Filipina in México: Drug Wars & Duterte

Sunday Spotlight

It felt good to say peace out to the U.S. for about a week, as I flew across and past the southern border of the country.

México was the closest thing to home for a Filipina who grew up in the tropics, transplanted in the foggy coast of the Bay Area. I yearned to be away from the toxic rhetoric that Trump spewed 24/7, and I wanted to put as much distance as I could between white supremacists and my queer, brown body.

As the plane made its way to the Yucatán Peninsula, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the irony. Just a few days before I left the Bay was when I first found out about Kian Loyd Delos Santos. The 17-year old from Caloocan City in the Philippines was murdered by the police, on accounts of being a drug pusher/courier/runner. President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal “War on Drugs” has claimed 12,000 lives, with the number of extrajudicial killings rising every day.

So there I was, heading to a country whose people Trump and his supporters have vowed to build a wall against, a country which has also been fighting its own drug war.

What’s a Filipino living in America to do?

The sun was high up as I stepped out of the airport. The heat and humidity felt familiar. On a ferry to Isla Mujeres, I sought to shake Trump off my mind as my senses drank in the beauty of the ocean, a glistening blue that lulled you. Surprisingly, that sentiment was affirmed by souvenirs and wares sold on sidewalk stalls: trucker hats with the words “F*ck Trump” on them, the ultimate anti-MAGA dad hats.

While Trump was fading in my mind, Kian was becoming more and more prominent. I was physically away from the States but my social media feeds and timelines weren’t.   There were many stories and articles about Kian’s death, whose mother was an overseas Filipino worker forced to come home to his son’s funeral. There were many speculations, as many as the number of Duterte’s opposition who kept showing up at Kian’s wake.

I found it interesting that just about a year ago, I read a story online that featured two books Duterte was reading: a nonfiction title about Southeast Asia and what do you know — El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Amazon | Indiebound) by Ioan Grillo. I don’t know much about the book, but I hope he realizes that the drug war he’s created and the level of impunity he’s unleashed is not the solution.

Whenever I think of the Mexican drug war, I remember what former President Vicente Fox said when I met him back in 2010: aren’t the customers from up north, the Americans? While the situations aren’t entirely similar, the viewpoint of crushing drug peddlers — usually poor people and worse, minors, women and children — does little to end the toxic industry. 

A Return to Sacred Land, With Rosario Castellanos

Book Reviews, Fiction

“All moons, all years, all days, all winds, take their course and pass away. Even so all blood reaches its place of quiet, as it reaches its power and its throne.”
— From the Chilam-Balam of Chumayel, an ancient Maya manuscript 

It’s the last night of my trip to Mexico City (Distrito Federal of Mexico), and I was curled up with Rosario Castellanos’s The Nine Guardians (Indiebound) in a little house on Atlixco, in the neighborhood of Condesa.

I didn’t know about Castellanos prior to my trip to the DF, but a little research on the web told me that I needed to be familiar with her work. A few days before my trip, I dropped by Green Apple Books in San Francisco and picked up The Nine Guardians along with a book by Octavio Paz. I needed a little schooling on Mexican literary greatness.

Back in the bedroom in Condesa, I felt myself loosening up a little. The last few chapters had stayed with me so intensely that I started to feel like all the spirits Nana, one of the characters in the book, was referring to were with me in the house.

Set in the state of Chiapas, the book centers around the Argüello family during the presidency of Làzaro Càrdenas. It was during the time of Càrdenas that the Mexican Revolution was “consolidated” and that agrarian reform started taking place.

Told from different viewpoints, the book tackles the onset of agrarian reform from the Mayan organizers who tilled the farms, slaves to mestizo Spanish families or ladinos like the Argüellos.

tzeltal1

A Tzeltal woman in Bachajón (Source)

The story opens from the viewpoint of the family’s eldest daughter, usually accompanied by Nana, her nanny of Mayan ancestry.

Does Nana know I hate her when she combs my hair? No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t know anything. She’s Indian, she doesn’t wear shoes, and has no other garment under the blue cloth of her tzec. She isn’t ashamed. She says the ground hasn’t any eyes.

The unnamed seven-year-old narrator grows up with Nana, who explains the ways of her people to the curious child, knowing the complications of their own relationship. The wounded, taking care of the master’s child. Nevertheless, Nana stays warm, is tender. A refuge from a life she herself could barely understand.

One day, the family receives unsuspecting news:

“A law has been passed by which proprietors of farms with more than five families of Indians in their service must provide facilities for teaching, by establishing a school and paying the salary of a rural master.”

#GetLit: Una Vida con Libros (A Life with Books)

#GetLit

To you — my dear readers — an apology is in order: the blog has been quiet as of late, but I haven’t forgotten. It’s been a week since I last wrote (another #GetLit post nonetheless) and here I am, about to publish another one. I have a good excuse, I promise.

Over the weekend, I flew to Mexico City / Ciudad de México and explored the Latin American metropolis, in awe of its people, its culture, its art, its architecture. I brought three important literary pieces with me: Rosario Castellanos, Octavio Paz and Audre Lorde. I’ll save the stories for another post, but here is something that I know you’ll appreciate:

 

Biblioteca Vasconcelos

The photo I took above is none other than Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City’s megalibrary. The floating bookshelves are no joke, and I marveled at the architectural prowess of Mexican architects Alberto Kalach and Juan Palomar. The five-on-one library is dedicated to José Vasconcelos, a Mexican philosopher and figure.

I have more stories and photos to share from my too-short of a trip to CDMX, so hang tight. In the meantime, here are a few things that to #GetLit about:

On the 100th birth anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks, a “Chicago as hell” video of the making of We Real Cool:

Gwendolyn Brooks is immortal because she impacts and influences other poets and writers and others who influence poets and writers and others. Her genius and personality increase exponentially. Teachers taught students who in turn taught students about her work. Often anthologized, “We Real Cool” became one of the most well-known American poems. It is a part of the American heart, or should be, because it is so often taught. (Lithub)

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I love me some Roxane Gay, but I also love me some Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. 

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Trumpacolypse is still upon us. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about saving the National Endowment for Arts (#SavetheNEA) to try to gather support for the arts. Specially for the work of women artists. Question: What does abolishing the NEA mean for women artists? Read on.

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A timely poem about martial law from poet Jose Lacaba titled Prometheus Unbound:

Mars shall glow tonight,
Artemis is out of sight.
Rust in the twilight sky
Colors a bloodshot eye,
Or shall I say that dust
Sunders the sleep of the just?

Hold fast to the gift of fire!
I am rage! I am wrath! I am ire!
The vulture sits on my rock,
Licks at the chains that mock
Emancipation’s breath,
Reeks of death, death, death.

Death shall not unclench me.
I am earth, wind, and sea!
Kisses bestow on the brave
That defy the damp of the grave
And strike the chill hand of
Death with the flaming sword of love.

Orion stirs. The vulture
Retreats from the hard, pure
Thrust of the spark that burns,
Unbounds, departs, returns
To pluck out of death’s fist
A god who dared to resist.