30 Weeks into My Post-Bac Year: A Photo Essay

One of the hardest questions to answer while I was back home in February was, “What is a typical day like for you?” This last week is a great example of how dynamic, unpredictable and formative each day really is while working at the Casa. Rotating between shifts in reception and long bike rides, cultural excursions, art classes and committee projects, long breakfast conversations with guests, volunteer dinners and team reflections. These photos don’t begin to capture all of what happened, but they capture, in one way or another, the transcendence of my experience working in the Casa. I’m on a high right now, working on new projects daily and pushing myself hard, trying to find time to do everything .. (Have I mentioned how BIG Mexico City is? How many people there are? How many things to do?)

So here are some photos to represent a new-found balance and independence in my last few weeks in Mexico City.

Jacaranda trees in full bloom.

Here, in the Condesa neighborhood, in a park very close to where I have been researching at Casa Refugio, the jacaranda trees are in full bloom.

Bertha's Brithday Celebration!

After the Quaker Meeting for Workship, we gather around to sing Las Mañanitas (Happy Birthday) to Bertha, one of the full-time volunteers. (Can you tell how very excited she was?)

Film screening at the Casita last Sunday.

An event at the Casita in Parque Ramón López Velarde. Migrantes LGBT screened “The Bubble,” an Israeli film about two men–one Israeli and the other Palestinian–who fall in love.

Cinemoneda abril

I worked on some writing, research, and as per usual, making some Casa posters for upcoming events. Our next two Cinemoneda film screenings will focus on migration through the lens of economic justice.

Cruisin' in the Nico-mobile: Helping out old friends.

Nico and I hauled some mattresses and futons over to the house of an Irani family. Four years ago they were guests through the Casa’s Solidarity Lodging program, and still they face hardship each day and are unsure about their future in Mexico. When they recently had to move to a new apartment without any furniture, they found themselves having to sleep on the floor. With three kids, it was been extremely difficult to survive, but regardless they have still managed to make it their duty to supply numerous other Irani refugees with support in finding housing, jobs and social networks.

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At my printmaking class I tested my latest linoleum print. It’s of Antonia Mondragón of the Flor de Mazahua women’s cooperative.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Shifting Gears: Syrian Poetry and the Escuelita

The moment to spread my academic wings and soar into the dawn of CPGC-sponsored research in Mexico has finally arrived. With an academic project thrown into the mix of reception and committee work, extracurriculars and events, I’ve been searching for new strategies to balance my time, allot my energy, and sustain the inspiration that comes with taking on new, exciting projects.

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, my research will be focused on literature of exiled writers in Mexico. The base of my materials and operations: Casa Refugio. It’s an organization that was founded by Salmon Rushdie to house and publish exiled writers. It publishes a quarterly magazine called Líneas de Fuga,  as well as various works of writers housed through its year-long artist-in-residency program. The writer I became interested in working with is a Syrian poet by the name of Mohamad Alaedin Moula, who edited the latest edition of Líneas de fuga featuring Modern Syrian Poetry, and has published several collections of poetry in Mexico.

The main research question I will seek to answer by studying Moula’s work and other contemporary exiled writers in Mexico is, what is it like to be exiled in Mexico? What realities, freedoms are made possible to these writers here? I’m also interested in what these writers have to say about the reality of cultural and social integration in Mexico, as well as how Mexico is perceived as a place conducive to literary freedom, and as a place of refuge for exiled writers and asylum seekers alike. So far in what I’ve read of Mohamad Moula, his focus has been external, inviting readers to gaze outward at Syria with a profound sense of nostalgia and loss for his home country. Little mention is made of Mexico, though that perspective is what most interests me. Given that Mexican society and economy can be an extremely inhospitable and closed place, what does the outward gaze of the exiled writer have to say about Mexico and home.

Mohamad Moula has also been active in the work of Casa Refugiados, teaching Arabic classes and becoming active in cultural events of the community. I hope to interview him in the next couple of weeks in order to understand his poetry better and have more direct answers to the questions I’m interested in.

And tomorrow the Escuela de Derechos Humanos starts! This group of 45 students, activists, and workers in other social-justice related fields will come together every Saturday to learn about human rights topics in Mexico. Some of the sessions of the school include rights related to natural resources, non-discrimination, gender, sexual and reproductive issues, indigenous and migrant communities, among many others.

