The story of Alex Chalgren, a young black gay Trump supporter in South Carolina, produced by Zoe Chace, almost made me cry. Hate that.
My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
It's been an honor reporting the news in Latin America. And it's been especially rewarding to cover news in Mexico, on Mexico, and especially for Mexico. Now, after eight years of doing so, I'm relocating to Los Angeles and picking up where I left off.
I've been trying for weeks to come up with something decent to say about this change. I've received anxious reactions from readers asking why I'd leave, and believe me, I've been anxious too.
It's a combination of personal factors and the opportunity for another big challenge.
I needed to invoke binational privilege, and take a little breather on this maddening and infinite place. DF wears on the body and brain. Anyone who's lived there knows this. In my case, the horrors of the daily news cycle in war-weary Mexico began straining me with greater force. Each trip to the field with the VICE News crew in Mexico, to see how someone in my country had something horrific happen to them, with no recourse, no justice, left a little unexpected scar. (I know "tough" reporters aren't supposed to talk about this stuff, but that's that.)
Being away from the beach for so long wasn't good for me either.
I also needed to check back in with my family. Their demands that I be closer to them intensified in 2015 as the news out of Mexico got worse and worse. Yes, the flight to DF is as long as the time it takes to drive between L.A. and San Diego. But it's the cosmic comfort of knowing I'm not across a border and several states away on the bellybutton of the moon that pulled me back.
I also began missing, for reals now, a lot of my old friends.
This is not an act of abandoning Mexico, not abandoning my friends in arms in DF. I'll still be covering the stories that matter to my communities, doing some field reporting in Mexico and anywhere else we gotta check out in Latin America, as long as VICE lets me. I still got my Mexico cell phone. Now I'll also start poking around for stories in Califaztlán and down the border, a fertile land for contradictions to explore.
Not clueless: I know my country the USA is as messed up as Mexico but in different ways. So if you got any leads or tips, drop me a line.
Writing about leaving Mexico has failed me. I can't really wrap my brain around all the issues and implications that this transition stirs up. I love Mexico too jealously — maybe too violently — to attempt to sum up these years with some lines, or even some pages. Maybe a little down the road.
Right now I just wanna wake up on Monday morning and get to work.
** Originally published at Munchies, on May 7, 2014:
“Why is it that we have allowed people who are totally incompetent in food to design our food?” Diana Kennedy was saying, her gray and white hair lifting lightly in the breeze. “Our food doesn’t have the flavor it used to have. I remember the chile poblanos, full of flavor, thin-fleshed, very dark green, and that big. Now ¡olvidalo!”
“Forget it,” she said. Today, there is actually a four in ten chance a chile poblano served to you anywhere in Mexico has been imported, most likely from China. Kennedy knows this, and the truth seems to burn through her entire being.
A living legend in food, Kennedy started exploring the markets of Mexico’s towns and villages more than fifty years ago, meeting cooks and gathering plants and recipes with the precision of a ethnobotanist. It has been her lifelong project of achieving total intimacy with Mexico’s native ingredients.
Sitting at Kennedy’s outdoor dining table with a tiny glass of mezcal before me, I struggled to imagine the flavor of the chile poblanos back then because fifty years ago, Mexico and the planet were simply different places than they are now. There were less people, for one, and probably a lot less contaminants in the air, in the soil, in the water. In our lives.
There was no transgenic corn in Mexico fifty years ago, and definitely none imported from the United States—as there is today—not in the land where science has agreed that corn was born.
At 91 years old, Diana is old enough to remember what that Mexico tasted like. Her palate fuels her ideas—and anger.
“People are losing taste, especially in the US, and then it passes to Mexico,” Kennedy told me. “It’s ridiculous, but then nobody has paid attention to the agriculture in Mexico.”
* All photos by Alejandro Mendoza.
* With my homie Franco, an hincha for club Newell's Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, May 2014. Photo by producer Raymundo Perez-Arellano.
There is no use apologizing. Intersections, like a lot of blogs that started in this long-forgotten blog big bang of 2005-2006, went into posting decline after the realization that it was impossible for me to keep up. Not while at the same time taking on a reporting and writing job with extremely demanding responsibilities and expectations.
When I was in the DF bureau of the LA Times, at least I managed to re-post my stories, most of the time. Since 2013, this has also become functionally impossible. Work just went from crazy to crazier.
After a year as editor of VICE México, in June of 2014, my boss asked me to step in and become Mexico bureau chief of VICE News. It was the kind of job I had never really thought about doing but at the same time knew I was capable of doing, so I said yes. With this, my year, and my life, changed.
By then, early summer, our office's Munchies Guide to Oaxaca (which we actually recorded in November 2013, produced by Santiago Fábregas and shot by Guillermo Alvarez), was finally live and cookin'. Munchies had also just posted my profile on food queen Diana Kennedy.
I was on my way to being a food host for VICE, and was still editing the Mexican edition of the print magazine at the time.
But after seeing and hearing good responses to my first hosting gig for VICE with the Oaxaca guía, the chiefs wanted to try me out on a serious news assignment. Right away, they sent me and a crew to Rosario, to investigate the drug war happening on the streets of an important port city in Argentina.
From there, other assignments in the field followed. I said "Yes" to whatever was asked of me — including yes to a trip that was decided on and carried out within hours of arriving to the office for a normal work day — dealing with the challenges as best I could, recognizing and representing, in a corner of my mind and in my own little way, for my beloved brown America.
During all this, I've had to keep up my main, most important duties, with a teensy staff: editing, translating, fact-checking, and publishing original news stories and features from across Latin America. The bureau staff and I have spent long hours working with reporters filing from Santiago to Tijuana, often under breaking-news pressure, just everyday hustling, getting stories up onto the VICE News site.
The stresses in 2014 were the steepest I've confronted since the start of my career. Then, in late September, Ayotzinapa happened. And the work got even more intense.
But I'm not gonna complain. I'm only looking forward. This year I plan on hosting more for VICE News in my role in the bureau, and I also hope to squeeze in some fresh field assignments with Munchies. There's more in store, and I want to thank all my readers and my community for staying strong with me and hanging on through all the madness and bullshit out there.
So, below, some highlights from my first seven months at VICE News. For all the stories I've written or co-written for News, click here. I'll have a post later — I hope! — all about our Ayotzinapa coverage.
The Rosario documentary I mentioned. Beautiful city, fucked-up story. This documentary, fixed locally by Gaston Cavanagh, made some waves among locals in Rosario and was cited in numerous subsequent news reports in the Argentine press.
Stopping over in Buenos Aires, we decided to check out the issue of paco, the BA streets version of crack, and a symptom of the economic malaise that has plagued the country since 2001.
A quick Munchies interlude in here, a tour of three classic Mexico City fondas. Mmmmmmm, ¿A que hora es la comida?
On September 11, we landed in Chile, to cover the demonstrations and street protests tied to the anniversary of the 1973 coup that brought down socialist president Salvador Allende and initiated the military dictatorship. Three days earlier, a bomb went off in a Santiago subway station.
