The Caravan “Migrant Viacrucis”

This week the notorious cargo train that carries migrants symbolically rerouted itself right into Mexico City’s center–and the national spotlight. Over a thousand hungry, exhausted (mostly) Hondurans in need of international aid (and with a list of human rights demands) arrived at Mexico’s political doorstep, and knocked hard. Then they kept moving. Because their needs weren’t going to be met if they weren’t met in that moment. The purpose of the caravan being not solely to visibilize their realities, but to survive. The Migrant Viacrucis Caravan’s stop in Mexico City was not just a demand for justice; it was part of a longer, need-driven journey for a better life. The message being at once political and humanitarian.

Venturing down to the march from Los Pinos late on Wednesday afternoon, Arturo and I didn’t really know what we were getting into. Later I realized that I hadn’t been ready for what we found. By the time we reached the march, most participants had stopped and were resting–looking weary. They hadn’t eaten since early that morning. The invisibility of this population which passes daily from Central America and across Mexico had never been made so visible in Mexico City, the center of Mexican government, international institutions and a general Mexican population who rarely have contact with Central American migrants in transit.

There at the march, Arturo and I met up with several Casa Refugiados volunteers, who made it clear that more help would be needed later to assist in the reception of this massive caravan at CAFEMIN, the largest (but not big enough) of the migrant shelters in Mexico City. So with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose, we headed back to the Casa to collect clothes and food donations and then went directly to the shelter.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we experienced next.

Arriving to CAFEMIN with a taxi full of donations, we piled out and got ready to help in any way possible. The caravan had arrived just before us, in need of food, water, medical attention, bathrooms, clothes/shoes and rest. This was a huge task for a shelter that is used to accommodating less than 50 migrants/refugees/asylum seekers (and receiving even less) at a time.

Stepping into CAFEMIN, this is what we saw.

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At this point, almost all of the migrants had been able to eat and rest. Next we volunteered ourselves in the clothing donations room, sorting clothes while an interminable line of migrants peered through the windows as they waited for a change of clothes and maybe socks if they were lucky. The people waiting to be let in were shut out, watching as donations dwindled and as time passed we had to rush people through to get everyone back on the buses on time. The men would not be sleeping at CAFEMIN, space and resources were too scarce. The Mexico City government would transport them to a gymnasium nearby for everyone to sleep. Later, a truck of mattress pads and blankets would arrive for the women and children who stayed behind. There were even children that appeared to be unaccompanied by any adult. Before closing for the night, everyone made a line and registered themselves in a roll-call type procedure. Below, the frenzy brought upon for a change of clothes.

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Every once in a while, a transcendent collision with humanity knocks us off our feet. We are left with a primordial sense of coexistence, codependence, with the billions of other human beings who inhabit this earth. Most often when this happens it occurs suddenly; in a rapid manifestation of kindness or appreciation, a lightning bolt of unexpected love or affection. Although these manifestations are available to us constantly, they tend to go unnoticed, and so when for whatever reason we are hit with the reality of our collective existence, it is felt all the more intensely.

In this case, it took the forced displacement of people, in the form of massive migration–to unite the many realities into one of great need, and great suffering. This transnational crisis forces us to bare witness to the vulnerability of others on this earth, and though it may be an impossible challenge, we have to attempt to process it.

 

This is the Best (Year) of My Life

It was brought to my attention recently that I might benefit from actively seeking ways to restore hope and positivity to my soul amidst the high volume realities of violence and trauma as experienced as part of my work and life in Mexico City.

On Friday, the team took a little rest from our work to go to the Ice Cream Festival of Tulyehualco for some fresh air and fun. It was precisely on this excursion to the Ice Cream Fair (and only a couple hours after a 7.2 earthquake shook our precious D.F.) that I realized how in love I am with Mexico City, my work and my community. All it takes is getting on a crappy pesero for an hour to a nondescript town center almost in the State of Mexico and a little cup of cactus flavored ice cream to put me under the spell of this majestic, live-sustaining capital. There, among friends, we could just enjoy the moment together.

Nico, taking a concentrated bite of amaranto-mushroom-chili pizza said it just right, “This is the best day of my life.” And when he said that, and I was surrounded by a brigade of my house and workmates (and hundreds of exotic ice cream flavors), I realized how much this year has changed the way I see and know myself, how much I have learned about Mexico, and how much passion I have to keep seeing myself become a more just person in the world. Ultimately, that’s what this year is about, changing me, proving what I’m capable of. So I’d take Nico’s thought and take it one step further. This has been and will be, the best year of my life.

