After spending a few moments in the bathroom “recuperating” I came back into the gallery to find someone mopping up my blood splattered throughout the gallery floor. An overwhelming sense of shame clouded my state of mind. And then, “Maybe you should’ve considered issuing a blood warning”
photo by Claudia Hernandez
The comment caught me off guard. I was still bleeding from my fingers tips. Still in a haze of both the fog spewing out of the fog machine, but also from the adrenaline-come-down from having just performed an exhaustive work of dancing, of dancing while bleeding profusely from my slashed finger tips, of dancing while tethered to a jute rope knotted on to my pierced chest. Dancing a dance that was not really about dancing but navigating a movement fundamentally expressive, while carrying an open wound. I wanted to disappear. In the later days the shame would dissipate, and while my friend’s comment stunned me, I couldn’t really give that moment, that sentence, all of the credit for what I was feeling, and the changes in my perception that I was experiencing. Without me knowing it and as I would find out in those later days, my family had been victims of a drive-by shooting on the same day I was performing hundreds of miles away, safely out of harms reach. The news was crippling. The idea of visiting my family and spending time together with them was temporarily comforting; but feeling vulnerable, and helpless was still taking precedence psychologically in almost every minute of the hours of the days ahead of me. Violence has the power to choreograph cycles of trauma in the most effective way.
But I had work to do. For weeks I’d been building a full body cast of my self for a performance that I’d be presenting along with a text delivered by my boyfriend Dino Dinco on Curating as Choreography, part of a conference at UCLA’s Tactical Bodies: The Choreography of Non-Dancing Subjects. On the day of, we were running late and I had a 220lb body “a cuate” that I still had to lug into the second floor of the Glorya Kauffman Hall where we’d be presenting. I looked over to Dino and noticed the discomfort in his face in knowing that we were holding up the panel. “Go ahead babe, I’ll take care of this. If you have to, start without me and I’ll join you when I get there.” I looked over at my body reclined on the moving dolly, white bulges of panza, pierna, y nalga, filled with and spilling red clay bricks at the seams. The rope fastening all of my parts was becoming loose and limbs were beginning to gradually shift and fall off the dolly. I gathered my parts, a foot, a fist, a thigh, 12 bricks, 60lbs. I finally made it up to the theatre. Everyone was sitting and waiting. I noticed the pristine hardwood floor. An associate of the theatre asked if I need something to cover the floor, “you know so that the body doesn’t damage it” (or maybe he said “bricks”). “Sure” I said, “of course”. He brought in 3, 4’x 8’ fiberboard panels and laid them next to each other along their longest sides. Dino asked how much set up time I needed, and I informed him that I had already started. I’m ready. Somewhere in the course of getting out of the car and into the theatre I lost my sense of awareness for the physical context of what I was about to do. Dragging this other body had already taken a physical toll on me and I was already drenched in sweat before even “starting the performance”. Dino began to speak, and I began my action. I had committed to lifting the body to hold it upright and attempt to keep it standing on it’s own until the uneven distribution of cubic weight would eventually cause it to collapse; and then I’d repeat the process.
I looked at my body and it was already in shambles. I put on a mask of my face, on my face, (a symbol of character that I’ve been working with when I perform certain pieces). The mask’s eyes are closed due to my smile that pushes my cheeks up against under my eyelids; that same smile now superimposed on this plaster mold ensconcing my flesh underneath it. I couldn’t see a thing. I started to feel around and placed my hands over the chest of the body, felt the nipples, grabbed the rope beneath them and began to lift. The torso reached the height of my own and as soon as the body felt as erect as mine, the weight suddenly overwhelmed me. It slipped from my arms and collapsed on the ground. I bent down to my knees and felt around for the chest again. Some of the parts, an arm maybe, had lost their form. They were now just loose pieces of fabric textured with a powdery, sandy, grit. I found a rope finally and pulled it towards me. It was my legs. They had broken away from my hips. I grabbed them and folded them in against my torso and began to stand up again…lifting. When I stood up I felt the head smack the left side of my face, 3 clay bricks tied to a smiling mask, 15lbs. I repeated the process each time finding my body more decomposed, less identifiable and heavier to carry until finally I could no longer hear Dino speak. I plopped the body down one last time on the ground and headed towards the hallway. I made it to the restroom coughing and reaching for water; I think I had inhaled some plaster from the mask while I lifted it off my face. I washed my face took a few minutes to catch my breath and thought to myself, this is not a sustainable practice. The next day I arrived to see my family. My parents looked exhausted. My brother’s Cadillac riddled with bullets was moved off the street and into the backyard. “Y cuando se van a mexico?”, I asked my dad. They had been planning to visit my grandparents in Durango for months and I assumed that their travel plans had not changed. I was right. Yet part of me wanted to be wrong. My family all know too well the dangers of traveling via land for the extended amount of time through the enormous stretch of what is Mexico’s largest state, Chihuahua and half of Mexico’s second largest state, Durango. Narco related murders have been escalating greatly in the last few years predominantly in the north. Yet my siblings and I all kept quiet because we knew that there isn’t a thing that will keep my parents from visiting their viejitos.
