Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Guanajuato, Mexico, Oct.5, 2017

George Bunyan Interviews the filmmaker Ludwig Carnival on the health of Mexican film.*

GB: From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of very good films everywhere that don’t make it to the big screen. Is there anything we citizens can do about that?

LC: Yes. Stop watching mindless television. Demand art and thoughtful content.

GB: Isn’t that the argument of the artistic elite?

LC: It certainly isn’t the argument of the commercial elite. For them money, not art, is what is important.

GB: But without money, your films won’t reach the public.

LC: It depends on what you mean by public. People huddled in the flickering, blue light of their televisions, alone, hypnotized, without any questions forming in their brains as to what things mean. It’s a kind of self-selected numbing, distraction, excitement without insight, where you don’t remember what you’ve seen.

I recently went to a small movie house in Dahlem, an area in Berlin. I wanted to see whether it was still there fifty years after I had been a student there. My wife and I were the only people sitting in the theater. The movie was about raising salmon in desert in a Middle East country. That was the gimmick. That’s why it got picked up and distributed.

The movie house had endured because a series of owners loved film. There was nothing elite about the place or its activities. The billboard indicated that thoughtful films were the large part of the offering. In particular: The Thirty-Nine Steps, directed by Hitchcock. The Grande Illusion, with Erik von Stroheim. The Bicycle Thief. And the Mexican film Heli, by Amat Escalante. Criticized in some places for its violence.

GB: Violence sells, so does sex, so does white.

LC: That’s the sad part. The whiteness. So many films without cultural diversity, but revealing the racial assumptions that give cohesion to the dominant ethnicity. That is what characterizes blockbusters. Violence as the manifestation of strength and, usually, of male dominance, as in constant war and sex, as in the enticing postures of women that show thighs and breast, as if that were mainly what they are about.

I grew up in a whiteness, just south of Boston. My adolescent friends and I heard about the film Bitter Rice being played in a nearby seaport. We didn’t tell our parents what we were about to do, the three of us stealing away like plotting murderers , and hitchhiked to the town, praying the ticket booth would let us in, although we were years under-age. The crime we got to commit? We got to see nineteen-year old movie actress Silvana Mangano’s thighs and breasts. And violence. I remember thinking there must be something dirty about the whole thing because it was also Italian, and Italians, I knew, ate innocent people alive in East Boston. So many prejudices already growing like permanent cultural fungus in my young soul. At least it was international. But it had made it to the big American screen because of breasts and thighs. And probably also because of its dirtiness. Some critics called it Marxist because it dealt with labor issues.

GB: What about violence in Mexican films? Take the film Heli that you mentioned.

LC: I’ve seen the film. There is violence. But it’s not gratuitous violence. It shows unspeakable cruelty and torture, but it’s there for a reason. That is what goes on in a country with a long history of the absence of the rule of law; where educational and job-training opportunities tend to be out of the range of humble people; where the elite gather wealth and power, in their own way stealing from the rest of us with their monopolies. Anyone can join the drug cartels and become the cannon fodder for the incredibly bloody wars to control shipping and markets. The violence shows the depravity of a part of a desperate society where the only protection is neighbors looking our for neighbors.  Escalante rubs your face in it. Not to titillate and entertain, but to make you incensed that the powers at the top have allowed such a society to evolve. A society that we all in some ways help perpetuate every day. And in that way it is about Everyman and Every Country.

GB: What are you working on now?

LC: I’m writing a screen play about a corrupt federal policeman in Tampico in 1938, who looks for his angry, missing son in a city wracked by petroleum workers’ strikes. Where brutal counter measures produce limbless bodies floating in the Pánuco River, chewed on by oversized crocodiles and bumped against at night by submerged German U-boats, inching upstream. Where everything points to the coming slaughters of the Second World War, some of which is already beginning in that oil port.

GB: So the same old problems continue?

LC: The same problems exist. What sells is youth, young sexuality, young thighs and breasts, bulging muscles, guns, killing bad guys, winning the usually white beauties as if they were circus prizes.

What’s missing are the small joys, the small courtesies, I want to say, sweetness that strangers share, the fragility of unusual love. What sells is war, weapons, feats of unreal courage, blowing up things, car chases, high-tech crime fighting. A hip hollowness. Heroes wrapped in invincibility. The abundance of clichés.

