krys méndez ramírez

Archive for the ‘Geography/ Spatial Justice’ Category

a nyc series of moments

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, History on September 11, 2015 at 6:31 PM
(Left to right) Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens from the Pulaski Bridge. c. 2007

(Left to right) A sliver of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens from the Pulaski Bridge. c. 2007

Here’s a story few people know about me: My origin story lies in the Twin Towers.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t be here sharing this were it not for those drab, staples-like towers that rose into the sky like drab metallic beams.

For about a quarter century, during the span of the Towers’ very existence, my father drudged through the evening shift as a maintenance worker. His job was something of a rarity in contemporary times: a unionized job with benefits. During those years, he swept, mopped, organized and took out the thrash for America’s top financial elite.

But my New York roots really begin in the island of Borinquen (Puerto Rico). It was in his early teens, in those burning years of the late ’60s, that he joined the declining end of a massive wave of Boricua migrants that re-settled into, and helped shape, the many neighborhoods that make up Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.

Since history has a way of being forgotten or deliberately suppressed, and individual stories decoupled from the social contexts from which they emerge in our neoliberal age, I feel it necessary to underscore a particular history, which I argue has everything to do with what the World Trade Center was, how it functioned and why.


 

Viejo San Juan narrow cobblestone street

Viejo San Juan. Dec 2011.

Per many historians, critics, and activist scholars, the Puerto Rican diaspora to Gotham was far from incidental.

Pushed, in great part, by the economic failures of the Operation Bootstrap—a mid-century program that failed to produce the sought after industrialization-cum-prosperity in the island nation—as well as a much longer legacy of exploitative, colonial American policies tracing as far back as the island’s takeover in 1898*, the “invisible hand” that thrust many island Black and Brown folks into New York was far from an abstract market mechanism.

It had everything to do with post-war American global dominance and a prevailing Keynesian economy where suburbanization, white flight and systems of mass production fueled demands for cheap, disposable labor. Black and Brown poverty was the hidden, ignored underside to the glossy triumphalism of cultural modernism and industrial production.

By becoming the first substantial population of Latinxs to permanently reside in New York City, puertorriqueñxs ultimately built the foundations of Latinx urban life not only in the ‘Empire State, but across the country for generations to come.


Morazán Boulevard in San Pedro Sula. July 2014.

Morazán Boulevard in San Pedro Sula. July 2014.

Fast-forward to the (in)famous 1980s, when my genes were still split between a sperm and an egg. I can only speak of this decade as a distant historian (too bad, since I feel like I missed out), but when it comes to making sense of the political economic life of the United States in broad strokes, it can more or less be summarized as:

Reagan and Thatcher ruling the world. Perestroika, glasnost, and the final decade of the Cold War. The neoliberal turn. The AIDS crisis. The crack cocaine crisis. The war on drugs. The beginnings of mass incarceration. The beginnings of neoliberal gentrification. The beginnings of ‘colorblind’ liberal multiculturalism and the ‘new’ white supremacy. Rampant poverty and stunning inequality. Privatization, union busting and across-the-board cuts on state social spending. The demonization of “welfare moms,” urban “thugs,” “hood rats” and “bums.” Flashy Porsches and BMW’s for Wall Street and real estate gremlins, graffiti and scratchitti for everyone else.

And then, of course, the Central American crisis.

As various political economists, historians, and geographers have commented, the 1980’s were a time of financial experimentation and speculation. When our infamous Wall Street gremlins couldn’t figure out where to invest—now that Americans were faced with a crisis of overproduction that was viscerally felt in the decade prior—their decision to invest in foreign countries led to massive, cross-border state destabilizations.

When the civil wars in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador broke out, there was a common theme: the extreme inequalities engineered by years of local coffee oligarchies and foreign imperialist exploitation were countered with revolutionary resistance , however flawed. In that volatile chess game that was the Cold War, Central Americans were just pawns with a refutable humanity.

My mother was just one person in that mass exodus from this other part of the Caribbean Basin at the time. Unlike much of the approximately 62% of Central Americans suffering from ‘extreme’ poverty in the mid-1980s, she had sufficient resources to flee her native San Pedro Sula, the industrial capital of Honduras, the quintessential “banana republic.”

