Why Gentrification Will Never Kill Barrio Magic

The rough-and-tumble streetscape/ abandoned factories/ warehouses/ scrap-metal yards/ sidewalks still largely devoid of life/ metal gates and barbed wire/forbidding allure
/desolate/

“It’s all about discovery and taking chances and hopefully finding something revelatory”
“The social aspect is essential for artistic innovation”
“There’s a sense of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys around here.

– Gentrification, a study by The New York Times.

When white gentrifiers suddenly appeared sauntering down Boyle Height’s sidewalks
turning heads of abuelitas sitting on sunny porches
my neighborhood became important.

Important destination for bicycle tours featuring artisanal snacks
organized by developers for urbanites
with enough courage to venture to Los Angeles’s eastern frontier
in search of charming little Mexican homes to buy flip own

Important incubator of vanguard art hosted by emerging art galleries
the kind that boast of grimy freeway overpasses
city garbage and poverty providing
great dramatic contrast to their gallery’s impeccable white interiors

Important business endeavors for breweries serving up pale ales, saisons, porters
to patrons clueless of the brown bodies surrounding the renovated warehouses

Important because when gentrification sprang up in talks around dinner tables
we suddenly feared losing what we thought had always been and would always be ours

Safe space
where eating, laughing, bridging, organizing, and caring
are ways to heal our collective spiritual wounds
where we hold space to be fully ourselves

Presence defines us here
where we are more than just those who crossed the borders barefoot
the people who trim your yard
prepare and serve you your ramen, steak, or burger
More than just your maquila worker
your nanny or token Latinx voter

More than just those who were displaced from their campos
gunned down by police
ignored and pushed to the fringes of invisibility
beyond the reach of accountability, respect, and justice

Here we have nurtured a life filled with marvelous moments of
brown brilliance and barrio magic

What our parents carried on their backs
and imbued in us
what makes our lives
exceptionally beautiful and us
resilient

Barrio magic like
the morning strolls looking for the tamale lady
like that’s all the soul searching we’ll ever need

It’s the little brown girl posted alongside the raspado lady
digging through the mountain of 50-cent chips
holding up bag after bag to momma

Her moppy black hair frames her bright eyes peeking above the bag of Doritos
pleading to her momma too busy with the chisme

It’s the street-side food hustle that fills our bellies
with the blue corn quesadillas and deep-fried garnachas that remind us
of cities and pueblos that some of us have only been to in our dreams

The grandkids riding inside their abuelita’s black basket shopping carts
blabbering their Spanglish adventures to the wind
happy, invincible, and impeccably groomed
warmth between the little loves and the worlds that embrace them

Barrio magic is filling public space with our presence
musicians, migrantes, paísas, metalerxs
niñxs comiendo sus tostilocos on a plaza bench a luz de día
a luz de las nubes

Chambeadores, cocinerxs, gardinerxs, estudiantes, madres, abuelxs
seres who find home, space, and the rest
expressed in the beautiful word my momma always demanded
of my younger desmadrosa self: resollar, rest.

Rest in a world that is violence without cease,
toward the people who fill my community
means resisting in the way our communities have done all along:
inhabit and exist.

We recognize what gentrification means for us
not because it makes us suddenly visible or important
to those who will never see our magic

But displacement has followed us across
Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Honduran, Peruvian, U.S. borders

Unbearably important when we feel that stinging anger rise from the pit of our stomachs
as we witness whiteness and power
discover
purchase
occupy
colonize
anything it wants to and map it on Yelp.

The power to build, as if nothing was there before

Revamp as if structures, homes, life, and cultures crafted by the displaced into art and love are lives to be torn down by developers

Revitalize, as if life lay there listless, absent, and invisible

Rehab structures but shoo away street side-beggar plagued with cirrhosis
that take up space on the bus benches in front of their galleries

Overwhelming fear of seeing all the magic erased forever
what we love buried and built upon, torn down and redesigned

Our parents and ancestors forced to leave pueblos
have gone back to only find maquiladoras where before stood their apple orchards
where before beautiful soil persevered their memories, love, and life like shrines

Ensuing gentrification make me feel desperate to preserve the physical
structures
the places that nurture all that is love and presence

But this presence and magic lives in shrines within us
magic that whispers
We will not let them erase us.

Boyle Heights: Whose City?

