Over the next several weeks we'll be posting excerpts from a chapter in our upcoming anthology, Tijuana Dreaming: Art and Life at the Global Border. The book collects writings on contemporary Tijuana, Mexico from a variety of poets, critics, novelists, essayists, and scholars from both sides of the border, many of which have been translated into English for the very first time. "Crossfader Playlist" is one such piece-- a sampler of key tracks (blog posts, essays, digital riffs) from noted Tijuana writer, DJ, teacher, blogger, and after-hours chronicler Rafa Saavedra, whose 1995 book Esto no es una salida: Postcards de ocio y odio has just been re-published by Nitro Press.
Essay translated by John Pluecker.
Tijuana Youth: Entre la Cultura y la Fiesta
Sometimes, the glare of the hype can be so deceptive. You can't live in the past and try to maintain long-lost glories or ?ght endlessly against leyendas negras there's really no purpose to revisit. You can't believe everything you see, hear, or feel (so sorry, more than skepticism, it's common sense). That's why, if a few years ago the well-known magazine Newsweek declared la city as one of the new centers of culture and vitality, it was, let's say, a tardy recognition of what's going on, a move to bestow validity in a market that insists on declaring new attractions and expanding the possibilities of business as usual. It's already been said that Tijuana moves faster than its artists and critics.
Nevertheless, contrary to that exoticizing, reductionist logic, Tijuana has never stopped being fashionable, in vogue, discovering trends, providing a preview of the immediate future just at the moment when it's about to happen. The people writing the recent history of la city are part of a metageneration of Tijuana artists, all of whom live life without hiding the truth, without holding back, without taking themselves all that seriously; they do all this as they watch the myths getting weaker and weaker (The main myth? The one that implied you had to leave Tijuana to be able to get any recognition or relative success), that are familiar with and circulate around the whole city, that ï¬?ow through job networks and collaborate with anyone or any group, whether institutions, private initiatives, or following the Do-It-Yourself punk maxim. Tijuana open source.
Youth is just a word, as Bourdieu said, another category to contain a segment of the population, or as Rossana Reguilla notes, "a social agreement and a productive agent in the world." In la city, these youthful agents, whether incorporated or dissident (in regard to cultural consumption or the structures of the predominant culture), have shown their capacity for change and their brazen disregard for of?cial discourse when they enter its traditional environs. Otherness is put on the table for discussion and the contradiction of meanings — results becomes part of the creative environment (a faribolesque postmodernism, the art of recycling, urban loops, porous borders, the feeling of always being in a self-representative vortex, the aesthetics of the ugly, the street). A new batch of young people who, faced with the contemporary situation in Tijuana, proposes culture as the antidote to barbarism (Sergio González dixit).
What moves them? What do they propose? Among their interests are the recuperation of the city, the rescue and mobility of spaces, the promise of the party and the plea sure that comes from living in a city as bizarre as ours, confronting a social reality that allows almost everything. Yes, but they go further than that, joining that lovey-dovey feeling with post-PC irony, academic criticism with the posture of a person who lives the street with an everyday naturalness, the search for new languages through appropriation and resemanticization of what's considered ordinary (what the majority sees as something unnecessary, superfi cial, and even vulgar). That's why, among many other reasons, their cultural products (books, music, design, installation art, video and visual art, among others) find homes in such diverse sites as international exhibitions or marginal supplements. Of course, they're all totally media savvy.