She left not because she was fleeing U.S.-trained paramilitary and counterinsurgency troops, or Maoist-Leninist guerrilla fighters, as many did in those years.

She left for the same reason migration perseveres as a forefront issue today, deeply enveloped within the discourses of the homeland defense: economic security.

She left because the economic situation in San Pedro Sula was simply impossible.

She explained it very succinctly to me recently: her job as a secretary gave her 400 lempiras a month in 1981—something tantamount to $20 in today’s exchange rates—and it was simply not enough to support herself, much less her aging parents.

Young, able-bodied, adventurous, with money saved up and a loose connection to a cousin in Brooklyn, why wouldn’t she go?


There is a picture of my Honduran abuelita sitting by this "Sphere," when it was still between the Twin Towers

There is a picture of my Honduran abuelita sitting by this “Sphere,” when it was still between the Twin Towers

Moving to New York, like for most immigrants who come here, was a pivotal life decision. She lived alone in New York City at a time it was undergoing what historian Kim Moody has called a regime change, a financial “coup” that emerged in the aftermath of the city’s near-bankruptcy the decade prior.

As Moody explains it, it was a city on the road to achieving its self-proclaimed status as the “real estate capital of the world.” And yet, like most of the over 8 million people who live in the city today, she wouldn’t have time to take note of that.

Wracked by loneliness and self-doubt, my mother wondered if moving to a city where she didn’t know the language was worth it. The calls to her mother required a good deal of psychic preparation, but disguising her New York discomfort was made easier by the money she could confidently send back home.

But between the late work shifts, the long commutes, she would sometimes look up. There were no stars. Skyscrapers were coming up everywhere. People would not stop hitting the streets, although at night they darted like shadows.

It’s a city whose transformations can be multiplicative, but it’s a city nonetheless. Cities are not built overnight, and pre-9/11, rarely changed from one day to the next. Like another, it continues to transform itself in an image cast by the movement and accumulation of capital—people, money, equipment, ideas, resources—and, as such, the changes can be slow and painful.

In 1983, however, it was clear that the city survived its financial doomsday. Some were even suggesting that it was thriving. And the Twin Towers still rose resplendent in the New York skyline, as if to obnoxiously proclaim the glowing triumph of a particular type of world trade. Still in Brooklyn, my father was one of the lucky ones spared from the economic calamities that struck many of his high school friends and family back home.

At this point, he had been working at World Trace Center 2 for almost ten years, which is where my mother found him. She had just finished an errand that took her downtown, and as she rushed home, somewhat lost and befuddled in that pedestrian traffic, she realized she didn’t have her watch. She asked the first staff person she found who looked like a Spanish speaker.


And that was that. I’m not much for personalized sentimentalism, so I’ll just say this: it was just another New York City moment. A cosmic convergence of sorts. Maybe.

Coming back to New York this week after a year-long hiatus, it was strangely like old times: my family and me hanging out by the World Trade Center, complaining about the tourists.

Then things started hitting me in the head like meteor shows, or what could have just been falling New York debris, I’m not sure: I am ontologically bound to this city because I could not have been any other way.

It also helps me understand why I am so driven to borders, the borderlands: I live, breathe, thrive at the crossroads. I am not whole when I am segmented into pieces that are then marketed and sold like tchatchkes on Union Square.

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Krys in Cabo Rojo, serenely smiling at a precipice at the southwest corner of Borinquén. Jan 2017.

I was incredibly exhausted from my long flight from the West Coast, but it kind of hit there as I tried to process the changes: it’s ground zero, stupid.

It’s where space-time contorts in ways my puny human brain will never understand, largely because it’s like approaching the event horizon of a vortex where multiple dimensions, histories and geographies converge…A surreal Dalí-esque world where clocks and maps collide and collapse into and around each other, fusing and melting under the star-lit Mayan sky.

An assemblage of different parts of my personal narrative, twisted and turned into a kaledeiscopic tapestry: Moca. The ’80s. Brooklyn. The ’90s. San Pedro. The “aughts.” San Diego. The present.

