My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
** Originally published at Thump:
It was 3AM on a Saturday morning by the time we made it to Del Valle, the middle-class mid-section of Mexico City. We inched our way into a tacky, vacant bar where Siete Catorce was scheduled to play a late-night set. Ten Foot, a prominent DJ from London, was playing before a crowd of about eight, and when the Mexicali electronic music producer walked in he went straight for the DJ table. The two hashed it out, and before long, Siete had assumed the position in front of his PC laptop. We were there to watch him make music live on his screen, mixing and manipulating original tracks with nothing but a laptop and a mousepad.
It was a weird, soggy summer night. There were a few strewn about tables, fluorescent lights, people smoking indoors (which is illegal here, but only incidentally), and furtive passages to the restrooms to “powder noses.” The bar wouldn’t have been out of place tucked away in LA’s Koreatown district, and it was a perfect place to dance to Siete Catorce’s mix of tribal, techno, and “emo broken beats.”
A few minutes into his set, I was dancing. A few minutes more and everyone in the bar was dancing.
Dawn approached, and he kept playing. Thin and wily, basked in the glow of his laptop screen, Siete hopped and swayed through his set. Only after every authority figure in the place, from the bartender to the promoter, told him he had to stop, did Siete stop playing. The speakers rested. People were panting, walking around in circles. The young DJ turned to the nearest girl next to him and asked, still bobbing, “Was that good? Did you like that?” But he already knew the answer.
It was good. The girl by his side knew it. I knew it. Even the angry bartender knew it.
Since moving to Mexico City from his native Mexicali—thanks to the release of his EP with local label NAAFI—Siete Catorce has torn through town, playing wherever he can, and frequently winding up crowd-surfing during his sets. From that nameless bar in Del Valle, to the it venue of the moment, Bahía, to Mexico City living rooms dusted with cigarette smoke, he’s been dazzling audiences with a sound that marries Mexican tribal jubilance (à la 3BALL MTY) with an unmistakable feeling of sadness, rage, and foreboding.
It was about time somebody did it.
Life in Mexico is hard right now: traffic is bad, the rainy season was devastating, no one has money, people get paid shit. Encounters with cartel or state violence are basically considered normal. Some economists already think Mexico is slipping into a new recession, even though the cost of food and transportation continues to rise. But night after night, weekend after weekend, the party rolls on. In Mexico City, Siete Catorce (or “7:14”) has been there for us consistently.
“My music is very Mexican but also very tripped-out”—ondeada—Siete Catorce told me. “I like the vibe here. It reminds me of when I lived in Oakland, even in the weather a little bit. I like the vibe of a city that’s always busy.”
Marco Polo Gutierrez was born in Mexicali but was raised mostly in Oakland, CA. He identifies strongly with the Bay Area in his music, tastes, and cultural stance. This got us talking. I went to school in the Bay and spent childhood summer vacations visiting relatives in Northern CA. During one YouTube-scrolling hangout session, we confirmed that we could both rap along with “93 ‘till Infinity.”
“I was born in Mexicali, and when I was two, I went to live in Oakland,” Siete said during a rainstorm in early July. “I lived there till I was 14 or 15. I came over here because they deported my mom, and so, the whole family came back.”
Mexicali is the vast desert sister city to Tijuana. Singer-songwriter Juan Cirerol is from there, and there’s a significant Chinese-Mexican population, but other than that there’s not much going for it. It must have been a tough place to adapt to after feeling the freedom and mobility that comes with life in Oakland.
“Well, over [in Oakland], you’re in the ghetto. It’s dope because there are cultures from everywhere. And you grow up exposed to all that. I just hung out with my cousins. They were stoners and listened to rap and hip-hop. And that’s the environment I grew up in.”
His sound, he explains, is deeply rooted in the all-night birthday and quinceañera parties among relatives that marked his childhood—the hours and hours of cumbia. It’s an experience that almost any Mexican kid can tap into, but in his case, one that is marred by the trauma of a parent’s expulsion from the United States.
In 2007 Siete's mother was deported. He tells me she had to visit a sick relative in Mexicali and used a sister's passport to cross back to the U.S., and was caught. His entire family followed her to Mexicali. This was around the same time that the Baja drug-smuggling corridor erupted in internal warfare—one site of unrest within a country-wide drug war that was getting increasingly out of control. All across northern Mexico, many young producers and musicians at the time were literally retreating to their bedrooms for safety. They dabbled across genres, from sad-core garage to hard-core club. In the process, they developed the personalities that would later become an Erick Rincon or a Dani Shivers, names now defining music in Mexico today.
