Ciertas personas emanan amor puro. Algunos lugares, como Santa Cruz, mi hogar por cuatro años, también. Extendidxs por todas partes, regresar para estar con ellxs implica volver por caminos conocidos, andando por (re)encontrarte con tu propia magia y la que te rodea.
November 8, 2014: Estoy destrozada. Camino por los andenes del metro y percato como la gente camina muta, tranquila, como un oceano impenetrable de humanidad y silencio, agobiados, de luto perpetuo.
43 Ayotzinapa normal school students murdered, burned, destroyed, and thrown into a river. Disappeared. In such a surreal an disgusting context, where 43 students from southern Mexico were burned and killed, where only their jaws and teeth remain remnants of the violence, I search to understand how this society as a collective, makes sense of this violence, not only in thought but in feeling, in attachment and empathy, in compassion, in anger, in mourning.
What does this society feel? What do they grieve? Walking through the city, in the metro stations, every profile, in every child’s gleaming brown face, in every silence, I discern a deep and old mourning. How can a society be used to such sadness? Or how can we exist when tragedy is everyday’s news? Born in Los Angeles, born in Chicago, born in Ciudad Juarez, born in Iguala, Guerrero. Born brown? Born poor? Born a womyn? Born in such deep and enveloping oppression that your life has lead you to work, feel, think and hope for something different? Born in Iguala, a student, a protester and you are burned and thrown into a river of oblivion that runs blood and is quickly overflowing with bodies, no longer able to hide the thousands of lives destroyed and disappeared within its riverbed.
Walking in Mexico City, a day after the government’s admission of the killing of Ayoztinapa’s students, I truly feel we live in mourning. The mood that has enveloped me informs my perception of my grey, concrete and overwhelming urban context. A sad and melancholic view of the city and country. Only that I believe that this mourning is not fresh. It is an old and ancient mourning. A mourning that is embedded, sown, embroidered, and consumed by this country’s people since long before the student massacres of 1968 and 1972, since before the Dirty War, since before the disappearance, killing, and sexual violence against womyn in Juarez, the State of Mexico, and Atenco. This mourning precedes the unfulfilled utopia of the Mexican Revolution. Since before, long before, the consolidation of the putrid Mexican state that has agonized and lived so proximate to death since its inception. The Mexican pueblo has always lived in mourning. It has lived, loved, rejoiced, resisted and been repressed and murdered within perpetual mourning. Why does Ayozinapa not stir us from this trance, from this state of desensitized and lethargic state of mourning? In the small and vast injustices we must mourn, but not in silence and lethargy, but in catharsis and resistance:
Silent Protest for Ayotzinapa 43 (with translation):
Guerra es cuando tu gobierno te dice quién es el enemigo. Revolución es cuando te das cuenta para ti mismo. Ya basta México, NO te quedes callado.
¿No te da pena que nosotros dos estudiantes de 15 años tengamos más huevos que tu para alzar la voz? Por que en estos tiempos es más peligroso ser estudiante que delincuente. Ya basta Mexicano, NO te quedes callado.
War is when the government tells you who the enemy is. Revolution is when you realize this for your self. Enough Mexico, DO NOT remain silent.
Does it not embarrass you that as two fifteen year old students, we show more bravery than you in making our voices heard? In these times it is more dangerous to be a student than it is to be a criminal. Enough Mexico, DO NOT remain silent.
In this city, I fully and deeply exercise my emotions on a daily, even one block basis. Walking through El Centro to get to a coffee shop a few minutes ago, I made sure to walk past the Palacio Nacional to see the aftermath of the protest and civil disobedience I was able to see in the flesh last night. The graffiti is gone, the police are present, the palace stands impeccable: absence. I walk east, and all along Madero, and witness the presence of people who live hunger, necessity and poverty and beg for a few coins to feed their family: helplessness. Jazz notes flow from a sax and drum duo, and this strange and out of place sensation is born in me: joy. But then I continue to walk and find a pair of fifteen year old students, who in their thirty minute demonstration of pure and sublime resistance inspire a warm and healing feeling inside of me that nurtures me in the city and the country’s perpetually cold night: hope. I thank them, deeply, and keep on my way, rejuvenated.
The duality of life and death in Mexico, of injustice and resistance, is a balance struck, many times, in the favor of death, injustice, and oblivion.
In Día de los Muertes, a ritual born out of indigenous sentires and saberes, is celebrated all over Mexico, and is especially a strong tradition in the states of Michoacán and Oaxaca. I traveled to Oaxaca de Juarez a week ago, the capital of the southern Mexican State to participate and witness the rituals and devotion to both life and death. It was during my eight hour bus ride south that, suddenly surprised at my own devotion, I realized it would be my third year in a row traveling to Oaxaca during that time of year.
