Making it across the geo-political border doesn’t mean you’ve made it. In Documenting the Undocumented on Places, Taylor James and Adelheid Fischer find the end of the line for a number of “un-authorized border crossers.”
The public record of the Death Maps provides no detail about the private lives of its entrants. What hopes carried Claudia Patricia Oqunendo-Bedoya, Case Report 02-01321, into the desert inferno in August 2002 when she succumbed to “probable hyperthermia”? Just two days before Oqunendo-Bedoya’s remains were recovered, another crosser, Jaime Arteaga Alba, Case Report 02-01310, was riding in a vehicle that may have been taking him to his final destination: a job site in the U.S. Was he jubilant that he survived the grueling desert trek? Was he planning his new future when he was killed on August 8 in a highway accident?
Humane Borders gathers data each time a body is found, while the work of James (and Fischer, through this essay) attempts to humanize each loss.
At Pacific Standard, Sarah Menkedick profiles Vianney Bernabé, exploring what it means to be second-generation Mexican American today — a person with deep roots in Mexico and feet and future planted firmly in America. Educated, ambitious, and principled, Bernabé is destined for success. Menkedick posits that if America cannot reject this myopic resurgence of nativist (white) populism to embrace the skills and culture of Bernabé’s generation, it does so at its own peril.
Vianney embodies two fundamental American traditions: the dream of triumphing over adversity to achieve success, and its nightmare shadow of xenophobia, fear, and hatred.
What these young Latinos become will be determined not only by their own struggles and achievements, but also by the willingness of many Americans to rethink their fundamental conceptions of Americanness, to recognize the dangerous fiction of an essential, unchanging America defined solely by white culture.
Mexico gave Vianney what the United States could not: the ability to believe in herself. It did this not by granting her unequivocal acceptance or answering the persistent questions of belonging posed in the U.S., but by forcing her to come to terms with her ambivalence. It allowed her to acknowledge that she was American, but an American for whom Americanness did not mean unquestioning assimilation into white institutions, but solidarity with the many people excluded from these institutions. It granted her a new faith in herself in spite of the hatred and oppression. It familiarized her with in-betweenness, a state deeply and violently resisted in the U.S., where patriotism is feverish and flavorless, where you are with us or against us, where, at this moment in time, simply speaking Spanish or wearing a hijab is enough to elicit righteous white rage.
She returned to the United States in August of 2016, when the message being blared to Latinos was precisely the opposite: Not only were they not good enough, they were rapists, drug dealers, “bad hombres.” Vianney, with her hard-won confidence in herself, and her renewed commitment to help those left out of American progress, came home to the feverish chanting of Build the wall! Donald Trump’s victory in November — despite his losing the popular vote by a historic margin — has legitimized and strengthened a vision of the United States in which only white people belong and have ever belonged. The most popular, foundational myth of the United States as the land of freedom for the world’s oppressed has been eclipsed by the ever-present but thinly buried myth of white dominance and superiority.
Sixto testified that he had lived in the US since 1986. He owned a home and paid a mortgage of $812 a month. He owned a 2003 Chevy and a 2008 Dodge super-duty truck. He had a 401(k) plan worth about eight thousand dollars. He had about six hundred dollars in savings. He paid child support. He had studied English for eight months at a community college.
When asked by the court if he could find work in Mexico, Sixto testified that the roofing systems he installed and the building materials he used would not be available there. He did not think he could support his family. Sixto argued that the court should not underestimate the importance of a father to the lives of his children.
The court found that Sixto and his daughters provided credible testimony. It did not, however, conclude that his children would suffer “unconscionable” hardship should he be deported. The court denied Sixto’s application.
In March 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the court’s decision and gave Sixto sixty days to voluntarily leave the US.
Somewhere in Mexico, someone knows the answer to the question that drives Araceli García Luna day and night. The person or persons who know might be criminals or government officials—or both. The jagged beige mountains around the northern city of Monterrey, which hold so many horrible secrets, surely know. You would think, given the circumstances, that someone would help her find out.
Araceli lives in a small apartment on the outskirts of Mexico City. She gets up in the morning and goes to work in maintenance at a local middle school, the same job she’s had for 24 years. She comes home by 5 p.m. and stays there, with two of her grown children, her grandson, and a little frizzy-haired dog named Chiquitín. Araceli doesn’t go out anymore—not for events or unnecessary errands. Except that, once every few months, she packs her purse and a folder full of documents and travels 560 miles to Monterrey. She does this because Juan Lagunilla García is still missing. Because, though the authorities managed three times to find the elusive drug lord El Chapo, almost all of the 23,000 regular Mexicans disappeared in the drug wars remain unfound.