In her excellent book The Reality Overload, Annie Le Brun said that "if, despite the degrading adulation of it, youth can still possess some sort of beauty, then that beauty is that of despair, for it is youthful despair that is sometimes capable of rekindling those vital questions that the culture strives to reduce to ashes." I am thinking about the instrumental work of the Nortec Collective and their post- fronterizo, audiovisual hybrid; in the visual art exhibitions Urban Diagnostics and Larva (which provoked so many debates and diatribes because of the unevenness/ambiguity of their curatorial criteria); in the emergence of a new exciting pop scene that can be located—after the Nortec phenomenon—at the crest of the musical wave (the promise is to be found in groups like Shantelle, Ibi ego!, The Polardroids, Aeroplanos, Niña Cámara, among others); in the candid image of the city and its characters that appears on national channels via Bulbo's documentaries; in the B-side present in the audiovisual imaginary of Art Core; in the music and video workshops for teenagers organized by a group of collectives (Nortec, Bulbo, Yonke Art, Pragma) all setting out to build a new generation of artists; in those cult authors, the newest ones who just showed up or those who fill the pages of fanzines and books of poetry (Heriberto Yépez, Omar Pimienta, Paty Blake); visual artists who are starting to sell in regional markets (Julio Orozco, Tania Candiani, Jaime Otis); the generation of punk DJs bringing life to the Tijuana night; the neo-graffiti crews that insist on seeing la city as a huge canvas; the influential presence of theatre artists and independent dance groups in national shows and conferences; the explosion of street hiphop,converted into cronistas of the periferia (Sociedad Anónima, Tijuas Steelo, Legión Marvel); the other record labels (Static, At- At, Discos Invisibles, Eklegein) that represent a more experimental and risk- taking underground; in the collision of design, music, and Internet that global radio was given rise to; in the new interactive media represented by the now almost five hundred active blogs documenting life in Tijuana from every possible angle. Perhaps some of those I've mentioned don't propose the vision that the mainstream and its acolytes would like, but (always the but) you have to recognize that, as Los Fresones Rebeldes would say, algo hay.
Those and other up-and-coming artists are looking to reflect, as the researcher Fiamma Montezemolo mentions in her text Tijuana Isn't Tijuana, not just one Tijuana, but rather thousands of Tijuanas, because they know la city is that "on- going game of diversities, of simulated truths" and in the end artists decide "not to lie about themselves, even though that doesn't mean they have to tell The Truth." Without a doubt, they know they are part of something that needs no leaders, that the real enemy is monolithic thinking and that, as the old bolero says, sólo se vive una vez. You only live once. BTW, we still think the fiesta tijuanera will keep on raging at full blast.
posted by rafa # July 10, 2005
The Counterculture in Mexico: Ese pedazo de onda
You never know who you're working for. We imagine other possible worlds for ourselves and they end up being the sets for the last Coke commercial. Phrases become advertising slogans, clichés of the younger generation blasted into the void in a script by marketing experts and images by an avant-garde video artist. A bet lost (or won, depending on the particular case).
I was there—like James Murphy in that first Can concert in Cologne—witnessing our little big revolution, fl ipping the coin in the air, waiting for a change in our favor from that damned bitch named luck that betrayed us and ended up biting us. It still hurts.
I'm that guy who marched in that seminal protest, squaring off with a hegemonic position, the one who yelled louder than everyone else, shouting slogans for the change that—what an irony—came late and only partially, the one who never ran away. I am the one who translated the lyrics of the songs they liked so much and then helped them build a scene we thought was progressive and liberatory; the one who wrote in magazines that did away with outdated patterns of language and information, which would open the door to so many debates in our huge (hypocritical) Mexican family. I'm the guy who sent out the invitation to trip and experiment with psychedelic substances and with a passion free of that Catholic guilt that prevented us for so long from connecting with our "inner deep." I'm the one who invented—by transgressing—a new language that was a starting point for new alliances and a more believable and intimate picture of what was to come. Do you remember me?
How to talk about a situation that develops in a concrete context and historical moment but which has real effects on our present? By making a summary judgment like Heath and Potter? Sublimating the idealist content and disregarding the naïveté? Pointing out the catastrophe hiding behind that deeply rooted positivism? Taking sides even after the defeat? Perpretrated under a new system of analysis that allows one to judge without a romanticism that spoils all critical positions? A hard choice.
Authenticity is, by de?nition, a threat to what is pompously called "the other," which is, of course, not our equal. The need to create a new culture (Gramsci dixit), an outburst of enthusiasm debated—individually and in groups—before the model of a gray existence, minimized and mimetic, with no opportunities, organized by the great invisible hand of the market and its speculators. The lack of authenticity is what, supposedly, has been imposed upon us. I'm not so sure about that.
Anticonformity is the typical rebuke of the system (the much-feared error in the matrix).
