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.

Cursilerías bibliotecarias

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!

Living beats

Today I’m in the mood for some jazz, Duke Ellington, Monk, Nina Simone and café con leche.

 Reading about jazz musicians of the past and on the essence of jazz immortalized in the writing of James Baldwin (among others), I have the notion that this music is about sentiments and feelings buried deep inside that only jazz notes can communicate. It is a product of genius and tragedy.

I find so much beauty in and appreciate people who make music, people who are music, and people who live life as beats and melodies.  Some people I’ve met are as troubled and tragic as Thelonious Monk but just as brilliant.  In the past it has troubled me to think people can think and desire so differently than me, that their sense of purpose and creation is so different than my own.  But like everyone, they make internal compromises in order to get by – metaphysically, philosophically, spiritually.

In order to survive – that is, to live the lives of their choosing, as drummers, as musicians, as challengers, artists, and performers – they come to a sort of agreement with themselves in order to turn and confront the world as they are, as they have chosen to be, intending to occupy as much space in the world, as they are. Sometimes the world decides you’re crazy or dangerous or stupid and does away with you.

But sometimes because you create a jazz album, a book or writing – conversation and enlightenment in all its forms – you become impossible to destroy.  You transcend your fear of death, of destruction and termination – the fear of yourself, your vulnerability and temporality – through your power to create and inspire. Perhaps that is one outstanding reason I adore music.

It is a remnant of that amazing power of creation, a testament of sorts. Music from a time far gone, from a present very proximate and dynamic, and of a reassurance that this creative force that slumbers in many people, is very capable of influencing wonderful interpretations to inspire us all.

As with music, so it is with dancing, and with words, and with ideas, and with smiles, and with love.

palabras desnudas

“No acumules silencios, grita de vez en cuando” – filosofía digital y anónima 

I love exploring words, creative ways to weave desires and pain into words, dreams into projects,  and poems into inspiration.  I love the way words are flexible and ever-changing but also impressively precise.  This love is probably born out of with my own cosmovisión and sociopolitical life perspectives.  We’re asked all the time: “Why did you choose to study X?” or “Why have you chosen to pursue Y?”  “Why are you organizing with Z?” These questions, sometimes innocently posited for the purpose of  small talk, welcome us to share  sublime and lucid insight on our life experiences.  For me, it comes down to the bareness of words and meanings.  Much of what I am inspired by are words and palabras: spoken, written, silenced, protested.

Ultimately, I think our passions as writers, singers, dancers, lovers, actors, and travelers arise from a conjunction of life experiences and encounters. We are products of the millions of intersections and encuentros that mark our minds and spirits and memory. Personally, I associate social justice with writing, with communication and voice, with power through spoken and written word, with palabra.  Born and raised in Boyle Heights, the move to Santa Cruz at age 18, graduation at age 21: through the constant movement, I have seen how my transnational transbarrio and translocal communities oscillate between silence and voice. It’s difficult to pinpoint exact experiences but I remember growing up, witnessing the subtle discrimination imposed against my father, a very well spoken and elegant man with dark brown skin; being pulled over on a California highway by a highway patrol car, my father’s speechlessness and inability to respond to the police officers aggressive questions and inquiry. The –  quickly shattering – silence of thousands of undocumented Latin American migrants in the U.S., my mother’s constant struggle to learn English, to communicate eloquently with a physician. I have felt a rabid, lingering desperation to scream this silence into extinction. I’ve felt a desperation tugging at my vocal cords, pleading to articulate the injustices my communities has faced for years, decades and certainly even centuries.