And then, of course, the future.

 

Originally posted Sep 11 2015. Edited May 5 2018.

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Alienating Geographies: Reflections on Suburban Southern California and ‘America’s Finest City’

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Latin@ Politics, Philosophical Musings, Racial Politics on August 31, 2015 at 12:10 AM

When I made the decision to leave New York, I wanted to test a hypothesis: does geography play a role in one’s happiness?

If I had to describe it in a few words, I’d say that the motivation to leave Gotham was based on a multi-layered amalgam of ambivalent feelings, much of which was deeply embedded in urban alienation.

Like many New Yorkers, I had a bipolar love-hate relationship with the place: it never felt like a unitary totality that could ever be home in a traditional sense. A city in constant metamorphosis, it can be home one day and someone else’s turf the next.

In my case, my impetus to leave Gotham was driven in large part by a need to un-jade myself—that is, to keep myself from falling further along this precipitous decline I felt myself on, one that felt like a free fall towards the inevitable end of the “jaded old queen.”

Another reason was existential. I developed my roots in Brooklyn, and as much as I came to love my cosmopolitan, working-class immigrant neighborhood, I also had a profound sense of what it meant to live in a truly fragmented and atomized neoliberal playground–one where the constant battle for space and time lent itself to a paradoxical sense of loneliness amid human congestion. My ties to family and home were both strange and estranged.

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Mural in Sunset Park, Brooklyn


I can’t think of my years of experience in New York now without recalling sociologist Georg Simmel’s classic essay, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903), in which he links the overstimulation of the built environment with the “blasé attitude” of the metropolitan human.

Similarly, I conjure up the characterizations of heartache and existential turmoil that afflicted the black protagonists of Richard Wright and James Baldwin, both of whom wrote beautifully at length about structural oppression and alienation in the big city of late capitalism.

As the queer, bookish son of two, working-class immigrant parents, witnessing the enigmatic health complications of my brothers, and personally living through the nightmarish consequences of autoimmunity and the cold indifference of the biomedical industrial complex, the urban terrain acquired a distinct set of meanings for me.

While I had numerous positive coming-of-age experiences in Brooklyn, it almost feels redundant to say that painful memories became etched into the physical environment as well.

A multidimensional mental map of the city is littered as much with tokens of joyful, ecstatic and almost-sublime experiences as it is with recollections of the solitary long walks, the spells of disappointment and wistful yearnings.

A quarter century of existence is legible in landmarks and streets: The overshadowed, gray-and-yellow playground under the Gowanus Expressway; the sooty, humid 59th St Subway Station in south Brooklyn; the silver, razor-like currents of the Hudson from a Battery Park City bench; the giant, moveable black cube on Astor Place near an old workplace; the striking emptiness of the Christopher St. Pier on a very cold, winter morning.


Two memories jump out at me as I think of my motivations for considering leaving.

The first was seemingly rather innocuous: a date with a friend to catch up. My friend invited me to a fundraiser for an organization that we both had ties with, an organization with unique, well-articulated politics that engaged queer youth of color around issues like gentrification.

As it turned out, the fundraiser was directed at alumni (such as myself) and our social networks, and it was taking place at a rooftop bar in downtown Brooklyn I had never heard of.

Unexpectedly, this time with my friend ended up sparking unease as I found myself surrounded by a conspicuously, upwardly-mobile coterie of queer men of color and white “allies.”

The surrealness of the experience was highlighted by the fact that I was at a rooftop bar—something unheard of during my many years in Brooklyn—and my disgust that evening in the gay meat market showroom.

More alienating than that, however, was the larger environment that surrounded us: a 360° panoramic view of downtown Brooklyn. To be sure, all those years of living here had never given me this level of access–the opportunity to see my home turf from an eagle-eye vantage point.

All around me were reminders of the changing topography of an early twenty-first century neoliberal city—an ever-emergent, postmodern cityscape. An insidiously spatial warzone.