At the Tolemaida military base, in Melgar, Colombia, our crew covered the 2014 Fuerzas Comando competition, a meet-and-greet for elite special ops teams from across Latin America. This documentary was produced as part of the VICE News "War Games" series.
This is the full-length version of our documentary on the horrible case of the missing students in Guerrero, Mexico. All the credit in the world for this work is to be shared with the committed and talented producers, fixers, photographers, editors, and administrators at the VICE México headquarters in Mexico City, and in particular, Rafael Castillo, Hans-Máximo Musielik, and Melissa del Pozo.
We really put in as a team the toughest hours and biggest risks many of us had ever seen in Mexico.
Me and the VICE News crew were also in Peru in late 2014, for a documentary that is coming up early this year. But that's another story ... 2K15 has begun. Stay tuned, and as always ... More soon.
This photo of a photo shows my first apartment without roommates in Mexico City, 106 in the Edificio Victoria. It's where I wrote most of "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" and had some of the best, worst experiences of my life. Joven Will is how I called William Dunleavy, a friendly young punk from New York and New Jersey who I met one day in DF.
Will threw me off at first when he let me know he was taking photos of a family of dedicated punks who lived in La Paz, past Ciudad Neza. He was 19 years old yet had a totally clear vision of what "good" documenting meant and what it did not. It was almost like he was trying to determine my seriousness the first time we talked, not the other way around. This photos is from the night Will had his 20th birthday at my place. A bunch of wanderers from the Hotel Virreyes came by. It was just a senseless DF beer peda. Really fun.
Will eventually helped illustrate "Down and Delirious," and I'm super proud to say it.
The poster behind Will is a Foro Alicia response to a government-mass media campaign of demonizing young people during those intense months of 2008 (but really always). It says: Soy delincuente, tengo 20 años, soy joven, no tengo derecho a la educación, al trabajo, a la vivienda, a la saludo, y a muchas cosas más.
We were down with that. Anyway, all of this is to say, I know it's not anywhere near your birthday, but, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Will!
I was in Southern California and Mexico City over the holidays and barely saw any sizable mention of surviellance whistleblower Edward Snowden's Christmas message. It is plain and stirring (and less than 2 minutes).
"A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all," Snowden says. "They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves -- an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought."
** 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.
* End of the line: a concha below the volcanos at the terminus of Line 12, Tlahuac, Dec. 31, 2012.
I've spent three years reporting stories in Mexico, the region, and sometimes on Mexico-related topics north of the border from the Los Angeles Times bureau here in Mexico City. On top of that, I've been contributing steadily to a bunch of magazines and radio, Web, and video outlets, all places I love.
It's been rad. But, man, I needed to make a move! And I think I've made a good one. Vice is expanding, not contracting. It has vision, huevos, and, most importantly for anyone who wants to do good journalism, cash.
Talks started informally months ago, and it's been a fully pro negotiation and transition with Vice Mexico publisher Eduardo Valenzuela and the head of content here, Bernardo Loyola. I've also been contributing pieces to Vice's New York headquarters, so I'm looking forward to working more closely with the editors at the hub.
For more context, check out these highlights from a recent profile on Vice by The New Yorker, including interesting comments from players such as CEO Shane Smith:
Rupert Murdoch, after his visit, tweeted, "Who's heard of Vice Media? Wild, interesting effort to interest millennials who don't read or watch established media. Global success."
"Part of the reason Vice is successful is because we have cash to make stuff. Everyone else is just fucking wandering around trying to find budgets to make their dream project."
"[T]he nice thing about Vice is that it's the future and it's already very profitable."
McInnes told me, "My big thing was I want you to do stupid in a smart way and smart in a stupid way. So if you’re going to Palestine, try to find a good burger joint. Don't talk about Israel and the borders, 1967, Gaza -- just find a good burger joint. Conversely, if you're gonna do a thing on farts or poo, talk to experts in digestion, find out the history of what we know about farts, why they smell. Be super-scientific and get all the data. Which is what we did with 'The Vice Guide to Shit.'"
Vice is opening bureaus as quickly as traditional-media organizations are closing them.
Smith told me, "It used to be, back in the day, that news was the most profitable of all shows that the networks did. The Gulf War built CNN. There's a lot of conceptions that news doesn't make money, that young people don’t care about news. But young people obviously care about news -- that's why we're successful."
Still, if Vice is the future of media, it might be argued that, for all its faults, it's no worse than what we already have. For anyone accustomed to the current offerings on cable news -- with its twenty-four-hour cycles and blow-dried personalities rehashing wire reports -- it's hard not to be impressed by Vice's vitality and by some of the topics that it covers firsthand.
Pretty G. ...
My top priority is to always challenge myself, challenge my craft. I'll be editing an established publication again more than ten years after my "EIC" days at the college paper. But, hugely, my primary audience for the first time will be hispano-hablantes en México y Latinoamerica. That's a crazy challenge for this die-hard pocho and I'm eager to take it on!
Admittedly, there's a nostalgia factor also at work here. I grew up checking out Vice as a teenager, picking it up once it started appearing at skate-, head-, and record shops in my hometown. When I lived in L.A., I was around when lil Mark "The Cobrasnake" Hunter started showing up at the Vice store parties at Sunset Junction. Through friends, I met and really fell in love with one of Vice's original muses, lil baby Dash, and I still think fondly of the time we shared in L.A. with K. Garcia and Nina T., the trouble we'd get into. ... Que descanse en paz.
The magazine, the brand, the broader ambitions of Vice Media have morphed so much, it's remarkable. I am honored to get a chance at joining what I suspect will become a long tradition of good, fucked-up reportage. I start on Monday. Got a story idea?
** The following is an excerpt of an English/Spanish-written draft of a piece published in the February 2013 issue of Gatopardo magazine, 'El fin de un ciclo.'
* See original post here.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 18.104.22.168.14]
El punto clave de información that we aquired on this stop was that in the town of Ticul, south of Mérida pero antes de Oxcutzcab, vivía un maestro de los garabatas, como se llaman los guaraches en Yucatán. Jorge Coronada, one of the healers we met at Kambul, told us el maestro Jose Ortiz made the best shoes on the peninsula. We drove off.
A place often reveals itself to you by the character of its roads, and in Mérida, there was a prominent but never menacing police presence all along the city’s periférico, a modern highway lined with factories and government compounds. We passed our first of many state police checkpoints, there to help maintain Yucatán’s proudly held rank of safest state in the country. In the town of Uman, the street I took to reach the center suddenly turned one-way against me in the opposite direction. A kid on a motor-bike taxi coming in the correct direction took one look at me as he drove past my dash and sneered, "Vete a la verga, vato." I laughed it off as the capricho of a local angry teen with a mean streak. One can never truly say about a people, "They are so kind, they are so welcoming," because there's always at least one or two exceptions.