Heli, the film by Amat Escalante, is slow, unrelenting. At one point, if I remember correctly, an Army pickup drives right up to the door of an innocent protagonist’s modest house, with its mounted, manned, heavy machine gun pointed right at the protagonist, what seems like centimeters away. It is a scene about menace. About the power of the State to threaten or run amok with impunity. A metaphor for what good people are up against in this country of ours. It is but one of countless brilliant scenes. Escalante’s films should be supported by patrons of the arts everywhere. As should those of countless other young filmmakers in this old and noble country.

GB: Thank you for your time.

LC: You’re very welcome.

*A reminder that this was a fictitious interview.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Translated by Jane Brundage for Mexico Voices. From the newspaper Reforma, original Spanish by Denise Dresser

Stories of the country of the absurd. Stories of the country of contradiction. Mexico today, where freedom of speech and the press live under the pretense of laws that say they defend them. Where for journalists the most common words are fear, silence, death, censorship or a new euphemism: dismissal for “breach of trust”. A reality described in Article 19’s Annual Report about the violence committed against journalists in Mexico. The title says it all: “State of Censure.” A state of defenselessness for human rights defenders, bloggers, tweeters, social and student leaders who live in permanent fear. Because raising a voice to report, disagree, criticize, carries a high risk.The title is not accidental. It invites readers to play with words. State as government that censures, or the state as climate that leads communicators to fall into line, self-censor, mimic the official line. The state of fear that the reprimand can arrive at any moment. And the fear grows daily since 326 attacks were documented against the media in 2014, only four fewer than the previous year.

During the first two years of Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, ten journalists have been killed. During the government of Felipe Calderón, a journalist was assaulted every 48.1 hours; in the Peña Nieto administration to date an aggression occurs every 26.7 hours. In the Federal District. In Quintana Roo. In Veracruz. In Guerrero. The states where it is most dangerous to tell power what it does not want to hear.
The Internet—sanctuary for many media—has also become common place for attacks, threats, harassment. A place where contents are falsified, portals are attacked and journalists are defamed. A site where, anonymously, we are called “whores” and it is written to us:

“respect @epn, or we will hang you by the ass with a meat hook, bitch”; or we are tweeted

“respect our president @epn we are going to kill you, fucking bitch. The PRI arrives even if it hurts.”

In the last two years, assaults on women communicators and documentarians increased 20 percent. They takes a particular form. They attack the dignity, draw ghoulish attention to privacy, use gender as an excuse to trample.

The fence is deliberately closing. In this administration, the average of attacks on freedom of expression rose 80 percent. In this government, 48 percent of attacks on journalists have been committed by a public official. The State itself muzzles. What should protect freedom of expression becomes the main perpetrator of attacks against it.
Because despite laws, mechanisms and “special” prosecutors, the complete impunity of those who attack the press persists. Because Mexican democracy is dying alongside free journalism. Because Angélica Rivera will not sell her White House and Luis Videgaray [Treasury Secretary] will not explain the conditions under which he bought his own house. Because the PRI wants to win Mexico City with networks woven by Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre [former PRI head in Mexico City accused of running a prostitution ring from party offices]. Because the governor of Quintana Roo prefers to shoot the messenger than pay attention to her message.
Here was the case of Edwin Canché, tortured for photographing the crash involving the mayor’s nephew. Or Gregorio Jiménez, murdered by an armed commando. Or the Northwest Sinaloa newspaper, which has been the object of 47 incidents of theft, looting, physical assaults, threats and aggressions. Or Karla Silva, beaten by three men, in order that “she fucking stop her articles.” Or Pedro Canché, imprisoned for documenting an eviction. Or the weekly Lights of the Century, cloned 61 times, in which the covers were falsified in order to make reference to the supposed achievements of Governor Roberto Borge.Or that of Carmen Aristegui, supposedly fired for the “use of a trademark”, when the real story includes editorial guidelines—equivalent to censorship—that the company intended to force her to sign, and the role of a friendly mediator, José Woldenberg, which should have worked, whom MVS chose to ignore.
Faced with these cases, society must fight for the freedom that is being lost, murdered journalist after journalist censured. To fight for the freedom to know, declare, argue, investigate Casas Blancas [White Houses] and political leaders with black histories. To defend freedom, as Yoani Sánchez says, is the possibility of standing on a streetcorner and shouting:

“Here there is no freedom.”

Reforma only allows subscribers to access its articles online.
 