Siete Catorce started playing piano at the age of five. Once he settled in Mexicali, he downloaded Ableton Live and started taking his first cracks at house and electro. “Then I started making glitch, glitch-hop, dubstep, stuff like that,” Siete said. “But that was a long time ago, when no one listened to Skrillex or anything.”
He explains his start as a producer in recognizable steps: first came the teenage boredom, then the isolation; followed by an introduction to raves, a few lessons in desktop mixing, and a period of dancing around genres and scenes before finally finding a sound. In this case, it was thanks to a cumbia remix he did for the cura of it—the shits-and-giggles.
“You could say that what changed everything was when I remixed a track by Celso Piña, ‘Cumbia del Poder’,” Siete said.
The remix of the Celso was driven by a dubby boom with some hip to it. A DJ in Canada picked it up, and then the music site Generation Bass posted it, Siete recalls. Then, in April 2011, he was invited to open at a party for experimental electronic music in Tijuana.
From Latino USA:
Commentator Daniel Hernandez is a pocho, a Mexican-American, living in Mexico City. But lately he’s noticed he’s not the only one, and the line between pochos and chilangos, what Mexico City natives call themselves, is blurring.
Go here for the link and audio file for my latest commentary for Latino USA on National Public Radio. Readers, are you a pocho in Chilangolandia as well? * Previously, “On voting for the first time for president in Mexico.”
** Photo: The crossing at San Ysidro into Tijuana, January 2012.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Gunmen shot at the offices of El Diario de Juarez newspaper early Wednesday in the latest attack against a news organization in northern Mexico and days after an editor was killed near the U.S. border.
No one was injured when gunmen driving past the paper's Ciudad Juarez offices fired seven rounds from a pistol just after 1 a.m., piercing windows, El Diario reported (link in Spanish). Fifteen minutes later, shots were fired at the city's Canal 44 news station.
Nine people were held for questioning late Wednesday in connection with the attack after local authorities and Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte pledged to find the assailants. It was unclear Thursday if any of those detained were suspects.
Rights groups denounced the shootings as an assault on reporters in Ciudad Juarez, but Duarte later downplayed the possibility that the newspaper might have been targeted for its news-gathering work.
"It's a violent act, but under all the circumstances we can't assume it comes with a larger message," Duarte was quoted as saying Wednesday.
The shootings follow a string of recent attacks against El Siglo de Torreon, a newspaper in the city of Torreon in neighboring Coahuila state.
And on Sunday, an independent online news editor was slain at a taco stand in the border town of Ojinaga in Chihuahua state, across the border from Presidio, Texas. Jaime Gonzalez Dominguez, 38, was founding editor of the online news outlet Ojinaga Noticias.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said his slaying was the first of a journalist in the 3-month-old term of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Gonzalez was the 11th journalist killed in Chihuahua since 2000, said the free-speech advocacy group Articulo 19.
Across Mexico, dozens of reporters and photojournalists have been killed or "disappeared" since the escalation of the drug war in late 2006, with few convictions or even arrests. Most news outlets in areas ravaged by drug trafficking violence practice self-censorship, The Times has reported.
* Photo: A bullet hole is visible in a window of the offices of El Diario de Juarez newspaper in Ciudad Juarez. Credit: Jesus Alcazar / AFP/Getty Images / March 6, 2013, via LAT.
** Originally published in Domus México No. 4. No direct link. This is the original draft submitted to the magazine for translation to Spanish.
MEXICO CITY – In the photograph, Enrique Flores Magon is seated at a table facing a bank of angled mirrors. His white, wavy hair is tousled upwards wildly, as if he had been submitted to a rain of static. His expression is morose. Flores Magon is reflected in the mirrors four times, and so at the top of the print, a winking caption is written in cursive ink, in Spanish: "Mis cinco cuates."
And below, in English: "Who said that a haircut was needed?"
When I first saw this photo – in the personal archive of Enrique Flores Magon, which is being revived by his great-grandson – it filled me with wonder and amusement.
For anyone familiar with Mexican Revolutionary history, the dominant image of those called its "intellectual authors," brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magon, is that of stalwart, driven journalists who challenged the regime of Gen. Porfirio Díaz and sought justice for the working classes through the power of the printed press. Of course, the lives of any historical figures are in truth far more complex than the heroic legacies that they leave behind.
How did the Flores Magons interact with the world around them on a day-to-day basis? What were their domestic concerns and challenges? In their interior lives, how did they respond to the growing pressures and persecutions of the Mexican and United States governments that led to their repeated imprisonments?