I think back to 2010 the day I got notice of something that had happened in my parents hometown. During las fiestas del Dia de Independencia de Mexico, the rancho was under siege. For an entire weekend the rancho, set in a cul-de-sac of mountains with one single road that leads in and out of it, was on lock down. No one was allowed to come in or out of it. A caravan of black SUVs came in and cruised the perimeter of it and stationed itself in the plaza. In between partying, getting drunk and blasting their corridos “a todo volume” as my Tia recalls, “las suburbans” would make random visits and armed men would interrogate different families throughout the rancho. My mother’s account of what happened still sends chills up my spine. During that weekend some people went missing, a few people were murdered and some recruited by “las suburbans“.
My uncle was amongst those that were visited.
From inside the house my tia heard multiple truck engines approaching nearer and nearer. The engines seemed to have stopped out in front of the house. My grandmother shut the doors and windows and peeked out through the shutters. “Correle Rosa a la sotea!” My aunt climbed up onto the roof and from behind the water barrel she was able to peek into my uncle’s corral. She saw a few men bring my uncle out into the corral with his hands tied behind his back. They had him face an adobe wall, kneel and sacked his head with a black trash bag. The men all had their guns pointed at my uncle; my aunt couldn’t make out what they were saying but she could see two men’s mouths moving as they paced back and forth behind his kneeling body. After a few minutes the men started to move out. One by one they emptied out of the adobe house, got in their suburbans and drove off. My aunt sat crouched, frozen on the roof top watching my uncle on his knees, also frozen, until finally his wife came and wrapped herself around him removing the bag from his head.
My parents have both been back since on two different occasions, a year and a half ago to bury my grandmother. Neither have been back since.
These accounts of how I’m experience violence and embodying the memory of it, the trauma caused by it, at times feels orchestrated purely mentally by myself. Images, thoughts, memories pop into my head seemingly at random moments and distract my focus of tasks at hand.
In about a week I along with Ruben Martinez, a journalist and author, and Raquel Gutierrez, writer, performer, community organizer (both of them so much more than what those titles can describe) will travel down south to Mexico City and engage in a dialogue with a group of writers, journalists, artists, and activists, about the violence that Mexico has been experiencing as a result of narco-drug warring. Since Ruben and Raquel’s invitation I’ve performed 3 pieces all 2 weeks apart from each other and all undeniably affected by my research and texts I’ve been reading about the violencias as one writer Rosanna Reguillo puts it. Mostly internally, but definitely apparent in how I’m navigating decisions of representing the body, my experience of violencias both through personal and mediated forms of contact is having impactful effects on how I’m thinking about my own body and the bodies around me also touched by violence.
Reguillo writes: “the bodies disciplined by the work of violence act as indexes of its power”.
Although I won’t deny that there are connections, I can’t readily draw lines between the drive by-shooting that occurred in my family’s home in East Pasadena on 4/19/13 and the countless murders that are happening in Mexico since 2006 and beyond. I recognize the matrixes of power to be distinct; yet I extend the quote which is referring to “bodies disciplined” (the murdered bodies) to also include the bodies moved by violence by various mediated forms of contact. I’m seeing in my own family how trauma is constantly reshaping lives even if tangentially touched by violence and how I don’t want to feed that power with my own stagnancy. I’m inspired by my parent’s unwavering choice to travel to Magon inspite of all the danger they’re aware of. It makes me wonder about their own urgencies, and question my own.
Proximity becomes an important item to investigate for me in this case. Physical, psychological, memorial, and emotional distances that inform our varying degrees of urgency is something that I think is crucial to consider in conversations of the inherent responsibilities of cultural producers. How can distance be transcended, conceptualized, to bring more focus, more attention to the gravity of a traumatizing situation?
I look forward to setting foot in Mexico finally once again. As an artist I see it as a step towards understanding this new breed of collective trauma, my relationship to it and in my most optimistic and hopeful desire dare I say, begin to imagine what healing looks like.