Recently, I’ve been contemplating what it means to belong, be displaced, and occupy the cityscape — any cityscape.  Given all the experiences and circumstances that shapes our lives in cities — how does this inform how we feel included and present? How does who you are, and what you experience, inform the kind of life you live in a city, be it Mexico City or Boyle Heights?

These questions arose in me while living back home in Boyle Heights earlier this year. It was the first time I consider that I fully, spiritually, and creatively was present. In between traveling to and from Santa Cruz and Mexico City, I never allowed myself to relish and really be witness to the beauty and singularity of my community.  Though, as a nostalgic, I always appreciated its specialness in one way or another while away, from its murals to the smell of freshly baked pan dulce. My time in Boyle heights was usually always just a visit, a vacation, a fleeting moment. But that changed this year.

I met many people, including activists, artists, mothers, students, baristas, musicians, and lovers. I deeply enjoyed the sunsets and evenings, the strolls along First Street with my mother, dancing cumbia in a Mariachi Plaza illuminated by a vibrant orange sunset, all the while witnessing the music and life that pulsates in my community…palpitations that prove to me that we live and thrive today more than ever. And as I (re)connected with Boyle Heights, I became more familiar with the dimensions of the changes that many expect and are either planning or organizing against.

Gentrification.  The seemingly inevitable fate of low-income communities of color that are positioned in marketable, profitable, accessible — read displacement — urban spaces.  In as much as people anticipate gentrification’s success, many are actively organizing against it. I participated in a series of discussions and initiatives with people organizing to stop the gentrification of my neighborhood and I also witnessed how this process has displaced people of color in surrounding communities in the city.  And how it’s already begun in Boyle Heights.  The renovation of empty lots, the presence of art spaces on Anderson street, new businesses and the influx of consumers pouring in from Echo Park and Downtown.

It’s a very visible change, promoted by a relentless and violent process  to renovate, improve, and occupy, that has induced the anxiety and resistance of the community. Why should we move, why should we allow these processes of displacement to drive us out of our communities — communities once considered unappealing and dangerous to those who now consider it charming, attractive and thus attainable at the cost of our displacement. I witnessed and shared these sentiments, while I also began to read cultural publications discuss the novelty of my “vanishing neighborhood”.

Meanwhile I share the anxiety and urgency to organize against gentrification, I also witness and am angered by how Boyle Heights has become important only in relation to gentrification — that is, to its inevitable erasure and not its historical, spiritual, and cultural permanence.

And this is not exclusive to Boyle Heights. Because what facilitates the erasure of a community is a process that requires the erasure and displacing of our people. It did so upon forcing our rural communities into cities, then across borders, then across county lines. 

And in this sense, not only are we not meant to be occupants of space in cities but we are expected to accept a process that relegates us to evermore obscure, desolate, unwanted, unprofitable corners of this world ruled by capitalism.

What helps me understand place and belonging in Boyle Heights, is my life in Mexico City. It’s being physically distant from Boyle Heights. Because when I say I miss my home I’m not saying I miss the US. Or the physical manifestation of home.  What I miss is the essence of something you can’t exactly capture or freeze in space or time. I am part of a community that has constantly been under siege by processes of displacement. And we have survived it all — moved, rebuilt, recreated, persisted.

Boyle Heights is alive with memories, with expression, and with a certain permanence. I believe the key to our survival is not so much an interest to belong to any cityscape, for we have learned that it can and will do with us what it wants, but the perseverance of the ability to keep an essence and a resiliency that is also an important part in confronting and resisting the violence so bent on destroying us.

End of a season and the continuation of renewed cycles, my journey to Mexico City

It’s about that time of year here in Boyle Heights when the jacaranda trees shed the last of their beautiful lilac flowers. And as the last of its sweet petals frame our view of the early summer sky, I prepare to once again head south for Mexico City.

The jacaranda tree, magnificent and populously planted all over Boyle Heights, has perhaps been my favorite companion in these last few Spring months. Be it enjoying the sight of them through the train window coming home from yoga on the metro gold line or walking beneath them on especially gloomy and overcast days, their presence has been a personal source of happiness and inspiration.

And just like the many beings I continue to meet on my journey, I feel grateful for the jacaranda and what it has taught me about presence, resiliency, and the cyclical nature of our days, lives, opportunities, and worlds.

