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.

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Mexico City: Metro Meditations

unnamed-2
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.

nepantlera

dignidad rebelde

Estar en medio y sentirte cómodx y feliz por retarlo todo. Las fronteras políticas e identitarias. Las sexuales y de género. Las guías de cómo y cuando vivir tu vida. Las expectativas de ti, de cómo comportarte en cada momento, en cada etapa, en cada contexto. Saber lo qué se espera de ti y por qué y rechazarlo todo. Habitar los márgenes y gozar de la intemperie.

Por qué la historia, aquella que habita tu cuerpo, que informa tus miedos, que alienta el valor y la feroz resistencia con que navegas el mundo, ha demostrado la violencia que se te inflige cuando obedeces a estos parámetros, a las fronteras físicas, emocionales, espirituales, y creativas.

Nacer y ser mujer que atraviesa fronteras, desde antes que fueras semilla en el vientre de tu madre, desde antes que aprendiste a discernir las fronteras invisibles que desmembra cuerpos, comunicación, comprensión, y amor en un mundo ciego descompuesto que solo es competente a la disociación, enajenación y miedo. Cuando solo sentías la ausencia y el carácter incompleto de tu ser.

Comprenderlo y aceptar y celebrar y vivir y existir en medio. Hasta en el amor, celebras de la ambigüedad y promesa de no comprometer, sino compartir. De gozar del amor en su expresión más pura y regenerativa. Querer y no herir, nutrir y hacer libre.

Estar en medio es amenazar a todo y todxs que existen encerrados en si mismos, en las fronteras que se les impusieron, en la falsa comodidad de las falsas pero violentas fronteras. La neplanterx alienta la transcendencia colectiva. Es aquellx que a pesar de sus miedos, a pesar de los miedos ajenos, genera nuevos espacios, habitándolos, y ensanchado ese espacio con la valentía fortalecida por un centenar de generaciones, haciéndonos espacio a todxs, seres libres del miedo.

9.10.15

Is the calendar notification that I woke up to this morning. The much anticipated date that was supposed to mark my triumphant move to Mexico City. We bought the ticket early April, my friend and I, dos almas errantes filled with wanderlust, nostalgia, and an overwhelming desire to party through a night of post-punk and mezcal.

Forward five months and instead of boarding a flight in Tijuana, I lounge in my southern Mexico City apartment (cottage, really), while my friend awaits the date she moves in November. So, how to make sense of these five months? Of spur of the moment decisions, of unexpected and even life changing circumstances, of distance, of the unplanned, of the  unwanted-of the necessary chain of events that conduces the way our lives are to unravel.

Fear, really, of having made a wrong decision, of moving too fast.  Of changing how the plan was supposed to unfold, of not letting it develop the way it was discussed and meditated. Of retreating forward and retreating rapidly-skipping all together certain discussions with family and friends, of missing out on the procrastination, of checking off each item down the list of things I needed to do for the most important and damn liberating move of my life.

The last few days I have felt the pangs of nostalgia for Los Angeles and even my body, my bones, are suddenly alert to each kilometer that marks the distance between here and there. Thoughts on how I moved too fast, fear and doubt begin to blemish what really is a performance and act of survival, for happiness, and self-love.

Liberation, really, to choose who you want to be and become, and act upon it. It’s simple but still so challenging, so overwhelming, and somehow so unrealistic for many of us. And when we do it, when I have moved and have made a decision to satiate this hunger for life, this necessity to create, to tune into my dreams and love nurtured by a magnificent city, at least for some moments, some months, some years of my peculiarly short life, all becomes complicated by self doubt, fear, and hate. Emotions that we constantly share among each other and feed ourselves like poison.

To retreat forward and disobey every premeditation, agreement, and plan. Diverging from what at one moment you thought was  best but life-and your beautiful power to destroy, decide, and create- determined you needed otherwise.