*Denise Dresser is a Mexican political analyst, writer, and university professor. After completing undergraduate work at The College of Mexico, she earned her Ph.D. in Politics at Princeton University. She is currently a faculty member in the Department of Political Science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM), where she teaches such courses as Comparative Politics, Political Economy and Contemporary Mexican Politics. She has taught at Georgetown University and the University of California. Twitter: @DeniseDresserG

Read Full Post »

Violentómetro, Violence Meter

Marcador, bookmark from the Museo de la Mujer in Mexico City, www.museumdelamujer.org.mx

Categoría 1, Category 1: Be careful, violence tends to increase

Ten Cuidado, la violencia aumentará.

Bromas hirientes, hurtful jokes

Chantagear, blackmail

Mentir, engañar, lying, cheating, betrayal

Ignorar, ley del hielo, ignoring you, freezing you out

Celar, being jealous

Culpabilizar, blaming

Descalificar, being dismissive

Ridiculizar, offender, ridiculing, being offensive

Humillar en public, humiliate in public

Categoría 2, category 2: Reacciona! No te deges destruir, take action, do not let yourself be destroyed

Intimidar, amenazar, intimidation, threats

Controlar, prohibir (amistades, familiares, dinero, lugares, vestimenta, apariencia, actividades, mails, cellular)

Controlling, prohibitions (friendships, family, money, movement, clothing, appearance, activities, mail, cell phone)

Destruir pertenencias, destroys belongings

Manosear, unwelcomed touching, groping

Caricias agresivas, aggressive caresses, touching

Gopear “jugando,” hitting “in fun”

Pellizcar, arañar, pinching, scratching

Empujar, jalonear, pushing, dragging, pulling

Cachetear, slapping in the face

Patear, kicking

Categoría 3, Category 3:

Encerrar, aislar, lock up, isolate

Amenazar con objetos o armas, threaten with objects or weapons

Amenazar de muerte, threaten with death

Forzar a una relación sexual, force sex on you

Abuso sexual, sexual abusiveness

Violación, rape

Mutilar, mutilation

Asesinar, murder

Read Full Post »

It is strange to be living in a country that may be on the edge of another revolution. It is hard to measure the rage of the population. In fact, it is impossible. My more conservative friends would pooh-pooh the idea; and I think they would be right. They would say, cynically, that it won’t happen this time either; that the leaders will behave as before, the culture of corruption will continue, impunity will reign as it always has; and the media, two giant corporations tied closely to the interests of the ruling group—will continue saying whatever it takes to make our eyes glaze over with confusion and boredom. The focus on the 43 disappeared students in Guerrero has already weakened on Facebook. Soon, everyone will agree that it is old news, and that talking about it is simply a form of chronic whining.

But that still leaves plenty of dissenters—young Mexicans—who will continue to speak out. I do not know what course their rejection of the state’s behavior—the lack of the rule of law—will take.   This time, the context seems to have changed. The disappearance of the 43 has pulled the curtain aside and the nation saw their government trapped by the circumstances. The government lost either way, whether the 43 remained disappeared or whether their bodies were found. By tone or gestures, the leaders, many said, showed they did not really care, their deeds and words rang empty, investigations began late and appeared to look only for the missing but not for those responsible except at the lowest levels. For the government, it appeared to be a George Bush reading My Pet Goat to the kindergarten moment. The whole world saw this; and now there is support and a more broad understanding internationally of what is at play. But will that spur change; will it protect student demonstrators during the next demonstrations?

I have read about people hinting at taking up arms, but that would be a disaster, just as the Mexican Revolution was a prolonged disaster for so many. There is enough violence already. Instead, the leadership at the top must change its way of thinking. They would have to develop a sense of social responsibility. But it is hard to see how that can happen. There seems to some sort of missing gene—like the kind of gene that keeps the U.S. Congress from acting on global warming or from ridding itself of a deep, destructive racism and love of war.   The best that can be hoped for is that the ruling groups have learned something about the depth of the despair, disappointment and outrage among Mexico’s citizens. For things to change, they would have to examine their own roles in maintaining the structure that moves riches and privileges and authority into their hands and away from the vast majority of citizens who battle hunger, lack of a good education, jobs that pay a living wage, the lack of transparency and accountability in their government and a rampant lack of the kind of security that can guarantee life, limb and the pursuit of happiness.