Well, it was only very recently that I received an offer to work as the Managing Director for the Center of International Policy’s Americas Program in Mexico City, an organization I’ve worked as an intern and journalist for the last three years.

I was surprised and deeply grateful regarding the timeliness of this amazing offer, considering that my plans for a Fulbright didn’t come into fruition this past April and in light of my overwhelming desire to make a more permanent move to DF. Considering that for over two years, I have made two unsuccessful attempts at graduate admissions at UNAM, countless unfruitful job applications to Mexican organizations, and an endless amount of sent emails and withheld sighs and depressions experienced in the process. Simply put, this offer is basically a dream come true for this transbarrio writer and nepantlera.

Yet after the conversation with my friend and would be boss, I have walked around my neighborhood, contemplating the increasingly bare branches of the jacaranda, and it was during these barrio saunters that I sincerely felt a sadness about leaving and embarking south. Of leaving during a time I have felt I have become more intimate and familiar with Boyle Heights.

In an instant I felt conflicted whether to stay in Boyle Heights and explore and deepen the possibilities of my happiness here or to heed this opportunity to embark on a career in journalism in Mexico City, a destination I have sought to arrive to so desperately, so insanely, so intensely for so long.

And in considering this sudden and unexpected opportunity not only to travel and live in the city of my dreams, but work in the field of journalism, and to be physically and creatively closer to a life of writing and living splendidly, I feel compelled to take a cue from my favorite trees that in their cycles and essence have taught me an important lesson about blooming and letting go.

For over three years, I have struggled with transitions. Refusing to be present and struggling with accepting and letting go of new spiritual, personal, and emotional seasons. These have included the spiritually debilitating experience of transitioning back into the often alienating culture and politics of the US. Of the institutional violence inflicted upon young people of color not only seeking to survive the job market, but living and existing in US society. Of my own intolerance and violence toward myself, the way I have adopted criteria and judgment toward myself, and my ability and capacity to achieve, create, and exist. Meanwhile these many forms of violence are products of both tangible and metaphysical legacies of injustice and inequality, one of the biggest challenges has been recognizing that I have always been where I needed to be, both physically and emotionally.

What I now realize is that meanwhile it has been so in the past, transitions do not necessarily have to be painful. That cycles end only to begin different and more necessary journeys. That in searching for affirmations and inspiration, we must take cues from the universe and the worlds around us, from the beauty of the changing branches of the jacaranda tree to the boundless and limitlessness of earth and peoples despite borders, of the grandeur of existence.

What is wonderful and what I am so unbelievably grateful for is that I owe the beginning of this cycle to hard work, serendipity, and coincidence. It is recognizing that it is a result of my work and effort over three years and that it is also a product of a phone call and an alignment of both well wishes and a genuine search for support. And it has perhaps even come in a time when I’ve needed it most: it is a ripple of cycles that came before, many that even began before I came to exist in this present form.

I am open to embarking on this cycle and I recognize that I must bloom and let go as the seasons require. That my potential and power to regenerate, reinvent, and heal is limitless. And that I am so incredibly excited for what lies ahead. And that I am strong and ready to transition and flow and relish in it.

I recognize and affirm that Boyle Heights and my gente and these trees are resilient and are within me as much as I stay and live within them. That I am headed to where I need to be only to return to continue what many of us began for ourselves and together.

And just like the jacaranda tree bears its beautiful branches regardless of the season, I am grateful and love my life both in times of splendor and simplicity, triumph and challenge, growth and stillness.

Como pasajera en trance y repose, I look forward to the transitions and renewed seasons that await.

boyle heights como presencia

la primera, boyle heights

In Boyle Heights, the coming of Spring begins to permeate our mornings through the smell of flowers when the wind blows and in the brightening brown faces of gente walking the streets of a community perched atop a hill anchored in the heart of LA. As I walk around my community, up and down streets lined with victorian homes and multi-family apartment buildings bustling with life, on a bright March morning the jacaranda trees bloom and sprinkle its petals on the faces of brown children and viajeras who glance up to embrace its beauty and grandeur. The purple flowers hang off tree limbs that extend expansively into the sky above, a presence unwavered by wind and time.