Why choose fear when you have already decided to live for love and with courage.  Why subject yourself to suffering when there is post-punk and mezcal. To tune into the desires, hopes, and affirmations deeply buried under all the fear, anxiety, and doubt.

Abi, I’m waiting for you.  Five months and looking forward.

“Perspectives From the Cracks”: A Nepantlera on Traveling and Writing

It is hard for me to find any form for this. Whether to start with an anecdote, an iteration of a theory, a feeling, or a description. I don’t know what form to give this desperately necessary expression of how my lived experiences within and in-spite of borders challenge and inspire me as a writer and traveler, of how my living and seeing awaken and deepen my connection to my memories, journeys, and experiences.

A cycle, a passage, a channel that connects my past to my future. The borders that sever the physical and spiritual terrain on which I stand. What should be the length? What should I emphasize? The tone, the intensity? I simply can’t figure it out even as I write. Ambiguity and formlessness, endlessness and fluidity: the only certainties I have of myself not only as a writer but as a person, as a traveler, a border crosser, a nepantlera.

Everything flows and everything is connected, and even as I write, it is impossible to obey the borders and restrictions of prose, of these letters, punctuations, and spaces. My writing itself is nepantla: the borderlands, a passage way between the worlds where I have deeply lost and re-formed myself, my thoughts, desires, and capacities. The places I have been to in my travels and the terrain I know only thanks to the memory of the heart. My body, my love, my mind, and my writing: where I travel, what I see, and what I seek grows from the in-between, it becomes stronger, it extends in this formless, limitless space.

It was a few days I ago that I connected the dots between a theory and my life – which, as a student of Latin American and Latina/o Studies, I did so for four years and very often. Except now, firmly standing in the transbarrio-scape and in the creation and formulation of the poetry of my everyday life does this revelation seems to have much more of an impact on my spirit and life – putting it into practice, into words, into a vision, seems like the appropriate, and desperately necessary thing to do. And it all seems to fall into an unordered, unbounded, unbordered arrangement of letters and embraces.

Gloria Anzaldúa  wrote about the borderlands, the nepantlas it creates, and why and how to inhabit and transcend them. She wrote about nepantla as an in-between cultural space that hurls us into displacement. The in-between space of the peoples connected to – and severed by – multiple communities, opressions, identities, languages, sexualities, belongings, desires, and -scapes.

In the tradition of chicana feminism, nepantla was and is an uneasy but necessary point of departure for a new consciousness – a liminal space of great confusion, anxiety, and loss of control where transformation can occur.

But, as it has been written by Anzaldúa and lived by my self, it is deeply immersed in this state, up to the brim with anxiety and helplessness, overwhelmed by ambiguity and hazed by the opaque hues of the in-between, that we find the opportunity to deepen our comfort with the unfamiliar. To recognize its power is to transform ourselves.

Anzaldúa, in the poetry of her prose and denuncia de sus teorias, explained that nepantleras, as people who experience the nepantla state, serve as agents of awakening who inspire and challenge others to deepen their awareness, desarollar greater conocimiento. In existing and guiding us, escribó Anzaldúa, they serve to remind us to search for wholeness of being.

All of this, which I learned as a student and have lived as a muxer, is not new for me but it recently came up in a conversation with a friend and photographer about our potential creative projects and collaborations. I explained that I wanted to write about transbarrio-scapes, about this borderless, geographical and spiritual terrain I belong to and deeply know- the beauty of public plazas y esquites a la luz del día, the borderless and boundlessness of racial and class and gender violence (it exists here too, we perpetrate it here too), how and why I can enjoy an ice cream cone on my porch in Los Angeles, close my eyes and smell the moisture of the wet dirt roads of Durango, how everything that is severed, is connected, how everything that is severed, is within us. I found myself explaining that I sought to write about, and from within, nepantla.

