Tierra y Escombros (Land and Rubble)

In my first week in Mexico, I have already gotten the opportunity to attend a number of cultural events hosted by a network of organizations working for migrants rights in Mexico City. The abundance of social, artistic, and educational opportunities for transitional migrant communities are offered to encourage psychological well being, artistic expression and social stimulation in addition to the physical security that the various migrant shelters provide. Given the types of violent, unstable and turbulent situations which these people experience either as the impulse for migration or part of the migration process itself (especially for those coming from Central/South America), fostering this type of active community can be vital to their overall stability once in Mexico City.

Last night a series of plays were performed at Refugio Cafemin around the themes of exile and migration. Although Cafemin is currently experiencing an influx of migrants from Africa, especially the Congo, most of the scenes focused on Latin American migration. Each scene was based around a confrontation between undocumented person/citizen, “foreigner”/”native.” They engaged topics such as political violence as cause for migration, reception of foreigners, xenophobia, and the psychological effects of displacement.

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This scene depicts the confrontation between a Chilean policeman in Switzerland and two South American migrants fleeing dictatorship. The attempt to reconcile their common origins is fraught with resentment, anger and misunderstanding.

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Refugio Cafemin is a shelter for female migrants and includes classrooms, a library, a theater, a bakery and lodging for migrants. Overall an impressive facility and organization– there will be plenty more to discuss with their regard to their programs in the coming months!

A Seismic Tremor Links Past to Present

My first morning in Mexico City, I woke up to the Casa shaking. Not just the Casa, but the ground itself, my very foothold on this new home/country. The last few days in the Casa have been exactly that, getting my footing and finding solid ground with the help and hospitality of the many people welcoming me into this radiant and dynamic community. I have already meet a host of students and researchers, social justice workers, activists, and nostalgic ex-volunteers from the Quaker youth work camps that first brought the Quaker community to Mexico for social service works projects in the 1930s.

And it was in fact seismic activity that triggered one of the most intense periods of relief work at the Casa, when the 1985 earthquake shook Mexico City (measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale), and caused an immediate emergency in which the Casa found itself called to respond to the greatest extent possible–searching through rubble, housing people, providing food assistance, etc. Although the Casa has not since had to respond to such a tragedy, the practice of hospitality and outreach remains central to the work that happens here on a daily basis.

Today, a tremor shook the Casa and me in it, triggering memories of the experiences the Casa has lived and the strength of its willpower when faced with devastation. For the time being, that devastation refers (in part) to the crisis of global migration–stretched out across continents–and the instability manifests itself in human lives as opposed to collapsing structures of concrete and metal. The Casa responds to this reality through its Solidarity Lodging and Peace programs, partnerships with other migrants rights organizations and a positive presence within the neighborhood and larger D.F. community. These relationships allow the Casa to respond to the great need of migrants and refugees fleeing impossible economic and political circumstances in their countries of origin (most recently Nigeria, the Congo and Central America).

The work I will be doing in the coming months will respond to these realities of migration with strategies for peace and understanding, both across international borders and in Mexican civil society. So I’m glad that on Wednesday morning I got a solid reminder of the Casa’s resiliency despite resting on constantly shifting ground.

Facing a (Not so) Blank Map

I am a map person. Maps inspire me in a way few things do.  Especially when I’m studying the map of a place I have the chance to learn with my own two feet.  Months ago, pulling up Mexico City on Google Earth or a touristic fold-out map of the city was like staring at a blank wall. The city’s grid was saturated with words that sounded clunky in my mouth and names of neighborhoods, streets and historic sites with no images, memories or experiences attached to them.

Opening Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City, for the first time today, I found myself on the border of a world that I’m soon to be a part of. Its first pages are maps of the Historic Center and the city’s 16 districts, the subway lines and the Mexico Valley. I got a jolt of map-induced electricity that awoke me with the reality that for the next 12 months, I will be living smack dab in the belly of that beast of a city. Monstruo–which John Ross uses to refer to Mexico City– means “monster” in Spanish. The word refers every bit to its size as to its prehistoric origins as the capital of the Aztec world–and the complex, marveling, and messy trajectory which has brought the city to where it stands today: ruins amidst luxury high-rises amidst slums in a seemingly infinite megalopolis.

21.2 million people live in Mexico City (including the metropolis), making it the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The valley has served as the site of invasion and revolution, destruction and global industry, and is facing enormous consequences–environmental, social, political–for its exponential growth. It is now my turn to make an abrupt landing directly in a small but historic Quaker community striving for solidarity in a city with many challenges to its goals of sustainability, social cohesion and peace.

I’m not there yet, but almost. Only two days until I head south to join the community at the Casa de los Amigos for a year. I’m so eager to meet everyone and become involved with their various projects. I’m especially looking forward to the Hospitality and Migrant/Refugee Rights programs. (Which I will explain in more detail later, promise!)

On the day I arrive, a delegation of activists/miners from Chiapas will be coming to Mexico City to take a public stand against exploitative mining practices in their region in Southern Mexico, one of the poorest regions in the nation which has a long history of indigenous and land-rights struggles. Their presence in the Casa will be my introduction to solidarity hospitality work, and I will have the opportunity to gain the on-the-ground perspective of miners on extractive industries around the world. I’m incredibly excited to meet them and learn from them.

¡HASTA MEXICO!