A final question is why there isn’t another way to change the ruling order. There are plenty of studies that show that, sufficiently conditioned by fear and manipulation, people stop resisting, stop speaking out. Plus, is there perhaps some earlier conditioning from as much as a hundred years ago, when people were taught to learn to obey?

Here is one opinion on the subject—my translation—from Friedrich Katz’s book La Servidumbre agraria en México en la época porfiriana, 1980, 2013, Agrarian Servitude in the Era of Porfirio Díaz. These are the words of Manuel F. de la Hoz, at The Second Congress of Tulancingo in 1905, in Mexico—a gathering of hacienda owners, high Catholic dignitaries, and functionaries of the government, where Hoz was arguing that reforms were needed to prevent revolution.

“It must be understood that, if respect for authority is the key to conserving harmony and order among all human groups, then a attitude of subordination must be fomented in the worker toward his immediate superiors, i.e. those who represent (and act for) the patrón (hacienda owner) himself.

“One must note that often the superiors—majordomos, field assistants, apprentices, gang captains—being filled with a sense of their own superiority—often apply the rod (whip) of their command with a heavy hand against the unhappy farm worker. To correct these abuses the hacienda owner should approach, not only because that is required by the laws of justice but also because all power that is exercised tyrannically engenders rebellion and a predisposition toward hate and revenge. In contrast, once he (the hacienda owner) commands from the height of his mission, and once he (the farm worker) who obeys does so from the nobility of his sacrifice, order will resume its rule and there will be no disturbances that turn everything on its head.

“The doctrine imbued in the farm worker since childhood will teach him to support with resignation and happiness the hard law of his humble condition; will inform him of the importance of his obligations and those of his fellows; will teach him to recognize the authority that governs him and to respect, without whispers and rebelliousness, the difference between the classes which God has permitted for the splendor of His glory; (the doctrine) will make his (the worker’s) burden lighter and smooth his supporting obedience.”

Read Full Post »

Awake at 2 AM, listening to whoops in the callejones, the alleys that cross in front of our house. Someone had taken one of the usual inhalants and was acting out in the usual way, roaring at the neighbors, as if they were responsible for all his pains. I watched on the camera monitor for a while. Unfortunately, by mistake, we had hit the wrong buttons somewhere along the line, and the picture keeps changing from camera 1 to camera 2 to 3 to 4, so you can’t studying the situation or track someone’s movement. Delinquent behavior was occurring, but I could only catch snatches of it.

Only that morning, I had reprimanded young M, whom no one washes, for not being at the art workshop being offered at S’s tienda–store–two blocks up the stairs. I yelled up at his sister, whose head I could see above the half-wall on their roof.

“Where’s M?” I called up. “He not at the workshop.”

She looked down with a kind of shrug-of-the-shoulders expression.

“Where’s M?” I asked again, not letting myself be put off.

M appeared at an open window one story lower. His face was as blank as his sister’s.

“Why aren’t you at the workshop?” I ask. His eyes shifted around, as he looked for an answer. Everything about his face told me that, for whatever reason, he wasn’t going.

“It’s just that I have to hold tools for someone,” he said.

“No, you don’t,” I replied. “A lot of people have worked really hard to set this up for you. Why aren’t you going?”

He disappeared, then appeared around the corner, on my level, in the callejón.

M is a practiced con-artist, best at trying to get money out of you with the most outlandish stories of why he has to have it. D has told him there will be no more money until she has talked with his teacher and his parent figures (the father is not interested in him) present a financial report of money-in and money-out. They seem to have a record of complicity in M’s stories and reasons. The children come saying there is no food to eat. It is hard to say no. We have given food, but we no longer give money.

He was beginning up the steps with me. He looked back, as if he was worried about pressure coming from somewhere else: his mother. I suspected she had told him he didn’t have to go.

“You have a commitment,” I told him, as we climbed toward S’s tienda and the workshop. I used the word commitment because M always seems to be sliding in the other direction—no commitment toward anyone including himself and any kind of future.

“You know, I’m disappointed in you, M. A lot of people are coming together to offer you something worthwhile—the history of Mexican art—and you can’t be bothered to get your ass off your chair and up the hill.”

He brought up his duty to hand someone tools. I told him he didn’t have that duty. He had a duty to attend what M and others had worked hard to organize.

“Do you want to become a pandillero–a thug?” I asked him. I knew there was a constant suck on him in that direction.

