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 World Now:
MEXICO CITY — They were tweeting about it, turning it into memes and ogling it in real life along the route that President Obama took from Mexico City's airport to the colonial front gate of the National Palace.
Throughout Obama's visit, which ended Friday, the president's super-armored presidential limousine, nicknamed "The Beast" when it was unveiled four years ago, almost stole the show from the cool and cordial display of diplomacy between Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
When Obama stepped off Air Force One and hopped into the customized state Cadillac, one cable newscaster on Mexico's Foro TV called it a "spectacular vehicle." Broadcasters on a variety of channels seemed to mention The Beast — La Bestia in Spanish — as frequently as they could.
And they were also talking about it in Costa Rica, where Obama was headed after his morning forums with Mexican students and businesses.
Maybe it's that famed American engineering stirring up the fascination? Or could it have to do with Mexicans' similar obsession with the popemobile whenever the Holy Father comes to town?
"We came to try to see the car, La Bestia," said tourist Daniel Castillo, a 33-year-old port worker from Tamaulipas state who was standing outside the National Palace with his wife after Obama and Peña Nieto departed Thursday afternoon. "Don't really care for ... that señor," Castillo added, referring to the U.S. president.
News cameramen on motorcycles chased The Beast as it passed some of Mexico City's toughest neighborhoods along its speediest highways. Infographics on La Bestia adorned news sites, with journalists noting the elaborate features, such as a blood supply in case of an attack.
In a cruel twist, there was another vehicle nicknamed La Bestia making headlines in Mexico this week: The freight train that chugs along the rain forests and backcountry of eastern Mexico, carrying vulnerable migrants from Central America on an often deadly attempt to reach the United States.
On Wednesday, migrants were again attacked by suspected drug gangs, this time near the city of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state. At least nine were seriously injured by men armed with machetes and firearms who tried to extort $100 from each of the travelers, The Times reported.
According to accounts, some migrants were thrown from the train for refusing to pay. In recent years, tens of thousands have gone missing while traveling along La Bestia's tracks.
"Now isn't it curious that Obama's limo is called La Bestia, just like the train that takes thousands of migrants from Chiapas?" a politician wondered on Twitter, referring to Mexico's border state with Guatemala.
Castillo, the tourist, said cartel violence fueled by U.S. demand for drugs has made it too dangerous to travel from Puerto Altamira, where he lives, to the border to visit Texas. He and his wife now prefer vacationing in the "center of the country."
Obama "should stay over there and fix his own country's problems," Castillo huffed.
His wife, Irene Gomez, said the couple hasn't seen some family members in the United States in years. Most of her relatives left Mexico to flee the drug violence, she said.
"Everyone is going to the United States because the insecurity is so bad," said Gomez, 34. "And what are they doing over there? They're deporting people, separating families."
Once Obama's "beast" had departed the National Palace on Thursday, the low fencing placed around the Zocalo square was removed and pedestrians gradually reclaimed the plaza that has been at the heart of national identity here for centuries.
A few passersby hurled curses at the front door of the palace as soldiers emerged for the customary evening flag ceremony. For some, the awe of the La Bestia faded away and reality set in once more.
* Photo by AP via LAT.
** 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
** Originally published at World Now:
Two migrants have died after a boat carrying 23 Cuban nationals fleeing the tightly controlled Communist nation capsized near a tourist island off Mexico's coast, news reports said.
Ten of the migrants were in custody and 11 were missing but presumed to have made it to the island elsewhere, port captain Ismael Gonzalez Gil told the daily El Universal. Their whereabouts were unknown.
The migrants were trying to land at Isla Mujeres, about eight miles off the Yucatan peninsula, near Cancun, when their boat capsized in heavy surf early Friday. They were reached by a Mexican navy patrol after their improvised boat flipped, reports said.
Photographs published online showed a group of men standing on the beach, some crying and hugging, identified as migrants who were mourning the two dead.
Cubans have increasingly attempted to reach the United States through Mexico. The number of undocumented Cuban migrants arrested by Mexican immigration authorities soared from about 200 in 2004 to at least 2,000 in 2008, The Times reported.
Local naval authorities told news outlets they was searching the island and the mainland coast for the 11 missing migrants.
** 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.
** Originally published in print in Metro, cross-posted with World, in the Los Angeles Times, Friday, June 15:
Ramiro Romero owns an auto upholstery business in Lynwood, has sent three children to college and is a first-time voter in a country in which he hasn't lived for more than 30 years: Mexico.