Crazy Crazy Night
Yes, these have been extremely important days for la city. Tons of violence caused by the impunity of a few, the complicity of many, and years and years of corruption. Lots of sensationalist media commotion, never-ending loops of lifeless bodies are a clear sign of the violent times we're facing. Headlines betting on huge pro?ts gained from the public's morbid fascination and leading straight to collective psychosis. Fear, todos saben, as a tactic for control.
Despite all this, la city is alive. It feels alive. It knows it's alive. A bunch of festivals happening at the same time, events all over the place, Tijuana overï¬?owing in its euphoria to reclaim the street, asking for moments of fun and pleasure in the face of so much tragedy. Tragedy that's become normalcy.
The night is transformed. We get together despite everything we see on the TV news: the overï¬?owing euphoria of engaging conversations and shared complicity makes us sweat in (almost) never-ending mornings. The rhythms, the overwhelming feeling of No Fear, the last call for la juventud bulletproof. Dance, dance, dance . . .
Waiting for friends who're at other bars, who send texts saying, "ya vamos, wait us" (sic). We wait, the party gets bigger, it grows like the wild Tijuana night (that cliché exploited so much in the crónicas that come out in the Sunday supplements). Abrazos and celebration, there's always someone here who's having a birthday, someone who's coming back or someone leaving (they're all reasons to go out and celebrate in a city that wants to see us locked away in our homes: they won't get their way). The next stop, a concert.
The place is completely full. I make it to the bar (and I don't leave). Interesting conversations with the artsy crew, then laughing and laughing like crazy with some amigas and their amigas. The girls are ?ghters, they don't let anyone off the hook for anything. (I'm happy listening to them, watching them laugh, trying to seduce one of them, knowing beforehand that nothing's going to happen that hasn't already happened . . . )
At four or ?ve in the morning, I don't know what time it is anymore, we end up at Las Tortas Cubanas. The road to the Tijuana West Coast is just a few feet away, the day is ending without even noticing. We survived in the city of fear and impunity: Mission accomplished.
posted by rafa # September 27, 2008
A Party for Democracy
Today I was walking around near Calle Segunda and Constitución.
Closed to traf?c.
A lot of people waiting for something, blue, white and orange balloons.
A girl alone on a platform sings cumbias (the second song was by Selena).
A group of women dance up front.
Someone passes by me holding up a P.A.N. ï¬?ag.
The kids are having fun on a couple inï¬?atable moonwalks.
Of?cers from a bunch of different police agencies monitor the scene.
I can't tell the difference between the police cadets and the thugs wandering
They look almost exactly the same: same haircuts, same attitudes.
I walk around the street, recognize some prominent politicians.
Of course, local politicians.
Ex-classmate from school or ex-regulars of la noche TJ.
They say politics makes people fat.
They announce over the sound system that a caravan of more than 500 cars is
about to get there.
"Viva la democracia," shouts the cumbia-singing girl.
Everything is so mixed up, everything is so absurd.
Democracy is just another buzzword, a cliché, a ruse, the voice of an ignorant
The whole sad show is boring to me, and I decide to head home.
posted by rafa # Saturday, July 2, 2005
usei (rough mix)
. . . I'm the next big thing to happen, a character lost in a bad sitcom, the spirit of California.
. . . Someone wants to change the dialect to say new things, misses the goal, supports the death penalty, always comes late, stirs up those núcleos de social instability, has un apetito por la destruction.
. . . I'm a retard, a misogynist, un Televisa Kid, a member of el Yunque Youth, a dummy when it comes to important things, a blind date fetishist, a dry style wanker, lo más.
. . . I'm a molesting child, the jail bait, a wife beater, a rapist, a non-English speaker, un extranwero, a little liar, ese pobre bastardo who fucked up his life one more time.
. . . Que Ron Jeremy, Charlie Rose, Joey Greco, Nick Kent, Seymour Stein, Todashi Yanai, or the goalie of el club de la esquina are all more important than I am.
. . . She's a prime choice ?lete, a strangely geometric blindness, a pretty pub(l)ic disorder, something that only by being lazy ?nds serenity, a weird combination of apathy and complacency, an enigma whose solution is limited by a court decision.
