I love Mexico. I love how Mexico is resilient. I love Mexico, aware it is hurt, violated and terrorized, contests and affirms itself in light of so much erasure and destruction. I love Mexico multifaceted and shifting. Mexico in Los Angeles, Mexico in New York City, Mexico within and beyond all of its borders. My time in Mexico pushed me to detest how the state has destroyed people’s lives. But seeing how those who that has hurt, from Ayotzinapa to the thousands displaced, continue to fight for the Mexico impunity, racism, misogyny, corruption and profit have tried to erase, wills me to love a Mexico resisting.
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:
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.”
Some Context: This is a piece I wrote on the presidential inauguration of PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in December 1, 2012. This reflection was a product of the political youth attitudes of that year, which were particularly agitated and mobilized as a result of the #YoSoy132 student movement (in which I participated in and researched from May to December of that year). The mood was tense and students were disenchanted and exhausted; #YoSoy132 was unable to prevent the conception of a premeditated political plan to bring the historically corrupt PRI to power. Due to the more recent examples of protests, particularly in Mexico City, against the new telecommunications law, I was able to dig this up and thus reflect on the patterns of repression of social protest in Mexico since EPN’s inauguration in 2012:
As I write it is December 1st, the first official day of Enrique Peña Nieto’s political reign over Mexico. Today, I saw the signs of times to come cloud over Mexico City. Instead of the usual orderly but maintained chaos of downtown Mexico City, I observed people walk the glass-shattered streets contemplative, anxious, sin rumbo.
Today I took the metro from my apartment in the south of the city up to the Centro Histórico. I was hoping to catch up to the protesters who were marching in rechazo, repudiation, of the legitimacy of Enrique Peña Nieto, who was inaugurated at midnight on December 1st. As they marched toward east to El Zócalo from el Angel de Independencia, they were met with hundreds and hundreds of grenadiers, heavily protected police force armed with shields and equipped with tear gas. The grenadiers had been mobilized to prevent the march, in which families, students and children had participated in, from reaching el Zócalo, which sits situated right under the vigilance of the government palace. I didn’t see the confrontation unfold but when I arrived to El Centro and got off at the Bellas Artes metro stop, I saw glass-shattered avenues, overturned barricades and graffitied walls. Huge groups of spectators looked onto the groups of grenadiers, positioned defensively with their shields forming a barricade against potential agitators.
As I stood with the crowd, I was overcome with the shared sense of anxiety, discomfort, and outrage. Standing there I observed how the protestors, now scattered among the crowd and around the perimeter of Bellas Artes, continued to confront the police with an armament of rocks, sticks, and shouts. I observed how a group of around thirty people scattered for rocks and proceeded to throw in unison and succeed in pushing back the police force a couple of yards. The protestors shouted to the police forces, “Who are you protecting?” “You’re protecting asesinos!” “You should be protecting us!”
I thought to myself, whom are they protecting? Enrique Peña Nieto is the young face of the PRI, a party that, if as children of the Mexican diaspora we inquire to anyone of our parents or grandparents, will admit has a notorious, violent, and repressive political track record. It was under PRI’s 71 yearlong governance that the Mexican government repressed and ordered the assassination of hundreds of student protestors in the Plaza de Tlatelolco in 1968, in one of largest massacres in Latin America of the last century. It was under PRI governance that students were again repressed in El Halconzao in 1971. It was under PRI governance that Mexican society became desensitized to political corruption and repression of social protest.
In 2006, in San Salvador Atenco in the state of Mexico, protestors and community members were severely repressed by federal and state police. What began as resistance from flower vendors against displacement from their areas of work, escalated into a confrontation between the police and the community. This battle, waged by the police with clubs and malevolence, ended with more than two hundred deaths and arbitrary arrests and the rape of more than two-dozen women. Under the governance of Enrique Peña Nieto, violence against women, repression of social protest and political corruption skyrocketed in the state of Mexico.
