August 25, 2006

Universal Angst — Skinhead/Punk Culture in Mexico City

Photo Essay, Words by Ryan Furtado

Mexico City, Mexico — On the outskirts of Toluca, Mexico — just outs ide Mexico City — the locals huff noxious fumes from bits of crumpled toilet paper cupped in their hands as their glassy eyed stares fixate on Threatning Verse out of Covina, Ca. The abrasive sounds of the 80’s styled hardcore band seep out of the open-air venue and dance along the Mexican countryside dotted with half built houses and endless cornfields.


Pre show practice time Luciano with (R) and Cheeseburger

The pace of the music escalates, the tempo grinding ever forward as people begin to collide in the typical fashion. Most are too wasted to keep their balance, bodies fly like rag dolls and heads snap against the concrete sending vibrations through the ground that I can feel in my toes.

For the past few days I’ve been traveling with Thretning Verse and No More Existence from Pocatello, Idaho as they bounce from bus to bus touring central Mexico. Punk/Hardcore bands from the U.S. come down here all the time in search of the legendary crowds that Mexico offers. This tour takes place in a Mexico caught in a presidential whirlwind.

The recent election has left the country’s political systems in disarray. Andres Lopez Obrador, and his supporters, cry fraud while the tentative tally declares Felipe Calderon Mexico’s next president by a winning margin of less than 6/10 of a percentage point. Allegations fly, motions are filed, protests are launched and Mexico’s future hangs in the balance.

***

After a day of buses, vans and subway trains, I’m outside of an anonymous looking warehouse draped in sheet metal and accented with graffiti somewhere on the North East side of Mexico City. The endless stream of traffic hums in the background as a crowd, made up predominately of young street punks and skin-heads, mills about the sidewalk saying hello to friends before paying a few pesos to get into the show. In the farm towns and urban centers of Mexico, the scene plays out just as I’ve seen it in Richmond CA, or New York, or Pittsburg PA.

As we enter each city we are met by our contacts who set up a place for us to stay and makes sure the bands get to the show on time. People speak of a country with a rich history of political turmoil. The 1994 assassination of presidential candidate Donald Colosio in Tijuana, the 1968 student protest turned blood bath in Tlatelolco in and the still unresolved Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. No one talks too much about the recent election, they talk about the countless stories you never hear. The stories that aren’t lucky enough to be popularized by the media. But this isn’t news, this is history.

***

A young skinhead girl looks at me with fiery eyes and asks to have a drink of my beer. I oblige and she takes a long drink, attempting to soothe her throat made raw by her fervent screams of support for the local skinhead group that is about to take the stage. She passes my beer around, everyone is parched. They pass my beer back to me with a nod of thanks, I tip my bottle in their direction and take a deep drink.

It isn’t difficult to see why skinhead culture has become so popular in Mexico. A far cry from they stereotypical view of the neo-Nazi skin-head, skinhead culture in Mexico is rooted in the enormous gap between rich and poor, a city plagued with crime, a police force that is seen as the biggest and most feared cartel in the city, and a political system that operates on the shaken faith of it’s constituency. Add the overwhelming popularity of football, a Mexican work ethic, and inherent national pride and you have an environment that is tailor made to allow skinhead culture to propagate and flourish. Young, angry, disillusioned and aggressive. Do the young people of Mexico have any other choice?

***

We’ve been staying in the lobby of a friend’s apartment for the past few days. The visual monotony of the reddish brown tile floor and pitch black walls is broken by the sound of the constantly running toilet and the sporadic rain showers that rhythmically pound the roof. Occasionally, a stranger wanders into our lair to use the public bathrooms that are accessed through our makeshift quarters. Their thinly veiled stares speak an international language that asks “What are you doing here?” I wish I could explain.

Tonight we drink and talk about pyramids, prostitutes and our favorite bands. Music blares and our singing and stomping grows to obnoxious levels, our revelry reverberating to the very foundations of the building. Time wears on and as the night winds down we listen to more traditional Mexican music. The lyrics spin tales of heroes that embody the spirit of the country. This is Corrido, a style of music that became popular during the mid 1800’s. The music has roots in European tales, but under a turbulent time in Mexican history it became something else. It became the stories of the revolutionaries, the outlaws and drug smugglers, the lovers and fighters and the heroes and legends.

Luciano, Thretning Verse’s charismatic guitarist and former resident of Mexico City, turns to me and explains further. “There was a time when the government took control of the media and the only way people heard the stories of the revolutionaries was through music.” He talks about various artists and songs he likes in particular. “Corrido culture is still really popular here. People still take it seriously,” he says.

***

One too many street tacos has left Thretning Verse’s drummer, Big Mike, with a minor stomach infection and the band has voted to cancel the last two shows of their tour and return home. The hours overlap as I continually attempt to talk my way onto the next flight to the United States. The airport delirium has set in.


Terror Dome, Mexico City

Staring at the empty seats stretching through out the boarding area of gate #38, my fractured memories of Mexico bombard my brain in bit and pieces. Incidents play out in fast-forward as I attempt to separate reality from imagination. And at that moment the turmoil that surrounds the recent presidential race ceases to become a matter of how or why. It becomes a matter of course.

An idealized political process has never been a reality for Mexico, or for that matter, any other country on this planet. And though we’re allowed to project an ideal — democracy — it remains just that, an ideal.

Mexico’s political process isn’t some version of democracy or any other system of government with an eloquent name. For virtually all countries, from economic superpowers to developing nations, the political process is fixed ballot boxes and violent revolutions. It is assassinated presidents and student protests turned into massacres. It is politically charged music and the sub-culture that wields it. And even if I’m about to board a plane to fly thousands of miles back to the United States, it doesn’t feel like I’m that far from home.

Furtado is a photographer and an editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, a part of the New America Media.

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