Spring, as bearer of life and rebirth, serves as a backdrop for a community filled with hundreds of people as strong and as present as the jacaranda trees planted here and throughout nuestra américa, our transbarrios. Yet it was under a patterned blue and light purple evening sky, that I discerned perhaps for the first time yesterday, the meaning of this presence, how tangible, beautiful, and singular people of Boyle Heights are.

My love for this place runs as deep as my love for the smell of moist soil, the taste of food prepared by men and womyn in dozens of its street corners, for happiness and community on a park and plaza bench, and the gift of walking and moving and knowing where I was born, where my parents chose to stay and build, to harvest, and to grow.

Yet for a long time, when I’ve walked down its streets I have seen and felt an absence in this place I love without measure that I couldn’t exactly name. In my treasured ritual of walking down 1st street, an avenue of constant movement where storefronts neighbor the community theater and police station, I often have searched to find a connection, the gaze of my neighbors both young and old, to find reassurance in a smile and in an affirmation. Without understanding this need, I felt I wanted to embrace the people who live in a community I have gone on to carry with me wherever I have traveled, when Boyle Heights has rolled off my tongue when speaking with students and activist in Mexico City, when strolling down the pebbled streets of Oaxaca, when stepping onto the campus of a university in a small predominately white town in Northern California.

Many times I have instead seen the downward gaze of an elder man dressed in a sombrero and guaraches walking in the opposite direction determined to get to some place. I have seen lackluster storefronts, one after another, profiled against a sunset peaking through the skyline down below, absent of people, absent of warmth. As a community so close to downtown and so familiar to migrant spirits, its sidewalks and bus benches become home to lingering souls, momentary refuge for rest and sleep. Through the unceasing cycle of night and morning, I have yearned to feel and to see and to know that collectively us gente from Boyle Heights know how beautiful it is to be and to be together, here.

But it was under the illuminated lavender sky of March that I finally found what I had for so long searched for. Walking home from work, while waiting at the intersection, across the street I discerned my community convening to share tacos and company. Posted all along a rail in front of our local surplus food store, the man who sleeps at the entrance of the youth center sat awaiting his order. Beside him was the older man who wakes up early every day and tours the neighborhood to pick up plastic bottles to recycle. And surrounding them were men, womyn, elders, and families all lined up at Tacos y Burritos El Texano, waiting to scarf down an order of 4 tacos de al pastor each, some seriously considering buying a champurrado or tamale from the man stationed with his shopping cart right at the corner.

This vision, people who I greet day after day on my walk through Boyle Heights were together, eating, sitting, existing, and occupying space in a community that is ours. I discerned presence. I discerned space. I discerned the existence and being of individuals that for many never exist. In my search to affirm the communality and love of Boyle Heights, I have not only learned that the sadness of our people informs our collective existence, but that many times what we consider absence, is really living and breathing presence.

As the light turned green I walked across the street, exchanging a wave with my neighbor and plastic-bottle collector, and began my way down the street I have known as home for twenty-four years, the wind caressing a smile onto my face. Somos como la jacarandá, sigilosxs y presentes.

“No nos queda más que luchar”

Acción Global for Ayotzinapa en Los Angeles, enero 27 (Andre Medina)
Acción Global for Ayotzinapa en Los Angeles, enero 27 (Andre Medina)

Bajo una llovizna rociada pero persistente, la voz de Saira Rodriquez, hija de Nestora Salgado, fundadora y coordinadora de la policía comunitaria de Olinalá, Guerrero, reverberó entre decenas de velas y claveles afuera de la Catedral de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles, en conmemoración y protesta de los cuatro meses desde la desaparición de los jóvenes, indígenas, estudiantes normalistas de Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

El asunto era éste: “no nos queda más que luchar.” A través de una llamada telefónica, con voz trémula hablaba de la intimidación y las amenazas que ha recibido por exigir y organizar por la libertad de su madre, presa en un penal de máxima seguridad desde agosto de 2013.

Parada allí, tan lejos de Saira y tan lejos de Ayotzinapa, identifique aquellas palabras con los consejos y saberes que me sigue brindando mi familia, mi hxstoria y comunidad.

Palabras que nacen de una hxstoria y contexto de lucha constante, una lección comúnmente transmitida a través de generaciones y fronteras, de madre a hija, abuelo a nieto, de luchadxs social a joven esperanzado y estudiante hacía su pueblo.

