Allow me to invite you on a journey. Travel with me through the pluricultural terrain of Mexico and seek out encounters with writers, storytellers and poets. We’ll travel from encounter to encounter: each will lead to the next. Some of them might be coincidental: people we meet along the way. Others will be by recommendation or previous friendship. You’re interested? Great.
You could hardly have chosen a better place than Mexico. On the national territory you have 68 indigenous languages and of course, Spanish. Many regions maintain specific cultural characteristics. Rural and urban cultures are very distinct. Mexico City shelters under its dome of smog a vast array of barrio cultures, migratory cultures from the different regions of the country, the cultures of exile that came with the refugees from Fascist Europe and from the dictatorships of the Southern Cone, and the cultures of all those who came from somewhere else and could no longer spare the loving embrace of the Monster (the nickname of this city).
Mexico is also home to different cultures and arts of commitment. There is, for one, the official culture of the PRI, the party that governed Mexico after the Revolution until 2000 and then again since 2012. There are rural cultures of resistance, linked to the struggles for land personified by Emiliano Zapata. There are the books, songs and poems from and on the student movement of 1968 and the massacre of Tlatelolco, and on the guerrilla struggles of the 1970s and their brutal repression by State terrorism; the counter-hegemonic underground everyday popular culture of Mexico City; the culture surrounding the Zapatista movement; and many more.
Is this starting to sound a little complex? Good.
Don’t forget that this is the terrain on the American continent where the Spanish conquerors and the indigenous peoples first encountered each other. The coast of Mexico near Veracruz is the place from where genocide started to spread across the continent, after the islands had already been devastated. This term ‘encounter’ isn’t as innocent as it may sound. Tzvetan Todorov wrote that this historical encounter was the beginning of ‘the dreadful concatenation’: understanding – possession – destruction.
So we have to create a different type of ‘encounter.’ One that gives you the liberty to be aware of your baggage. To dislocate yourself, to step into unknown territory, make yourself vulnerable to the care of an Other. I’d love to be able to physically dislocate you, so that you could live such an encounter with all your senses.
Unfortunately this isn’t possible. Not considering the kind of places we might be traveling to. We might not always have an internet connection, or electricity. And if you lose your internet connection and there’s no electricity supply when your laptop batteries run out, then I’d lose you. Or maybe I’d get you so hooked that you try to read this blog on your smartphone or tablet while you’re dancing through Mexico City* and you miss a step – and there the tablet goes flying, it bounces off the helmet of the poet Rodrigo Solís who happens to be cycling by, and slides straight underneath the right front wheel of the taxi involved in that accident that Rodrigo was writing about in his chronicle Kleto – and I lose you!
(Don’t look so incredulous. I’m not telling you stories. Almost anything is possible here.)
Anyway. This kind of encounter you can’t ‘turistear.’ ‘Turistear’ is a Mexican word and it is the verb for being a tourist-visitor. The type of tourist who is in love with his or her return ticket. So no, I’m not taking you to turistear. If you want to visit the museums and the beaches then that’s very well and well worth it and you can buy yourself a ticket for the turibus and I’m sure you’ll find a guide who you can pay. But you’ll have to go there without me. The journey I’m inviting you on, is one that takes you to encounters with people who write and speak from the intersections of pain and hope, from the basement of the forgotten where they have great conversations, from the dark side illuminated by the new words they find so that they can share the un-sayable, from the places where they share silence so that they can listen intently, from the Invisible where you can expand your conception of the Possible.
Before I take you on this journey I need to talk to you about one more issue, related to the way we’ll travel. I need to talk to you about cotton wool, conversation, and consolation.
Are you still interested? I hope so. Welcome again!
This was your introduction. Now you have to take the first step.
*Walking through Mexico City is like dancing with strangers, or on your own. It’s to do with the number of people you’re sharing these sidewalks with, and with the surfaces you’re stepping on. You need to place your feet differently in order not to stumble. It’s like learning how to walk to a collective, spontaneously emerging rhythm.