The photograph of Enrique and his "cinco cuates" – modeled on a 1917 Duchamp self-portrait photograph using the same effect – is among one thousand photographs that exist in his personal archive. As an image, it offers a window in the dissident writer's sense of humor and sense of self. It is undated. The exact location of where it was taken is not known either, although Enrique’s great-grandson, historian and writer Diego Flores Magon Bustamante, believes that it was probably taken in Los Angeles around 1923, when the brothers were in exile north of the border and raising revolutionary trouble there as well.
Diego is spearheading an ambitious project that will permit all of his great-grandfather’s materials, including some 15,000 documents, to be available for viewing to the general public in the form of a digital archive. It is perhaps one of the most significant archival projects undertaken in Mexico in recent years.
The digital archive will be housed at the restored building at Calle Républica de Colombia 42 in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City where the Flores Magon brothers and a committed group of lawyers, artists, and writers – including Daniel Cabrera, Jesús Martínez Carrión, and Juan Sarabia – published an opposition newspaper to the Dáiz regime, El Hijo del Ahuizote.
The project is being funded by a mix of support from the Fidecomiso del Centro Histórico, CONACULTA, and private foundation grants. Diego, now 32, explains he is a fervent believer that the archive that his father passed to his care should be available to a viewing public that is as wide as possible. The idea is that with new readings of the materials that Flores Magon left behind, fresh interpretations and applications of the brothers' ideas could emerge.
The historical value of the archive is immense. Ricardo Flores Magon, the more historically prominent of the two, died at a U.S. prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1922, facing espionage charges for publishing pacifist materials in the U.S. version of Regeneración, the brothers' second newspaper. Any known archive belonging to him, Diego believes, was lost in Ensenada, Baja California, in the 1940s.
"Ricardo no tuvo una vida que le permitiera coleccionar nada," Diego says. "Llevo una vida de martir y de perseguido y de fugitivo. No tenía nada."
I did not burn down the Peña sign / I applaud the person who did. That’s more or less an invitation. Fuck the law! Those kinds of heroes are needed so that people can become aware that they need to get with it.
** Originally published at World Now:
"Excuse me, Mr. President. I cannot say you are welcome here, because for me, you are not. No one is."
The woman's voice trembled with bitterness and apprehension. She stood just a few feet away from a low stage where Mexican President Felipe Calderon, his wife, Margarita Zavala, and top members of his Cabinet were seated at a tightly controlled forum in Ciudad Juarez on Feb. 11, 2010.
"No one is doing anything! I want justice, not just for my children, but for all of the children," she went on. "Juarez is in mourning!"
The woman, later identified as Luz Maria Davila, a maquiladora worker, lost her two sons in a massacre that had left 15 young people dead during a house party in Juarez 12 days earlier.
Calderon initially dismissed the victims as "gang members," more cogs in the machine of violence that by then was terrorizing every sector of what was once Mexico's most promising border city. But news reports quickly revealed that the victims of the Villas de Salvarcar massacre were mostly promising students and athletes.
They died only because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time: Juarez hitmen had been ordered to kill everyone at the party because it was believed that rival gang members were in attendance.
"I bet if they killed one of your children, you'd lift every stone and you'd find the killer," Davila said to the president as the room fell silent after her interruption. "But since I don't have the resources, I can't find them."
Calderon and Zavala remained silent, frowning.
"Put yourself in my shoes and try to feel what I feel," the mother continued. "I don't have my sons. They were my only sons."
It was a searing, unscripted moment in a presidential term that was abundant with them.
In his six years in office, a term ending Saturday with the swearing-in of his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, Calderon's government built bridges and museums, expanded healthcare and led major international meetings on climate change and development. But for the many achievements, the Calderon years will probably be remembered as the bloodiest in Mexico's history since the Revolutionary War a century ago.
Civilians were mowed down by masked gunmen at parties and funerals. Journalists, mayors, human rights activists, lawyers and police commanders from small towns to big cities were shot while sitting in their cars or going on errands. Regular citizens, from small-business owners to oil workers, were snatched from homes or offices and never heard from again.
While drugs continued to flow north and U.S. government weapons and cash laundered by major global banks flowed south, the Calderon security strategy remained basically unchanged over the years. Its effect was a catastrophic expansion of violence and a crime-solving rate of nearly zero.
For average Mexicans, the extreme violence seen during this sexenio -- as a six-year presidential term is called -- was psychologically and emotionally grueling, particularly for children, experts say. In many parts of Mexico, a culture of fear settled over the population.
Overall, more than 100,000 people were violently killed in Mexico during this term, government figures show. The number of those killed directly tied to the drug war may never be known, as the lines blurred between drug-trafficking violence and violence spurred by the general impunity enjoyed by the drug lords.
The national human rights commission says more than 20,000 people are missing in Mexico. Torture is also believed to be widespread nationally.