He looked at me, shocked that I could think such a thing. I thought of my own father’s gruff guidance as I marched M toward something worthwhile. Are you going to do the right thing, or not?

We entered S’s tienda. S was at the front, selling tacos with fresh goat meat. I had met the animal earlier. Various parts of him had been stewing since the night before. M was delaying. He said he had to throw his plastic cup away. I took it out of his hand. I would throw it a way. S was watching me. I rolled my eyes. S gave a little nod. He knew the story. M had to buy a candy bar. A, S’s wife, sold it to him. He opened it and casually took a bite. In that moment, he was a tough guy that had important things to do in his life—besides attending workshops.

I mounted the stairs behind him. I got him a chair and planted him across from A, the young volunteer teacher—a theater major from the university, coming from the young citizen’s group called 473, which is our area code in Mexico. I drew up a chair and sat behind M—like a sprawled goatherd dog keeping tabs on one of his goats—a goat boy that possibly still had a future if he felt that anybody at all gave a damn about him.

Between 1 and 2 AM, the local losers—D disapproves of dehumanizing terms—had a rock fight with another gang a few houses down from us, broke the streetlight in front of our house, smashed open the steel door to the vacant lot and knocked out one of the adjoining metal panels, and terrified the neighborhood with their bellowing. Various young women fluttered around one of them (I caught glimpses of this on the always changing cameras), trying to return him to the privada–the side alley–before the police arrived in their knee guards, plastic shields, and metal clubs. Apparently, each neighbor thought the other would call the police—and no one did. The police did not arrive, and the boys-without-futures had one more spell of violence and chaos.

Read Full Post »

A friend heard I wrote stories for children. I told her I had only written one—for my granddaughter when she was five years old. My friend asked if the story was in English. I said it was in English, Spanish, French, and Dutch. She asked me whether I would read the Spanish version at a Catholic shelter here in Guanajuato for children who were victims of various kinds of violence and lived temporarily under the protection of the Church. The reading hour was called the Beatrix Potter Sala de la Lectura, Hogar del Buen Pastor, Guanajuato.

The appointed day arrived. I printed out the Spanish translation of “Biff and the Sinking Coal Freighter.” Its title in Spanish is “Biff y el barco carbonero que se hundía,” translated by Lirio Garduño, a fine local poet.

With barely enough time, I practiced reading it through, repeating the technical words so I would say them correctly. I had never read the Spanish translation very closely—only to see if it had reached a good equivalency. My friend wanted my biography, too. I estimated the age level might be about eight. This is what I wrote:

 

Sterling Bennett, con apodo “Plata,” vive en Guanajuato capital desde hace 9 años.

Sterling Bennett, nickname Plata, has been living in Guanajuato for nine years.

Tiene una gatita negra que se llama Lilus Kikus que sabe más que él.

He has a female cat named Lilus Kikus, who knows more than he does.

Vivió por muchos años en California, en Los Estados Unidos, con su esposa D, que también sabe más que él.

He lived for many years in California, in the United States, with his wife D, who also knows more than he does.

Tiene una nieta de siete años que se llama L. Escribió este cuento para ella. L. también sabe más que él.

He has a seven-year old granddaughter named E, who also knows more than he does.

Tiene dos hijos, M y D, quienes siempre le ganan en ajedrez. Ellos también saben más que él.

He has two son, M and D, who always beat him at chess. They also know more than he does.

Ha estudiado en la más famosa universidad en Los Estados Unidos, que se llama Harvard, donde los estudiantes también sabían más que él.

He studied at the most famous university in the United States, called Harvard—where the students also know more than him.

Le encanta mucho tener esta oportunidad de leer este cuento a ustedes—quienes probablemente saben más que él.

He is delighted to have this opportunity to read this story to (all of) you, who probably know more than he does.

El cuento se trata de dos osos capitanes marineros….que probablemente……(???)

The story has to do with two bear tugboat captains…that probably…..(??)

Then I read the story to them, stopping frequently while my friend made sure they understood what I was describing.