It was early evening by the time we arrived in Ticul. The sky was clear and a sea of stars shone brightly above. The moon was regal, the roads one long line of darkened forest from point A to B. This town was like most others we’d come to see in Yucatán. It contained a market, a bus station, cell-phone and clothing and shoe stores, and low stone houses that looked as though they could have been built twenty or two hundred years ago. The towns that dot the plain of the peninsula are all centered around a plaza with a church that often looks built to repel a siege. In fact, many of them were. The churches in towns like Tizimin, Muna, and here in Ticul were built tall, with few windows, and with massively thick walls. They are reminders that the Maya of Yucatán resisted the Conquest forcefully and for generations more than the Aztecs.
In Ticul, which 19th Century traveler John L. Stephens described as "the perfect picture of stillness and repose," I drove into the dusty center of town, made a right, and pulled up alongside a middle-aged man sitting outside of a shoe store. I told him we were looking for Mr. Jose Ortiz, the shoemaker. The man was about sixty years old. He had white hair and unusually clear green eyes. "He is my father," he replied, and offered directions.
A few blocks back, on the same street, we came across Mr. Ortiz's taller. There was a small hand-painted sign attached to a wooden post, marking the front of a house. The door was open and the only illumination inside was a single flourescent bulb attached under the shelf of a work table, bathing the room in a humming pale blue light. No one was inside. We knocked and called, knocked and called. In the window to the street, Christmas lights were draped over an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The lights were the kind that come with a device that plays carols in a single tone in a loop. We inched inside and waited. Old photographs, signs, maps hung from walls appeared as though they hadn't been touched in decades. It was clear that Mr. Ortiz's taller was a special place. I felt good just standing there. A woman passed on the street and asked us who we were looking for, and a minute later Jose Ortiz Escobedo came strolling our way.
He was a very slim old man in trousers and a work shirt. Mr. Ortiz had a handsome brown face and a sharp triangular nose. He greeted us kindly and we introduced ourselves. We expressed interest in taking a look at his offerings of garabatos, but at first it was a little difficult to comprehend what Mr. Ortiz was saying. He said he was 90 years old. His words blended together and his sentences came in mixed clauses. His Mayan accent was strong – the swirling yet chopped castellano that simmers at the front of the mouth and pops with K's and Q's.
Mr. Ortiz explained that he would be unable to sell us any pair of the leather sandals that hung on his wall. They looked like delicate but sturdy objects. He said any he had "would hurt your feet." He only makes garabatos to fit a foot right, he said. I tried on a shoe and it fit perfectly, but Mr. Ortiz absolutely insisted he would not sell us anything not made to fit – not even a belt, although I tried. For a minute, it was impossible for us to comprehend the possibility, that unlike in Mexico City, money couldn't buy everything, and everything wasn't for sale.
We asked Mr. Ortiz if he heard anything about the supposed prediction of the end of the world, and he said it was nothing, and although he hadn't been to Mérida in more years that he could remember, he concluded in between other thoughts: "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy a Mérida."
Mr. Ortiz was born in the house where we stood and his father was born there too. He has worked as a shoemaker for 75 years. He married at 22. His wife is still alive, and they have the same age, 90. He had eight children, but only five survive today. He told us he had 12 great-great-grandchildren.
He explained to us the Maya translations of certain words – che for madera, eck for estrella. He said the Maya of Yucatán always say what they mean, no matter how blunt. He said he belonged to a stubborn people. And, being a man of his age, Mr. Ortiz didn't demure while elaborating.
"Porque los mayas, lo que ven, eso dicen," Mr. Ortiz said. "Lo que hablamos ahora es amestizado, no es la verdadera maya. La verdadera maya es ofensivo, ofende a la mujer."
"El apedillo que tengo yo no es maya … me llamo Victor Jose Ortiz Escobedo. Es español … Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en la tierra maya, nuestro estilo es maya, solamente el apellido no es."
We talked about life in Ticul, and asked what he ate to stay so healthy and alert. He eats chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, no mention of meat. He moved about the room freely, using his arms to emphasize thoughts. "Tengo que trabajar," he said. "Si se acuesta, envejece mas pronto."
I asked again if he saw any meaning in the "end of the world" as supposedly predicted by the Maya. Mr. Ortiz explained: "El sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va terminar, y empieza lo de los mayas."
* Printed with permission of Gatopardo magazine, c/o editor Guillermo Osorno.
A major reportaje on the afromestizo musical profile of Mexico, by producer Marlon Bishop, via Afropop on Public Radio International. Bishop travels to Guerrero to check out the chilena tradition, to Mexico City for the danzón, and to Veracruz and Los Angeles to examine the new-generation son jarocho craze.
It's an involving, rich podcast. See more here for blog posts with clips related to self-declared criollo musical culture.
I've held a long-running discussion on race in Mexico in recent years on Intersections, highlighting previous documentary projects, easy but telling race-tricks in contemporary social science in Mexico, and bringing some pop-media attention on pop Mexican blackness.
I remain ambivalent about the application of U.S.-style racial goggles on the reality of race as it's lived in Mexico today.
I was struck, for example, by an academic voice in the Afropop audio who says "naming the beast" is needed to "fund the beast," suggesting that afromestizo people in Mexico need more "resources" that have been denied to them because of their race or color.
That is totally an American racial-politics thing to say, and would register as flat-line discourse to many Mexican thinkers, of many classes and colors, I can assure you. All kinds of poor people in Mexico have been neglected by the state, in a complicated long-running saga of injustice in Mexico that is simply more complicated than a black-and-white vision.
Additionally, I remain unsure who gets to be Afro-Mexican. Or even, who wants to be? Mexicans call themselves mexicanos first, and many find little use in sub-categorizing ourselves in the U.S. manner. Yes, there are some serious race conundrums at play here, and racism in the mass media is still so prevalent. But U.S. race relators don't necessarily have the smarter hand, or the better model.
So what is? Let's keep discussing, and in the meantime, enjoy the podcast and the dope music! * Gracias por el tip, Nati! * Post edited.
* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 22.214.171.124.14]
Finalmente conseguimos aquí una información clave. En el pueblo llamado Ticul, al sur de Mérida, un poco antes de llegar a Oxkutzcab, vivía un experto en garabatas, como se le llaman a los huaraches en Yucatán. Uno de los curanderos que conocimos en Kambul, Jorge Coronada, nos dijo que el maestro José Ortiz hacía los mejores zapatos de la península. Nos lanzamos para allá.
Un lugar se revela por el carácter de sus caminos: a lo largo del periférico de la ciudad de Mérida —una vía moderna repleta de fábricas y oficinas de gobierno— era común la presencia de la policía, fuerte aunque nunca amenazante. Pasamos por uno de los varios retenes que se instalaron para seguir manteniendo el orgullo de Yucatán: el estado más seguro del país. Al llegar a Umán tomé una calle que nos llevaría al centro, pero se convirtió en un camino cuyo sentido era opuesto al que veníamos. Del otro lado venía un joven en un taxi-motocicleta y cuando nos pasó me miró con desdén y me dijo: "¡Vete a la verga, vato!". Pensé que nunca se puede decir de un lugar que "la gente es tan amable y tan acogedora", porque siempre hay excepciones.