This realization came thundering down on me as I sat in the middle of the East Los Angeles County Library and it fizzled away among the bilingual book stacks. I have lived in nepantla all of my life but I suddenly and violently awoke to realize it four years ago when I independently returned to Mexico for the first time.  Traveling to Mexico City and returning has meant deep pain. It has challenged every previously formed notion of my identity, personality, purpose, sense of belonging, and dreams. Since then, I have struggled with my own journey with belonging and borders yet I have become more keenly aware about the presence of this tension and struggle on a larger, more collective, more deeply rooted way.

I saw much more clearly the bordered existence of everything – from people’s notions of large and small scale national loyalty and our incapacity to embrace sexual, physical, spiritual and emotional ambiguity and transition, to our obsession to belong even if it means never questioning, even if it means never deciding for ourselves, even if it means destruction.

I write from within the cracks to articulate the nepantlascapes that form my everyday life, the spaces that I navigate everyday. Because, even if it has and may continue to represent pain and displacement, I see it everywhere. It exists and may remain unseen because even our visions, even our words, even our embraces are bordered and taught to only perceive and accept and yearn for worlds that are separate and disarticulated, passing by those that bleed, meld, harmonize, and exist in connection.

I feel inspired to write and express nepantla as a collective and necessary transcendence, encouraging others to see and embrace and grow in their own journeys. I feel compelled to accept these ambiguities, to accept borderlessness, to accept and continue to grow. To defy fragmentation of the spirit and of existence. To love myself within them and despite them.

I write out of nepantla. Searching for and expressing the nepantlascapes that populate the worlds that compose me. Traveling I found nepantla and writing I become nepantlera.

Ella Está Embarcando: The Retreat Forward

The soft lavender hue of my notepad makes writing this a pleasant visual experience. A compliment to these feelings of tranquility and peace affirmed by the music and conversation of the last few hours, of the last few days. Everything that surrounds me at this precise, building, fleeting moment encourages me to retreat ahead in the construction and expression of my creative desires. A shift, a recalibration, a decision. A choice in the direction to do what I have always wanted to do in the places I have always wanted to be.

It has been a long and agonizing accumulation of pain and heartbreak, this life and becoming. As I’ve probably expressed in my writing and in conversation and in silence, I am who I continue to become because of Mexico City and the traversing of physical, spiritual, emotional, creative terrain that it has entailed.

Navigating the intersections of these has challenged and strengthened every inch of my spiritual and physical body. It has broken me down and built me up a hundred times over. Destroyed and inspired an identity faithful to the emancipation from a spiritually, culturally, physically, creatively bordered existence. And the embracement of it. I am a child and inhabitant of the borderlands. They have birthed and destroyed me. Crossing them and inhabiting each edge, each crevice, has strengthened me.

Four years ago, at twenty years old and during my first return to Mexico City, I crossed the physical terrain in search for the affirmation of an authenticity of the self. I returned to Mexico, a symbolic and deeply spiritual journey masked as a study abroad opportunity, to demystify what it meant to live and be and perform as a Mexican from within its political and ephemeral borders. I sought the authenticity and approval that I never received. Because of my language, skin, lived experiences and condition as child of both the diaspora and the transbarrio, I experienced the violence inspired by nationalism and cultural and social distance. I wasn’t Mexican but Pocha, not Spanish but Spanglish, not authentic but foreign. I suffered but eventually relished in it all. I began to look for the unique and non-conforming in Mexico City and I found it at every corner, found that I belonged there because of my love and passion, because of my difference. I learned there that that is precisely what this world depends on.

I fell in love with that city and during my second and third returns, I began to more comfortably occupy this new and different position and perspective, felt the opportunities to reflect and discard, better understand and build anew. The liberty and opportunity of traveling to a new place unfamiliar with your past and who you have been before. A place that attracts people in search of this opportunity. Here I studied, I researched, I worked, and I became.

My fourth return was pure and exhilarating escape. I proved that DF has always been mine, it has always been within my grasp, just a plane ticket, a phone call, an email, a decision away.