During this term, Mexican cartels also expanded their control and firepower to Central America, while clandestine anti-trafficking operations led or funded by the United States grew to unprecedented levels, as The Times reported this week. About half of Mexico's territory is believed to be under cartel influence.
Here is a rundown of some significant events and markers of Mexico's drug war from 2006 to 2012 -- the Calderon years.
It's amazing how deeply communities in the United States have embraced the Días de Muertos of Mexico. There are now hundreds if not thousands of Day of the Dead-related events in cities across the U.S. "Average American citizens" know about the holiday and understand its meaning. In a way, it's probably the most successful cross-over act in recent U.S./Mexico binational relations.
I'd say the phenomenon really took off in about 2000. At the time, the Day of the Dead festival at Hollywood Forever cemetery began popularizing, drawing non-Mexican, non-Latino folks' curiosity. (Check out an archival story I did for the L.A. Times in 2002 on the Hollywood event, which started in 1999.)
From there, the gospel of Muertos spread, helped likely by factors such as increased Mexican migration northward and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which undoubtedly had the effect of reminding Americans' about the fragility of life.
This year, I went to the Day of the Dead festival in Old Town San Diego with my family. The setting is great. Old Town is the city's original Mexican core, settled after the 1769 founding of a Spanish imperial fort on a nearby hillside. On Friday night, Nov. 2, the crowds were only dotted with mexicanos. The rest of the skeletons were everyday coastal Californians.
Here are some photos.
** Originally published at World Now:
The tiny but closely watched migrant segment of the Mexican electorate voted for Josefina Vazquez Mota of the governing National Action Party (PAN), an opposite result to her third-place showing in the national race.
The results announced Monday by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) also showed a 23% increase in voter-abroad participation over the 2006 election, the first time Mexicans living abroad had the right to vote.
In all, 40,714 votes were counted from 91 countries, with a wide majority of those from the U.S., reflecting the deep civic engagement with Mexico that many established immigrants can maintain after decades away.
Voters abroad registered with the IFE months in advance to receive a postage-paid ballot by mail, which had to be returned by Saturday. Electoral authorities on Monday noted they were also able to reduce the budget for the vote-from-abroad count by more than half.
"It was a success because the goal was to get more votes than in 2006 at less of a cost, and that's what happened," said Ana Isabel Fuentes, IFE spokeswoman for the vote-abroad program.
The news was a bright spot in the post-election buzz for the PAN.
A PAN-led government under President Vicente Fox pushed changes in electoral laws in 2005 to give Mexicans living abroad the right to vote, which migrants in the United States had lobbied for since the 1970s. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had resisted giving migrants the vote throughout its presidencies.
PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto won Sunday's election, returning the party to power after 12 years in opposition. During the campaign, supporters of the PRI opened an unofficial campaign office in the Los Angeles area, and that may have given the party a boost over its showing in 2006.
Vazquez Mota won 42.1% of the 2012 migrant vote, results showed. She was followed by leftist coalition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with 38.9%. The PRI finished with 15.6%, a low third place compared with its national victory of at least 38%, according to Monday's ongoing national tally.
In 2006, the PRI finished with a paltry 4% of the votes sent from abroad.
The migrant vote is minuscule compared with the tens of millions who vote in Mexico, but they often remain influential leaders in their communities here and account for a large portion of Mexico's wealth through remittances.
In an interview with The Times conducted before the election, Peña Nieto's advisor on migrant affairs said that upon winning, the PRI would maintain and expand migrant-friendly programs developed by two consecutive PAN governments.
Arnulfo Valdivia, a political economist and dual Mexican-U.S. citizen himself, said Peña Nieto's administration would also seek to make it easier for the estimated 12 million Mexicans living in the U.S. to vote in future elections. Currently the IFE does not issue voter cards outside the country.
"The phenomenon of migration cannot be a point of pride," Valdivia said. "It's fundamentally a reflection of the lack of opportunities that exist in Mexico."
[Post edited slightly.]
* Photo: Ramiro Romero shows his ballot as a voter abroad in Mexico's July 1 presidential election, May 24, 2012, in the Lynwood suburb of Los Angeles.
We're doing a cool event on Tuesday night, May 22, at Casa Familiar in right in San Ysidro, the most southwesterly community on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Excited to share the space with Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly editor and author of the new book "Taco USA"; Bill Nericcio, San Diego State professor and author of "Tex[t]-Mex," who organized the event; and un servidor. I think I'll read some from "El bajón y el delirio."
** Originally published at World Now:
Four people have been killed in gruesome fashion in Mexico since September for posting about drug cartels on social-media websites, the headlines and news reports say.
Trouble is, the reports could be wrong.