It is in Oaxaca where I have learned to value the devotion and compassion people exert in their celebration of death that strengthens their connection to life. As I walked the city’s streets and the walkways of illuminated cemeteries I suddenly realized that as we celebrated the culture and ritual of death, we perhaps neglected to see how we rub shoulders with it every day: the alcoholism of our rural compxs, the poverty of vendors, the hunger of those who musicalize our ritual. Even within our devotion of día de los muertos there exists olvidadxs, disappearances and the ignored presence of the starving, suffering and agonizing. As a tradition that is now celebrated globally, thanks to the Mexican and Mexican-American diaspora, people have become attracted and even entranced by the sublime relationship Mexicans have forged with death. Yet as tourists flock to cemeteries, their desire to celebrate their lives, to enjoy and consume a fascination with death, makes it easier to forget and better ignore the indigenous and poor vendors and workers who cater to enhance the lives of others in order for they themselves to survive.
Yet in Mexico, this unfair relationship between life and death is perpetuated and made complex through the disappearances, the absences and the repression of students, of activists, of mujeres, of the rural, the poor and those whose death is almost justifiable collateral for the lives and comforts of those who wield more power. Just three months ago, 43 students from Ayotzinapa, a teacher training college in the state of Guerrero, southwest Mexico, were ambushed and disappeared on the night of 26 September. Ayotinzapa has historically been a bastion of resistance and its students have taken up activist roles that have often challenged the Mexican state, demanding a rural and community based approach to education and social justice. Since the 26 of September, a series of mass graves have been discovered just outside Iguala, though it’s as yet unconfirmed whether they contain the bodies of the students. In light of Ayotinzapa, we celebrate death from Oaxaca to Mexico City and in East Los Angeles. In our communities, death and olvido, inform collective existence in the same measure as life and celebration. But how do we celebrate death when we are denied a collective right to life? How can our rituals become resistance, to demand the right to exist as we are, or as we hope to be?
During my time in Oaxaca I was able to visit a special exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a poem by David Huerta dedicated to Ayotzinapa:
“Who reads this should also know
That despite it all
The dead are not gone
Nor have they made them disappear
That the magic of the dead
Is in the dawn and the ladle
On foot and in the cornfields
In the drawings and in the river..”
It was a beautiful exhibition and ode that inspires anyone who reads it to love and fight ardently for life, to remember why it is important, to realize that in the context of so much death, to recuperate life among the destruction and violence.
Coming back to Mexico City, I attended a vigil at el Zocalo this past Tuesday, where people gathered around candles, one for each of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa, in an act of collective remembrance and resistance. Upon taking in the beautiful scene, the candles and the small group of people, I took in the panorama of the daunting and even violent looking government palace that loomed over us. And to our right and immediate surrounding was an even larger group of federal police officers, armed with their plastic shields and uniformed and looking slightly dreary. Suddenly struck by this scene, by the contrast between hope and defiance, and violence and compliance, I become more intimately conscious that this duality exists in subtle violence all over the country. Ultimately underneath the garb of police uniform and shields, of our protest posters and t-shirts that exclaim justice for Ayotzinapa, we all face the violence of indifference and corruption.
Yet the symbolism of this contrast, of those who seek justice and those who are paid to suppress it, isn’t a new scene to Mexico. I’ve witnessed it even within our celebrations of death in Oaxaca, in our celebration of life in Mexico City, and in the silences and absences of the thousands who have disappeared, whose absences have gone unnoticed with the exception of their families and those who once knew them: the 43 students disappeared in Ayotzinapa, femicides in Juarez and el Estado de México, pobreza, olvido, soledad e injusticia. Yet truly transcending death and celebrating life is a matter of tipping the scales in favor of life, of every person’s right to exist. The growing solidarity with the missing students in Ayotzinapa is proof that Mexico in general is capable of shifting the imbalance between life and death. Here in Mexico, as in our greater communities, this is a possibility, only if we demand this right not only from any state, but by working continuously to ensure that we promote life in everything we do, demanding our collective right to exist, our right to life, where death is not an imposition but a natural extension of a dignified life.
La Ciudad Universitaria, or University City, is the name given to the mass expanse of space that encompasses the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the largest and most recognized public university in Latin America located in the southern section of Mexico City.
I attended UNAM during the Fall semester of 2011 while still an undergrad, taking courses in the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature and Faculty of Political and Social Sciences and I can definitely confirm the hype – it is bureaucratically and spatially enormous.
The campus, built on an ancient solidified lava bed, encloses a soccer stadium, about 40 faculties and institutes, the Cultural Center, an ecological reserve, the Central Library, and a few museums. At the heart of a total of 730 hectares of space lies the symbolic and political center of CU located in the northern section of the campus. Here lies Las Islas, an open esplanade of trees and reposing students, built in the likeliness of Mesoamerican architecture of Monte Alban. After a day of classes it is habitual for students to extend themselves all along the central quad and relax beneath its trees and along its stone benches.