Having spent my freshman year of high school near downtown Brooklyn, the micro-level changes were all-too-dramatic: a spate of new high-rises (including the development of Brooklyn’s then-tallest building, the Brooklyner), the mammoth Barclay’s Center, countless ritzy restaurants and bars, and in the distance, the multi-million-dollar Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Brownstones in my old neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. How has the brownstone come to represent a certain urban lifestyle? And who has access to it?

Brownstones in my old neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. How has the brownstone come to represent a certain urban lifestyle? And who has access to it?

The second memory is rooted in a more sweeping experience of the city at the ground level.

It was the archetypal overcast, gray, late fall day, and an unhappy line-up of medical, personal, and work-related appointments forced me to make pit stops in four boroughs (and Long Island) within a short time period.

Driving around the traffic-clogged Belt Parkway became stressful not because I was running late all day, but because sitting for hours in a mobile, metal capsule forced me to marinate in melancholic memories.

As I drove all around the city, I was bombarded with movie reel-like scenes for each passing landmark and place.

I tried to hold it in, to think positively of what was to come, but it jumped out from an invisible crevice inside of me: so many memories


Now that I’ve lived in “America’s Finest City” for a full year, I’ve been given a number of things to think about.

As one can guess, it is much more complicated than a “thumbs up, thumbs down” evaluation of San Diego. But my situation has forced me to pause and consider how multiple layers of alienation can operate socially and spatially.

There’s suburban alienation. Academic alienation. The geographic alienation of living far from community.

Being economically compelled to live in the cheap graduate housing that lies within the super-wealthy, super-white neighborhood in which UCSD is situated—La Jolla—my life is more than just physically situated in a borderlands space.

It is filled with stentorian, everyday reminders of where I am, a fact that was striking during my first month in which I felt I was experiencing in La Jolla a selectively orchestrated bundle of the worst, Hollywood-infused stereotypes of southern California: suburban cul-de-sacs with breathtaking ocean or canyon views; limitless, box-model shopping malls and plazas that house uniform chain stores, cafés, and restaurants; a hegemonic car culture that reproduces (sub)urban sprawl; and a prevailing cult of self-fixated bodily perfection centered around the “beach body.”

A different kind of geography: A typical La Jolla intersection.

A different kind of geography: A typical La Jolla intersection.

As I understand it, the hyper-individualistic consumption ethos that is both cause and effect of this catastrophe is intimately intertwined with a long history of white supremacist dominion over colonized space.

I’m learning, through one of the most extreme examples possible, what it means to exist in  the hyperreal space of suburban hell (something I see as linked to contemporary neoliberal gentrification for numerous reasons).

It is this notion of owning or occupying a private space of “your own,” the emphatic American ideal of home ownership, that marks what race scholar George Lipsitz calls the ‘possessive investment in whiteness.”

It is an investment that produces clear spatial consequences: gated communities on one end, criminalized black and brown communities on the other. As we see in cities around the world, these ‘othered’ urban spaces are increasingly targeted as domestic threats under national security policing.

The surrealness of having been transplanted from the Brooklyn barrio to this ultra-ritzy beachside suburbia is one that never escapes me, for I am constantly reminded of the ways in which I don’t belong.

For instance, my beat-up, used 2001 Honda Civic garners the attention of police in a neighborhood where new sports cars and militarized BMW’s are the norm. (To say nothing of my first six, car-less months, during which I experienced street harassment simply for waiting at a bus stop or walking on the sidewalk.)

In a similar vein, as a low-income graduate student paradoxically living in an affluent area, I frustratingly find that my nearest options for food and services (like haircuts) are incredibly overpriced.

The signs are both subtle and not-so-subtle. The environment makes it clear that I don’t belong here.


Whether we speak of suburban, academic, or neoliberal alienation, the same holds true with respect to geography: spaces can become alienating and confining, even carceral, in the absence of community and genuine social ties.

If there is something that my experience has foregrounded, it’s the nature of the way postmodern geographies can be alienating and surreal in numerous ways: whether it takes a cosmopolitan, suburban or exurban form, there are simply exponential ways in which one can feel excluded and distanced.