"As a mexicano, we haven't lost our roots, our culture, and that makes voting a civic necessity," Romero, 56, said one morning at his bustling workshop on Atlantic Avenue.
"We want a prosperous Mexico. We want a Mexico that's not in the top ranks for violence but in the top ranks for its economy, so we won't have to go looking for opportunities to other countries."
Romero, who holds dual citizenship, is among the tens of thousands of Mexicans living abroad who are voting by mail in the July 1 presidential election — a contest being closely watched as the country confronts soaring violence related to the U.S.-backed drug war.
** Read the rest of the story here.
* Photo: Mr. Romero, left, and his brother Salvador, 53, at their workshop in Lynwood.
** Originally published at World Now:
LYNWOOD, Calif. -- Immigrants supporting Mexico's formerly long-ruling political party have opened a campaign office in the Los Angeles area for its 2012 presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto.
The office, opened Thursday at a Mexico-themed mall in this suburb, is an unofficial headquarters for the party in Southern California and represents a shift both for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and for the increasingly influential communities of Los Angeles-area immigrants from various regions of Mexico.
Officially the office is for a group calling itself the Committee of Migrants United for Mexico. Leaders said they would be phone-banking with their relatives back home to encourage them to vote for the PRI.
"We opened this office so that any migrant who has a proposal [can] pass it to us, and we pass it" to the presidential candidate, said Roman Cabral, a former migrant-abroad state legislator from Zacatecas state.
"We will have direct communication with Mexico City," he said.
Photographs of Peña Nieto adorn the walls of the mostly bare new office, where tortas and pan de dulce were served for participants and journalists, a party custom.
And just like back in Mexico, the PRI activists wore the party's bright red campaign color and spoke glowingly about Peña Nieto -- who is leading in polls -- and what they described as the party's "regenerated" identity.
The PRI for many years resisted reforms that would have given Mexicans abroad the right to vote. Their new presence in Southern California also reflects a change in the party's ideals and shows that the "new PRI" will pay attention to migrants' needs, activists said.
Yet at the office opening at the suburban Plaza Mexico mall, the PRI members found themselves facing tough questions from local Spanish-language reporters. How could you support the PRI, one reporter asked, if decades of PRI policies and corruption scandals pushed many migrants to come to the United States?
"Why would I vote for the PRI if the PRI was the reason that we came here? Well, I respond, 'Why don't you go back?' It's been 12 years without the PRI and no one's gone back," said Felipe Cabral, also of Zacatecas.
"The last 10 years is when the most migrants came, and that shows the bad work done by other parties," said Mike Gonzalez, an immigrant from Jalisco, referring to President Felipe Calderon's ruling National Action Party, or PAN.
Another reporter asked what the migrant PRI members thought of the grassroots student demonstrations in Mexico against their candidate. Protesters argue that the dominant news network Televisa favors Peña Nieto's candidacy.
"I think Mr. Peña Nieto has won his media power through his good record," migrant Arturo Vega said.
The PRI members said they would propose that, if elected, Peña Nieto open a Cabinet-level ministry for migrant affairs. They said their effort in L.A. was entirely volunteer-based.
Peña Nieto leads by at least 15 points in most polls, ahead of Josefina Vazquez Mota of PAN and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of a three-party leftist coalition.
This year, more than 59,000 Mexicans living abroad requested mail-in ballots for the July 1 vote, electoral officials in Mexico City said.
* Top Photo: Angel Morales, center, and other migrant voters answer questions during the opening of a new office for the Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico at the Plaza Mexico mall in Lynwood, May 24, 2012. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times
** Bottom Photo: A view of the outside of the office at the Plaza Mexico mall. Credit: Daniel Hernandez
In this report in the Christian Science Monitor, the workers followed by reporter Sarah Miller Llana all appear to be wearing recent U.S. military surplus, clothes concievably manufactured for the United States's war campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Here are more:
So, Mexican workers pushed north to the United States by the economic realities in both countries, returning home to Guanajuato after the U.S. downturn, and starting up new farms wearing soldier gear? No idea.
** Originally published at World Now:
Elizabeth Catlett, a U.S.-born artist who directly confronted the injustices faced by African Americans and celebrated black identity and culture through her work, has died in her longtime home in Mexico.
Catlett, who died Monday, had lived in Mexico since 1946. She spent most of her years here as an exile from the United States, which in 1962 tagged her an "undesirable alien" after she became a Mexican citizen. Her U.S. citizenship was eventually reinstated in 2002.
A sculptor and printmaker, she had recently begun to gain international renown for her long body of work.
