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.
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:
Silent Protest for Ayotzinapa 43 (with translation):
Guerra es cuando tu gobierno te dice quién es el enemigo. Revolución es cuando te das cuenta para ti mismo. Ya basta México, NO te quedes callado.
¿No te da pena que nosotros dos estudiantes de 15 años tengamos más huevos que tu para alzar la voz? Por que en estos tiempos es más peligroso ser estudiante que delincuente. Ya basta Mexicano, NO te quedes callado.
War is when the government tells you who the enemy is. Revolution is when you realize this for your self. Enough Mexico, DO NOT remain silent.
Does it not embarrass you that as two fifteen year old students, we show more bravery than you in making our voices heard? In these times it is more dangerous to be a student than it is to be a criminal. Enough Mexico, DO NOT remain silent.
In this city, I fully and deeply exercise my emotions on a daily, even one block basis. Walking through El Centro to get to a coffee shop a few minutes ago, I made sure to walk past the Palacio Nacional to see the aftermath of the protest and civil disobedience I was able to see in the flesh last night. The graffiti is gone, the police are present, the palace stands impeccable: absence. I walk east, and all along Madero, and witness the presence of people who live hunger, necessity and poverty and beg for a few coins to feed their family: helplessness. Jazz notes flow from a sax and drum duo, and this strange and out of place sensation is born in me: joy. But then I continue to walk and find a pair of fifteen year old students, who in their thirty minute demonstration of pure and sublime resistance inspire a warm and healing feeling inside of me that nurtures me in the city and the country’s perpetually cold night: hope. I thank them, deeply, and keep on my way, rejuvenated.
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.
Featured in Los Angeles For La Gente:One of the worst things about being poor is always being forced to interact with, and cede to, the interests of rich people. Now add race, and gender, geopolitics, and immigration status to this equation of extraction and displacement: poor people are always forced to move, to migrate, to conform to new and more desolate street-side homes and barrios. Across the bridge from Skid Row – in Boyle Heights, CA – barrios suddenly become attractive and the novelty of poor, but charming, immigrant neighborhoods draws in the privileged capital – ‘cuz in this country not every dollar wielding individual is created equal – to displace and run-out the eternally displaceable. “Gentrification” is the displacements of migrantes de America, de agua por Coca-Cola, de milpas por Monsanto, of barely there sustenance under cardboard homes for luxury condos – todo para volver a vendernos lo que nos han quitado // all in order to sell us back what they have taken from us.
This is a matter of dispossession and displacement. In the (pict)oral histories that map the movement of people, we find patterns marked by displacement. While all of us remain individually terrified of displacement, of ambiguity, of the stripping away of all of our comforts and support, many people’s hxstories remain deeply entrenched and informed by displacement. Displaced from their pueblos. Displaced of their food ways. Displaced of their language. Displaced even from the comfort and security of their urban poverty. It is as if some communities are destined to be perpetually driven to the most remote corners of the earth. On the intention and meticulous planning of economic interests informed by appetites for the consumption of “culture” and “diversity” – a perpetual search to fill the voids constructed by racial violence and capital accumulation – people seek to occupy the cultural spaces built by perpetually displaced communities who had hoped of “finally being able to stay.” Hope after having traversed thousands of miles, having ceded to the social and political rituals of a new place, having hoisted up the social and cultural infrastructure to both cede to the demands of a hostile society and challenge and attempt to transform it, still they have no place.
In the name of advancement, governments have bastioned transnational economic policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the name of progress, governments have ceded to the demands of transnational corporations and a result have poisoned hundreds of communities with toxic waste and genetically modified food. And in the name of development, city officials and realtors seek to cultivate communities as if weeds inhabited them. Yet in all these instances those who continue to be chased away remain to be the same people. They are the working class brown bodies chased away from their communities because of U.S. political and economic intervention abroad, by racism and discrimination, and by greed.
Gentrification is displacement. It faithfully follows a pattern that has chased and driven away people across borders, willed on not with the interest of their well-being but the profits to be made by their dispossession.
We can survive and flourish in the condition of displacement, and even in our apparently sedentary lives we experience the threat of rupture through the deportation, the arrest, the silencing and reprimanding of everything we know. But we cannot continue our movement willed by the demand of those whose insatiable hunger knows no limit, whose greed remains unperturbed by our historical expulsion.
In Boyle Heights – as in Mexico and as in Guatemala – weeds do not spring from the earth. The evolution of community development and progress has been bastioned by those who found themselves with the opportunity to repose from their ardent journey fleeing displacement. There exists a relationship among diasporas who remain committed to supporting and recognizing the importance of mutually supporting the means for community survival. For a community model that recognizes that the señora de los tamales is more important than a corporation that sells frothy iced coffee drinks, because that womxs is their mother, daughter, abuela, hija, companion in a collective struggle against displacement.
Here, among the backdrop of a cityscape that reflects these journeys in its murals and informal economy of pan Latin American delicacies, among the men and womxn who struggle to feed themselves by feeding us the food that managed to make it across the border, among both the silences and articulation of trans-generational knowledge and experience, there exists an opportunity for a collective resistance against displacement. And to unearth and articulate our deeply embedded desire to confront those who seek to continue to push us and say that, here there exists life. And here we choose to stay.
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.