Information is the latest battleground in Mexico's drug war, as a string of brutal deaths in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo has produced alarming reports that social networks are under attack by the infamous Zetas cartel.
Most of the reports, however, are not built on verifiable facts. And facts have become a rare commodity in many regions of Mexico that are dominated by drug cartels.
In each case, such as a man found decapitated near a monument in Nuevo Laredo on Wednesday, the victims have been left with hand-lettered messages suggesting that they were using Twitter and the local chat board Nuevo Laredo En Vivo to report on cartels.
In each case, the messages have warned against cooperating with the Mexican military and have been signed with multiple Zs, presumably referring to the Zetas.
But how can anyone know for sure?
** Originally published at World Now:
Kevin Santana remembers with a blank disenchantment the night he threw a party in his hometown of Ciudad Juarez and soldiers came to break it up.
It was in 2009, the young music producer and DJ recalls, and he and his friends had set up a sound system at a raquetball court and invited other teens to come dance. "There was nothing else going on that night and people in Juarez like to party," he explained a few days ago.
"They put us with our hands against the wall, made us close our eyes, they said they were going to rape the girls. We thought, 'This is it, they are going to break us.' "
I paused and asked for an explanation. Quebrar -- to break -- is slang used to signify killing someone in Ciudad Juarez, one of the most violent cities in the world and a sad symbol for Mexico's brutal drug war.
In the end, the kids were let go and the party was over. Santana shrugged and added: "There have always been soldiers in Juarez."
Santana just turned 18 in August. Troops were first sent to Ciudad Juarez in early 2008. Put another way, Santana has lived in a city with armed federal forces on the streets for most of his teen years.
Known by his DJ name Mock The Zuma, Santana is part of a loose generation of electronic musicians and producers based predominantly in Mexico's northern region that are attracting attention among tastemakers in the capital and in Latino-heavy cities north of the border.
Their cutting-edge sounds draw on diverse Latin American rhythms -- such as cumbia and son -- filtered through easy-to-access editing software that allows the music-makers to mix, scratch, and cut it all up with spacey and aggressive electronic beats.
To call them very young is apt; most are still teenagers.
* UPDATE: My report from San Agustin Etla, "A lively street party for the dead in Oaxaca, Mexico."
This is a Day of the Dead altar in a home in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, just now. All the elements were gathered on Sunday at the city's bustling Central de Abastos, at the special tianguis de muertos.
The pulque and tepache stand was closed. Momentary sad-face.
Over here, we're looking at how they're passing noche de los difuntos in Ciudad Juarez; by beating up protesters and photographers outside a police station.
Honoring my dead and all of the dead of Mexico. Wherever you are, good evening.
* Previously, "In Mexico, more deaths than can we can image."
Originally published at World Now:
In an effort to further discourage illegal crossers, the United States says it has found success in the practice of transferring illegal immigrants and deporting them at a border crossing far from where they initially entered the United States, The Times reports.
But does the practice place undocumented migrants in harm's way when they are sent to a region of Mexico that is not familiar to them?
Under the strategy, deportees are often flown hundreds of miles from where they illegally entered the country and returned to Mexico through another port of entry, preventing them from reconnecting with human smugglers and attempting the crossing once more.
Some, for example, have been apprehended in Texas and then transferred and deported through Calexico, Calif., Richard Marosi reports in The Times. U.S. customs authorities say the Alien Transfer Exit Program, as it is called, "breaks the smuggling cycle."
It also brings to mind a troubling headline that largely slipped below the radar this summer.
In June, dozens of illegal immigrants held at a private detention facility in New Mexico wrote letters to a border activist group pleading for help to avoid being transferred and deported through Texas, which they said would place their lives in danger.
The Zetas cartel is said to control human and drug smuggling through much of northeastern Mexico, across from Texas, and is also known to commit atrocities against migrants making passage through the region. Zetas are believed to have massacred 72 mostly Central American migrants last year in a town in Tamaulipas state, in a case that drew international reproach.
They're also suspected in the hijacking of low-cost buses that run through the area, which may be connected to the many mass graves that have turned up hundreds of bodies in Mexico's northern region, as The Times has reported. Cartels also practice forced recruitment of migrants, even slavery, Mexican authorities and immigrant advocates have said. (Links in Spanish.)
The number of migrants held at the Torrance County Detention Facility in New Mexico and who asked not to be deported through Texas this summer eventually reached 52, said Hannah Hafter, a coordinator for the No More Deaths project in Nogales, Ariz.
"As far as I can tell, at this point all have served their sentences and been deported," Hafter said in an email message Thursday. It was not clear whether these migrants were deported to the Mexican state of Sonora, as some requested, or elsewhere.