There were four large round tables, at which were seated about thirty girls between the ages of four and thirteen. Most of them were on the younger end of the scale. One whole table of eight very young children almost immediately lay their heads on their table and appeared to be sound asleep—so quickly and so uniformly that it seemed to me that their action was about something else—an invoked escape stupor, a largely psychological exhaustion because of family crisis, an agreed upon behavior in unison to deal with overwhelming anxiety—a block against information they did not know or understand: a man, a gringo, too old to being doing anything, who was doing something they did not understand—storytelling, talking a little funny in their language, using words they had never heard and didn’t understand. What did these things mean: tugboat, captain, cable, sinking ship, Great Lakes, Erie Canal, locks, steam whistles, with each great wave pushing the coal freighter up onto the beach so it would not sink?

Even the fact that the two heroes were bear tugboat captains seemed unable stir them from their curious slumber. Nor the dramatic moment that all seemed lost in the story—until the second tugboat captain came out into the storm at night and helped push the sinking coal freighter up onto the beach. And he was a she—and a second courageous tugboat captain.

We got through it. The story ended. I tried to say something about the elephant in the room (bears?) and mentioned how almost half my listeners were like my black cat Lilus Kikus, who slept ninety-five percent of the time…and knew more than I did.
They wrote me letters—the little ones were roused for that exercise by the two attending women, impressive professionals and volunteers from the outside—drawing flowers and bears, inquiring now and then who I was and even how to write my name—Plata, as in silver, as in Sterling.

Pictures were taken and sent me. I will not show you their faces, because some of the children are in deep protection from various kinds of targeted abuse. I was going to show one child whose face was hidden, propped on her arms—but I have decided not to.

When I got home, I told my love that it was the least successful public reading I had ever done—and the most meaningful one. Since I, in the end, was another audience—overwhelmed by a story told by sunken children.

Read Full Post »

Two of the neighbors, both women, were afraid. They wanted the police to be invited to our neighborhood Iluminación festival for the Virgin of Guanajuato, an event that was to occur just outside our front door. They were not the only ones who thought our local pre-cartel paint thinner sniffers might disrupt the gathering—I was another one. But the barrio steering committee persuaded the two women that police presence would destroy the whole purpose of neighbors coming together to honor The Virgin of Guanajuato, eat together, and build Solidarity. Plus, the event would occur between 4 and 6 pm, before it got dark, and the usual suspects did not start winding up their anti-social engines (on vapors) until darkness gave them cover.

Still, proceeding with the event took some courage on everyone’s part. No one could tell to what extent community organizing might draw a response from people at a somewhat higher pre-cartel level. We knew from previous experience that our locals could, and had before, called in other gangbangers from outside our barrio to signal their control over our public space.

D. and I had come up behind two of the principal local gangbangers that morning. They were climbing the stairs in front of us toward the upper ring road. They said, yes, yes, they would come to the celebration. As they walked ahead of us they kept looking back. I asked D. why they kept looking back; what was the psychological explanation? It is hard to know anymore when the glue and paint thinner sniffing has done its damage. Already, their motor coordination was disturbed; already they staggered and had trouble lifting their legs for each new step. Their looking back was the automatic behavior of disturbed, deeply frightened animals.

At the same time, community organizing had been under way for the last six weeks, with D. and C. talking to all the mothers and some of the men in the neighborhood, for hours at a time. D. read books on Conflict Resolution in Spanish, drew graphs, and condensed her reading into summarizing handouts. The principal graph took the form of a triangle. The lower levels described the foundation for the tip of the triangle: action. That is to say, the community could not correct matters regarding trash, graffiti, drinking and drugs in the alleys, social respect, and safety if action was not first based in conflict resolution and trust building—and simple agreements like not calling the police before talking to one’s neighbor or to the steering committee.

At first, we weren’t sure if anyone would come. A couple from the organizing committee hung a sheet over an ugly graffitied wall, then hung a framed picture of the Virgin of Guanajuato from a nail. They placed two plastic pails with flowers just below her. People stretched strings of small triangular yellow flags across the intersection of two alleys. Then, the neighborhood’s families began to trickle in. In the end, there were more than fifty people—including two of the drug-dealing families (i.e. mothers or aunts), but not the drug dealers themselves.

In what appears to Mexican style, family groups sat with their own; the most alienated—the drinking and drug dealing families—sat at the fringes but were still present and observing. K., a very experienced young friend, conducted a drawing workshop for the children at a table a little uphill from the food tables. She asked the kids to draw their own house, then people the picture with anyone they wanted. I stretched a clothesline between two concrete nails hammered into the front of our house, over the little table with the CD player and speakers—a spot I thought would attract the most attention, and we hung the kids’ drawings on the clothesline as–I like to think–an indication of what was most important to all of us: guiding the next generation of youth in a different kind of direction.