. . . She's the girl who pops out of the cake, a victim of postpartum depression, the heart of the deal, someone who has to soak themselves in promises from God.
. . . She sabotages her own audition, swears time destroys (almost) everything, an imposition that declares herself our enemy, a home run or the threat of a ?ght hanging in the air.
. . . She's the picture of beauty, a street empty after the latest riots, the obstacle to our turn to the impossible, the possibility of a ménage à trois.
. . . She's a bitch, the love of our entire life, una saladera, someone that goes after a dream without thinking about collateral damage, the melody of those songs that have an implicit charge of sadness to them.
. . . He's a gameboy, a Far?sa sound, a professional poser who'll end up a human ashtray, someone who'll have to beg for forgiveness for putting national security at risk.
. . . He's the guy that thinks about what his life has become as he sits on the corner of the bed, the memory of things past, a yoke to break, dead desire in some old boxers.
. . . He's the one who answers those questions asked by an absurd and bored old man. (What is freedom? Have you ever felt disappointed? When will all This end?)
About la Fama de la City
How many more dead bodies you think we need before la city shoots us out like bullets? (Pardon the expression.) How many more articles and reports do we have to read before we feel like we live in a permanent state of anxiety?
We're not leaving.
La city is ours, we're not going to leave it.
The street is ours, we're not going to stop going out.
And yeah, they can say we're the most violent place ever (we're not).
And yeah, they can say it's impossible to live here (the living is good, fuck
Y sí, la city es nuestra.
I Love Tijuana
I LOVE TIJUANA for being anarchic, resourceful, fun loving, bent on freedom, and nocturnal.
I LOVE TIJUANA because I've never cared about ?ghting against what's
left of the leyendas negras a go-go or against the media's sensationalist opportunism, not even against the cold distance of those who see la city as San Diego's backyard. Tijuana just is.
I LOVE TIJUANA because I live it to the extreme, because you can't buy my tijuanidad on an estampita and it's not a product of ready-made poser (re)
structuring, because it's inside of me and it's obvious every second. As I travel
around la city every day, I (re)meet her in her constant state of change, catch-
ing the details and feeling the energy that lives in cities that one day will be
I LOVE TIJUANA, mi city.
July 11, 2009
October 20, 2006
"Everything they tell me about Tijuana, I believe it all."
*Heard in Hermosillo, Sonora
January 20, 2006
Protests, checkpoints, curfews . . . aren't the solution to la city's problem of violence and impunity. Or are they? And when will the authorities press the "panic button"?
April 27, 2008
What's more important? Fifteen hired killers dead or 3000+ people ?red
from the maquila this week adding to the % of unemployed in TJ?
September 28, 2008
phrases for days like this
About the violence in TJ
"I demand that if this isn't going to stop, it should at least be more
October 20, 2008
la city in blue
Out the window of a bus heading who-knows-where, I watch the city
—disappear, the reality of the violence and the forgotten campaign
promises blurring it into oblivion.
This is how we live.
Poetics of . . .
Poetics of forgetting and imperfect questions thought up on a Wednesday
Poetics of breaking away from the Judeo-Christian monopoly on feelings of
Poetics of passwords and usernames.
Poetics of post-traumatic experience and shopping spree vertigo.
Poetics of intelligence brought on by the effectiveness of social networks
and the absence of real dialogue.
Poetics of street protests and productive value in free fall.
Poetics of the death of government bureaucrats and neoliberal
Poetics of what happens once in a lifetime and the stuff none of us can
recognize as their own.
Poetics of dyslexia and disappointment with the end of a surprisingly good
show on TV.
Poetics of 14 Ã? 1.
Poetics of trips abroad and good wishes.
Poetics of people nominated and executed in a kind of ominous lottery.
Poetics to warm up and blow party streamers.
Poetics of unacceptable failures and those budgets focused on rebuilding a
Poetics of teenage anthems and the unbearable days of that blind summer.
Poetics of the unilateral and the false celebrity honesty.
Poetics of pretty people and their favorite commercials.
Poetics of American school shootings and their repercussions in the
Poetics of oversaturation and the loss of the unstoppable road to ruin.