Palabras que nuestras madres recitan para condenar condiciones laborales injustas y patrones que manipulan y explotan. Que se expresan a través de los ojos lúcidos que adornan los rostros de nuestros abuelos, que nos platican de su hambre por sobrevivir y vivir alimentado del campo y la tierra. Las palabras y silencios que decenas, cientos, miles de madres, familias, hermanos y compañerxs usan para denunciar la desaparición se su sangre, para articular su dolor.

Lucha. Memoria y lección que impregna nuestra piel, sazona nuestras lagrimas, nutre los surcos de nuestros campos y ayuda a brotar las flores y los arboles entre las grietas de nuestras ciudades urbanas.

La lucha aplastada, marchitada, agobiada, pero viva. Regenerativa, se resucita en las platicas con nuestrxs abuelxs sobre revoluciones frustradas, manifiestos olvidados, sueños congelados. Sobrevive la migración y despojo, retando corrupción, violencia y olvido.

A falta de tanto no nos queda más que la lucha.

Entre mariposas y viajes: Crónica de una mujer y su reencuentro con la felicidad

Viajes y andares hace unos ayeres. Playa Santa Maria En Los Cabos, BCS.

Viajando de aquí a la felicidad es una travesía que abarca toda una vida, años de vida, miles de vidas. En este viaje que experimentamos un sin fin de estaciones y pesares. Cuando por primera vez me fui de mi casa, partiendo a la Universidad de California de Santa Cruz, un total de 515 kilómetros de distancia de Los Angeles, recuerdo buscando la felicidad entre la inconformidad y tristeza. Estando tan lejos de todo lo familiar, de la música, de los abrazos y la seguridad que sentía dentro de mi nido, me sentía despojada. Recuerdo lejanamente que en una charla con nuevas amistades acertaba que buscaba la felicidad. Tranquilidad.

Mi compañera de cuarto, una muchacha tierna y detallista, me regalo para esa navidad un cuadro del símbolo chino de felicidad. Mientras me pareció gracioso y un bonito detalle, de golpe obtener el cuadro me provoco a penar que en realidad uno siempre viaja acompañada con la felicidad y que solo era cuestión de descubrirla en el entorno para saber que ella te habita, que ella viaja contigo. Mientras aún guardo ese cuadro preciado como recordatorio, desde es primer viaje ha habido momentos en que he perdido trazo de ella, tanto en mis viajes y retornos como reposo y contemplación.

Pues algo muy curioso ha sucedido en los últimos tres años: he ubicado gran parte de mi felicidad en un lugar tanto mágico como trágico. La Ciudad de México para mi habita todas mis inquietudes, anhelos, deseos. Es un amor que ha producido tan grado de inquietud que cada unx de mis amigxs, compañerxs y familiares pueden atestiguar el trastorno que me ocasiona. Cuando no estoy en la ciudad me siento incompleta, triste, y durante el primer año, deprimida. Siempre he reconocido que ubico mi felicidad en este lugar y como resultado he menospreciado lugares, sentires y amores ajenos a ella. Mientras amo, profundo y completamente a ciudades como Los Ángeles, he sentido una conexión tremenda con esta ciudad y este país.

Estos últimos años me han permitido explorar este amor, descubrirme, cuestionarme, desgarrar, comprender y amarme dentro de ella. Pero a medida que me he amado y alimentado de esta vida, voy descubriendo, quizá desde mis tiempos en la universidad, o quizá por la primera vez, que estas lecciones y saberes las he practicado desde que hace mucho tiempo. Que canalizo esta energía de vida y me alimento de esta felicidad. Y que estos saberes habitan todo lo que veo, interpreto, amo, contemplo. Que no se podrán despojar al menos que yo elige. Esta felicidad es transcendente, la puedo vivir y compartir en donde sea que viaje.

Y me dio cuenta que este año he viajado con la felicidad. Cuando viaje a Durango con mi madre, a pesar de la tristeza de un abuelo ya envejeciendo, recuerdo contemplando la impresionante presencia de mariposas amarillas, tanto en el jardín y patio de la casa de mis abuelos como en la carretera que nos conectaba con la ciudad. Mientras bien me influye la historia de amor entre Mauricio Babilonia y Meme las he adaptado como marco de buena suerte, de aliento y felicidad. Desde que llegue a la Ciudad de México hace un mes, me he sentido con el valor de habitar esta felicidad. Me he reencontrado y conocido a personas que, en sus propios viajes, van trazando su propia odisea, no hacía, pero acompañadxs de la felicidad.