The eight-month course will culminate in a project related to a human rights issue of our choosing. The reality is that this space will offer so many possibilities for new collectives, projects, and human-rights related groups to form. I found out just last week that a group we collaborate with, COAMI (Colectivo de Apoyo para Personas Migrantes), is a collective formed from students of the 10th generation of the Escuela DH.

It’s a beautiful Spring day outside (and my computer is dying), so I need to get out of the dim Volunteer Office and enjoy a day off!

flor

Check out the beautiful flowers blossoming in our patio! (Not to make all you all still knee-deep in winter envious.)

Testimonies and Teamwork

The last two weeks has been defined by collaboration on all levels. Strengthening relationships with our partner organizations, finding ways to support each other to put on successful events and put our mission for peace and social action into practice. Examples of this transcendent work come in many sizes, colors, and sometimes even tastes. During the field studies, the Casa began to develop a relationship with two former guests from the migrant shelter Tochan to provide meals for students and Tochan guests to have time to spend together not under the premise of learning about migration, but of convivencia and nothing more. This has been a tremendous experience for us as the dimension of purpose and Quaker testimonies are put into practice twofold: supporting the catering business of migrants in need of work and setting the stage for genuine relationships and interactions focusing on equality instead of inequality, sameness instead of difference. We have tried to open even more spaces to support this type of business, such as the annual Casa de los Amigos asamblea, where important decisions about budgeting and programming for the year are made by the Casa’s board. As small as it may seem, having Marvin and his team provide the lunch was a moment of very intentional solidarity. They showed they national pride too by wearing aprons designed from the Guatemalan and Honduran flags.

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More collaboration has also been going on between Casa de los Amigos and Casa Refugiados, mostly in preparation for International Women’s Day. Together myself and Mara helped plan for two events, one a panel discussion where migrant and refugee women shared their testimonies of life in Mexico City. They touched on difficult topics of family separation and reunification, institutional and workplace discrimination, and general ignorance on the part of Mexican society about refugees and migrants. Of the three women, one was from El Salvador and had fled the Civil War in the 80s, already well adjusted to life in Mexico, the second to give her testimony was a Venezuelan refugee who had come to Mexico City roughly a year ago. The third, with her 15 month old in her arms, shared her story of reunification from Honduras to Mexico to be with her husband (a Colombian refugee). If anything is for certain, their stories are complex, bound up in personal traumas and an uncertain futures. Still, to give that space to their testimonies was powerful, especially in recognition of so many women whose stories go unheard. Many of the migrant and refugee women in our network have lost children, or are single mothers, or have been separated from their partners or families. The event was a huge success, with progressive press such as Subversiones and Proceso present, and was an example of the types of resources that our network can provide. Casa de los Amigos put coffee service and offered its space (and I designed the poster), Casa Refugiados provided logistic support and press releases, Tochan’s coordinator Gabriela Hernandez, financial support by Sin Fronteras and attendance by organizations such as COAMI, ACNUR, and others.

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Día de la mujer

And that’s just the beginning! There’s another event on March 8th (actually International Women’s Day), for which we planned a day of workshops, activities and convivencia at Cafemín. We look forward to inviting both men and women to participate in the events of the day, which will celebrate and contribute to dialogue about the importance of International Women’s Day, and using the space as an opportunity to focus on the meaning of female identity to the women in the refugee and migrant community. Men will be invited to participate in a separate workshop, focused on masculinity in its relationship to the gender binary. We hope to see a lot of people there!

Another exciting piece of news is that I have been accepted into a program at UNAM’s University Culture Center’s “Youth Promotors of Human Rights School” through their Center for Human Rights Studies. I have two friends that will be in the school with me, which will take place at UNAM every Saturday from March 15th until the end of October. Couldn’t be more excited for the doors and windows and ceilings this opportunity is going to open for me!

In between all of this activity I’ve re-initiated a series of linoleum prints, chosen to focus my Haverford research topic on poetry written by Syrian writers in Mexico City on the topic of exile using publications of Casa Refugio’s magazine Lineas de Fuga, attended a paper maché workshop, established a relationship with a local bike shop interested in employing migrant youth, made a big supper of beet/black bean vegetarian burgers and dog-sat a half pitbull half rhoadesian ridgeback pup of MCC friends.