Read the L.A. Times obituary on Elizabeth Catlett here.
"Confident that art could foster social change, Catlett confronted the most disturbing injustices against African Americans, including lynchings and beatings," says The Times article written by Mary Rourke and Valerie J. Nelson. "One of her best-known sculptures, 'Target' (1970), was created after police shot a Black Panther; it shows a black man's head framed by a rifle sight."
Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., memorialized Catlett in a message via Twitter on Tuesday night: "Mexico & the US today lose a great sculptor and printmaker, Elizabeth Catlett, an American by birth and a Mexican by choice."
Reporting her death, Mexico's national arts council said: "Through her work, Elizabeth Catlett always demonstrated her interest in social justice and the rights of black Mexican women."
Catlett is survived by Mexican children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You can see more of her work and read more about her personal history here.
* Image: "Sharecropper,” (1970), Elizabeth Catlett, via National Museum of American Art.
** Originally published in the Calendar section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times:
On a wide but quiet strip of Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles, in the run-down Casa Honduras dance hall, the ska kids are waiting for the next band to start.
Couples are making out in the corners of the venue, attached to a Honduran restaurant. They sport dreadlocks, Afros and spiky punk 'dos and are dressed in everything from camouflage and combat boots to Chucks and suspenders.
A sound check ensues with a band called Blanco y Negro. Once its members get going, blasting the room with a frenetic Latin-punk sound sung both in English and Spanish, the young crowd forms a circle and begins to skank. The dance has them lifting their elbows and knees rhythmically to the ska beat, rushing and pushing against one another when the music accelerates into punk or metal.
Bodies are in motion, sweating, pounding skin to skin. Though just eight miles from downtown L.A., by the sounds and faces, this could be a jam in Mexico City or Tijuana.
Ska — the Jamaican sound that expanded into a variety of rock and reggae subgenres in the United Kingdom and then the United States in the late 1970s through the '90s — is booming again in Southern California. It is experiencing a comeback after a decade of relative exile, but this time around it's influenced by ska from Latin America.
Underground shows are happening in backyards and warehouses across Southern California, with mini-scenes developing in areas such as South and southeastern Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire.
"Do you remember the swing days? This is the new era of that," said Hollywood resident Josh Morales, 24. "But it's more ska-reggae."
"It's like a combination of cumbia with ska," Morales said as the band Los Chiles Verdes began warming up for its set. "It's like Spanish rock.... I don't know. It's hard to explain."
** Read the rest here. Read more ...
** Originally published at World Now:
A day laborer outside a Home Depot hardware store in northeast Los Angeles is riding in a bright orange shopping cart in the store's parking lot, peering through imaginary binoculars, as if he were on patrol in a dangerous jungle.
Others are crawling under parked vehicles as if squeezing below barbed wire, or diving and body-rolling as if evading gunfire. Before a sale display for storage sheds, two men lie still on the asphalt, their legs spread, as if dead.
The laborers are undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, and in an unsettling video installation by Mexican artist Yoshua Okon on view at a university gallery in Mexico City, they are war survivors playing themselves.
Before Okon's cameras, the migrants are reenacting their days fighting in Guatemala's long and catastrophic civil war.
The four-channel video piece, called "Octopus," is Okon's latest and possibly most provocative video in a career in which he frequently pushes against viewers' comfort zones with the use of improvising non-actors.
A native of Mexico City, Okon has also lived part-time in Los Angeles. He bought a house in L.A. and came to participate in a rite of passage for many new U.S. homeowners in the last decade -- hiring day workers.
The men he found at the Home Depot store in the Cypress Park district, it turned out, were indigenous Maya from Guatemala. They spoke a Mayan dialect and very little Spanish or English. They had escaped Guatemala's war in search of work in the United States.
Some fought for the U.S.-backed military government and others for the leftist guerrillas. Some, he said, showed him scars of bullet wounds. Now, as laborers at the bottom of the U.S. social ladder, they fight for scraps of work in the slumping construction market.
"They're more afraid of immigration than about talking about the war," Okon said during a visit this week to the exhibition space in Mexico City's Roma district. "To me, that's what the piece is about. It's the United States. The war is not over. The war is over there."
Okon, 41, has made films with wanna-be Nazis in Mexico City, an isolated family in California's high desert getting drunk on "White Russians," and Mexican police officers who agree to make bawdy sexual gestures they probably shouldn't in uniform.
While these works usually elicit in viewers a mix of chuckles and creeps, "Octopus" is different.
