México’s Mourning

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:

Basta. Ya me canse. De luto a resistencia.

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Transitions

My heart trembles as it threatens to shatter into a million diaphanous specks of light.  Yet the outcome does not matter.  Because love must be indiscriminate.  I must share and be generous with the bountiful love that slumbers inside me because to deprive anyone of compassion and understanding is to be selfish and violent, it is to capitalize and  deny spiritual nourishment, to limit the healing power of love, the elixir of life. And it is to waste away my soul’s capacity to regenerate love. My sole expectation is to learn from and love the smallest and grandest occupants of this universe. I do not demand love or reciprocity but understand that it will flow to me naturally as I give and offer love. I do not expect, I participate. I do not take, I offer.

Brotando Frutos: Lecciones del Campo

Roads that lead to apple orchards, Durango Mx.
Roads that lead to apple orchards, Durango Mx.

“Hubieron temporadas cuando tu abuelo cosechaba muchas frutas y frijol, él jamas dejo de trabajar la tierra ni de prepararla, pero hubieron años cuando el helado o la granizada les arruinaba la cosecha, pero la tierra estaba preparada. Ellos jamas pasaron hambre, ellos jamas dejaron de trabajar. Tú eres como aquella tierra preparada, cuidada, lista para brotar frutos.”

There were seasons when you’re grandfather’s land would reap lots of fruits, beans, and a bountiful cosecha. He tended the land year after year but there were years when the winter cold and granizada would ruin the harvest, pero la tierra estaba preparada. Ellos jamas pasaron hambre, ellos jamas dejaron de trabajar. Tú eres como aquella tierra preparada, cuidada, lista para brotar frutos. But you, just like the land, are prepared. You’re used to getting everything easily, you’ve been blessed with opportunities more readily, more steadily, more in the past, but you must work hard now and in the future. Good things will come Meli, you must work for them, and maintain all of the work you’ve put into yourself, the time and love and care you have taken to tend and nurture your being and your life. You will be able to reap flowers and life once again. Be patient and work hard.

fronteras: a re-encuentro with the borderlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexico City: Mujer Se Enamora de Ciudad

heart 2 df

Falling in love with something as vast and intangible as the most enormous capital city of Latin America, one with increasingly blurring boundaries and delineations, is a strange notion.

So is the confession of feeling heartbreak when you’re away, love sickness when you wish and yearn to indulge in its street food and afternoons in the company of its cityscape. As absurd and – as dfeñxs, mexicanxs, pochxs and us chilangxs sintéticxs might say – cursi this may seem, I am certain of having experienced the different stages of courtship and love, enamorment and lust, growth and wisdom through and because of my times living in Mexico City. These experiences continue and flourish regardless of time and logic – the stages are repeated over again and in different patterns and with different lessons.  As if Mexico City, as a complete and enigmatic whole, has been the most nurturing and lucid example of lover and teacher.

I first moved to Mexico City three years ago, a college senior on a mission of immersion and authenticity. In 2011, I studied in UNAM and threw myself into as many experiences and many perspectives as possible. Consequently, I’ve left and gone back twice after, and thus perspectives and lessons have fluctuated but throughout all of these I’ve reflected on the experience of being young and naïve and living in a beautifully brutal global city: growth through pain, consciousness through contact, reality through experience. And there is something about being brown, being of once Mexican undocumented parents, of being poch@, of being mujer, of being a breathing and loving and seeing person traveling and encountering this enormous city for the first time.

Here I have discovered, abandoned, and recognized many parts of myself and others – from my understandings of identity and place as a daughter of Mexicans who forcefully abandoned their rural northern mexican pueblos, to the power of resiliency and action and survival – from my research on #YoSoy132 to the observations and intersections with communities that create new realities for existence. These lessons have all been born out of my time spent with people, walking and flirting with the wonderful cobblestoned streets, lamp-lit plazas, huge avenues, beautiful universities, and fragrant mercados. The city itself is a loyal and always devote companion.

