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.