The new video is guided by a polemical stance, not self-parody. Home Depot customers amble past the bizarre scenes playing out with hardly a blink, showing that workers who build homes in the United States have "always been invisible," Okon said.
The artist also had to work guerrilla-style in some form himself. He filmed on the store's parking lot without proper permission. "I had to constantly negotiate with the security guards, until they finally kicked me out," he said.
Over two days of filming in March, Okon said the men from Guatemala gradually stopped giggling through takes and began to seriously inhabit -- or re-inhabit -- their roles. "It felt like a job," one of the workers later told the LA Weekly. And indeed it was; Okon said he paid the men a double day-rate for their time.
"Octopus," commissioned by the Hammer Museum at UCLA, will show at the Casa Jose Galvan exhibition space in Mexico City through January. Next year, Okon plans to take the piece toProyectos Ultravioleta, an arts space in Guatemala City.
A single-screen version of the 18-minute piece is viewable here. In one shot, as seen above, a motorist drives past Okon's cameras with a bumper sticker that reads, "Voter for a new foreign policy."
The shot was not staged.
* Image: A still from 'Pulpo.'
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 La Plaza:
When large demonstrations in Mexico calling for an end to the drug war grew last spring, communities of citizens abroad perked up and took notice.
Chatter began popping up on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Virtual groups formed. Mexicans living abroad united around a feeling of desperation over a climbing death toll and reacted to a growing sense among Mexicans at home that the government was losing control of the situation.
By May 8, when poet Javier Sicilia led tens of thousands of demonstrators on a march to the historic heart of Mexico City, smaller demonstrations were also held in cities all over the world, including Barcelona, Spain; Buenos Aires; Madrid; Montreal, Canada; Frankfurt, Germany; and in Paris with the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance.
The demonstrations not only showed that many Mexicans abroad were up-to-date with developments back home, they also offered a window into the large numbers of Mexicans making lives in other countries besides the traditional migration magnet of the United States.
Due largely to its historical migration relationship with the United States, Mexico is identified as the leading exporter of migrants worldwide according to the website Peoplemov.in, which uses open data sources to tabulate bilateral migration patterns. The World Bank also places Mexico as the highest source of human emigration on the planet (see the bank's data chart titled Bilateral migration matrix). The bank says 11.5 million Mexicans lived abroad as of November 2010, with 10.3 million of them in the United States.
By comparison, 2.2 million Americans live outside their country, with 452,182 of those U.S. citizens living in Mexico, the World Bank says.
There are significant groups of Mexican citizens in Canada, Spain and France, all countries that saw protests on May 8. Perhaps the most significant protest against Mexico's drug war occurred in Berlin, where a Facebook group appeared early on using the movement's now-ubiquitous "No Mas Sangre," or "No More Blood" logo.
** Continue reading at La Plaza.
** Originally published at La Plaza:
Shortly after midnight on May 11 in central Mexico City, Isaac Chinedu, an immigrant from Nigeria, became involved in some kind of confrontation with a group of police officers on a dark side street. The encounter escalated, and Chinedu was severely beaten. Some minutes later, he was dead, the victim of a hit-and-run driver, authorities say.
The case of Isaac Chinedu has led to demonstrations among Mexico City's African and Afro-Mexican communities, which are laying blame on the police officers who allegedly beat the 29-year-old before he apparently ran into traffic on a busy highway. Chinedu's Mexican widow, Liduvina Castillo, claims that racial prejudice resulted in her husband's death, a charge activists here are rallying around.
"This was an act of discrimination," Castillo told a newscast. "Why? Because they detained him simply because he was black. He wasn't doing anything. Isaac was waiting for a taxi to return to his home in peace."
Prosecutors and forensic investigators said they've determined that Chinedu died of injuries suffered after he was struck by a vehicle on Calzada de Tlalpan, but said his body showed trauma from blows delivered by at least two auxiliary police officers, whose actions were captured by surveillance video. Four officers have been questioned in the incident, but there have been no arrests or charges filed.
Two other officers who may have been involved in the incident have not been identified, authorities said. The hit-and-run driver, meanwhile, remains at-large.
Supporters have held two protests this month seeking justice for Chinedu and bringing attention to a small but growing community of black foreigners in Mexico (links in Spanish). Hundreds of refugees arrived from Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, as La Plaza has reported. Chinedu had come to Mexico as a refugee from Nigeria, reports said.
A civil organization, the Citizen's Committee in Defense of the Naturalized and Afro-Mexicans, staged the demonstrations and plans to initiate a fast Thursday morning on the doorstep of City Hall. The group's president, Wilner Metelus, a native of Haiti and long-term resident of Mexico, said group members seek a meeting with Mayor Marcelo Ebrard about the death of Chinedu.