Sitting and chilling out in Las Islas, where couples and lovers find their intimacy and students their repose, I came into harmony with the historical and political greatness of the university. Here I sat surrounded with a 360-degree view of its oldest buildings, the great and impressive Central Library and the University Olympic Stadium.
This layout symbolically represents the autonomous and political power of the university in Mexico and as explained by a fellow student and friend, here we can discern UNAM’s body politic. At the vanguard of UNAM is the graduate studies building to the north of Las Islas, occupying the role as mind, to the right is the Faculty of Architecture as constructor and creator, and to the left is the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature and the Central Library, the bastion of resistance and knowledge. And just south, towering over the vista of the Olympic Stadium and the far off mountains that curve around the Valley of Mexico is the heart of UNAM, represented in a majestic rectory tower adorned with the murals of David Alfaro Siqueiros.
In this beloved and what seems like the most ancient part of the university, where the muralistic inspiration of John O’Gorman, Siquieros and Diego Rivera abound, students and urban trekkers alike can enjoy a hearty meal of tacos de canasta (the chilango delicacy of steamed tacos) along with the cultural and political luxuries of an autonomous university in Latin America. With musing theater students and the poetry of the shade during midday complementing the spatial and visual grandeur, the setting attests to UNAM as a splendid intellectual and spiritual oasis in Mexico City.
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 law, I 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.
Listening to Manu Chao and reading over LALS readers and lecture notes, después de tanto tiempo asegurándome que sólo sé que no sé nada, me pregunto: What the heck did I learn as an undergrad? Today, as years have come and gone, there’s still so much to remind myself of, to reflect, and to learn.
Keeping tabs on all of the theoretical morsels, sometimes bitten off in chunks too big for us to chew much less digest, the discussions, debates and epiphanies, is difficult. And these lessons are erased by time and distance as we take to our present context, new countries, new cities, new deadlines, and the flux of our realities. Having studied Latin American and Latina/o Studies and Politics at UC Santa Cruz (please take note of the “and” “Latina/o” and the banana slug reference, these are all necessary to contextualize the experience of a brown womyn studying and deconstructing social science) I remember a few things more vividly than others.
I remember that sublime thrill – the feeling I can only associate with that deep, long, desperate breath of air you struggle for after you’re doused with ice cold water or deprived of air for a few seconds too long – it was to study Latin American and Latina/o studies. What is globalization? What is a border? neoliberalism? injustice? economics? migration? my father? my mother? my community? myself. This struggle for breath and air is at once painful and desperate, reviving and invigorating. It was the most painful and illuminating period of intellectual development of my young life (only to be rivaled by the learning and un-learning inspired by life in Mexico City, however, this has been much less intellectual). This, of course, was complimented by my aggravating study of Politics. I would sit in a classroom, obviously out numbered by white students, outnumbered by voice, by confidence and upon further reflection, deprived of the platforms for discussion and intellectual debate that reflected not only experience beyond theoretical constraints – experience as telling of state institutional policies and deprivations as violence, for example – but the opportunity to express fundamental and powerful critiques of the Political Science and Politics model of the U.S., born out of Latin America. I always felt, as a student of Politics, that I was doomed to perpetually build the monster I so ardently deconstructed as a student of LALS. Torn, disarticulated, left without a language to speak to these two parts. I understood, and still do, what Politics is and represents and that it is why I wanted to train my intellect and spirit – because how ever hard you try, your spirit is part of the being that creates these thoughts and compels you to intellectual debate – to the language of the deciders, deliberators, creators and destroyers.
But I also learned that this way of knowing doesn’t easily welcome your language and voice: the struggle of the classroom reflects many struggles, your voice is shut down by non-verbal, unspoken, deeply rooted assumptions of who should do the talking. I’ve traveled, I’ve lived in Mexico, I’ve studied in UNAM, where I’ve studied politics, philosophy, and latin american studies. As I corporally, intellectually, and spiritually distanced myself from that time of great growth, it became less present, it’s as if I almost unlearned those theories and forgot that frustration. But it’s still there, isn’t it? Slumbering and sulking and awaiting to astound other students, the silent of the social sciences. But these students, I, will always bellow. In so many ways, their clamor wields potency and power.
This is what I remember from undergrad: simmering in this creativity, power, and articulation. And there is so much still to digest and reflect. And somehow, as soon as I take moments to breathe and tune into Manu Chao, it’s as if it all rushes back. The all nighters at Stevenson Computer Lab and the feeling that this epiphany on neoliberalism and cultural production for my term paper will have no parallel, ever again.