This is the government that was democratically elected the first of July of this year? The #YoSoy132 movement organized in May of this year was a direct response to the political and societal implications of the return of the PRI, especially with Enrique Peña Nieto as candidate. #YoSoy132 tried with vigor and creativity to dissuade the Mexican public from supporting the PRI, but through an elaborate election fraud scheme of vote buying, political corruption and media manipulation, Enrique Peña Nieto also known as el copetón, was elected into office.
Now, what awaits Mexico? It’s a vicious cycle. A cycle of outrage, disenchantment, violence, and resistance. A cycle that has repeated again and again in Mexico, sexenio after sexenio. In a recent Skype conversation with my father, he explained to me that it was now my turn to learn and live in carne propia the mechanics of political and social manipulation of the PRI, lived experiences he and so many other Mexicans from past generations know very well.
One of my earliest and haziest memories of night life hedonism in Mexico City is of an esoteric inspired cumbia and copal smoke infused dance floor of Multiforo Alicia, a cultural and artistic space in Colonia Roma. That night of ritual literally drenched me in the sweat of a venue filled with the spirits of cumbia psicodélica of the past and the sensual and licentious energies emanating from bodies persuaded by the timbales, congas, güiro and electric convocation of Sonido Gallo Negro, a 9-piece, instrumental band from east Mexico City.
That early experience served to inspire my already burgeoning hunger for live music and bands thriving off the energy of Mexico City’s daily existence. I’ve been able to decipher a vast amount of urban space and venue gig line-ups in order to find good music, buena onda. Lucky for me, Mexico City is overflowing with incredible bands, en los unders, con los chavos banda, punks, goths y fresas (because of their shared affinity for electronica, you can find these last two in bars all around El Centro – a trip, lo sé).
Alongside fellow chilangx denizens, I’ve danced to the music of La Santa Cecilia in Querétaro 246. I’ve caught the last midnight metro from estación Miguel Angel de Quevedo to catch the last and best bands play at gigs in el Alicia a dozen times over. And I’ve trekked through dozens of metro routes and dished out pesos for the peseros to take me to the chavos banda ska shows down in Iztapalapa and to back patio tocadas up by Metro Refineria. It has become a quest of sorts, an attempt to witness not only the diverse interpretations and tributes of bands born out of Mexico City, inspired by the creative intensity of the city streets they’ve known indelibly, but also the national and international bands that have been summoned by the great city.
With time and a good number of garage punk shows, I grew to love a particular music venue that wasn’t solely a music venue but also an autonomous space for political organizing and a cultural incubator for youth resistance. Multiforo Alicia has seen the likes of Manu Chao and Los Auténticos Decadentes, among other Latin American greats, and regularly hosts the best garage punk, surf, and local bands, that are among my personal favorites.
In Mexico City, we are unfortunately continually reminded of the purpose of bridging culture and politics within an autonomous space dedicated to the coexistence of independent bands and urban youth. Since the inauguration of both Enrique Peña Nieto as president of Mexico and Miguel Angel Mancera as mayor of Mexico City in December 2012, social protest has been responded with aggressive police confrontation, unseen in years in the capital. Under new federal and district leadership there have been a high number of arbitrary arrests of youth protesters that have resulted in outrageous and unfounded charges.
On October 2, 2013, during the most recent commemoration protest of the Tlatelolco student massacre ordered by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional of 1968, 19 protestors were detained, among them the guitarist and vocalist of Telekrimen and The Cavernarios , two resident bands of el Alicia. For the last six months Danny Lobo has been detained at the Reclusorio Norte prison, under the bogus charges of offenses against public peace en masse and property damage, when in reality he was passing out flyers for what would have been an upcoming show. After months of organizing, the artistic and political community of the city has yet to secure his release.
In many ways, el Alicia is an epitome of the power of resistance through music in Mexico City. Because while we all search for beats and rhythms that inspire the organic creation of mosh pits and elaborate cumbia footwork, we also require music that inspires us to transcend time and space, to literally move us to other times, countries, dance floors long gone, and to help root us in all too real political, cultural and social realities.
