December 5, 2008
Commentary and Photo Essay
Words: Josue Rojas
Photographs: Salvador Ibe
ECATEPEC, MEXICO We were in the dustiest, the poorest, most marginal place: where leftists and immigrants live, where immigrants from Central America stay, where people dump garbage, where no one cares to venture. There we found ourselves covered in wheat-paste, spray paint and construction dust as we decorated the courtyard where the town’s first theatre was being built.
This is Ecatepec, the largest municipality in the Mexican union. Right outside of Mexico City, Ecatepec known as the city of youth, or Ecatepunk is one of Mexico’s most densely populated places, home to 4 million people and until now, it has never been graced with cultural programming. It was recently been taken over by the Popular Revolutionary Party (PRD). They’ve invested in the arts for its people and that’s why we’re here.
In October 2008, the municipality of Ecatepec held the International Festival de Los Nuevos Vientos (Festival of New Winds). Artists from every discipline and from all over the world were invited to participate. Our group was the visual arts contingent: printmakers, painters, video artists, performance artists, photographers, muralistswe did it all. We were13 artists in total: mostly young, up-and-comers from the Bay Area, Southern California and NYC.
I’d been to Mexico City to paint walls before, but never like this. Never had we worked with such a large team, or on so many large-scale projects. We literally worked from sun-up to sundown. It was hard work. We painted walls, printed posters, held workshops, hung out with kids and built with locals. We witnessed as they built the town’s first theatre in the middle of what used to be a dump. Daily, we covered wall after wall, all in hopes of kindling the creative flame already present in the young people we encountered.
Contra One, a 22-year-old graffito and stencil artist from LA, put it this way: “We’re trying to throw the biggest rocks in this pond… we’re trying to throw boulders in hopes that the ripples will become waves.”
Flores Magón is a community on the edge of Ecatepec that just celebrated their 14-year anniversary. The community started as a group of about 500 people who were displaced. They fought with the government for homes and claimed their land by squatting on it. The people are now fighting to get utilities and city services. Though living in poverty, the people are active and committed to their community.
Sarah Mendoza works with children at one of Ecatepec’s cultural hub, Centro Ricardo Flores Magón.
“It means a lot to us to know what goes on in other parts of the world. The experience (international artists) bring feeds us,” