Last summer, at the urging of a friend, I sent a 30-dollar check and 22 pages of writing to the judges at MacDowell Colony.
I was either being delusional or just resigned to the tumult and shock I've already endured in the rough two years since I moved back to America from Mexico. Nothing here makes sense anymore. And everyone in a way is wildly deluded by the infections spread by technology. Me included.
In November, just before I signed on to become editor of LA Taco, I got word that I had gotten into MacDowell for Winter/Spring, off those pages. So that's where I'm going for a bit, to see what I can come up with and make for you, my reader.
Javier Cabral, associate editor, will take full reign of the site in my absence. We're also gonna publish a ... major food guide. That you won't want to miss.
But more on that later! Thanks for your patience and support.
It's like thirty years old but this is all of us right now.
And it's true. Bob Dylan was on stage during the recording of this fundraising anthem gold from the 1980s (Remember "Solidaridad"?). But he was evidently cut out of the edit entirely, and it's kinda brilliant how they did it.
Me subí al metro, tome taxis de la calle. Pasé por los tacos que más que gustan y por los mariscos donde siempre me reciben de lo más chido. Me empede en la cantina del Sanborns todo una tarde porque era "2x3".
Alcance correr a Antropología solo para ver a la madre del hombre, Coatlicue. She's pissed. This guy above is not her. That's Xochipilli, my dad.
The sun on Friday was amazing. Life is more or less back to normal in Mexico City, seventeen days after the earthquake that everyone here describes as the "strongest" and most "violent" they've felt since the 1985 disaster. The anxiety is unifying.
You walk two blocks and see ten different startling things. So much good food literally anywhere the eye lands. It's like a contact high just walking around. A pulsating energy. People are kind, and also ready to be rude again when warranted. The sounds are back; barking, honking, laughing, whistling, living.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but today it finally felt like the city was back. And yet ...
The signs of the disaster are still everywhere.
This is on Amsterdam in Condesa. The sign says "No Foto," as if those of us who come upon this place are not united in its mourning. I sat here for a while. I just had to sit down on the ground for a bit, I guess ... In the hardest hit areas, so central to what D.F. these days considers itself to be, every other block has a building with a ribbon of police tape around it, indicating a site that is uninhabitable, or should be.
The corruption, speculation, abuses, and real estate crimes are piling up. In the every day, the walking-around has been altered.
Part of the drama is a silent realization.
We always sat around and talked about what happened in 1985, but did so with a safe, fictional distance. We were prepared now. It'd never happen again, come on bruh. Sept. 19, shittily, hit Mexico terribly a second time. How?
Now, UNAM is saying a mega-quake is expected one day in the ocean off Guerrero.
From where I sit and wander, in these pockets and corners where every other structure it seems is riddled with cracks and broken surfaces, the D.F. citizen is reminded that this certainly could happen again, at any moment, and almost surely will. Behaving accordingly, for now, will be the ultimate test of what this megalopolis becomes after the calamity of 2017.
I won't get started on the states. Morelos, Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas. Entire towns made of light adobe structures were essentially destroyed. Much of the destruction remains uncharted. People are left wondering what all this means.
Somehow in the anguish and sadness of the last two weeks I missed this image. The church atop Cholula, a 16th Century landmark on a green-covered ancient and little understood pre-Hispanic pyramid known as one of the largest in the history of the recorded world, is done:
Marcela Turati reports in Proceso that government and military personnel with experience in digging through rubble for survivors are complaining that civilians had "taken over" the rescue operations at collapsed buildings in Mexico City.
The trained personnel say picking away stones from the top of a collapsed structure — bit by bit, as civilians have lined up to do since the minutes after the quake hit — does not work.
"We made a tunnel, but we should have made five more," one unnamed engineer told Turati from an apartment tower that crumbled on Ave Amsterdam in trendy Condesa. "One tunnel, because they don't want to listen to the military or to Civil Protection. They're not listening to the firefighters, or those of us who lived through '85. [...] The ones giving orders don't know."
Four days since the Sept. 19 quake hit, this still feels like a death in the family.
My friends' Facebook posts in DF are heartbreaking, stirring. My people are still out there on the streets, finding ways to help. Others I know are joining caravans to reach the most affected and so far largely neglected areas of Puebla and Morelos.
These are streets, places, faces, voices that we know, intimately. I know so many people here in the United States and really around the world who have been touched by Mexico in some form feel the same way today.
More than 300 people are dead, according to official figures. The majority of the victims are in densely populated Mexico City and in Morelos, near the epicenter of the 7.1R sismo that hit at 1:14 pm Central Time on Tuesday. Dozens of buildings fell in Mexico City and in the states of Morelos, Puebla, and Oaxaca, which was still reeling from the 8.1R quake of September 7.
Unknown numbers of people are injured, unknown numbers of buildings are permanently unsafe, unknown numbers of roads and other infrastructure are damaged. I'm worried about the little towns and villages in remote corners of Chiapas and Puebla that have not received aid.
Millions, millions of people today are in shock, distress, and by now, almost certain fatigue.
* Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt, via AFP.
And now the fissures between government and society — always churning just below the surface — are emerging. Among citizens, there is a sense that this moment of "control" over the streets and the soaring solidarity cannot be let go from the people's grasp. We've suffered so much in the last ten years, endured so much chaos, violence, political stagnation.
Is this what it takes for Mexican society to actually wake up and do something? Can we sustain it?
This morning on Aristegui Noticias live, anchor Carmen Aristegui said: "In this moment of tragedy we are seeing that Mexico we wish to be, that muscle, that spirit, that vigor, that will to not be just a sitting flower but part of a society."
* Above, a woman volunteer rescuer outside the textile sweatshop in Colonia Obrera where 21 bodies have been recovered. Excuse her while she eats her torta. (Via Martha Ugarte)
Criticism has emerged over the Peña Nieto administration's optics handling. Video of one incident shows interior secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong being jeered away from a rescue site on the very first day of the disaster.
Reports have also emerged of convoys of being turned away in Morelos due to bureaucratic stops. This is something to watch out for in the days ahead.
The president and top cabinet officials visited the Rébsamen campus and had photo-ops, but did not illuminate or apparently guide the rescue operation. Differing rumors circulated about the possibility of a girl named "Frida Sofia" alive under the rubble, then circulated through the press, then were later proven false.
Frida Sofía never existed. And parents who are actually real and grieving say the education secretary has not contacted them at all.
Criticism has also rained down on default government-media conglomerate Televisa for apparently having exclusive access to some of the rescue sites, including the Rébsamen school. As far as the story of the child is concerned, some asked, could it be the fatigue, shock, and adrenaline coursing through the volunteer rescuers? Several at the school insisted to the Associated Press even after the story was proven false that a surviving child still existed down there.
Last night a contact in DF told me she was certain that rescuers heard voices, and maybe they did. Maybe they heard ghosts, the spirits of the 21 dead kids, she said.
El Universal is calling Frida Sofia a "ghost story." This is a signal of collective trauma, of course.
Either way, the case demonstrated a breakdown in communication at the government level, and apparently in standards and practices for journalists reporting from these sites. Colleagues say access is restricted. If a shaken and tired rescuer emerged and said something promising, of course, the impulse was to report it ...
* Photo via LAT.
The earthquake hit on the anniversary to the day of the 1985 quake that left at least 10,000 if not up to 30,000 people dead. My dad later called the coincidence "diabolical" and that is how I will describe this situation for the rest of my life. There's something cruel about this, a planet rendering punishment.
This time, only two weeks earlier, southern Mexico got severely ratted by an 8.1R monster in the Pacific that left more than 100 people dead, and the city of Juchitán (Oaxaca) largely devastated. Chiapas and Oaxaca were already begging not to be forgotten in the news cycle.
Keep in mind these big ones come about once or twice a year for central Mexico. They shake Mexico City good, because it's 20 million people on a dry lake in a high valley near some volcanoes, but "if it didn't fall in 1985, it won't fall ever."
The quake twelve days earlier put DF on the edge, but there also might have been a false sense of complacency; another heavy one went down, no major damages in the city as in 1985. Saved. Again ...
That morning, as they do solemnly every year, the president and his top brass held a flag ceremony on the Zócalo at dawn, when the big earthquake struck on September 19, 1985. This was Peña Nieto's fifth time doing this ceremony during his term.
The leaders were already dressed in black.
* Photo via Presidencia.
Mexico City, which suffered the worst in 1985 because that earthquake was centered relatively close — in Michoacán — has for years conducted a full earthquake drill across schools and office buildings to recall the devastation and the heroic civilian efforts of the '85 disaster.
Every Sept. 19, we recall how the DNA of the country was altered forever. The topos and grassroots brigades mobilized to save people from a sea of collapsed buildings, in a rising stench of human decay, and helped spark the fall of the PRI regime during its most decadent years, and moved us toward reforms.
On Tuesday, DF had its earthquake-drill, and then everyone went back to their offices and classrooms.
Another quake with that level of damage was not supposed to happen again. Not that same day. But it did. And now the regular, tough citizens of Mexico and Mexico City — mexicanos and foreigners, side by side — are rising and leading the way.
The sense of fear and panic that I hear is lingering in the air over DF now, four days into the disaster, is rooted partly in the sudden awareness not only that another 1985 has happened, but that a 2017 is now sure to happen at some point again in the future.
President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto and some kids along with the secretary of the navy Vidal Soberón Sanz, today from the balcony of the Palacio Nacional, during the military Independence Day parade at the Zócalo of Mexico City, Sept. 17, 2017. (Handouts)
This is an essay about growing up going back and forth between the U.S.-Mexico border, on the land where I am from — San Diego/Tijuana. It is posted at Highline, the HuffPost's long-form vertical, in conjunction with the release of a short film by Laura Gabbert on Friendship Park.
Crossing the border was made possible by my privilege. On my family’s returns into San Diego, all we had to do was smile and declare “U.S.!” when a border agent asked our citizenship. We were brown-skinned Americans, and no other proof was needed. This was the 1980s, and others crossed just as easily with the shopping and tourist visas that were readily handed to Mexicans born in the region. Back then, there was nothing to fear on the border if there was nothing to hide.
Read the whole thing here, and also watch Gabbert's film "Monument/Monumento," with Field of Vision.
It was a great experience writing this, and great to get those juices flowing after being inactive for so long. Next phase of this crazy career is only barely starting to take shape ...
* Photo above, the southwestern edge of the border, 2011.
One of the greatest and lesser known joys of a (sometimes joyless) Berkeley education was the access to so many truly great lecturers in the buildings that dotted the campus.
There were many professors with rockstar-style reputations among Berkeley undergrads for lectures that electrified audiences: Pedro Noguera in education, Barbara Christian in African-American studies, Filippenko in astronomy, Abel in English, the brave Tyrone Hayes in integrative bio, and so on.
Another such name was bio professor Marian Diamond, who died last month at age 90. She was the prof known for an infectious fascination with the human brain, which she described as the most complex and wonderful thing in the known universe.
Diamond was born in Glendale and transferred from Glendale Community College to UC Berkeley in 1946. In '48, she became the first woman to graduate from the then-department of anatomy. She wound up teaching at Berkeley and in the 1980s gained international attention for finding that brains keep developing into old age — research fueled in part by her work studying slices of Einstein's brain.
Of course at some point she was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award, the most hallowed distinction given on campus in terms of real worth for students. Whoever had that symbol by their name in the course catalog meant the teacher was just goddamn good.
Diamond was known for showing up to special events and producing a real brain specimen from a fancy hat box, and declaring, in her signature slogan, that the brain was the most magnificent structure — a creator of ideas — that we know in the universe.
Great lady, Marian Diamond. May she rest in peace.
My all-time favorite lecturer will be the perpetually frowning and soaring orator Leon Litwack in history. Litwack's coal-miner bass of a voice and Eastwood-like delivery would kinda enrapture those inside massive Wheeler Hall during History 7B, his introductory course on U.S. history since the Civil War.
I took it. I refused to miss a lecture.
Litwack employed music, video, and still photographs as he spoke, often moving students to tears over the racial horrors of every major American period to our day. His lecture on the role of Berkeley itself in the opening of the 1960s was especially memorable. Litwack was deeply committed to the notion of the centrality of African American history to the narrative of America at large.
Watch him above, in just one instance. Especially good when he cites a few modern hip-hop lyrics.
A Golden Bear through and through, Litwack was born in Santa Barbara and got his B.A. and doctorate at Cal. He is now emeritus, at 87. I hope he knows in retirement that he affected generations of students' lives, including mine.
These tasks have helped me confront my own writing, and challenged my relationship to prose as a reader and editor. I've also had a glimpse of the complexity of making an editorial decision with other minds, in disparate places, and under deadline pressure.