Cuando llegamos a Ticul ya era de noche. El cielo estaba despejado y un mar de estrellas brillaba arriba con intensidad. La luna estaba majestuosa y los caminos entre la selva oscura eran largos y rectos. Este pueblo era como los demás en Yucatán: tenía un mercado, una estación de camiones, zapaterías, tiendas de ropa y de teléfonos celulares, además de casas de piedra de un piso que parecen haberse construido hace veinte o doscientos años. Todos los pueblos de la llanura de la península son iguales; están edificados alrededor de una plaza con una iglesia que parece un fuerte. De hecho, muchas funcionaron como tales: las iglesias de pueblos como Tizimín, Muna y Ticul son altas, con pocas ventanas y están construidas con muros de ladrillo de grandes dimensiones; un recuerdo del pasado, cuando los mayas se resistieron a la conquista española por generaciones —mucho más tiempo que los aztecas.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 1."]
Un viajero del siglo XIX, John L. Stephens, describió a este pueblo como "el perfecto retrato de quietud y descanso". Íbamos en el coche por el centro polvoriento, cuando giré a mi derecha y enseguida me detuve junto a un hombre de mediana edad, que estaba sentado afuera de una zapatería. Buscamos al señor José Ortiz, el zapatero, dije. Aquel hombre tendría unos sesenta años, el cabello blanco y unos extraños ojos verdes y cristalinos. "Él es mi padre", contestó y explicó cómo llegar a su casa.
Unas cuantas cuadras atrás, sobre la misma calle, nos topamos con el taller del señor Ortiz. Había un pequeño letrero pintado a mano junto a un poste de madera que marcaba la fachada de la casa. La puerta estaba abierta, y dentro se veía todo iluminado por un foco fluorescente pegado a una mesa de trabajo, que bañaba la habitación con una luz azul pálida. No había nadie adentro. Tocamos y llamamos a la puerta, tocamos y llamamos. En la ventana de la calle se veía una serie de luces navideñas que formaban un altar a la Virgen de Guadalupe, de esas que vienen con música de villancicos con un solo tono. Poco a poco nos fuimos metiendo y esperamos dentro. Viejas fotografías y mapas colgaban de las paredes, como si no hubieran sido tocados por décadas. Estaba claro que el taller del señor Ortiz era un lugar especial. Me sentí satisfecho por estar ahí.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 2."]
Una mujer pasó por la calle y al vernos preguntó qué estábamos buscando. Un minuto después, José Ortiz Escobedo llegó y se acercó a mí y mis compañeros.
Era un hombre viejo y muy delgado que vestía pantalones y una playera de trabajo. Tenía un rostro bien parecido, moreno, y una nariz triangular puntiaguda. Nos saludó con amabilidad, y pudimos entonces presentarnos. Queríamos ver, le dijimos, las garabatas que vendía. Al principio fue un tanto difícil comprender lo que decía. Tenía noventa años de edad. Su acento maya era fuerte —el turbulento y entrecortado castellano, que hierve en la punta de la boca para luego estallar en sus cus y kas.
El señor Ortiz explicó que no podía vendernos ninguno de los huaraches de piel que colgaban en la pared. Parecían objetos delicados, pero resistentes. "Te pueden lastimar los pies", dijo. Ortiz sólo hace sandalias a la medida. Dijo que podría tomarnos la talla y tendríamos que regresar mañana o el día siguiente, si así lo deseábamos. Me probé un calzado y me quedó perfecto, pero el señor Ortiz insistió en que no nos vendería ni un solo par que no estuviera hecho a la medida. Ni un cinturón, además, aunque también intenté llevarme uno. Por un momento me resultó imposible entender que, a diferencia de la ciudad de México, aquí el dinero no podía comprarlo todo.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 3."]
Le pregunté si había escuchado algo acerca de la supuesta predicción de los mayas sobre el fin del mundo. "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy para Mérida", concluyó.
El señor Ortiz, que no había ido a Mérida en muchos años, nació en esa casa donde estábamos parados, lo mismo que su padre. Ha trabajado como zapatero por más de setenta y cinco años. Se casó a los veintidós, y su esposa aún está viva y tiene la misma edad, noventa. Tienen ocho hijos, aunque sólo sobreviven cinco, y doce bisnietos, dijo. Se puso a traducirnos ciertas palabras mayas como che para madera, o eck para estrella. Los mayas de Yucatán siempre han dicho lo que piensan, dijo. Y como él es un hombre de edad, no fue nada tímido para enunciar lo que pensaba. "Los mayas lo que ven, lo dicen —dijo—. Lo que hablábamos ahora es mestizado, no es la verdadera lengua maya. La verdadera es ofensiva, ofende a la mujer".
"El apellido que tengo no es maya… Es español… Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en tierra maya y nuestro estilo es maya, el apellido no lo es".
Le preguntamos qué comía para estar tan sano y despierto: chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, nada de carne. Se movía por la habitación libremente y usaba sus brazos para hacer énfasis en sus ideas. "Tengo que trabajar —dijo—. Si uno se acuesta, envejece más pronto".
Cuando le pregunté de nuevo sobre el significado del "fin del mundo", contestó que "el sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va a terminar. Y empieza lo de los mayas".
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 4."]
* English-language posting is forthcoming ...
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- A Facebook page in Mexico has notched tens of thousands of followers for posting detailed but unconfirmed updates on security risks in the drug-war hot zone of Tamaulipas state. Now, purported assassins have declared a bounty on the head of the page's anonymous administrator.
In response, the Facebook author said the page would not stop gathering and publishing information on shootouts and highway blockades because the Tamaulipas authorities and local news outlets offer nearly zero updates on so-called "risk situations."
The person behind Valor por Tamaulipas posted a photograph last week of a reward notice that was said to have begun circulating in several Tamaulipas cities calling for information leading to the page's author or relatives.
The flier makes an offer of 600,000 pesos, or about $47,000, for information and includes a cellphone number with a Tamaulipas area code.
"I'm not trying to be a hero," the Facebook page says in response to the bounty claim. "I'm doing what I'm supposed to do as a citizen and a member of society before the threat that organized crime poses to the stability of our state and country."
The photographs and postings, like other content on the page, could not be independently verified, a fact that partly explains the appeal of Valor Por Tamaulipas and similar social-media platforms that offer intelligence related to incidents in Mexico's ongoing drug war.
Local, state, and federal government authorities release only scant details, if any, on the conflict in Tamaulipas between federal authorities, Mexico's military, and three major crime groups: the Zeta, Sinaloa, and Gulf cartels. As in many other violence-wracked regions of Mexico, local news outlets widely practice self-censorship.
The sharing of such information -- from sites of checkpoints to times and places of grenade or car-bomb attacks -- has generated risks in the past for social-media users.
In September 2011, a woman known as an info-sharing user of an online message board in the Tamaulipas border city of Nuevo Laredo was found decapitated. Though never fully confirmed by local authorities, the woman's death was blamed on cartel hit men who wanted to silence her constant postings on violent incidents there.