"We no longer believe what the attorney general says about the case. There are many contradictions," Metelus said in an interview with La Plaza. "We want a direct dialogue with Marcelo Ebrard on the matter. How could any human being receive such treatment?"
Chinedu had lived in Mexico City for about 10 years. He was a legal resident and the father of two Mexican-born children. As the incident was reported by the local press, revelations surfaced that Chinedu had spent two years behind bars on minor narcotics infractions, which were later dismissed. (In Mexico's deeply troubled justice system, such long prison terms for minor or even nonexistent offenses are quite common.)
On May 11, his widow says, Chinedu was leaving a Mother's Day party and waiting for a cab. The grainy video shows Chinedu rushing toward a passing police cruiser to flag it down. He then appears to try to force his way inside. Standing police officers drag and then violently yank Chinedu back to the sidewalk, where he is struck repeatedly, the video shows.
Neighbors came to Chinedu's aid and the officers left the scene, officials said. "What I did was hug him and separate him from the police so they would stop beating him," a witness told ForoTV.
A top official in the Mexico City attorney general's office said Sunday in a news conference that as paramedics arrived and began tending to Chinedu, he regained consciousness, kicking and struggling. Without explanation, he got up, ran into traffic, and was hit by a fast-moving passenger car.
Toxicology tests showed Chinedu was not under the influence or alcohol or drugs on the night he died, officials said. The investigation is ongoing.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Image: Screen-grab showing surveillance video of the incident in which Isaac Chinedu died May 11, 2011. Credit: ForoTV
We don't know how or when it started, and wouldn't know what to properly call it. All we have to work off right now is this video recently commented by friend Anahi. Potentially, these are "cowboy crews" at Salinas High School on the Pacific slopes of California's San Joaquin Valley.
That's where generations of migrants from Mexico have traveled to pump out the crops that help make up the breadbasket of the United States. That's what my dad did. Migrants pick your fruit but also have kids. Kids go to high school. And make culture.
Here, they're taking banda music from Mexico and the Mexican diaspora in the U.S. and applying a dance style to it that involves the hopping and spinning of duranguense (previously explored in Intersections here) but with new acrobatic tricks. Mainly, flying into the air and to the ground and landing on your ass, then picking up the hopping right from there. The boys also do this break-dance-rooted diving move.
It looks competitive.
Oh not to worry. This kind of hyper-physicality is totally Mexi. Remember the "dos borrachos" dance clip that went viral a couple years ago? Realness.
But these cowboy crews? Are they big, big? Do they have them in L.A.? In other U.S. cities that are Mexicanizing? Atlanta? Salt Lake City? On Long Island? How are they socially organized? If you're reading this and in a cowboy crew, let us know what's up!
One of the best in blogs in L.A., Chimatli, caught duranguense early on. Here's the blog's dance category. Great stuff. Here, I've looked at tektonic arriving in Mexico City (but since kinda gone?), the cholo-cumbia-chuntaro current in the North, the mosh-pits of Ecatepec, and the (guarded) sonidero scene in and around Tepito.
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.
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.
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.
In the latest installment in a periodic series, I hustle my posting at the L.A. Times La Plaza blog. Below, recent news and notes from across Latin America, with an inevitable leaning on Mexico, per our location, and a focus on the work of LAT correspondents, per the paycheck.
I've also had two stories recently in The Times. Nice to have a byline in there again. Those links hang down after the posts noted below (and I'm only going back to early June with the posts; this is making my head heart):
As always, more here. My recent stories in the actual paper are "Mexican labor secretary defends copper mine crackdown" and "For Mexico, 'Zoot Suit' still relevant after 30 years," with an interview with Luis Valdez.
If you've made this far down the post, might as well ask, What do you think of La Plaza? What would you like to see more of, less of? How about the state of Intersections?
And speaking this blog, I'll be updating my right-bar pages soon, I promise.
* Image above, Cristian "El Cris" Rosado Mendoza, accused Juarez hit man.
* Audience at the opening of Postopolis DF, via Tomo.
An amazing start to Postopolis DF at the Eco on Tuesday. The event kicked off in high spirits with introductions by the Storefront crew, despite the rain clouds (mercifully) sitting themselves upon Mexico City. Each invited blogger then introduced their site and work. Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography nlightened us with her food esoterica, including "disaster wine." Regine Debatty of We Make Money Not Art opened our minds to the weirdness of her native Belgium. (If the Dutch-speaking part separates from the French-speaking part, who keeps Brussels?)