This realization was a long time coming. For four years, I felt deep pain when for different circumstances, I have had to leave DF behind for the US. It is when I have felt furthest away from these feelings and visions I mention inspired by the city, from the superior passional quality of absolutely every detail of rising to live another day, from the prospect of recreating this just one more time, that I have retreated into depression and pain. A physical pain inflicted by denial, negation, and distance. My own negation and the impossibility of finding the encouragement and affirmation from my surroundings.

Yet meanwhile this suffering may very well have been self inflicted, it was my reaction to this sudden shift and recalibration into a different terrain, one that I felt and knew was hostile to everything that I had loved so deeply in Mexico City. Being in the US, I felt frustrated and oppressed with the apathy and alienation that inspires people to prefer material well being versus poetry. How this preference informed social interactions, a hug, a kiss, a glance was drained of the desire to truly connect and acknowledge – two exercises I learned to do while living in the city of my dreams. Social and public distance charted out my navigation of space and I hated it so deeply. I made the resolve that my only escape was back to Mexico. And I saw it as an escape in the direction of the fulfillment of my happiness.

This dream that still holds true and that is perhaps more mature with experience and steadfast with conviction, is one that has made many people uncomfortable and has solicited critique, and even spiritual violence, from people I deeply love and have surrounded me all my life. This violence was me denying this for myself. Retreating backward to nostalgia.

Yet everything that surrounds me at this precise, building, fleeting moment affirms that if I continue to obey an environment so unfamiliar with what i love and propels me forward, I will probably never transcend any challenge and pain. Never create of it, use my vision and love to express this experience. This life.

All of this movement and migration has liberated my spirit in such an irreparable way: it can never be undone. I can never retreat backward.

The only option, my only opportunity to continue to live and love, is to move forward. Yet, what I have recently learned is that the pain and suffering that has characterized my life for four years must now be what propels me forward.

In my past, I had refused to accept that I had to expand and deepen and express myself and my vision, to be and use what I had lived to create, to understand that this was another way of living, that it wasn’t anyone else’s say but my own, and that I had to faithfully inwardly listen to this truth. Pain because I couldn’t and was not ready to decide for myself. Pain because we are constantly told to follow the path of obedience. Because to choose sometimes means to challenge those who so desperately seek to preserve the integrity of their decisions, choosing differently means breaking away, building anew.

I will use this pain and life and ultimately love and inspiration to propel myself forward and not to oppress my decision and vision. There is only one way left to escape alienation of present day society, to retreat ahead of it. Wherever the retreat forward takes me.

noches de neón discotequero

Tijuana desde Altamira, fotografa anonima y chingona
Tijuana desde Altamira

Es increíble.  Me corazón se anida en esta frontera borrosa. El asombro del fin de semana vive en mi, tan lejos de aquellas calles, de la rockola, de la pista de baile más bella del mundo.

Entra por mi ventana el mismo viento que movió y desordenó mi noche y día en la frontera. Es un momento en donde el tiempo por fin refleja un mundo interior, siempre enérgico, feliz, fluido.

Baile en pistas de baile que pulsaban con vida, alumbrados con la energía fluorescente de cientos de cuerpos. Camine por calles sin rumbo ni nombre, pero con un destino fijo.

Movernos sin cesar, comer, ingerir, beber, abrazar. Guiadxs por un apetito insaciable por el arte en cada encuentro y rostro, por el gozar y la fotografía de lo presente e imperceptible. Por el tacto, la reunion, y la aventura.

Son contados las noches que nos entregamos al alboroto de todo lo vivo, a vivir sin sosiego, donde el descanso se vuelve superfluo, y los cuerpos sobrehumanos. Tijuana nos lo cede y regala. Lo gozamos hasta ver el cielo púrpura del amanecer de un nuevo día, la espera de una nueva noche.

¿Sin rumbo, a donde podemos llegar? Interminables noches de neón discotequero. Alimentación y recuerdo.