The page where the woman posted, Nuevo Laredo En Vivo, maintains a message board where locals apparently keep posting.
Valor Por Tamaulipas has chalked up nearly 158,000 likes on Facebook since its launch on Jan. 1, 2012. On Twitter, the Valor por Tamaulipas account currently has about 24,400 followers.
In contrast, the state government's official Facebook page has about 3,000 likes, and noticeably no steady updates on risky situations on the ground. And, in a sign of the horizontal nature of the drug-war's information battles on the Internet, a page intended to counter the assertions of Valor Por Tamaulipas has already emerged, calling itself Anti Valor por Tamaulipas.
The administrator of the first Tamaulipas Facebook page did not respond to emailed questions Monday.
Antonio Martinez, a spokesman for the Mexico City-based free-speech advocacy group Articulo 19, said his organization was monitoring the purported threat against Valor por Tamaulipas but suggested that the site might not be administered by an ordinary citizen.
"It's a little strange," said Martinez, who noted the Facebook page routinely praises military personnel and their operations, without mentioning any of the allegations of abuses or criminal activity within the army's ranks in the region.
"We are still investigating, but we think this could be some kind of military strategy, and not a case of a direct threat against one person," Martinez said.
In an interview with the daily El Universal, the Facebook page administrator would "neither confirm nor deny" the assertion that Valor por Tamaulipas is a product of Mexican military intelligence.
Tamaulipas' statehouse has remained silent on the Facebook page and its report of a death-threat. But days after the threat was publicized, the state attorney general's office released a statement reminding citizens that it offers rewards of up to 500,000 pesos, or about $39,000, for information leading to the solving of serious crimes.
If you get a weird jumble of characters in your reader for the headline for this post because of the capitalized ñ in it, it's a minor inconvenience worth swallowing while getting to know the artist and electronica producer known as Ñaka Ñaka.
** 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."
** Originally published in the Feb. 1, 2013 print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- In the Mexican remake of the popular U.S. TV series "Gossip Girl," the privileged teens at the center of the drama still have it all: stylish clothes, great hair, top-of-the-line sports cars.
The types are familiar: Bowtie-wearing Chuck Bass is now known as Max Zaga, and effortlessly chic Serena van der Woodsen is now Sofia Lopez-Haro. The setting is no longer the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but the former "jewel" of the Mexican Riviera, Acapulco.
Wait a minute — Acapulco?
As filming began last week in the port city on the southern Pacific coast, "Gossip Girl Acapulco" immediately sparked passionate reactions among social media users in Mexico.
Many expressed disgust at the idea that a show about Manhattan's teen elites would be translated into a contemporary Mexican setting, where drug-related violence, especially in places such as Acapulco, and class and racial barriers remain entrenched. Others, though, said they were dying to see the finished product this year on media giant Televisa.
It may be little more than a whisper-worthy coincidence, but Acapulco is considered one of the most violent cities in Mexico, perhaps topped only by Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2011, the last full year for which figures are available, the national statistics institute said 1,114 people were reported killed within Acapulco's city limits, which has about 789,000 residents.
Kidnapping and extortion are believed to be rampant, and gory execution scenes are common mere blocks from the major tourist zones. The State Department urges U.S. nationals to "defer nonessential travel to areas further than two blocks inland" of the downtown beach.
("Let's hope this new round of 'Gossip Girl' only sees Blair losing her virginity, and, not, on top of it, her head," said the New York Observer, naming another character from the original series.)
Acapulco also happens to be deeply in debt. This month, Mayor Luis Walton Aburto said the city owed about $33.2 million. The city hopes a fresh push for tourism income can help it climb out of its fiscal hole, but when reached by phone, several municipal officials said they hadn't heard about "Gossip Girl Acapulco" until this week.
There is no clear sign that the Mexican series is part of any larger plan to revitalize the struggling city. But the brain behind the project, producer Pedro Torres, said he hopes people will see the beauty of Acapulco through the show and maybe venture to visit.
Torres, in a hurried telephone interview punctuated with garbled asides to aides, said "Gossip Girl Acapulco" will remain true to the story line and character types that captured viewers in the original. The only difference, he said, will be the setting and the use of "mannerisms of Mexican speech."
"It was I who proposed the idea of placing it in Acapulco," Torres said.
One of the most powerful figures in Mexican television, Torres has remade imports such as the reality TV shows "Big Brother" and "Fear Factor" for Mexican audiences.
"There is no doubt that the city of Acapulco has suffered serious problems of drug trafficking and violence like many other cities in Mexico," Torres said. "But, well, this series is not a portrait of that. This is fiction, a complete fiction."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is the second attempt at farming out the franchise to a foreign market by Warner Bros., the original show's producers. As The Times reported last year, the company announced the launch of "China Girl," a "Gossip Girl" for Chinese audiences.
In previews of "Gossip Girl Acapulco," in addition to their material wealth, the central characters also seem to have inherited the European-looking side of Mexico's racial spectrum, a persistent feature of Mexican television that can either be read as a reflection of the country's stubborn class hierarchies or as a tool that inadvertently promotes them.
A better term for it might be "aspirational," which is how actor Vadhir Derbez described the show's context during the press rollout for "Gossip Girl Acapulco." Derbez, who plays Max, the Mexican Chuck, said the show will have valuable lessons to offer viewers.
"People see these kids who come from lots of money, and it may seem unreachable," the actor told an interviewer. Yet "it has a strong message behind it, that money is not everything. And that's cool."
Torres' Mexico City-based production company, El Mall, said it is in negotiations with U.S. Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision for possible distribution of "Gossip Girl Acapulco" north of the border.
"I've been living in Acapulco for a month with my family and we've had an incredible time, with an incredible climate," Torres said by phone. "The truth is, one should have the normal prudency like in any other city. We do not have any security detail that is out of the ordinary."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is to start airing in July on the Televisa network.
* Photo via Gossip Girl Acapulco FB.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Carlos Slim's telecommunications empire, Telmex, is poised to get a new shot at realizing its long-held goal of entering Mexico's television market after a regulatory board this week approved rules that may allow the world's richest man to launch a for-pay TV channel.
Mexico's television market is almost completely dominated by the duopoly of media giant Televisa and TV Azteca, which together control about 95% of what viewers see and hear on the country's airwaves.
On Wednesday, the congressional regulatory watchdog known by its Spanish acronym, Cofetel, sent rules to its executive-level counterpart that would settle Telmex's dispute with smaller telephone service providers over interconnection fees. Those charges are reflected in the extra pesos that customers pay when calling from one phone network to another.
This week's regulatory move happened largely under the radar in the public eye but was seen by financial news outlets in Mexico as a bargaining chip for Telmex and its ambitions for television (link in Spanish). America Movil, the Telmex telecom branch that hopes to start a for-pay TV cable channel via Internet, now must resubmit its bid after a separate judicial-level ruling came down last week.
Under the government of former President Felipe Calderon, Slim's desires to compete with Televisa and TV Azteca were tied up in dense regulatory appeals and negotiations. Opening up the market was further hindered by Mexico's fractious Congress.