"Since that time, we have not heard from any of them and have not had the capacity to follow up," she added. "To me, it demonstrates a severe inflexibility in the system including at the risk of human life."
In a statement to No More Deaths, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had said, "While ICE recognizes the current situation relating to violence in Mexico, the agency is not in the practice of allowing detainees to request repatriation to specific locations in Mexico."
* Photo: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / Sept. 20, 2011
** Originally published at World Now at the L.A. Times, the paper's new international news blog. My recent base at LAT.com, La Plaza, is hereby retired, but links remain live and available. Thanks for the follows and re-posts and continued tips and feedback.
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- A woman found decapitated in the border city of Nuevo Laredo is being mourned as an apparent member of a social networking site used by local residents to share information on drug cartel activity.
The victim was found early Saturday with a note nearby saying she was killed for posting messages online about violent or criminal incidents in Nuevo Laredo.
The Tamaulipas state attorney general's office identified the woman as Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro, 39, and said she was an editor at the newspaper Primera Hora (links in Spanish). The Associated Press, however, quoting an employee of the newspaper, identified the victim as Marisol Macias Castaneda, and said she held an administrative and not an editorial post at Primera Hora.
A web search of the newspaper's website found no mention of the woman's death or the discovery of a decapitated female body on Saturday.
But on the website Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, a banner image appeared memorializing a member known as NenaDLaredo. "You'll always be present," the display says.
** Originally published here.
As Mexico's drug war grinds on, violent homicide has overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of death of young people in the country, reports the Mexico City daily El Universal (link in Spanish).
Government statistics reviewed by the newspaper show that in 2008 and 2009, the second and third complete years of Mexico's drug war, violent deaths of people between 15 and 29 shot up about 150%. The figures rose almost equally across various narrower age brackets within that group.
Half of those homicides occurred in five states that include some of those worst hit by the current violence: Chihuahua, Baja California, Guerrero, Sinaloa and the state of Mexico, on the border with Mexico City. Violence is now the leading cause of death among Mexicans between the ages of 15 and 29, overtaking car accidents, the report said.
* Continue reading.
** Photo credit: Gael Gonzalez / Reuters
A highly recommended read: "An American Gun in Mexico," Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2011. The pieces demonstrates the extraordinarily thin line that exists between gun smugglers, gun dealers, and federal gun agents, in the war in Mexico that has left an estimated 40,000 dead. More this week at La Plaza.
Above, the documentary short "Barrios, Beats, and Blood," on the hip-hop scene in Ciudad Juarez, now on YouTube in its entirety. (I covered the premiere of the film last year at the Morelia Film Festival for La Plaza; see here.)
Directed and produced by journalists Ioan Grillo and John Dickie, "Barrios, Beats, and Blood" offers a direct window into the worldview of youth in a U.S.-Mexico border city that is drowning in death. The voices here direct their protest MCing at the cartels and the government alike: "Queremos que se jode y ya que se quede un puto cartel."
I bet Gil Scott-Heron would be nodding his head right now.
No exaggeration, a good 18 different people have personally sent me this link since it went live (though I saw right after it dropped, via Mudd Up!). So I'm just gonna post it already. Pointy Boots. Extremely pointy pointy boots. Botas picudas.
I'm as much at a loss about this 'craze' as you must be.
The video, part of an art package by Vice, is an introduction to a fashion phenomenon that is directly tied to the tribal guarachero boom that has taken hold in the north of Mexico and in some parts of the U.S, particularly in Texas. Filmmaker Bernardo Loyola and crew visit a town in San Luis Potosí named Matehuala (near the border with Nuevo Leon state), where local vatos claim the pointy boots were invented.
3BALL MTY mix-master Erick Rincon ("un dios para hacer el tribal") makes an appearance. He makes the connection between SLP and its migrant diaspora in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex. Watch and learn.
Let's just quickly hit the most obvious wonders. The pointy boots point to a fusion between a music movement and a regional tribalism in Mexico that appears to have nothing to do with any kind of illicit trade, neither as a belated reaction to a trend from north of the border. The boots, intervened, are the basis for a competitive dance-crew culture as well. Reminds me somewhat of the ass-bouncing cowboy crews in California.
My last round of book-related events for the roll-out of "Down & Delirious" in the U.S. is this coming week, back in Southern California. YES! Almost done! It's been fun and enriching sharing the book with people, but also a long and exhausting ride. Wanna get back to work.
On Saturday at the LAT Festival of Books, I am on a panel titled History, Identity & Purpose: California, Chicanos & Beyond. Should be an interesting discussion.