It is a reality that also brings me backs to my former ethical reflections on resistance vs. acceptance: Up to what point should we continue to fight to shape our local spaces, fight to build and sustain geographies of radical democracy and freedom? Fight for our right  to mold liberatory spaces that align with the needs and interests of our communities and local environments? Fight for our right to the city?

On the other hand, at what point must the atomized self relinquish designs on radical reconstruction of space in order to seek out a path of radical acceptance (if such a thing is even possible)?

Not to be confused, this is not a question of accepting or submitting to injustice or geographies of domination. It’s about acknowledging that many of my issues may not be resolved simply by moving from one geography to another; it may actually be about transforming my perception and relationship to the cities I live in. Being able to find joy and serenity even within the most distant and ‘alienated’ of places.

This leads me to a final question: Can one find home anywhere?

If a homeland can’t be reclaimed in a physical geography, how useful and necessary is it to search for home internally–be it mentally, spiritually, or psychically?

To seek, in other words–in the tackiest of terms–a home at heart?

Going to the Southern Mexican Border

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, The Revolution on June 6, 2015 at 11:38 PM

Long thought of as the “forgotten” border, the political division between Mexico and Central America is about a 714 mi (1149km) stretch of mostly sparsely populated land—about a third the size of the more (in)famous northern border.

About three-quarters of the southern border is shared with Guatemala, and the highest percentage of that is shared with Chiapas specifically.

For a good part of this month (June 2015), I’ll be staying in the border city of Tapachula to study both the militarization of the border and its impact on this growing city. Located in the incredibly fertile Soconusco region along the Pacific Ocean, Tapachula is the largest city in the border zone, and is currently the second largest city of Chiapas (after that state’s capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez).

Some other facts and figures relating to Tapachula, Chiapas, and the militarization of the southern border:

Central American Migration

  • Over a century of U.S. imperialism in Central America, a brutal period of civil wars in the 1980s, and a continued legacy of government corruption in the region’s Northern Triangle (as witnessed by this year’s large mobilizations in Guatemala and Honduras), continues to prop a humanitarian crisis whose roots are left untouched on all sides of national borders.
  • The most-trafficked route for Central American migrants on their way through México has historically begun in Tapachula. (This was highlighted in the acclaimed film about the treacherous northward journey, Sin Nombre (2009).)

Mexico’s Involvement

  • Tapachula has the notorious distinction of being home to Latin America’s largest detention facility—the euphemistically-named Estación Migratoria Siglo XXI (“21st Century Immigration Station”).
  • While Chiapas isn’t new to militarization—as those who are familiar with the Zapatista revolution are very much aware—the focus on the southern border has resulted in an increase in the number of checkpoints and roadblocks with a concomitant rise in human rights abuses.
  • Last year (2014), Mexican president Peña Nieto launched the Programa Frontera Sur –a program purportedly aimed at “protecting” migrants and boosting security that has, in actuality, has done little more than increase migrant “huntings” and deportations.[i]
  • According to a report released by the NGO Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Chiapas was the Mexican state with the largest number of deportations in 2013 (32,452)[ii]. This has likely increased by several thousands since since the start of the Frontera Sur program.[iii]

United States’ Involvement

  • Responding to the growing number of Central American migrants, the U.S. Department of Defense quietly launched a “Mexico-Guatemala-Belize Border Region Program,” with as much as $50 million of counter-drug money being spent on “patrol boats, night vision equipment, communications equipment, maritime sensors, and associated training.” This is in addition to the billions already funneled to the Mexican government since 2008 by way of the Mérida Initiative[iv].
  • WOLA’s report also details how the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds an office in Tapachula, supposedly “to build capacity in the identification of aliens from countries of national security concern.”
An image of the Usumacinta River, between Chiapas and Guatemala. Photo by thelmadatter http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Thelmadatter Licensed under CC by 3.0

An image of the Usumacinta River, between Chiapas and Guatemala. Photo by thelmadatter Licensed under CC by 3.0

[i] http://www.animalpolitico.com/2015/04/programa-frontera-sur-el-discurso-de-derechos-humanos-con-el-que-mexico-caza-a-miles-de-migrantes/

[ii] Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 2014: http://www.wola.org/publications/mexicos_other_border

[iii] http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-migrants-crackdown-20140907-story.html#page=1

[iv] Federation of American Scientists, 2015: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41349.pdf

Searching for Meaning in the Borderlands

In Creative Writing, Geography/ Spatial Justice on February 14, 2015 at 6:00 AM

Five months after taking the plunge that landed me on the other side of the country, here I am: a newly-minted academic in a place that, for all intents and purposes, is diametrically opposite that of my Brooklyn barrio.