Araceli has made the journey more than thirty times since the first trip in October 2011, the night I met her. And she will keep doing it without fail until she gets an answer to her question: “Where is my son?”Read more…
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico was once known as the global murder capital. It’s no longer the world’s most dangerous city, but violence still haunts the town just over the border from El Paso, Texas. Alice Driver, a filmmaker, writer and photographer whose work focuses on human rights, feminism, and activism, has written extensively about Juárez. Her searing 2015 book More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexicodeals specifically with thedisappearance and murder of women in Juárez. The work, which grew out of her dissertation, blends theory with stories and interviews to explore not just the violence against women in Juárez, but also how that violence has been represented in media and culture. As Driver writes:
“To talk about feminicide is to talk about violence against women in all its manifestations, and in Juárez one of the most visible of those is disappearance. When women are murdered, their bodies don’t always appear. Often they disappear, and so the violence becomes unregistered, unrecorded, and seemingly invisible. This book is about the ways in which those bodies, whether identified or nameless, have been represented in literature, film, and art.”
The following excerpt appears courtesy of Verso Books. The passage—the book’s opening chapter—details a single terrible crime, which Rodriguez Nieto uses as an inroad to discussing Juárez’s emergent culture of crime. Verso writes:
Sandra Rodríguez Nieto was an investigative reporter for the daily newspaper El Diario de Juárez for nearly a decade. Despite tremendous danger and the assassination of one of her closest colleagues, she persisted. She didn’t want the story of her city told solely by foreign reporters, because, in her words, “I know what is underneath the violence.” This book traces the rise of a national culture of murder and bloody retribution, and is a testament to the extraordinary bravery of its author. Among other things, The Story of Vicente is an account of how poverty, political corruption, failing government institutions and US meddling combined to create an explosion of violence in Juárez.
A warning: the excerpt below contains graphic violence.Read more…
At The Rumpus, Whitney Joiner recently interviewed Phoebe Gloeckner, author of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, the controversial illustrated novel about a girl who loses her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend, originally published in 2002, and just made into a feature film. It was the second time Gloeckner sat down with Joiner—a senior features editor at Marie Claire and co-founder of The Recollectors, a website and storytelling community for the children of parents who died of AIDs—the first time being a dozen years ago, for a Salon piece. This time, Gloeckner confessed that the story is autobiographical. The two also talked about the projects Gloeckner has been working on in Juarez, Mexico, including a novel based on one of the many young Juarenese women who have been killed there in recent years.
Rumpus: In the transcripts of our conversation last time, there’s a lot of discussion of why you didn’t want to call it an autobiography. At this point you’ve answered that so many times. I know you don’t like answering it. You talked about how, if it you’d written it as an autobiography, then you would hate her. You needed that separation because you needed to protect her.
Gloeckner: I had to look at her and accept her as any girl. But myself—I was ugly, I kept getting kicked out of school, I had no future, no one really liked me…
…I always resisted this thing about an autobiography, because honestly, what does it matter if it’s me or not. Every work of art is about the artist.
I’m finally admitting, yes, that’s my experience. I’ve given up trying to explain to people. It’s not like I just took my life; it’s not a document. I had no interest in saying, “This is me and this is my story.”
Rumpus: It’s easier to find compassion for a fifteen-year-old girl going through that kind of experience if it isn’t you.
Gloeckner: No one gives a fuck about an old woman trying to deal with her stupid past and problems!
I had all my old diaries and I was working from those. And I realized when I was reading them, I actually really liked that person.
Cartel Land, the new documentary by director Matthew Heineman in theaters July 3, follows Dr. José Manuel Mireles, a small-town physician known as “El Doctor,” who leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel in the state of Michoacán in Mexico. The above clip, exclusive to Longreads, features Mireles attempting to gather volunteers and support from one town.
Things have changed for both the Knights Templar and the vigilantes since the film’s completion. As Heineman told Variety: “Very, very quickly I realized that this story was much more complex and much more gray, that the lines between good and evil were not that clear. I became obsessed with trying to figure out what was really happening, who these guys truly were, where the movement was going, what the endgame was.”
Dozens of reporters have been killed in Mexico over the last 12 years by drug traffickers, and very little has been done to investigate their deaths and bring the murderers to justice:
Let us say that you are a Mexican reporter working for peanuts at a local television station somewhere in the provinces—the state of Durango, for example—and that one day you get a friendly invitation from a powerful drug-trafficking group. Imagine that it is the Zetas, and that thanks to their efforts in your city several dozen people have recently perished in various unspeakable ways, while justice turned a blind eye. Among the dead is one of your colleagues. Now consider the invitation, which is to a press conference to be held punctually on the following Friday, at a not particularly out of the way spot just outside of town. You were, perhaps, considering going instead to a movie? Keep in mind, the invitation notes, that attendance will be taken by the Zetas.
Imagine now that you arrive on the appointed day at the stated location, and that you are greeted by several expensively dressed, highly amiable men. Once the greetings are over, they have something to say, and the tone changes. We would like you, they say, to be considerate of us in your coverage. We have seen or heard certain articles or news reports that are unfair and, dare we say, displeasing to us. Displeasing. We have our eye on you. We would like you to consider the consequences of offending us further. We know you would not look forward to the result. We give warning, but we give no quarter. You are dismissed.