Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mother's Day in Mexico City

It´s Mother´s Day at home in the States right now. Although it isn't officially Día de la Madres here in México until tomorrow, I can still hear "Las Mañanitas" being amplified from within a church or a home nearby. The lively, cumbia-inflected band delivering the music slips suddenly and unexpectedly into Santana's "Samba Pa' Ti." The volcanic rock from which many of the streets and retaining walls in Coyoacan--the long-time artist's enclave where a group of us from LA are staying--are built, seem to bounce the sound about even more. Coming to quickly in spite of very little sleep, I realize it should really come as no surprise that a band in the middle of Mexico City would serenade mothers with the traditional birthday song and follow it with a signature song by Carlitos.

I am part of a writer group that includes: Roberto Leni, a Chilean emigré raised in San Francisco; Polina Vasliev, a polyglot Russian-born, U.S., Argentina and Brazil trained linguist; current KPCC radio reporter Adolfo Guzmán López, who also happens to be a founding member of the Taco Shop Poets, the performance poetry troupe that burst out of San Diego onto the national poetry scene over a decade ago; and me, honorary nephew and self-appointed heir to self-described cockroach poet raúlrsalinas and a proud member of the Corazón del Pueblo: Arts, Education & Action Collective based in Eastside LA's Boyle Heights neighborhood. Three years ago, I would have called my mother to describe the journey that has taken me from LA to Toluca, one hour north of here for a poetry reading in a 100-year-old building and former brewery that has since been transformed into a stylish museum dedicated to science and industry. The reading is part of an exchange dubbed the Encuentro de Escritores México - Los Angeles, and we represent the Los Angeles contingent. The exchange has also taken us to a very formal reading complete with a grand piano and a musical interlude that included a poem by Federico García Lorca set to music on a polished stage in the Aula Magna ¨José Vasconcelos¨ auditorium at CENART, the Centro Nacional de las Artes as well as a pulquería on Avenida Insurgentes in the historically picturesque community of Colonia Roma.

Sadly, the phone call is no longer possible. For the second year in a row, I am unable to make that Día de Las Madres llamada because our madrecita has already passed on. And my instant melancholy at hearing the music from outside this morning pulls me from a guest room bed on the second floor of a nicely appointed studio and office structure in the small yard behind the bright orange home where our host, photographer and poet Kary Cerda, lives with her 18-year-old son, Altair. The impulse to reach for my mother and wish her a happy Mother's Day beats within me with disquieting regularity.

I want to call even though, I'm still exhausted from a late night at El Pericazo, a Colonia Roma bar where I'd gone to hear a turntablist known as DJ Apocaliptzin and run inadvertently into a young woman named Amaranta who has just returned to the Mexican capital from LA. It was astonishing to learn that, while in LA, she had attended several Mujeres de Maiz events including the all-woman poetry celebration at Corazón. I would have called my mom with breathless excitement, explained to her how warm and receptive everyone has been, how happy I am to be alive and in el ombligo de la luna once again. I would have told my jefita how much I loved her. The fiercely beautiful hummingbird woman who bore me would have not forgotten--before saying goodbye--to tell me how proud she was and to come home safely. The thought occurs to me then that my four sisters are also all fiercely beautiful, hummingbird warrior women, who--though small figured and fine boned like their mother Juliana--are formidable thinkers, artists, activists, organizers, healers, homemakers and mothers in their own right. A kind word or praise from any one of them is always simply an extension of the empowering love I was given by a mother who gave everything while asking for nothing in return. I know undoubtedly that I would have intoned the words to Las Mañanitas and described our group's final reading the day before at El Chopo, the rocanrolero swap meet near Tlatelolco, the site of the 1968 student massacre. I would have shared how six of us, a gang including two young poets from Mexico, had gathered at three mics and broken out in a style reminiscent of the Taco Shop Poets with two poets on each of three microphones, repeating words for an echo effect and layering phrases from our own individual poems, launching them across the street-level stage for a couple hundred hard core punks, goths, metalheads, emos and straight up old-school roqueros in a symphony of sound.