I live in what can be described as an intersection between a large public housing structure dressed in light brown and yellow hues, and a prototypical, suburban cul-de-sac overlooking undeveloped valleys and chaparral. The view outside my building itself suggests the nature of this place: nothing but the ever-busy I-5, a six-story parking structure, and five- and four-star hotels are in view.

La Jolla may as well be as far away from Sunset Park, Brooklyn as Pluto is from Mars. In a time and place wherein U.S. cities are witnessing the invasions of all forms of gentrifiers and speculative capital, and wherein the suburbanization of poverty has reconfigured the age-old dynamics of urban space and race, La Jolla stands out like a relic of an artificial past—a stubborn bastion of old money and white supremacy in the borderlands.

Of course, when looking at the natural beauty that is La Jolla Shores, it isn’t surprising why the rich would choose to build their mansions here. But the irrepressible question: what is this place? Given the extreme artificiality of the landscape, a quiet cookie-cutter spread of white, beige, and yellow boxes, is this even a place at all?

La Jolla Shores

A view of La Jolla Shores

It’s been five months since I moved to San Diego to pursue a doctoral degree, and as usual, I’m at a loss for words. I came here to study space and race—and San Diego, for numerous obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, is a prime location for such research.

The military, the border, the shameless Anglo coloniality in former Mexican tierra that was itself stolen from the Kumeyaay. The wounds in this place are immeasurably layered. And when I think about the larger picture: really, what am I doing here?

What did the Universe have in mind in bringing me to such a place? Being an expat New Yorker wouldn’t be so freakin’ hard if I didn’t bring a chronic condition with me across country. Would it even be this hard had I come here with the security of at least a few close friendships?

But, no, I keep reminding myself—this was the point. The point was to start over. The point was to try living in a new space that wasn’t so indelibly branded with the knotty memories of twenty plus years, spread throughout the various nooks and crannies of a city at war.

So now I’m a transplant in another people’s land, another people’s city, and for what? What is my presence here accomplishing? Was I pushed by an ennui of “more of the same” in New York, or was I pulled in by relaxing promises of a city by the border? The question of agency, and displacement, never goes away.

I honestly don’t know how to approach these thorny questions other than to wrench agnosticism and humility and conscientiousness about where I stand. I feel clueless being so unanchored from place (by definition, a space imbued with cultural signifiers, with life and meaning).

Yet this experiment in graduate school placelessness–a feeling of zero gravity in a haze of detached theories–reminds me of why geography matters. Space and place matter. The land we occupy matters. And there are spatial epistemologies we have yet to illuminate.

But right now, I feel the intensity of this uprootedness and the swirl of possibilities.

Five months in, and still, I can’t decide what this place is to me.

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Sunset in La Jolla Cove

Between Light and Shadow: the last words of Subcomandante Marcos

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, The Revolution on May 26, 2014 at 4:44 PM

 

EZLNDelivering his “last words” on May 24th, 2014—more than 20 years after the Zapatistas first launched their counteroffensive against NAFTA-mediated neoliberalism—Subcomandante Marcos was indelibly poetic and forceful. I’m sure numerous articles analyzing the Zapatista spokesperson are forthcoming (not to mention the numerous misnomers, equivocations, and otherwise hostile corporate interpretations), but I couldn’t resist the urge to share his powerful speech. In it, he runs through themes of primal importance to revolutionary struggles today, as pertinent to indigenous survival as to the larger preservation of humanity.

