In the Shadow of Monuments

The monument below is the heartbeat of the Casa’s very own Colonia Tabacalera. Just two blocks south of the Casa, it is “The Monument of the Revolution,” and its origins lie paradoxically as the planned presidential palace for Porfirio Díaz, the late 18th/early 19th century Mexican dictator. Depending on who you ask, some may define the monument as the gravesite, not the birthplace of revolution: below its massive stone structure lie the remains of several famous Mexican revolutionaries, including Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza.

Monumento de la Revolución

Monumento de la Revolución

Over the last two weeks, I have watched the plaza of the Monument transform from a hangout space for lovethrust teenagers and a venue for rock concerts into a staging area for protests organized by the National Educational Workers and finally, on Tuesday, an area overwhelmed by police barricades and checkpoints. The timing of these displays of civil unrest was poignant, as the Casa screened the film Rojo Amanecer on the same day that our neighborhood was tense with an overwhelming police presence. The heart-wrenching film is about the 1968 student massacre, which resulted in hundreds of deaths, disappearances and arrests of Mexican students, political dissidents, and bystanders. This tragic event touches a nerve in media coverage and in the larger discourse of protest in contemporary Mexico, as acts of violent political repression remain a not-so-distant memory.

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The incongruity of the images/symbols evoked at the monument have, in the last weeks, forced me to reflect upon the complexity of what was once just a sunny spot to play soccer and enjoy a paleta (I mean, it’s still that too, of course). The current protests (coupled with the Casa’s intensive orientation to Mexican history/politics) have offered an abrupt confrontation with the realities of the contemporary Mexican state. After this week, the space’s evocation of revolutionary ideals is clouded with realities of oppression, it’s encouragement for festivity is trampled by hardship. And so it becomes, it our very backyard, a site that fosters, as many public spaces in the city, both protest and passivity. The contradiction is more apparent here because it is a glimmering, untouchable symbol of revolution.  An immediate parallel has me reflecting back about my home in Washington, D.C., where I grew up in the shadow of monuments also riddled with histories of dissidence and struggles for justice. 

 

One thought on “In the Shadow of Monuments

  1. What are the issues behind the National Education Workers protests and what, besides a show of force, have been the reactions of the those in power in Mexico? What is the role of the Casa in public policy debates? How much power or influence does the NEW have? I found your writing about the contradictions implicit in public space captivating and your reference to Washington DC’s monuments and museums intriguing. There was an interesting op ed in the Washington Post on the 4th of July asking why Americans haven’t admitted to a “failure” of their revolution in the way Russians have accepted the failure of theirs. It dovetailed with coverage of the fourth of July protests against the NSA at McPherson Square: www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/07/05/heres-who-spent-their-fourth-of-july-protesting-the-nsa/

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