Music in Mexico City represents and means many things to me but these all come in melodious lessons on life and resistance.
In 2012, I found out about an opportunity to participate in the Authentic Journalism School sponsored by Narco News, an on-line news bulletin with an affinity for the construction of and solidarity with movements for authentic democracy and ending the war on drugs in Mexico.
For personal reasons or otherwise, I wasn’t accepted into the program but I was left with a lengthy (about 26 pages) memoir that vividly expressed my passion for writing and journalism. The Narco News application is now something I go back to read and to continue to deconstruct what moves me about writing, specifically about social movements and social justice in Latin America and in the U.S., in a practical and creative effort to understand how I see myself contributing to these efforts.
Reviewing these responses comes at an interesting time, when I start contemplating pursuing a Master’s in Journalism, meanwhile brainstorming how I could develop experience and write with creative courage.
What I’d like to now share is my (working) response about the gigantic and complex question: “What do you most want to learn about journalism?” Aquí les comparto, compas:
Well I want to learn many things really. I want to see how others perceive journalism, whether they also see it as an outlet for community empowerment, be it at the level of communities like East Los Angeles or larger communities like Mexico. I see journalism as a tool for empowerment in my community, a way to communicate its perceptions of itself. Boyle Heights is painted as a violence-filled neighborhood by mainstream Los Angeles media and while although gang violence does indeed inform much of the social scheme of things in my community, social reality transcends dread and violence. It is a culturally rich community, with many spaces and members that are working against those who seek to make the community itself think they are nothing more than gangsters, teen mothers and a disposable and docile labor force.
I see correlations between the ways in which the media reports on Boyle Heights and the way it paints a whole country like Mexico. Every morning I monitor the U.S. English language news for the Americas Program MexicoBlog and it is honestly very spiritually exhausting and intellectually frustrating. As I explained in a Facebook post one morning, everyday I take a couple of hours to monitor the news on Mexico in relation to migration, politics, the drug war, transnational mining, and the list goes on, for my internship with the Center for International Policy. Overall, the news reports as well as the news itself can be so overwhelming, so ridiculous and so disheartening. The dehumanized Mexican criminal, migrant, citizen is always confronting perpetual misery. Their (our) existence isn’t restricted to those generalizations and misinformed categorizations.
To be more specific, in the month of September of 2012 there was a boom in news stories describing how Mexican “drug pin” criminals and warmongers have been apprehended and thus mark “success stories” in Calderon’s war on drugs. A critical and informed reader understands that the rise in sudden drug war success stories is correlated to the 2012 electoral conjuncture and the fact that Calderon is on his way out of the presidency and that Enrique Peña Nieto and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional is on the way in. However, informed by mainstream mass media, the Mexican and U.S. public are told to rest assured that the madmen producing and distributing the drugs and perpetuating the violence have been apprehended. “Drug king-pins” aren’t the source of the problem. Violence, lynched Mexican citizens, dead drug lords are plastered in photographs all over the covers of newspapers and magazines that fill Mexican newsstands.
I wonder sometimes what that does to the collective psyche of the Mexican populace, how they understand themselves, and the country in which they live. The way the drug war is reported and portrayed in mainstream U.S. and Mexican media criminalizes Mexican drug cartels and ignores the role of U.S. consumption of the drugs, the flow of arms to Mexico from the U.S. and the complacency from both the U.S. and Mexican government. How can we change this? How can we turn journalism away from a weapon of distraction, hopelessness and dehumanization to a tool for empowerment and consciousness? How can journalism help a child or teenager from Boyle Heights or a colonia in the heart of Mexico City understand themselves, understand they have the power to influence the world, to challenge their own realities? I want to learn what can be done to challenge and change the way news is reported transnationally, from the barrios of Los Angeles to those of Mexico City.
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.