Some eight women spread food out on the tables where they filled chalupas, sopes and other kinds of baked or deep-fried formed tortillas with bits of ham and rice. Women who have feuded for years stood next to each other, smiling, serving the food. The president of the steering committee handed out plates of food. I brought cups of hot ponche – non-alcohol punch made from cinnamon, guava, tamarindo and carmelized sugar – to the outliers, the shy, the most alienated, to emphasize that they too were included.

Most of these people—the most alienated—sat around a corner from the main scene but were still able to see the CD player and the art wall. Three of these men had come to drink beer—one of the few ways for them to be present in a social setting. One of them was very drunk already. I brought him a chair; I brought him punch; others brought him food. He was shy and inarticulate; still, he wanted to be near the party.

One of the other two drinkers – a cargador – a man who carries heavy things (bricks, sand, bags of cement) up and down the canyon’s sides – approached R., a small woman, who was seated on the front steps of the entrance to her tienda – store – situated twelve strides from our front door. Just above her and to one side of the door she had opened the hinged glass window to her niche, in which was enclosed another Virgin of Guanajuato, illuminated by two votive candles and framed by flowers. R. was ladling out her own version of the Iluminación ponche. I was sitting right in front of her, so I heard what happened.

The beer drinker cargador, a man of essentially no education whatsoever, huge, rough and unwashed, asked R. to sell him a caguama – a liter bottle of beer. And R. said, very sweetly, “Ah no, Sir, I am not able to sell you one because we want it to be tranquilo here.”

He repeated the request.

She repeated her gentle refusal. The cargador lost a little face and retreated. Soon after a man came looking for him for a carrying task, and he left the gathering with a flash of recovered pride in his eyes.

R. the other beer drinker–a former glue sniffer who has somehow escaped from that circle of hell–held a caguama in his hands for at least a half an hour, but I never saw him drink from it. Perhaps he realized he didn’t have to drink to have a good time and probably because I and others had fussed over him, trying to show him we considered him one of us.

At one point, the very drunk man ghosted through the crowd, pushed open the door to the walled off vacant lot behind the food women and went in to pee. It took him a long time to reemerge and shuffle back around the corner to the margins of the festival.

People ate chapulas and drank ponche and looked at each other, even at other family groups, and smiled. I played CD’s of Cuban music and rustic music from Veracruz that included a harp. The first plucked notes of harp in the first song brought a small hoop from the abstaining beer drinker R; and I was delighted that there was still a place inside him that resonated with this simple, exuberant folk music.

People continuously passed through the crossroads of the two intersecting allies, on their way up from or down to the city. A few semi–recovered glue–sniffing adolescents bounced through, glad, I thought, to be making an appearance. I tried to detain two of them–boys I had known for years, beckoning them to come drink a ponche, eat a sope or chalupa. They smiled broadly but did not stay. But almost.

The steering committee stood on a high spot and thanked everyone for coming. D. announced that each child that had drawn a picture was to receive a bag of candies (there were twenty-five bags in all, supplied by a woman who could not attend); then the requirement was just being a child; or the mother of a child. The cooks protested that they too were deserving. I lobbied for R., the non-drinking beer drinker, but he was beaten out by another baby and her mother. He took it well, I thought.

Then it was getting dark, and we began to pack up. There had been no disruption from enraged gangbangers, no bouncing hand grenades, no attacks, no violence—no reason for fear. Just by being there, I thought we had shown that we cared about our barrio and were united in making it better—better for the young artists whose drawings hung on the clothesline, and for everyone one else—even for those not present. Word gets around. The report will be that something good happened. And in Mexico, that is always wonderful news.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Un Autre Compte

French Lessons, Resources, and Culture

Sterling Bennett

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

Americas MexicoBlog

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

samquinones.com/reporters-blog/

DREAMLAND ... a Reporter's Blog from author/journalist Sam Quinones

Mexico Connect Latest Articles

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

Mexico Voices

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

True Tales: a Reporter's Blog

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

Writing in Fits and Starts

writing, playing music, creating community in a Guanajuato barrio

The Mex Files

¡COMO MEXICO NO HAY DOS! The "Real Mexico" from transvestite wrestlers to machete-wielding naked farmers. History, culture, politics, economics, news and the general weirdness that usually floats down from the north.