Hace una semana viaje a Baja California Sur a participar en un taller de periodismo con estudiantes de la preparatoria en La Paz. Mientras fue una hermosa experiencia trabajar y aprender de lxs estudiantes fue durante nuestro viaje de San José del Cabo a la Paz que percate la presencia de mariposas amarillas durante todo el camino, asombrándome del reencuentro con mi compañera viajera. Desde el coche vislumbre una viste increíble, en donde mariposas amarillas nos acompañaban en el camino que trazábamos entre nubes púrpuras que enmarcaban montañas hermosas y verdes suspendidas sobre una infinidad de mar azul.

En mis viajes no solo viajo con mi cuadrito y con las mariposas sino también con la certeza que tengo todo lo que tengo para ser feliz, para ser felicidad. Y que aquello no depende de algún lugar, ni circunstancia. Es el compromiso que pacto conmigo misma que dentro de todo lo que yo hago, todo lo que yo vivo, todo lo que contemple, puedo, y encontraré, la felicidad.

Escribiendo Los Ángeles: La Música

Ella pisa las estrellas 
todo te lo da y pronto te lo quita 
por los callejones donde nada brilla 
quedan los recuerdos de la Reina..

 La Santa Cecilia, fragmento de la canción “Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles” 

En este blog he dedicado mucha prosa y poesía a la Ciudad de México. Aquella es mi musa más grande, fuente inagotable de inspiración para esta viajera. Pero gran parte de lo que me inspira de ella lo asocio a mi experiencia como una mujer y estudiante transfronterista.

To write and understand myself wholly, we must consider all of my experiences relative to borders, and to the ways in which I travel, transcend, inhabit and challenge them.

Before Mexico City there was Santa Cruz, before Santa Cruz Los Angeles, before Los Angeles there was Durango, before Durango…Between all this coming and going, Los Angeles remains one of my more enduring homes. This is the city my parents’ choose to migrate to in the 70s and sow roots, echar raíces, while nurturing a yearning always to return down roads trekked across hills and deserts, rivers and mountains.

Because although I am always leaving, aunque siempre me esté yendo, siempre regreso. Regreso cuando la nostalgia se aproxima en invierno y extraño los apapachos de mi mamá, su olor su cocinar los tamales y el ponche que prepara y escuchar a mi padre tocar el piano y perderme en su colección de records. Recuerdo la letra de una canción de Facundo Cabral, Me gusta andar pero no sigo el camino pues lo seguro ya no tiene misterio, me gusta ir con el verano muy lejos pero volver donde mi madre en invierno…

Porque cuando regresamos al nido, when we return to our earliest home, we receive new opportunities to discern the smallest and most astounding developments, the newness of what we once considered mundane and ordinary, and the beauty and happiness of our most cherished memories.

My piece of Los Angeles is Boyle Heights – un pequeño pedazo de Los Angeles hacia el oriente en donde encontramos mucha gente mexicana, saldavoreña, latinoamericana y todxs quienes se encuentran en medio. This is a community of resiliency where the memory of our pueblos remains preserved in our food, in the aromatic poetry of pan dulce that emanates from bakeries on bright and radiant barrio mornings, in our abrazos and in our music.

The músicxs y música that melodize and fill my community come in diverse melodic and rythmic forms, desde el mariachi al conjunto, del son jarocho al rock  y punk en espanglish. However, the bastions of our musical creative production remain the people who, in their migration and journey through las américas, brought with them their love and necessity. For all of us, music becomes a tool and symbol of personal and collective survival:

© Monica Almeida
Mariachi Plaza © Monica Almeida

Of all ages, de todos los tamaños: trabajando en un oficio ya antiguo, a veces o muchas veces menos preciados, tocando para nosotros los corridos, los sones, los huapangos..siempre en restaurantes coloridos y deliciosos.  The strumming of their guitarras, the plucking of the strings, the loitering, waiting, watching: esperando las oportunidades que a veces nunca llegan. 

 

© Nidia Bautista
© Nidia Bautista

En Los Ángeles, ciudad a veces cruel, es en donde cada vez más los músicos mexicanos y latinoamericanos quedan relegados a la plaza de mariachi y a aveces, al hambre. Los procuramos cuando nuestra nostalgia y soledad lo requiere. Theirs are faces I want to preserve in my heart’s memory forever; las manos envejecidas, mentes lúcidas, miradas agobiadas, melodías dulces.