Once the invited presentations got underway (Remember, in the "Ponzi scheme" of Postopolis, as Joseph Grima describes it, organizers invite bloggers they find intriguing, bloggers invite guests whose work intrigues them, and the conversations start), we listened to Fernando Romero quickly discuss the major projects undertaken by his firm LAR. Will they ever build that border bridge museum? Less and less likely, tragically.
The most insightful moment for me was when during the Q&A, a young guy in the back offered his perspective: He is from "provincia" like Ali, he said, and is surprised at how, as he sees it, Mexico City kids tend to remain strictly within their tribal boundaries, while non-Mexico City natives who live here are more open to going to different tocadas during the week. Punk one day, rockabilly the next, migrating between hip-hop and reggae and so on on any given night. "Es una multicultura."
It might have been a generalization, but his remarks definitely resonated with Ali and others in the audience.
Earlier today, I introduced Carlos Alvarez Montero and his documentary work on transnational cholo subcultures, including his project "Covers (Adapt & Adopt)." Questions focused on Alvarez's "M of Michoacan" photo series, documenting migrants who return to Mexico after absorbing classical urban Chicano dress from the North. "How do you approach them?" came a question, regarding the photographer's practice.
Carlos said it's fairly easy getting cholos or other subcultural adherents to agree to have their photo taken. When people consciously adopt a certain set of dress codes, merging and mixing them, they're looking to be documented. It's the point, he said. "It's vanity."
* Keep up with the invited blogs and the main Postopolis page for all the updates. Intersections updates again on Friday.
** Post updated.
The signing of SB1070 in Arizona has sparked a wave of negative reaction across the United States and across the political spectrum, from Barack Obama on down. There are numerous calls for a boycott of the state, a pledge against the law for people of faith, and a statement from the Major League Baseball players association condemning SB1070.
Some high school seniors are now deciding against going to college in Arizona. One comment on the New York Times blog post on the topic struck me as particularly intelligent, and hinting at the root of African American disdain for SB1070.
Barbara, a Duke alumnus, writes:
When I was a student at Duke there were many male African-American students who felt like they were being profiled because of the relatively high rate of crime on campus, and the fact that a disproportionate amount of it was attributable to young black men in the community. In some cases students were held even after they proved they were students. It made their college experience a lot worse than if they gone elsewhere. It's a legitimate consideration.
It's not that I don't understand that border states face special challenges and find the lack of progress frustrating, or that I don't agree that Mexico has long shown lack of inclination to face its social problems because it has a safety valve next door -- I share those concerns. But there is simply no way to enforce this law without targeting Hispanics. I don't care if that was the intent or not, it is almost certainly going to be its practical effect.
Indeed, history runs in cycles, and the U.S. has seen far too many discriminatory and hateful laws or practices that have targeted and abused African Americans for generations. Yes, we know that African American anxiety about Latino immigration to the U.S. exists, and exists widely. But Arizona's new law burns at the boundaries of our notions of justice and fair treatment under the law, which assaults any reasonable person's sense of decency -- regardless of color.
This is why so many prominent black Americans and black organizations are standing up against SB1070. At the top of the pack, for pure inspiration, is Chuck D, the former frontman of Public Enemy, who released a special track against the bill called "Tear Down That Wall." (Public Enemy, of course, has a track that has gone after politics in Arizona before.)
Here's a summary of my response to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signing on Friday a monumentally degrading anti-illegal immigrant bill: So stupid.
SB1070 is not some kind of anomaly. Rabidly reactionary anti-immigrant bills pop up across the country and even in Congress. Remember what happened after HR 4437, the so-called Sensenbrenner bill? Massive, massive demonstrations of millions upon millions in cities and towns across the great United States -- the political awakening for scores of immigrants and their families.
HR 4437 subsequently died, and four years later, the demonstrations continue.
Could SB1070 beget the same future for Arizona? We'll find out if the good citizens of the state and its neighboring entities heed the call of Zach de la Rocha, and move upon the state capitol on Sunday to express their displeasure with Brewer and the Arizona legislature.
Rage against the machine, indeed.
* All posts in Immigration.
Above, an image by Frank Espinosa, author of the award-winning Rocketo comic book series. Espinosa has designed for Disney and Warner Bros., and teachers Character and World Design at MIT. He is among the invited speakers at "¿Que hay de nuevo? New Latino Discourses" this Friday at UC Santa Cruz. The symposium is organized by the Latino Literary Cultures Project, headed by professor Kirsten Silva Gruesz.