The new government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose party is now the largest parliamentary group in Mexico's legislative branch, has yet to roll out its telecommunications reform package. But Peña Nieto has already indicated that he hopes his government can open concessions for at least two new channels on Mexico's airwaves.
Peña Nieto said the issue is about increasing "competition" at all levels in Mexico.
Televisa's dominance of Mexico's airwaves became a campaign issue in the 2012 presidential election after the grass-roots student movement known as #YoSoy132 held large-scale demonstrations opposing candidate Peña Nieto and Televisa at large. Protesters decried his Institutional Revolutionary Party's cozy relationship with the network, claiming Televisa favored him over his rivals on the left and right.
Peña Nieto is married to a former Televisa telenovela actress. His party has a history of being allied with Televisa and its top tiers of executives and producers.
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
TULUM, Mexico – Hold on to your doomsday fever, folks, the Maya calendar date celebrated Friday as the “end of the world” might actually be off by two days – or a full year.
The end of the 13th baktun cycle of the so-called Long Count of the ancient Maya’s intricate, interlocking calendar system might correspond to Sunday, not Friday, said Carmen Rojas, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Rojas stressed that the Maya not only calculated baktun cycles of 144,000 days, but also had systems that measured the marches of Venus and the moon. Other scholars note some Maya glyphs mark dates thousands of years further into the future.
In addition, calendar dates that Maya leaders recorded on pillars that survive to this day might have been modified over time to suit certain cultural or political interests of the day, Rojas said during a walk-through Thursday of the ruins of Tulum, a pre-Hispanic port city situated on a spectacular bluff overlooking coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea.
One such inconsistency leads some Maya scholars to believe the 13th baktun cycle ends on Sunday, while others say it might be off by a full year or more.
Dec. 21 "is not a relevant date for us. It is an accident that someone would take and pull it out,” said Rojas, a specialist in the archaeology of cenotes, a type of sinkhole. “If you look at a book of Maya epigraphy, there are so many dates that could be commemorated. The glyphs are also not so easily interpreted. It depends on the correlation that you use.”
Nonetheless, in recent days, tourists from around the world have flocked to the so-called Maya Riviera on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, leading to higher-than-normal occupancy at hotels and on flights arriving at Cancun’s international airport, local reports said. Many visitors say they are using the supposed end of the 13th baktun as an opportunity for spiritual reflection and cleansing.
In Guatemala, people are gathering at the Maya site of Tikal for ceremonies marking the end of the baktun cycle and the winter solstice, which does correspond to sunset on Friday. Separately, highland Maya tied to the indigenous rebel army known as EZLN in Mexico’s state of Chiapas have mobilized and occupied at least five towns, reports said.
As tourists arriving on packed buses swarmed the Tulum site on Thursday, one visitor said she came to the region to get married at a nearby resort -- just in case.
"The end of a cycle is the end of a cycle, there are obviously translation issues," said Rhonda Church, a visitor to Tulum from San Marcos, Texas. "I find it interesting."
* Photo: People pray at Chichen Itza, on Dec. 21, 2012. Credit: Jacinto Kanek / EPA
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MERIDA, Mexico -- Contrary to any Hollywood doomsday scenarios or a variety of less-than-optimistic New Age theories, the world will not end Friday, Mexican tourism authorities and Merida residents assure anyone who asks.
Yes, the end of the 13th baktun cycle in the so-called Long Count of the Maya calendar corresponds more or less with Dec. 21, this year's winter solstice.
But the event merely signals the "end of an era" and the start of a new one, locals and scientists say. Or, as some academic Mayanists have explained, the end of the 13th baktun — a date deciphered from totem glyphs and written numerically as 126.96.36.199.0. — is a sort of "resetting of the odometer" of time.
It has become reason enough for people of this flat, tropical region of Mexico to celebrate their Maya culture and history and make mystically minded calls for renewal and rebirth. Officials and residents have also expressed high hopes that foreign tourists will be inspired to visit the Yucatan Peninsula through Friday and beyond. (Assuming the world is still here.)
A handful of residents and officials from Merida, the capital of Mexico's Yucatan state, gathered Saturday at a small cenote, or freshwater sinkhole, for a "Blessing of the Water" ceremony. A man dressed in white and described as a shaman stood before an offering marking the four points of the compass, saying prayers in the Mayan language for Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth.
"We must reflect on how humanity has conducted itself, what we've done to the Madre Tierra during this cycle," said Valerio Canche, president of a local association of Maya spiritual healers.
Canche walked among the people, singing in Mayan in a low voice. He took a handful of herbs and dipped them in water drawn from the cenote, then splashed droplets on the heads of those gathered — a cleansing ceremony.
"Let us conduct ourselves, as brothers all, for the common good," Canche said. "Not only for the Maya people, but for the entire universe."
This cenote, in a community called Noc Ac about 14 miles outside the historic center of Merida, sits inside a dilapidated, unguarded government lot, little more than an opening in the ground shaded by a large tree.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The city that was once considered one of the world's most polluted and crime-ridden now boasts that it is a haven from Mexico's drug violence and has gone so "green" with new mass transit lines and trendy vertical gardens that it is hardly recognizable from its former self.
Miguel Angel Mancera, the newly sworn-in mayor, vowed this week to continue the socially progressive policies of his predecessor and make Mexico's gargantuan capital "safer, freer, more equal, more progressive" during his next six years in office.
"My government shall be humanist, truthful, honorable, transparent, democratic and united with the people," the mayor said in his first speech after taking the oath of office Wednesday.
Mancera, 46, the former attorney general of Mexico City, holds a doctorate in law from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He is a single father and fitness buff who boxes regularly. The society magazine Quien called him "the golden bachelor" in a recent cover story.
Mancera won the July 1 mayoral election by a whopping 63% of the vote, a margin of victory considered partly a referendum on the liberal Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and its uninterrupted run at City Hall since 1997, when the position of mayor was created for the Federal District, the formal name of Mexico City.
Mancera took the reins of the city's government after the largely successful term of outgoing Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a popular figure who is credited with reducing crime in the capital even as violence soared in other parts of the country and who legalized same-sex marriage and abortion on demand in the city.
The position of mayor is considered a launching pad for higher office in Mexico, but it is also a frustrating barrier for the PRD. Its presidential candidates in recent national elections, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have both been mayors of Mexico City but have been unable to capture the presidency in a total of four attempts.
Ebrard, a product of the more centrist wing of the PRD, was sidelined as candidate in the 2012 presidential election by the populist stalwart Lopez Obrador, who finished second after Enrique Peña Nieto, the new president.
After his swearing-in, Mancera said he would install thousands more high-tech surveillance cameras to further reduce crime. He also proposed the creation of a post in his Cabinet, a U.S.-style city manager, to answer citizens' needs.
On Thursday, his first full day on the job, Mancera waded into the capital's current major controversy, the alleged abuse by police and abitrary arrests of dozens of protesters in clashes during last week's swearing-in of Peña Nieto. The city's human rights commission said Thursday that more than 20 people who weren't involved in the violence had been arrested, including a Romanian journalist taking photographs of the events, and that at least four may have been tortured or beaten.