“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.

Mexico City: Pochoteca Perspectives

I want to share a short piece I wrote up back in 2012, during my second stay in Mexico City, for the community paper Brooklyn and Boyle. I was born in Los Angeles but made my way to Mexico City through two different study abroad programs via UC Santa Cruz.

I studied in la UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in 2011 and I also conducted a field research project on the youth student movement #YoSoy132 in 2012.

It has absolutely been a love affair in every sense of the cliché: the deep connection and transmission of new knowledges and awareness, the learning and un-learning, the joy, the thrill, and the heartbreak.

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And to the happiness and (mostly) playful ridicule of my communities, I will perpetually write, sing, and dance odes to el Dfectuoso:

Where does a child of the Boyle Heights experience – Chicana-but-not-really, more Mexican than ‘American’, better-not-call-me Pocha – daughter of Mexican migrants fit into the cultural and social scheme of things in Mexico City?

What I have learned through living a total of nine months in el Dfectuoso is that I don’t fit into any one category and etiqueta because, really, no one does, not in Mexico City or in Boyle Heights.

Growing up in a community with a large Mexican migrant population and listening to my parent’s stories of their childhood in Durango, I grew up surrounded with this sense of uprootedness, displacement and yearning. I yearned to return to Mexico. I wasn’t born within its geographical border but I had always felt Mexico’s presence ever since I could remember. Listening to Los Tigres del Norte at backyard family parties, the bi-monthly conversations with family in Durango, looking into the mirror and seeing a reflection of frizzy curly hair and dark brown skin – I knew that the realities I felt and confronted everyday were informed by this strange and mysterious entity that was simultaneously very present and far away.

When I researched study abroad programs as an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz I knew I wanted to study abroad in Latin America. As a Latin American and Latina/o studies and Politics major I wanted to learn and study completely immersed within a Spanish-speaking cultural and social space. In this search for authenticity, I decided to study in Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) to learn about Mexico in Mexico from Mexicans.

When I arrived to Mexico City, my senses were bombarded with noise, smell, and pollution. The sights and smells were dizzying and overpowering. In an effort to adjust myself mentally and corporally, during the first weeks I would travel in a pack of fellow exchange students attempting to normalize what surrounded me. I was warned by friends who had experienced life in El Dfectuoso to never speak English in public, especially not in open-air mercados like Tepito (to do such a thing was an invitation to be swindled by proprietors in any puesto) to always be alert when riding el Metro and to keep watch of wallets, cell phones and backpacks – the list of tips, warnings and advice was endless.

During these first months I remember yearning acceptance, to walk down the halls of UNAM’S Facultad de Filosofía y Letras and be seen as a student, a Mexican student. For the most part, because of my appearance I blended into the crowd splendidly, but as soon as I opened my mouth to order tacos, to give the taxi driver directions or to participate in a class discussion I knew que me echaba de cabeza, I would suddenly reveal my true self: a non-chilanga, an extranjera, a pocha. My strange way of speaking would solicit questions and inquiry: “¿De donde eres? ¿Del norte de México? Ah, eres de California..¡Chicana geruhl!”

I recall experiencing profound confusion and sadness. I wanted acceptance but I wanted to be who I was fully, speak Spanglish when it came naturally, to be myself while being conscious of the social borders and spaces people navigated daily. Living in Mexico for six months I learned that people navigate and struggle with social, cultural, racial and economic codes and barriers like people do in the U.S.. Racism and classism is very present in the national subconscious and is seen plastered throughout the city in advertisements, nightlife social dynamics, street side encounters, and public transportation systems.

Eventually I began to understand that Mexicans, just like anyone other community, aren’t homogenous. I came to understand more and more through daily encounters and conversations with friends and classmates that the romanticized charro and adelita do not exist, but that there are millions of unique, interesting, and complex souls that make up and inhabit the urban sprawl known as Mexico City.

It was then that I understood that when I came to live in chilangolandia, my presence added pochoteca flavor – providing my perspective into class discussions on migration and neoliberalism, sharing my experiences and struggles and slowly building those bridges between communities severed by national borders and cultural misunderstandings.