A Case of Urban Delirium

On some days, the dramatic shifts in the urban landscape of Mexico City are enough to make you feel faint. Traveling back from Santa Fe last week, the visual experience of urban inequality across the southwestern edge of the city was startling. Walking home from near Tacubaya–just two metro stops over from where we got off the bus–a replay looped in my mind of the billions of micro-interactions happening all around me. Impossible-seeming displays of human perseverance are made mundane only by an endless stream of people in situations of extreme poverty. Among those pleading for money you witness the blind leading the blind on the metro, an overweight woman in a wheelchair rubbing a stick across corrugated plastic, a disfigured man in overalls asking for forgiveness. On the street, a sprinkling of men and women in orange jumpsuits sweep the dust-laden D.F. sidewalks, and with an absurd quantity of dirt all around I asked myself what world I have stepped into and out of…what kind of world we have created. All of a sudden all of it seemed like a frenetic, but all around blurry dream.

I had just finished reading “Down & Delirious in Mexico City,” which articulates some of the sensations implicated in living in a city with notorious levels of violence, corruption, and urban problems. “Everything is thrilling here because everything is out of whack. There is a sense of delirious rupture, everywhere” (Hernandez 237). And there is the out of whack-ness that one experiences as a visitor, which is entirely different when you start to understand the way things work here. Water shortages, political scandals, racial discrimination, extreme and violent levels of sexism, over-crowding, organized crime. The city has been termed as la DeFectuosa” (playing off D.F.), “the Defective” City by some, while still others argue that miraculously, “everything still manages to work here.” I would not dare to say that everything works here, especially as one strays further from the center to the north or the west, but there is perseverance here that defies all odds for survival in this monstruopolis.

Of all the topics in Daniel Hernandez’s book, the one that hit closest to home with recent events at the Casa and in the larger political context was the chapter on kidnapping and disappearances. Here in Mexico City, and Mexico as a whole, violence against women is appalling. The aggressively objectifying treatment of women in public, private and institutional settings shows how far there is to go to strive for gender equality. In the last couple of weeks, a report about a prostitution ring funded by the PRI party of Mexico City came out, sparking small-scale protests and demands for reform, but even if they convict the responsible parties, the oppression of women remains wholly entrenched in Mexican society on a much larger scale. This is not just an issue of cat-calls or groping on the metro. Small displays of machismo and misogyny are the condoned and uncensored forms of misogyny which cover a much more sinister reality more often made invisible. It is the same society which condones attitudes and micro-level acts of violence that hides the most brutal and inhumane realities of gender violence.  Kidnappings, murders, forced disappearances and trafficking of young girls occur daily in Mexico City, and much more often in the rest of Mexico.

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“Between January 1st, 2011, and February 13 of this year [2012], 1,872 girls between the ages of 10 and 17 disappeared in Mexico City, all with similar physical characteristics.” (Universal, March 7, 2012). That’s one girl every five hours that is disappeared in Mexico City alone. This is not counting the outlying State of Mexico, which has among the highest statistics of violence against women in the entire country. In the majority of these cases, human trafficking is implicated as the cause. Just this last weekend a young woman that was close to our partner organization Casa Refugiados, disappeared on her way to a job interview in the Center. They sent out this communication this week:

“CasaRefugiados asks for your solidarity in sharing this information and helping us to find our friend and co-worker Nayelli Drisdell Hurtado Muñoz. It is enraging that things like this continue to occur. Please help us to find her!” (with the following photo): nayelli

We are just talking about Mexico City here. The situation is deplorable, so much needs to change to make it a safe, just city for young women. On the up side, I am meeting so many incredible women working for gender equality in my human rights class. We have had guest lecturers on topics of feminism, and just yesterday we heard from a female lawyer who has been working on cases relating to gender violence and international human rights violations in cases of forced disappearance. The important part right now for us as a community is to educate and spread information about the severity of this issue, and provide support within our networks to improve our security and the security of the women we work with directly.

From the Inside Out, and Staying for a Long Time

I’ll have to rely on just words this time, because you’re being invited to experience the world of my introspection. If you need a visual, it’s hills are questions of identity, rivers, the future, and the sky, what it means to me to be living in Mexico City, especially through my current pair of cultural/social/ideological binoculars. Here I’m bringing to light new awareness about time, adaptation, cultural insecurities and transition.