Talking in the aftermath of the murder of Galeano, a Zapatista teacher killed by a state-infiltrated farm workers collective (Central Independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos Histórica, or CIOAC-H), he conjures up themes of memories, dreams, illusions, and holograms to discuss what is imminent in the struggle of La Realidad (“The Reality”), the telltale site of the murder. Speaking to the pain and rage of the loss of Galeano (as well as the loss of twenty years of Zapatista insurgency, and 500 years of indigenous resistance), his last words will likely leave an imprint as powerful as those of fallen revolutionaries like Malcolm X or Huey Newton.

Except that Subcomandante Marcos is an illusion. A hologram. A strategic fabrication. A spokesman placed before the media, a play of light and shade.

Speaking towards an audience of alternative media reporters, he talks about how indigenous leaders in Chiapas decided to construct the personage that became Subcomandante Marcos [self-translated; original transcript here; audio here]:

 

“Just days [after the initial uprising in January 1994], with the blood of our fallen still fresh along city streets, we realized that those on the outside didn’t see us. 

Accustomed to looking down on the indigenous, they didn’t look up to see us.

Accustomed to seeing us humiliated, their heart didn’t understand our dignified rebellion.

They focused, instead, on the only mestizo wearing a balaclava.

Our chiefs then said:“They only see things on their own level, as small as they are. Let’s put someone on their level so that they can see him and, through him, they can see us.”

Thus began a complex maneuver of distraction: a magic trick that was terrible and marvelous; a mischievous move the indigenous heart that we are: the indigenous wisdom defied modernity in one of its strongholds: the media.Thus began the construction of the character named “Marcos”.

I ask you to follow me in this reasoning:

Suppose there is another way neutralize a criminal. For example, creating his murder weapon; making him believe it is effective; order him to construct, on the basis of its effectiveness, his entire plan so that, in the moment in which he prepares to shoot it, the “weapon” turns back to what it always was: an illusion.

The entire system, but especially its media, play a game of building reputations only to destroy them if they don’t bend to their designs.

Their power resided (now no longer, as they’ve been displaced by social networks) in deciding who and what existed in the moment in which they chose who named and who silenced.

Anyway, do not pay me much attention, for as has been demonstrated in these 20 years, I know nothing of mass media.

The fact is that the SupMarcos went from being a spokesperson to being a distraction.

If the path of war–that is, of death–had taken us 10 years; that of life took longer and required more effort, not to mention blood.

Because, believe it or not, it is easier to die than to live.”

 

In speaking to the power of story-telling, illusions, and the violent coercive power of the statist, corporate media, Marcos—the hologram spokesman of the Zapatistas—deepens the linkage between hegemony (ideology) and material reality.

Undoubtedly, the media has long played an important role in projecting images and representations of the Zapatistas and their struggle against neoliberalism and State violence; many have even suggested that the survival of the indigenous rebellion in Chiapas necessitated something of a spectator “global civil society” (including its alternative media) to keep eyes on the State. Today, social media platforms are recent entrants to the mix of representation, helping project the voices of countless indigenous freedom fighters from Chiapas and beyond.

And at the crossroads of “vague geographies,” cyberspace, historical memory, and trans-generational story-telling, there arises in the physical death of Galeano the symbolic death of Marcos. The insurgency has decided that Marcos, the iconic image of the EZLN, had become obsolete:

“…we realized that there was now a generation that could look at us upfront, that could listen to us and speak to us without waiting for a guide or leadership, nor wanting submission nor following.

 Marcos, the personage, was no longer necessary.

The new stage in the Zapatista struggle was ready.”

 In its stead shall thrive the resurrected Subcomandante Galeano, who states after Marcos disappears: “Ah, so that’s why they said that when I’d be reborn, I would do so in the collective.”

Between Light and Shadow, Fantasy and Reality. A comrade dead, another resurrected.  ¡Pa’rriba Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano!

Voten Galeano Vive

Kristin Richardson Jordan

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Caroline's HSCT stem cell transplant for MS 2017

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Todd Miller

Todd will no longer be posting on this site. Please visit www.toddmillerwriter.com

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decolonize! towards local and global autonomy