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.
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.
Listening to Manu Chao and reading over LALS readers and lecture notes, después de tanto tiempo asegurándome que sólo sé que no sé nada, me pregunto: What the heck did I learn as an undergrad? Today, as years have come and gone, there’s still so much to remind myself of, to reflect, and to learn.
Keeping tabs on all of the theoretical morsels, sometimes bitten off in chunks too big for us to chew much less digest, the discussions, debates and epiphanies, is difficult. And these lessons are erased by time and distance as we take to our present context, new countries, new cities, new deadlines, and the flux of our realities. Having studied Latin American and Latina/o Studies and Politics at UC Santa Cruz (please take note of the “and” “Latina/o” and the banana slug reference, these are all necessary to contextualize the experience of a brown womyn studying and deconstructing social science) I remember a few things more vividly than others.
I remember that sublime thrill – the feeling I can only associate with that deep, long, desperate breath of air you struggle for after you’re doused with ice cold water or deprived of air for a few seconds too long – it was to study Latin American and Latina/o studies. What is globalization? What is a border? neoliberalism? injustice? economics? migration? my father? my mother? my community? myself. This struggle for breath and air is at once painful and desperate, reviving and invigorating. It was the most painful and illuminating period of intellectual development of my young life (only to be rivaled by the learning and un-learning inspired by life in Mexico City, however, this has been much less intellectual). This, of course, was complimented by my aggravating study of Politics. I would sit in a classroom, obviously out numbered by white students, outnumbered by voice, by confidence and upon further reflection, deprived of the platforms for discussion and intellectual debate that reflected not only experience beyond theoretical constraints – experience as telling of state institutional policies and deprivations as violence, for example – but the opportunity to express fundamental and powerful critiques of the Political Science and Politics model of the U.S., born out of Latin America. I always felt, as a student of Politics, that I was doomed to perpetually build the monster I so ardently deconstructed as a student of LALS. Torn, disarticulated, left without a language to speak to these two parts. I understood, and still do, what Politics is and represents and that it is why I wanted to train my intellect and spirit – because how ever hard you try, your spirit is part of the being that creates these thoughts and compels you to intellectual debate – to the language of the deciders, deliberators, creators and destroyers.
But I also learned that this way of knowing doesn’t easily welcome your language and voice: the struggle of the classroom reflects many struggles, your voice is shut down by non-verbal, unspoken, deeply rooted assumptions of who should do the talking. I’ve traveled, I’ve lived in Mexico, I’ve studied in UNAM, where I’ve studied politics, philosophy, and latin american studies. As I corporally, intellectually, and spiritually distanced myself from that time of great growth, it became less present, it’s as if I almost unlearned those theories and forgot that frustration. But it’s still there, isn’t it? Slumbering and sulking and awaiting to astound other students, the silent of the social sciences. But these students, I, will always bellow. In so many ways, their clamor wields potency and power.
This is what I remember from undergrad: simmering in this creativity, power, and articulation. And there is so much still to digest and reflect. And somehow, as soon as I take moments to breathe and tune into Manu Chao, it’s as if it all rushes back. The all nighters at Stevenson Computer Lab and the feeling that this epiphany on neoliberalism and cultural production for my term paper will have no parallel, ever again.