to create for ourselves in the future.

“What do you most want to learn about journalism?”

In 2012, I found out about an opportunity to participate in the Authentic Journalism School sponsored by Narco News, an on-line news bulletin with an affinity for the construction of and solidarity with movements for authentic democracy and ending the war on drugs in Mexico.

For personal reasons or otherwise, I wasn’t accepted into the program but I was left with a lengthy (about 26 pages) memoir that vividly expressed my passion for writing and journalism.  The Narco News application is now something I go back to read and to continue to deconstruct what moves me about writing, specifically about social movements and social justice in Latin America and in the U.S., in a practical and creative effort to understand how I see myself contributing to these efforts.

Reviewing these responses comes at an interesting time, when I start contemplating pursuing a Master’s in Journalism, meanwhile brainstorming how I could develop experience and write with creative courage.

What I’d like to now share is my (working) response about the gigantic and complex question: “What do you most want to learn about journalism?”  Aquí les comparto, compas:

Well I want to learn many things really. I want to see how others perceive journalism, whether they also see it as an outlet for community empowerment, be it at the level of communities like East Los Angeles or larger communities like Mexico. I see journalism as a tool for empowerment in my community, a way to communicate its perceptions of itself. Boyle Heights is painted as a violence-filled neighborhood by mainstream Los Angeles media and while although gang violence does indeed inform much of the social scheme of things in my community, social reality transcends dread and violence. It is a culturally rich community, with many spaces and members that are working against those who seek to make the community itself think they are nothing more than gangsters, teen mothers and a disposable and docile labor force.

I see correlations between the ways in which the media reports on Boyle Heights and the way it paints a whole country like Mexico. Every morning I monitor the U.S. English language news for the Americas Program MexicoBlog and it is honestly very spiritually exhausting and intellectually frustrating. As I explained in a Facebook post one morning, everyday I take a couple of hours to monitor the news on Mexico in relation to migration, politics, the drug war, transnational mining, and the list goes on, for my internship with the Center for International Policy. Overall, the news reports as well as the news itself can be so overwhelming, so ridiculous and so disheartening. The dehumanized Mexican criminal, migrant, citizen is always confronting perpetual misery. Their (our) existence isn’t restricted to those generalizations and misinformed categorizations.

To be more specific, in the month of September of 2012 there was a boom in news stories describing how Mexican “drug pin” criminals and warmongers have been apprehended and thus mark “success stories” in Calderon’s war on drugs. A critical and informed reader understands that the rise in sudden drug war success stories is correlated to the 2012 electoral conjuncture and the fact that Calderon is on his way out of the presidency and that Enrique Peña Nieto and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional is on the way in. However, informed by mainstream mass media, the Mexican and U.S. public are told to rest assured that the madmen producing and distributing the drugs and perpetuating the violence have been apprehended. “Drug king-pins” aren’t the source of the problem. Violence, lynched Mexican citizens, dead drug lords are plastered in photographs all over the covers of newspapers and magazines that fill Mexican newsstands.

I wonder sometimes what that does to the collective psyche of the Mexican populace, how they understand themselves, and the country in which they live. The way the drug war is reported and portrayed in mainstream U.S. and Mexican media criminalizes Mexican drug cartels and ignores the role of U.S. consumption of the drugs, the flow of arms to Mexico from the U.S. and the complacency from both the U.S. and Mexican government. How can we change this? How can we turn journalism away from a weapon of distraction, hopelessness and dehumanization to a tool for empowerment and consciousness? How can journalism help a child or teenager from Boyle Heights or a colonia in the heart of Mexico City understand themselves, understand they have the power to influence the world, to challenge their own realities? I want to learn what can be done to challenge and change the way news is reported transnationally, from the barrios of Los Angeles to those of Mexico City.