One minute in New York City, a stranger on a subway staircase is barking -- "Excuse me!" -- because he perceives that you are standing directly in his way, on his way to some Very Important Business, and he's just about prepared to run you over. The next, someone stops, engages, makes conversation, and it is genuine and the engagement is mutual.
People who were born and raised here say the famous rudeness of New Yorkers is just a matter of a misperception. In a city this fast, competitive, overcrowded, and cold, "being fast is being polite." The look in people's eyes when you approach them is: "Whatta ya need whatta ya need whatta need."
The winter's been hard. People just say "brutal" and shake their head, in a sustained disbelief. You can see it in their faces. It's been so cold this week (except Monday) and it seems like the winter just isn't over. They just want to get home and get into bed. You gotta be quick. A friend said this morning about the snap-snap-snap: "It's neighborly, it's helping everyone out, keep it going."
Since I've been here I've been asking nahua-looking faces, 'De donde eres?' They say Mexico -- with one Guatemala so far. Puebla, Neza, el Estado. They're mostly behind the counter, hustling. They wanna answer in English but I'll jostle the conversation back into Spanish, just to keep hearing the dialect in this outer-world context.
Last night with a buzz on the L back into Brooklyn I asked another guy who was having a conversation with another guy. I basically interrupted. I asked him where he was from. He was leaning against the standing pole and holding it with his hands, over his head. He looked at me like I was crazy. Like, 'Mexico, duh, pendejo.'
Where in Mexico? He rolled his eyes. Like, 'Where else?' "Poblanos," he said. Just straight-up rude. I backed off.
OK. You guys are fully integrated.
Links: "WNYC: Know Your Neighbor: Lucia, the Frequent Flyer to Mexico." "WNYC: Dominican Bachata Founder Spices Up Tiny Washington Heights Restaurant." "Nueva York, by Carolina Gonzalez and Seth Kugel." "New York Times Video: Playing the Subways." "Mexican New York, by Robert Courtney Smith."
Sunday: We didn't go in but we strolled past it, the Hispanic Society of America, in the Harlem region of Uptown Manhattan. Wait, stop. What is that?
The names of these languages chiseled into a band on the side of one of the society's buildings gave me a grounding jolt in the imperial city: Quechua, the language of the Andes, Arawak and Carib, from the north Caribbean coast of South America, Chibcha, from what is now Costa Rica and arounds, Maya and Zapotec, from Mexico and Mesoamerica, and from today.
** Link: My visit to WFMU in Jersey City with Rupture, and Joven Will, for Mudd Up! Stream or download the hour here.
It's always such a strange trip returning to the United States. Even to some place like California, where most people are aware of Mexico and attuned to its beat, and a good many are part Mexican themselves or culturally Mesoamerican in some fashion. It's still not the same.
Mexico is an engulfing maelstrom, a non-stop party, the journey down the cave. The U.S.A. is this orderly appointment on freeways, where everything is watched, guarded, measured, and mediated. The one true religion is buying things. The crucial point, of course, the question, is where the two merge successfully or not, and how that happens.
Each time I come home to the border, I'm happy, but I am also almost immediately freaked out. I stand in line with the transnational workforce, come near the customs agents, take a deep breath, and tell myself, 'OK, get ready, this is going to be weird ...'
* Above, sunset over San Ysidro and the Tijuana river. 5 Feb. 2011.
In Mexico and in Spanish spoken by Mexican immigrants in the United States, a "tocayo" is a friend or acquaintance who has the same first-name as you do. "Tocayos" greet each other and say good-bye with it and not their shared name.
Tonight, I want to salute my tocayo doble in Arizona, Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a 20-year-old student at the University of Arizona who essentially saved the life of Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords in Saturday's shooting in Tucson.
Above, Daniel's interview with the openly right-wing outlet known as Fox News. There is the characteristic awkward nature of the questions and answers in such spots, but more so here, as Daniel stays incredibly on-point, on-message, and composed while recounting the horror of what happened. He ran to the bullets when the shots started, and directly to the congresswoman. He propped her up, applied pressure to her wounds, held her hand and spoke to her, and traveled with Rep. Giffords in the ambulance to the University Medical Center in Tucson.
Here are the details.
Almost frustrated toward the end of the interview, the anchor asks Daniel, "You're an example for a lot of young people, Daniel, in terms of your courage and your responsiblity. What's your message for other folks out there tonight watching, thinking, 'How can I raise a boy to be just like Daniel?'"
"I think the first thing we need to do," Daniel responds, "is make sure we acknowledge the real heroes, that's the public servants ... "
Amazing. The anchor in her New York studio is almost speechless.