Mancera urged residents to be patient with legal proceedings for 69 people who face charges of vandalism and disturbing the peace on Saturday. "To say that no one disturbed the peace or public order would be out of touch with reality," he said.
However Mancera's term as mayor turns out, it may not be enough to catapult him higher if he harbors aspirations for the presidency in 2018. For that election, his former boss, Marcelo Ebrard, has already indicated he's in the running.
* Photo via Chilango.com.
** 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.
** Originally published at World Now:
Mexican President Felipe Calderon will head to Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., after his six-year term ends Saturday. He will be a teaching and research fellow in 2013, the university and the president's office said in statements Wednesday.
The announcement put to rest one of the most pressing questions in Mexico's political chatterbox: What's the next post or destination for Calderon, who declared a military-led campaign against drug cartels that left scores of civilians dead or missing across the country?
For his next move, the politically conservative Calderon will be named Inaugural Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School for next year, allowing him to lecture, teach and conduct research as he pleases, the school said.
Calderon received a mid-career master's degree in public administration at the Kennedy School in 2000. He also holds a law degree and a master's degree in economics from institutions in Mexico.
In inviting him to Harvard, the school emphasized Calderon's "pro-business" economic policies and his government's reforms in areas such as climate change and healthcare.
"President Calderon is a vivid example of a dynamic and committed public servant, who took on major challenges in Mexico," David T. Ellwood, dean of the school, said in the statement. "I am thrilled he will be returning."
Earlier this year, Calderon was in negotiations to take a post at the University of Texas at Austin, sparking protests among students and faculty there. One organizer of a petition against inviting Calderon to the University of Texas told a local news outlet in September that his presence there would be "like saying, 'We don’t care about your pain ... We don't care that your country has been ravaged.'"
Elite private universities in the United States are friendly ground for Mexican presidents. Calderon gave the commencement speech at Stanford University in 2011. Ernesto Zedillo, president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, is currently a professor at Yale University.
On Saturday, Calderon hands over Mexico's presidential sash to Enrique Peña Nieto in a ceremony at the lower house of Congress to launch the country's next six-year presidential term.
* Photo: Mexican President Felipe Calderon waves from the presidential palace. He hands over his post Saturday to Enrique Peña Nieto. Credit: Alex Cruz / EPA / November 20, 2012
The talk at DePaul was about the processes in which the populist-progressive current leaders of Mexico City, under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, have re-socialized the core of the city into a "user-friendly" urban enthusiast's playden. The process I think at least partly reduces or represses some of the instinctual, genetic cultural ticks of improvisation and negotiation that define the true capitalino or chilango. "Safety first."
I'll have more about these ideas in future pieces. In the meantime, thank you Hugh Bartling and the DePaul community for the invitation. And thank you, Ector Garcia, gifted artist, for showing me around.
Chicago is impressive and I am eager to return.
ESTADO is a series of electronic music sets taking place each Saturday this month at the Estela de Luz monument in Mexico City, showcasing the most cutting-edge and challenging emerging talents from four eletronic music centers in Mexico: Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Monterrey, and D.F.
The Estela, a monumentally distastrous project since its inception, is being gradually claimed as everyday-usage public space along Paseo de la Reforma. This was where the #YoSoy132 movement held one of its earliest and most spontaneous demonstrations. Inside, or rather underneath the structure, a Centro de Cultural Digital was established, and from here, musical performances have taken place on the square at the base of the "Suavicrema."
The ESTADO site is well worth a browsing and listen. Here's a compilation of the artists at Soundcloud, with downloadable tracks.
** PREVIOUSLY: See also, Estrella Cercana, "Teen DJ from Ciudad Juarez, Mock the Zuma, reflects a 'bizarro' reality," "More snapshots from Monterrey, NRML fest," "Estrella Cercana: A newspaper's obituary, Part 4."
** Originally published at World Now:
They rallied and railed against the dominant media duopoly in Mexico during a crucial election campaign, but now former members of the student movement known as #YoSoy132 are set to appear on a new talk show produced by the Televisa network.
The leaderless movement emerged in protest of Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate who went on to win the July 1 election, and against Televisa and TV Azteca. Together, the media conglomerates nearly monopolize the airwaves in Mexico, making them a target of protests by #YoSoy132 for what it called the networks' biased and favorable coverage of the candidate.
"Sin Filtro," or "Without Filters," is slated to be a weekly Sunday night program on ForoTV, an arm of Televisa. The format is a round-table of university students who will discuss, "without censorship," the pressing issues facing Mexico, host Genaro Lozano said in an interview Wednesday.
Lozano, a 36-year-old international relations professor and frequent political commentator on Mexican news outlets, is not a former member of the student movement, but he helped moderate a presidential debate that #YoSoy132 organized. The unprecedented unofficial meeting with three of the four presidential candidates (Peña Nieto declined to attend) was noteworthy for being organized by citizens and not the federal electoral authorities.
The first installment of "Sin Filtro" is expected to feature Antonio Attolini, a former #YoSoy132 campus representative and one of the most prominent and recognizable student voices during the election. Later, however, Attolini was effectively booted out of #YoSoy132 after other students regarded his many media appearances -- including on Televisa -- as detrimental and distracting to the group's agenda.
Lozano said he understood the criticisms of the new program but added that he would make efforts to reach out to students from a range of public and private universities in Mexico for future on-air panels.
"There is a phobia toward the networks, and that's a historical issue in Mexico," Lozano told The Times. "But I think opening a new space of dialogue is always a good thing, and I hope other such spaces open up on other networks."
He added that he previously had taped a pilot for a similar program on another network, but only within the last two weeks did a contact with the Televisa conglomerate lead to "Sin Filtro." Lozano said he expects to sign a contract for the show with Televisa on Thursday.
Online, the official Twitter account of #YoSoy132 distanced itself once more from Attolini, saying: "#YoSoy132 does not have leaders precisely to avoid that the contradictions of one affect us all." Other Twitter users were less generous, with some dubbing the student panelists who appear on a "Sin Filtro" promo on YouTube as "traitors."
The promo itself is a study of what might arguably be called unintended irony.
Lozano identified the participants as all former members of #YoSoy132, now sitting before cameras belonging to the largest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world, which is also currently tied to a trafficking ring investigation in Nicaragua.
"I'm tired of the fact that the old news media class gives us information in the same manner, and with bias," one panelist, a young woman wearing heavy-framed eyeglasses, emphatically declares. "That is bad for freedom of speech in the country and that's why we're here, to discuss what interests you, without filters."
Attolini, meanwhile, broke his silence on Twitter on Wednesday as the virtual booing and hissing rained down on him. By the afternoon, he tweeted: "The struggle will be infinite if we don't start gaining territory. Now we have it inside the wolf's cave. Let's say the things that are concealed."