And when I’m back in Los Angeles, there are certainly mornings when I wake up yearning to breathe in the smell of fresh bread mixed in with the smell and sensation of a busy city street, the noise of a bustling morning of Avenida Hidalgo on a Sunday morning. And I reflect and wonder about the duality of nostalgia and love.  At times the memories and loves of Mexico Citys’ of my past inhabit so much of me that I feel tied to it, as we so often feel attached to loves of our past, out of nostalgia.

But then in oscillating between love happiness and nostalgia, I find deep within myself a love for the vision of life and justice first inspired in me while in Mexico City. A vision of life in all of its complexity and dualities; of injustice and resilience, charm and brilliance, solitude in multitude, and solidarity in collectivity.

Mexico City in many ways is representative of the deterioration provoked and aggravated by the unfettered  and destructive power of capitalist accumulation and modernity urbanized, as well as the perpetually reproducing racisms and classisms – realities unraveled over and over again against a backdrop of a concrete cityscape and a smog shrouded horizon. In this way the romanticism of such a cruel existence seems not only out of place, but insensitive to the subtext of the suffering silences of the urban city.

Yet the intersection and accumulation of all these realities, which, when first contemplated where painful and spiritually oppressive, have inspired in me the most enduring lessons about how people exist and create within, despite, and inspired by urbanity.  I love Mexico City as I am learning and growing flexible in my understanding and love of life as resiliency and complexity. Meeting and living in a place like D.F., the intersection produces a synergy that strengths you, leaves you with lessons and encouragement to break down or build yourself the way you need and feel inspired to – which certainly is also a self love, reciprocated in a love for a beautiful city.

Memory and the Politics of Forgetting

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

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

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

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

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

Mexico City: Ciudad Noir

“La Alameda de noche”, Silver Gelatin Print 8″ x 10″

La ciudad de México es Ciudad Noir y el Centro Histórico is its quintessential noir quarter. Strolling across El Zócalo on an October evening, right after the torrential rain habitual of otoño has ceased and the sun begins to set, all along the square both lovers and hollering vendors alike can discern the orange sunset reflected in the rain puddles that adorn the volcanic stone square. The night breeze, recently unburdened of its normal toxicity, feels cool on faces exposed above scarves and skin under polyester Pumas jerseys.

As I climb out of the grumble of the underground world of trains and twisted drainage pipes and cross the square, I direct my course toward the northeast of the historic center. On a side street off Moneda in front of El Convento de Ex Teresa, nestled in between an army artillery store and the ruins of El Templo Mayor, sits a small restaurant of chilango delicacies. As I indulge in flautas de papa that exceed the standards of chilango street food, I engage in a quick and murmured conversation with the proprietor regarding the particularly symbolic location of his establishment. He lives with his family on the second floor of the building and although they live rather peacefully and unperturbed, he explains that on certain nights he discerns a tension throughout the corridors of his home and can hear sounds of inaudible laments. El Centro is a battle ground of both primordial and modern spiritual and political wars.

Flautas devoured, I make my way back to Moneda, and opt to walk west toward Alameda Central through the sullen but tranquil calle 5 de Mayo in order to avoid the overwhelming crowds and distressing lights of Av. Francisco I. Madero. I reach the edge of la Alameda by crossing Bellas Artes and its respective encampment of tourists and urbanite philosophers. After the sun has waned and the dancing fountains are alas abandoned by children and families, la Alameda becomes as lonely and abandoned as it was before its pricey renovation. Only timid lovers and strangers are sprinkled throughout the park, enjoying the solitude of the vast public city space.

After a late evening chela on the parkside Café Denmedio and a brisk walk down the dimly illuminated and steadily diminishing bustle of Calle Lopez, past the exhausted butchers and the lingering smell and warmth of carnitas, guisados and tacos that provoke even the most loyal of vegetarians, I descend down the stairs of Metro Salto de Agua. There ends another night of sauntering down the streets of El Centro, chasing side eyed glances that peer through shadows and corners where fluorescent street lamps and OXXO signs meet timeworn cobble stone structures and faces.