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.
At the conclusion of a book very dear to me, Alicia Schmidt Camacho reiterates that those beautiful beings who inhabit the fringes of the bordered ambiguity of existence, habitantes de fronteras, are those capable of constructing worlds anew.
After hundreds of years of being relegated to violence, death, abuse, and oblivion, those who have grown and resisted within the borderlands have learned to grow within apparently rigid parameters of existence, to make space where we were told and where we learned there was no room to grow and thrive. It is within violence and ambiguity of desolate weather that desert life thrives and grows.
As I travel through northern Mexico on the dawn of a new cycle and year, I cross deserts, hills, and mountains to reach Los Angeles. As our bus pulled away from my mother’s hometown in southern Durango, I beheld a beautiful sight of milpas and orchards, a reminder of my family’s work as farmers and luchadorxs. And as my bus sped down highways destined northward, through the arid deserts of Chihuahua and Arizona, through my window I perceived the immaculate beauty of life in its extreme and desolate expression.
On the last leg of my traveling on the dawn of the New Year, I admit that this year, I learned about my ability to create, to articulate, to express and act upon my own vision. That in traveling through Tijuana, Durango, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and La Paz, Baja California while voyaging through the treacherous terrain of my own fears, unhappiness, courage and growth, I learned about my resiliency, and my power to reinvent and build myself anew, inhabiting and loving each new environment, each new terrain.
Ella esta por embarcar.She is about to embark, about to leave, about to begin. In the beginning of this year I decided, or better expressed, felt obliged by my creative spirit, to begin to articulate my desires and reflections through the written word via this blog. And much of what has inspired and unsettled me has been traveling, both spiritual and physical. Even from the familiarity of my nest in Los Angeles, I have been compelled to explore and better understand myself; after so much time living with an understanding of who I was, what I desired, hoped for and was compelled to pursue, I realized that much of what I thought I understood about myself was imposed upon and simply outdated.
Embarking, exploring, discovering more about myself by articulating thought into word, curiosity into voyage, has thus been my journey this past, and quickly closing, cycle.
Within the spaces and pauses of each sentence, and within each sublime conversation with the dozens of people I have met in my journey through Mexico, spectacular site of so much of my growth, pain, and reason to hope and resist toward happiness and social change, and through life this year, I find the inspiration to construct a world versed in the language of creativity, fluidity, justice and love. To build a world compatible with the thousands of worlds I hope to meet, explore, and grow alongside with each new cycle.
And with each new road paved through the expansive space that both articulates and severs deserts, hxstories and journeys, I compose the verses and relish the sensation of life as I flow, weather, and choose it.
Ella habita las fronteras construyendo y fluyendo habitando y encarnando sintiendo la vida misma
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.
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.
I find myself deeply re-reading MigrantImaginaries, a book by Alicia Schmidt Camacho, that explores the historical and contemporary dynamics of the transborder migratory circuit that traverses the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.
I first read this book back in 2011 while a student at UC Santa Cruz, as part of my favorite undergraduate course of my Latin American and Latina/o Studies major. This book recaps various perspectives from early border scholars like Americo Paredes and late twenty century Chicana feminists like Cherie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. It overviews what I come to interpret as the fragmented mexican imaginary: México de afuera, México de adentro, México profundo and México fragmentado – or as Americo Paredes once identified it, Greater Mexico: the borderlands.
As I re-read Imaginaries, I prepare to apply to the Fulbright program, hoping to conduct a research project about contemporary transborder solidarity in the context of increasingly violent and hostile domestic policy on both sides of the border.
And much like that time of intellectual and personal growth experienced and endured as a student, I deeply connect these parts as chapters of my perpetual awakening as a I traverse through many borders, through many worlds. Only that today I feel more well versed in the ritual of positioning my experience before theories, of the conversation and exchange of these as spiritual and intellectually healing and enriching processes.
It is incredible how while coming across this literary and theoretical treasure via an on-line search for my literature review, I remember having seen the “luminous Santa Niña de Mochis” as an image by artist Alma Lopez that graces the cover of a book already buried in my bookshelf. Years since graduating, years since first leaving to Mexico City (and the subsequent choreographies of crossborder traversing), and an entire life living within the borderlands, it is a literal and intellectual unearthing. A wiping away of collected dust of the passage of time, the dimming of college-aged epiphanies, and a re-encuentro with the remnants of the intellectual parlance among compxs. Only that now, post-everything that I’ve lived seen felt and experienced since that time of intellectual incubation, everything is suddenly more illuminated, más tangible, más fuerte.
Supongo que de eso se trata la construcción, this is construction. Como las palabras sirven para articular las experiencias que tejen las teorías, que en alguna vez pudieron articular nuestrxs silencios y ausencias, what once was inarticulate even to our own imagination. Y que con la persistencia del tiempo y del viaje podemos borrar hasta las fronteras entre teoría y practica, y fomentar y compartir los aprendizajes del proceso cíclico que se experimenta como andantes de fronteras. The erasure of the borders that sever theory from practice, and the possibilities there incubated:
She inhabits the borderlands. She stays, awakens the dead, and tries to “make whole what has been smashed at this unnatural boundary.” Santa Niña de Mochis, habitante de nuestras fronteras, “she is the maker of worlds.”
The Chicanx Resource Center in East L.A. is like the Biblioteca Vasconcelos of the barrio; it’s both grand and epic and impeccably stocked with books on Mexican and Latin American History. Though it is quaint in size, I can walk and contemplate the books on all seven aisles and feel as if it is a complete and impressive collection of history, of the border, of the barrio and of the inspiration inflicted by all of these on the humyn spirit and our struggle to translate our struggles in order to transcend them. While I was walking down the aisles I was overcome by the urge to cry, to let my tears intertwine with the wonderful rivers of words and letters I saw form all around me. I was suddenly and quite fatally overcome by the realization that I, along with the thousands of authors here featured and their millions of readers, was witness to the grandeur of life and experience, and of the quest to capture life within the both hard and soft covers of books. I realize my current heartaches have been translated before and thousands of times over and that my struggle isn’t completely unique in the struggles among the children of borderlands. My solitude was not only shaken but I quickly rediscovered the beauty of writing, of the power transmitted by a collection of borderless voices, and the importance and beauty of a Chicanx Resource Center. It is a place where feelings and words converge, to wake us of our pain in solitude, our perturbing loneliness and our untranslatable experiences.
I swim amidst words that spell out meXicana encounters and bind together the profoundness of thought of chicanx poetisas like Gloria Anzaldúa. I swim among the waves of letters of borderlands and historias y nostalgias de las patrias. It has revived the feelings and saberes that my Mexico City querido is with my everywhere I travel and my pochoteca spirit has been reignited by the resilency that emanates from books and from these mahogany tables as if to remind me of the buoyancy of translated feelings. Resisting the urge to cry all over a hard copy of John Ross’s El Monstruo..¡Me siento viva!
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.
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.