"Sin Filtro" is scheduled to premiere Sunday, Oct. 28. Lozano said the likely topic will be media democratization, a central issue for the student movement during the campaign.
* Photo: Moderator Genaro Lozano appears in a screenshot of a promo for "Sin Filtro." Credit: Via YouTube
RELATED INSIDE INTERSECTIONS:
** Originally published in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
By Daniel Hernandez and Cecilia Sanchez
ISLA HOLBOX, Mexico — Separated from the Yucatan Peninsula by a lagoon, this pristine island has streets of sand, iguanas that roam among humans, and a police presence best described as casual. In the tiny town on its western tip, golf carts are the primary mode of transportation.
"It's like out of movie, isn't it?" said a chuckling Ramon Chan, a 41-year-old vendor who on a recent day was hacking away at fresh coconuts from a cart on the beach.
In recent years, however, Isla Holbox (pronounced "holl-bosch") has sat at the center of a complex legal dispute pitting powerful developers seeking to build a high-end resort against a group of longtime residents who say they were cheated out of their rights as holders of revolutionary-era communal lands, known as ejidos.
The fight illuminates the growing practice of transferring communal ejidos — which make up slightly more than half of the national territory — to private hands, a practice that was authorized in 1992 but remains a legal twilight zone.
In separate cases, nine islanders allege that Peninsula Maya Developments offered to buy their individualized ejido parcels in a 2008 deal to which they agreed. But in the process, theejidatarios allege, the developers also persuaded them to unwittingly sell their permanent, constitutionally guarded titles to the Holbox ejido at large.
Because Mexico's agrarian law refers to "inalienable" titles toejidos, the islanders are asking courts to nullify the dual sale of their parcels and titles.
In response, the company said the sales were legal and clear and suggested in a statement that the ejidatarios are trying to shake them down for more money than the original price of about $388,000.
The developers contend that the ejidatarios are challenging the deal through loopholes in the ejido laws, which established strict codes meant to protect the rural peasant class from abuse by private interests. The suits over the $3.2-billion development plan are working their way through Mexico's agrarian tribunals, with one awaiting a hearing before the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the island simmers with discord, and the eastern end, where La Ensenada resort would be built, remains untouched.
** Originally published at World Now:
Governments in Latin America quickly congratulated Hugo Chavez on his reelection Sunday as president of Venezuela, a sign of his convincing win over strong opposition challenger Henrique Capriles.
With Chavez's victory, Venezuela's socialist government is set to remain in power at least through 2019 and maintain its position as a regional leader for leftist governments that are Bolivarian ideological allies or depend on Venezuela's oil and subsidies.
The congratulations were effusive and personally directed at the president who has been in office for more than 13 years, making Chavez, 58, the longest-serving leader in Latin America.
"Your decisive victory assures the continuation of the struggle for the genuine integration of Our America," said Cuban President Raul Castro, in a statement released by the communist country's embassy in Mexico City.
Ecuad President Rafael Correa called Chavez "compa" -- short for compadre -- via Twitter and declared: "All of Latin American is with you and with our beloved Venezuela. ... Next battle: Ecuador!"
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales called Chavez's victory a win for "the nations of Latin America that fight for their sovereign dignity," according to the official Bolivian Information Agency.
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner sent an emotional tweet to the Venezuelan leader, saying: "Hugo, today I wish to tell you that you have plowed the earth, you have sown it, you have watered it, and today you have picked up the harvest."
Capriles conceded after voting Sunday showed Chavez winning by nearly 10 percentage points with 90% of votes counted. Despite the narrowing in his margin of victory over past elections, Chavez overcame the challenge due partly to what one pollster called an "irrational and emotional devotion" to him among poor Venezuelans.
By Monday, other regional players, including ideologically conservative governments that share closer ties to the United States, also recognized Chavez's win. The foreign relations ministries of Colombia and Mexico pledged in short statements to continue working with the Venezuela president, who has struggled against cancer.
"The government of Mexico reiterates its full disposition to keep strengthening the relations of friendship and cooperation that unite Mexico and Venezuela," the Foreign Ministry in Mexico City said.
* Photo: Front-pages in Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 8, 2012. Credit: AFP
Dancing + being in love + flying?
"Dancing in Slow Motion," by friends Teengirl Fantasy, features vocals from the venerable Shannon Funchess. And don't you think she sings with the grace of a chamana from space? There are a variety of great remixes, such as a noteworthy mix Brenmar. But the original has that beautiful pause at 2:39 ... and then it catches you, safe.
** Originally published at World Now:
A politician identified in Mexican news reports as the sister of Subcomandante Marcos, the long-time public face of the major armed indigenous rebel group in southeastern Mexico, has been named to the transition team of President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto.
The footnote to Tuesday's major political story in Mexico sparked a flurry of head-scratching over the often-stupefying nature of the webs of blood and politics in Mexican society.
How could "Marcos," the famous masked rebel, equally enigmatic and charismatic, be related to someone now in the inner circle of the man who will lead the once-authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, back to power in Mexico?
Mercedes del Carmen Guillen Vicente, identified also by the first name Paloma, will serve as coordinator of the legislative agenda of the PRI transition team, Peña Nieto announced. She was present Tuesday during the transition announcement.
Until last week, Guillen served as a federal legislator in the lower Chamber of Deputies of Mexico's Congress as a member of the PRI.
She is also identified in numerous reports as a sibling to Rafael Sebastian Guillen Vicente, the man Mexico's government has long claimed is the face behind the ski mask and smoking pipe of Subcomandante Marcos. He is officially the public spokesman of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN in Spanish.
Marcos has never admitted he is Rafael Guillen, but he hasn't denied it either. By most accounts, he has been estranged from his family since he shed his identity and joined the Mayan rebels in the state of Chiapas in time for their unprecedented uprising on New Year's Day 1994.
His sister, meanwhile, is described as media-shy and has also not publicly acknowledged the blood relationship to Subcomandante Marcos.
"It is not confirmed," said Jorge Suarez, Paloma Guillen's former secretary at the Chamber of Deputies, when reached by The Times on Tuesday. "I wouldn't dare make that assertion."
Subcomandante Marcos has been largely absent from public view in recent years. Differing rumors have swirled for months in Mexico over the state of his health. On Tuesday, the EZLN's websites were noticeably off-line.
Laura Castellanos, a journalist who interviewed Marcos for her 2008 book "Corte de Caja," said the rebel leader made only a cheeky reference to Rafael Sebastian Guillen when she spoke with him face-to-face.
(The matter was further complicated on Tuesday when a major drug cartel figure with the same surname, Mario Cardenas Guillen, was captured by Mexico's marines. "Guillen" is a common last name in the state of Tamaulipas, where all three of these figures are from. There was no known relation.)
The fact is, journalist Castellanos added, many families in Mexico have seemingly contradictory ideological wings or factions. And similar ideological break-ups.
"In that context, it's understood," Castellanos said. "Go to any barrio on a Sunday for a family reunion, and it will be the argument at the table."
* Photo: Mercedes del Carmen Guillen Vicente. Credit: EnriquePenaNieto.com