I would not have failed to recount how just before we were invited to the Tianguis Cultural del Chopo stage, we were all mesmerized by the gripping, visceral power of a dance performance troupe called Butoh Chilango whose members had chalked a square on the dark street surface in the center of the audience. With their faces contorted under nylon stocking masks, some lay prone on the ground as others drew crime-scene outlines around their bodies and scrawled words inside the residual shape. "SB 1070" wrote one. Dancers also traced outlines of sneakered feet among the onlookers. I would have said how, at one point, I was handed a lipstick and been given a subtle cue to make a dancer's stocking masked face and head my canvas. I would have gone on about how others in the audience were given chalk sticks to do with whatever they wished. How one pale, thin dancer wore an open passport around his neck, covers facing outward as he stabbed at it with colored chalk. In the center of the square, a long, circular rubber loop like giant rubberband made from thin tubing about six feet in length was unfurled from within a large round birdcage. The dancers had twisted and wrapped themselves around each other using the taut bonds to rope and tie their own limbs, struggling all the while as if for life and air. Would I have recounted how my throat welled up and my stomach knotted because I thought immediately of families separated by deportation and draconian immigration laws creating orphans whose dreams of education are ignored and belittled by a broken U.S. immigration policy? Of the arrest and detention of those least able to speak up for themselves? I'm absolutely certain I would have. My mother would have understood.

On Mother's Day en el Distrito Federal, I would have liked to tell mamá that her granddaughter Alma Ixchel in Austin, the child of two amazing and powerful women who invited me to participate in their dream some thirteen years ago as a donor, has written and performed her own autobiographical monologue for Grrrl Action, a program created by the award-winning avante-garde theatre ensemble Rude Mechanicals. I would have had to say to her as well that Los Angeles también is full of incredibly amazing activista, artista and artesana mothers who are single-handedly teaching their sons to be more gentle and more kind and more complete. How East LA in particular is brimming with sisters who try to understand and live balanced, healthy lives, showing all of us by example that ancestral sadness does not have to drive us to the kind of self-destructive behaviors that she struggled to keep me from, at times with little success. I would have talked to her about the work at home in LA with Corazón del Pueblo, a space that has become a true community arts headquarters. I would have told her how beautiful and transcendent the Mujeres de Maiz poetry reading at Corazón del Pueblo had been during the month of March and how proud it has made me to represent that kind of energy and commitment to community outside of Califas and outside of the U.S. in our spiritual homeland. I would have reminded her about our pilgrimage to Chalma together sixteen years ago alongside my younger sister Patricia for a danza azteca ceremony that would alter all of our lives forever.

Can you imagine? I would have asked her. A modern, practical, even if a little bit evangélica, Tex-Mex grandmother with no real connection to our indígena past beyond her own long-lost grandmother who was rumored to be a curandera, traveling with my sister and her baby Ultima, a child named for the curandera in a book by Rodolfo Anaya. My mother hanging with concheros, riding peseras and participating in velaciones because two of her youngest were all about reconnecting with la tradición and her wayward son Abel so thrilled at the time to be running around with D.F.-bred roqueros in New York, Austin and here, in center of the moon, connected to her, to the raíces and to all creation.

Back again more than a decade después, I would have to say how it feels more than familiar, how one block off the Avenida Miguel Angel de Quevedo, surrounded by sounds and smells that caress my senses, I know she is not far. I feel her, hear her encouraging me to write more, to read more, to create more, to forgive more, to love more. I want to let her know that the Eastside of LA is becoming, for me, a satellite, a kind of D.F Norte. More than all of this, however, more than the chronicle of a poet's plight, I want to tell her that now, at 44, in a world so different and yet still so much like the one she knew, I miss her more than ever. I miss her because she really could imagine. And she could always make what she imagined real.