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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Latin Americanisms: Mexico Chaos-Porn

 There’s a rather famous anecdote frequently tossed around in Mexican literary circles. The story concerns famed French poet André Breton’s first visit to our country in 1938. On arrival — and presumably still reeling from the merrymaking on the Parisian party boat — he issued the following statement which, while fitting at the time, seems almost darkly prophetic some 70-odd years later: “I don’t know why I came here. Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world.”

Mexico’s borderlands, which span 1,954 miles across the Mexico-U.S. border, approximate something of a nether realm for the average Mexican. We are aware of their existence amid the desert and the sun, a place “so far from God, yet so close to the U.S.” — as the oft-quoted saying by former Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz goes. At times we are even made aware — whether willingly or unwillingly — of the growing violence and bloodshed in these northern outposts. But something, something difficult to pinpoint, is always amiss about this carefully crafted image that is discretely shoved in our minds’ eye.

In this case the image itself would seem to be the issue. The bitter truth being that the reality on the ground is far starker and much more visceral in its immediacy than any news bulletin can possibly hope to capture. Since the tail end of 2006, residents of the border towns most ravaged by drug violence (among them: Ciudad Juarez, Reynosa, Matamoros) have had their lives encircled by a seemingly unending cycle of bloodshed and tragedy. Faced with the potential of all-consuming violence many in these cities have been fleeing in record numbers contributing to what some describe as a mass-scale refugee crisis.

The numbers would seem to back such a claim, with an estimated 160,000 Mexicans having fled their homes (the vast majority to the United States) as a result of the drug violence, the general consensus is that Mexico has once again lost a sizable portion of its population forever.

This is nothing new for modern Mexico. The most recent exodus resulted in something of a permanent expat outpost to the North (or El Norte as we call it).

The impetus may be different (social and economic reasons vs. safety concerns amid the threat of violence) but the result has been the same: a fracturing of Mexican society. A fracturing which like its previous incarnation has had a number of unintended consequences, among them a growing drive to narrativize Mexico.

The narrative attached to this fracturing — one which is increasingly pushed by Western media outlets — is quite easy to pinpoint, but is best described by a friend’s spontaneous word association when asked what she pictured when she thought of contemporary Mexico: “a post-apocalyptic vibe.”

Indeed, while parts of Mexico are gripped by what might be described as dystopian lawlessness, and not faulting my graciously honest friend in any such way, her association would seem to illustrate the growing influence of what I call Mexico Chaos-Porn. You can find it in the dark corners of the internet just the same as you can find it on the front page of The Sacramento Bee: gruesome videos of mass beheadings, Gonzo-style drug documentaries, editorials decrying Mexico as a failed state, the list goes on.

This is the surreal standing of Mexico today. A media-driven narrative which does not fully coincide with the image an average Mexican twenty-something holds of her homeland. It is an unrecognizable home, one that I and fellow Mexican nationals are transported to whenever asked by a friend if we’ll be safe or not when we head down to visit family for the holidays.

How best to answer them? Yes? No? Hopefully? The answer I would readily give is yes. But it is a yes with the real Mexico in mind: a Mexico far too complex and maddeningly imperfect for grand narratives of any sort, a place where even surrealism has its limits. Como México no hay dos.

 

If you would like to consult with JORGE JUAREZ regarding your upcoming trip to Mexico he can be reached at jnjuarez@ucdavis.edu.

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