We'll be breaking down comics, blogging, hypertext literature, and Spanish-language radio, all 'new' or newly rendered frontiers in Latino literary production in the United States.
A 'systems architect and biomedical mathematician,' Juan B. Gutierrez will address the subject of "The Triumph of the Giant Deaf Ear: How New Media is Changing Literary Practice." Dolores Ines Castillo, an assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara, will discuss Spanish-language radio with the talk, "House Calls: US Spanish-language Radio and the Politics of Health."
I'll be discussing Intersections and the topic of "Bending Geographies: Blogging from Far and Near." I often post about topics or stories occurring in other parts of the world or within my personal geography but while I am not physically present. Why and how are the questions at hand.
Tonight, at Imix Bookstore, an independent bilingual bookstore and gallery in the Eagle Rock hood of Los Angeles, I'm excited to accept an invitation to speak and read, and see faces from the old community. Here is the Facebook event page. Now ... what should we do after??? Dub Club?
* Both events are free and open to the general public. Posting returns on Sunday.
* Above, the subjects, from afar, in an apparent dining ritual. Via LAist.
The Entryway is an online project created by two aspiring journalists -- "maybe the whitest people we know" -- who move into a crowded immigrant household in Los Angeles to learn Spanish, so that they can, eventually, better report on their city. It's getting wonderfully fawning feedback so far, and hopes to raise $3,240 to keep going.
Kara Mears takes photos and Devin Browne writes and designs the entries, which are published sort of like a diary, with words and phrases alternating between large and small typeface. The first thing we learn about the young women, in their opening entry, is that they chose their family after an apparently grueling two years of searching because -- unlike other houses in MacArthur Park, I guess -- "This family cares about cleanliness. They cannot live with bedbugs."
There's a sign about cleanliness on the wall. "The sign in the bathroom made me feel better," Devin writes.
We learn nothing else in the first entry about Juan and Maria, the immigrant hosts, other than their home is in fact infested with cockroaches, and that maybe Kara 'shouldn't have brought her other boots.' From there on, nothing about where everyone is specifically from, why and how they moved to the United States, how they make money, how they survive, and, most crucially, the underlying forces that cause migration, poverty, and social marginalization.
You know, the stuff of journalism. But The Entryway, I figured out upon quickly consuming the entire site, isn't a journalism effort. The authors are wasting an incredible journalistic opportunity, in the service of their own vanity.
Last Tuesday I moderated the Q&A with Cheech Marin at the Guadalajara screening of his greatest hit, "Born in East L.A." A lot of pochos living south showed up. They asked Marin how he view Tijuana, and asked about the future of Mexican American film, why there's so little still. Cheech's response was, given the demographic shifts happening in the U.S., "It's gonna change no matter what."
"Born in East L.A.," which Marin wrote and directed, remains the model, I think -- along with Luis Valdez's "La Bamba" and "Zoot Suit." I remember going to see the film at the drive-in theater in Imperial Beach with the whole family, and experiencing such a thrill even at six years old to see people like us, and places we knew, on the big screen.
At the Q&A, Marin told us that the inspiration for the film was a small news story he had read about an L.A. boy who had been wrongly deported to Tijuana. I mentioned to him afterward that incidents like that still happen. Off this case, I wrote a long feature for LA Weekly about Pedro Guzman, the Lancaster man wrongly deported from the L.A. County jail system in summer 2007. Guzman was eventually reunited with his family.
Above, the 'Waas Sappening' scene from "Born in East L.A."
Above, a moving talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie at TED on the dangers of the "single story." Adichie helps illustrate her point by describing a visit to Guadalajara from the U.S. and being surprised -- and then shamed -- to see people "going to work, smoking, laughing." She had succumbed to the American "single story" on Mexico.
"I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind, the abject immigrant," Adichie says. "I had bought into the single story of Mexicans."
Her anecdote about 'American Psycho' is also very good.
* Thank you, John M.
Or, at least a lot of us hope. We can't emphasize enough the significance of Lou Dobb's abrupt departure from CNN yesterday. For years he had used the powerful platform of cable news to spread lies, distortions, and hate against millions of people living and work in the United States, sometimes leading to murderous results.
He pressed the bogus theory that President Barack Obama was not born a U.S. citizen. He completely made up some crap about illegal immigrants bringing a wave of leprosy -- yes, leprosy -- to the United States. And he almost called former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a "cotton-pickin' ..." before stopping himself.