In the last few weeks, I’ve jumped head/heart-first out of my comfort zone. Without the Casa as an international, bilingual safety net, I’m finding myself having to negotiate new social dynamics and figure out how to fit in, how to poise myself in this monstrous city where I am reminded daily that the only person I can rely upon is myself. It sounds crazy–haven’t I been in Mexico this whole time? Haven’t I been surviving, more than surviving, and even undermining this D.F. logic by forming part of a community? By thinking in terms of solidarity and networks and international understanding? And though it’s true, there have also been many occasions up until now in which I’ve felt like an outsider. Where the city is cruel, shouting to me as I pass by that I don’t belong. And this reflection extends into the collective spaces I have formed part of–though they are intentional and self-aware. These spaces think differently and they ask more of each individual. They are more vulnerable spaces–they demand that I share more of myself.  In these spaces the focus is the group–what do we offer to one another–to the group as a whole, is a vital process of our learning together. And still, there are struggles for each one of us to find our place among the group dynamic.

In this struggle, I’m referring to both the Human Rights Escuelita, the Mártires del ’68 Art School, and–behind these experiences– reflecting on a general moment in Mexico City where, when the time comes, I’ll be living on my own (have I mentioned that I’ve decided to tack on a few months to my time in Mexico post-Casa?) There’s no doubt these schools are radical spaces. The structure, ideology, and goals of each is completely different from previous spaces where I have been a student. At the same time, they are spaces where I’m being made hyper-aware of my identity…which has made me conscious of the way I present myself and engage with my classmates. (My psyche screams, “Who Am I??”) [Hold up, not trying to get existential here, but at the same time, isn't it a very valid question that each person is likely to ask oneself on any given day? By this question I refer mostly to two things: how do these experiences have a bearing on my life in the future (are they changing me, deeply?), and what does it mean that my identity right now is so integrally being shaped by spaces where– geographically, socially, linguistically–my knowledge is shaped from outside experiences...]

We had a meta-discussion the first session of the Escuelita about the difference between the individual and individuality (individuo versus individualidad). There emphasis being that individualidad can be used to create commonality, consensus, unity–without focusing on the individual being who is “different.” It’s the difference between focusing on “I” as a person, and the plurality of voices, experiences, values which constitute a group. This made me think about what it means to be an outsider in a group like that. Namely, that by looking at it in in those terms, I am no more an outsider than anyone else. No more so than I have more individuality than anyone else (not the case). This creates an internal conflict with the moments where I doubt my ability to really form a life here as a result of feeling like an outsider–sensing the difficulty of making lasting friendships, relationships, etc. Then I think about where that sense of difference comes from, and a lot of the difference is often imagined. Yes it’s in the language, ways of relating and also being perceived. But negotiating this is all about being able to discern ephemeral differences–language, cultural references, etc.– and those that are fixed, impermeable. In that way, there’s little that we can’t have in common, if we don’t already. While in the moment it might not always be easy, working on shrinking, changing, bending these “differences” brings me closer each time to thinking I’m building something here. And that gives me hope.

Part of this process requires discerning internal versus external modes of self-exclusion. It’s the difference between feeling like I stick out, and being told that I do. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for thinking I could fit in here. And it’s funny, because when people call me out on being foreign I wish they wouldn’t, but when they don’t recognize the ways I am it can be frustrating, even uncomfortable. It’s a Catch 22. And ultimately, it’s pretty awesome being able to float back and forth across that perceived border. Many of us have decided (and this decision is a place of privilege) to camp out on it permanently, right?

Such are the challenges of living, working, studying, playing, learning, surviving, “fitting in” in places where I often feel evaluated, dismissed or objectified on the basis of my foreignness. I’m forever (or at least for a long time) doomed to be a language deadbeat. To embody otherness, as an object of envy or indifference or dislike. There’s weird fetishism, unwarranted judgment. Excessive trust, brutal distrust. Insecurities among all parties. Some nights I go to sleep thinking about what it would be like to feel I belong here. Other nights I think about how unimportant it is (even absurd) to feel like I do. And still others, lately on Saturday after school, I close my eyes with all the pieces of a mind-blowing day spinning in my head. A peace of mind settling over me that each day that I am taught to know the world from a new point of view, I leave behind a little bit of my pre-Mexico self and gain new attachments, affinities and reflections on what it means to have lived, for however short or long a time, in the belly of “the beast” that is Mexico City.