Poetics of grammar and its actions.
Poetics of shame and the Puritan look of a teenager without MySpace.
Poetics of a noontime reading, of the loneliness of middle-aged people and
the sales of shares in times of crisis.
Poetics of the uselessness of Twitter rank, of Firefox bugs and euphoria
about Google video chat.
Poetics of the towns near Morelia and soulless karma.
Poetics of troubled retailers and crosses that crowd the frontline of the
Poetics of millionaires' fear and their signifcant losses.
Poetics of big mistakes and savagery.
Poetics of sadness as an everyday presence.
In his book on the counterculture in Mexico, José Agustín draws a line which unites and interrelates different youth tribes with diverse behaviors and activities—pachucos, rebels with a cause, jipitecas, punks—through specifc moments in the second half of the twentieth century. The popular author is correct when he asserts that the history of the counterculture is a history of incomprehension and repression. What's even better is he narrates how and
why this has happened in an informed, detailed way with a great sense of humor. José Agustín has given us the gift of an ideal book for all kinds of deep discussions: complicated, intellectual, heated, light, and generational, among many other types. He does this because he takes us to the heart of the matter, he shoots from the hip and polarizes: them or us. There is no middle ground. Some were/are based in that categorization, some are strong and idealist, and the others yuppies and conformists. And you, ¿de qué signo eres?
In Mexico, the counterculture—this magic little word that could be stretched by followers and detractors to include everything unsaid—was/has always been taken as a protest and a reaction to a dominant culture, without ever establishing itself as a real productive counterweight. The result? A dialogue between people who don't listen to each other, a struggle between opposing forces with (almost always) flawed arguments on both sides, since they don't understand the actors and factors involved, a generalization that leads us—like everything—to a disastrous end, which, in this case, was still a bit positive.
What is our position on cultural expression—film, music, literature—in the face of the dominant system about drug consumption, the influence of religion, the sexual revolution, the right to pleasure or language itself? In his book, José Agustín throws out ideas about collective karmas, a boundless camaraderie, some likeable characters in a nonstop party deliriously chatting about mysticism and social struggle. The (temporary) triumph of the Dionysian.
How and how much has it changed? The answer can be found right now on thousands of Internet pages, in new fanzines, in no-longer-young groups that construct their lives outside of the traditional circuit and the market speculation on what's cool, alternative, authentic. Or maybe not, and maybe it's time we find out that, conforming what that Sonny Curtis song says, the system won despite armed uprisings, a fractured multiculturalism, global-phobic contingents on endless tour, separatist and isolationist postures, and vain attempts to give it the royal finger. Failure is unavoidable, but, caray, we sure did have fun.
Something to point out: if the jipitecas emerged in the sixties as a reaction to a system as repressive as the one in Mexico—which it was and still is—and faced with a reduction in the possibility for ensuring equity and justice in all arenas of daily life, it must not be forgotten that these serve as a bizarre counterpoint for the arrival of a new brood of reactive and meticulous young people (the Yunque Youth, for example) on the social scene. Honestly, a psychotic reaction.
In his book The Elemental Particles, the French writer Michel Houellebecq—who was abandoned by his hippie mother—wrote a frontal attack on the May 1968 generation in France in which he questions its liberatory meaning in order to, as the Americans say, Take No Prisoners. With a disillusioned nihilism typical of a good punk song, Houellebecq excoriates this, the epitome of a youth movement.
Does the issue of the counterculture in Mexico matter right now? Of course the answer is yes and no. The contemporary situation is impossible to decipher if one doesn't understand--and transcend, you could add--this particular juncture. Suspiciousness--this very Mexican trait--suggests to us an overbearing assimilation by a system which Greil Marcus, that great American critic, spoke to us about when he condemned the fact that there isn't a hint of rebelliousness that survives in the individual after the normalizing
instinct of the great social machinery. In the end, we are all everything (Marcos, Atenco, Walmart, Sabritas, El Chavo del Ocho, a duopoly on the same).
Flipping a double-sided coin.
Nevertheless, something's left, something will remain.
Read the previous installments of this Artbound exclusive series:
Copyright Duke University Press, 2012