In short, Lou Dobbs is a disgraceful excuse for a journalist and probably a weasel of a man. Almost more shameful is how long it took CNN to show him the door. In the U.K., they just had an intense debate over even allowing a known racist-extremist to speak on the BBC. In the United States, the racist-extremists have their own nightly news programs.
Cheers are in order for the people behind the 'Basta Dobbs' campaign at Presente.org. The end of 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' can accurately be described as grassroots activism gold.
Is Glenn Beck next?
They are remarkable images.
What moves me so much about this man's history, looking past the failures and errors, is how deeply he and his brothers John and Bobby were committed to the civil rights struggles of their times. Without hesitation, without equivocation, they advocated for minorities and marginalized groups so far and distant from their own wealthy New England heritage, until the very end. It is as though these siblings saw it as an American imperative to do the work of social justice far and wide.
And Teddy, by his sheer longevity, did so the most.
Latinos and Mexican Americans have always had a way of saying that the Kennedys are "one of us." I am reaffirming that idea today with the help of Cindy Casares, who has detailed "Ten Things Ted Kennedy Did For Latinos." Among other things, Ted was a true champion of humane immigration reform, speaking to a multitude of marchers on the Mall in Washington at the height of the immigrant rights movement in 2006. Simply put, he believed that immigrants to the United States deserve a dignified doorway into the fabric of the nation, first and foremost, as a matter of principle -- which is more than we can say at the moment for our current president and his cabinet.
Listen to the crowd roar at the beginning of that clip; it's electrifying.
Day of the Dead 2009 is thus dedicated. ¡Viva Kennedy!
Why is Mexico rarely invited to the world dialogue? Why are its challenges and triumphs rarely considered "universal"? Why is Mexico never grouped as "Western," or as belonging to "the West"? (Nevermind that William S. Burroughs tossed out in his novel "Queer" the idea that Mexico is "basically an Oriental culture.")
Claudio Lomnitz argues that this historical curiosity comes partly from a domestic source. Mexican intellectuals "fetishize" their national problems, or Great National Problems, Lomnitz says, and thus remain passive participants in the evolution of world history, unable to see connectivity to issues beyond their own borders.
This creates a bunch of black holes. Sort of like how in children's books on the great civilizations of antiquity, Persia, China, Greece, Rome are all there, as our rational ancestors, but Mexico is usually absent. Now apply that same basic abstract to globalization, or even the War on Drugs. Then take it anywhere you want. The yawning absence of immigrants -- those who abandoned the nation -- in Mexico's political and cultural life, for instance.
From Lomnitz's introduction to "Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico":
Mexican-born Lomnitz is a professor of history and anthropology at Columbia University. He is the gifted author of "Death and the Idea of Mexico," a book that is a providing a strong theoretical basis for portions of my own upcoming book.
How is that going? My editor has returned my foreword and first four chapters, with line edits. The hardest part is yet to come. But, taking a plunge, I am willing to now disclose my working title.
The book is called "The Lake of Fire." ... And, line edits terrify me.
BLOG NOTE: Intersections now goes dark for 15 days. You can still follow my link-sharing and observations on Twitter and Facebook. I also edit the Mexico page for The Faster Times. TFT is an interesting new experiment in online journalism at a time when the only unifying characteristics of our practice are experimentation and that great black void of an uncertain future.
"Our government's approach to this issue will not come from simply a military outlook on how to deal with drugs," Congressman Xavier Becerra said in a one-on-one interview with me in Mexico City on Thursday. "I think you're going to see an effort to invest in the people of Mexico so that they will be able to work their way out of poverty, which will give them other alternatives than to turn to the easy course of helping the narco traffickers."
"But you gotta recognize and acknowledge," the L.A. Congressman added. "That part of this problem is ... violent."
Becerra spoke with me at the Marriott Hotel in Polanco before the gala dinner that Felipe Calderón hosted for his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. He was among a small group of Congressmen whom the president invited on his trip to Mexico and Trinidad, serving as a surrogate face and voice for the White House as Obama prepares to push for immigration reform and a new and different relationship with Mexico.
Listen to my interview with Becerra on Friday's program of Free Speech Radio News on the Pacifica network. Among the questions I posed: What can Mexicans expect from the new immigration reform efforts? Is legalization of certain narcotics an answer? Should the U.S. bear responsibility for ensuring the human and economic rights of Mexicans and Mexican immigrants? The whole audio clip is linked after the jump
Yesterday's visit to Mexico by Obama was short on specific points of progress (the new ambassador was not named, for instance) but heavy on historic symbolism.