Daniel, presumably a Mexican American, might be native-born. He also might not be. Daniel, I'm being told, is also gay/queer/LGBT-identified. Don't know for sure. (*UPDATE: Queerty reports Daniel serves on the Tucson Commission on GLBT Issues, and his name appears on the site's members list.) But what counts right now is his enormous strength of character, courage, and sense of civic engagement, even in the face of mortal danger. His statements reflect a genuine dedication to public service and to those who work in government not to spread hate or division but, as he puts it, to help people.
That's about as close as you can get to "patriotism" these days than anything else.
I am proud to share a name with you tonight, Daniel Hernandez, mi tocayo. Your family, friends, and millions of strangers are proud of you as well. You certainly are an example for all of us. I wish you all the best in the future, surely a bright one.
Here's how we know the drug war isn't going well for the U.S. and Mexico governments: the catchy narcocorrido about life as a fun-loving cokehead. It's "El Cocaino," by Los Buitres de Culiacán. They work among many popular narcocorrido bands whose genre always implies a dance with death.
"El Cocaino" tells about not sleeping, partying with "the plebians," dealing with coke-itch, drinking Buchanan's, and not owing anyone any money. The verses all end with the line: "Soy cocaino no se los niego," or "I'm a cokehead and I won't deny it."
I don't keep steady track on this scene but, to those who might a bit more, what are the other new and good -- as in, outrageous or scandalous -- narcocorridos that you are especially fond of? Besides the golden classics, of course?
Looks like Los Buitres have a busy touring schedule across Mexico, too, hitting this month and into next year Michoacan, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tijuana on the border, and on Dec. 22, a "private event" in Sonora.
* MORE: My post at La Plaza today, "White House: Cocaine market in U.S. under 'stress'." A cokey heart attack trend in Sydney? Seriously?
I'm breaking a rule about posting too many photos with me in them, but who cares, I'm 30 today! They tell me 30 is when you get to say, 'I can do whatever I want,' and it finally becomes true.
This is me at the Monte de los Olivos cemetery in Tijuana this morning. Came with my mom and cousin Alan to visit our muertos on my arrival from Mexico City. That's the imposing Cerro Colorado in the background. The wind is strong, the hot sun. Many memories here, bitter and yet also sweet.
Tijuana is as clean, modern, and orderly as ever. We had breakfast at La Espadaña -- fast becoming a custom for us when I come home on early morning flights -- and then I crossed the border on foot. The heart always quickens as I stand in line; obese people, people whose skin has seen too much sun-and-meth cocktail, ancient tattoos, drawling English, AMERICA!!
The customs agent was kind of enough to say, "Happy birthday!" after scanning my passport. It was the only time, I thought, that the border-crossing experience has made me smile genuinely.
It's very warm up here/down here. I've slept all afternoon and I want more of it. Have no plans tonight except family and a certain date with any icy local beer. I appreciate all the kind wishes. Thank you.
Above, what women "sleepwalking" through life in Ciudad Juarez really dress like. The image is from "Las Otras Batallas," a photo exhibit currently showing in Juarez, and these women's garments look nothing like the dresses that the city supposedly inspired in the upcoming fall/winter line by the Rodarte house. Read more in my post at La Plaza here.
A couple of troubling things linger about this story. MAC Cosmetics has apologized for the Rodarte line's accompanying limited edition make-up collection, the one with names like "Factory" and "Ghosttown," but there's been no word or response on the matter as far as I've seen from the Mulleavy sisters directly, besides a cursory statement within the MAC statement.
The clothes are apparently still heading to racks or boutiques or showrooms in the fall. I wonder, how many women in Juarez will die violently between now and then?
Right now no one in Mexico is painting like Daniel Lezama is. His world in representational strokes is a fully resolved, fully horrifying vision of a Mexico beheaded. A brutal and naked Mexico, a carnival of cell phones and homicidal clowns, a nation in ritual rebirth. Lezama paints madness by the skin of the maguey.
That his work doesn't cause more of a stir in the public sphere is perhaps a welcome sign in this dark bicentennial year. Mexico might be drowning in its own blood, but at least the artists are still allowed to take the stains and spread them around on canvas, still wet.
Above, a detail from a Lezama (in full view: "La gran noche mexicana," 2005) at a show just inaugurated at the MUNAL. The exhibit is a blandly nationalist thing they titled "Imagenes de la Patria." Yes, the man with the microphone above is Juan Ga. One piece by another artist, in the Age of Arizona, proposes a cholo guadalupano refashioning of the United States flag. See here. It is by Adolfo Patiño, 1998, and called "Proyecto para la bandera de una colonia mexicana."
* Previously, "Control your magic."
** It's vacation time. Intersections now takes another breather, and will check in shortly from Puebla, Oaxaca, Tijuana/San Diego, and Los Angeles.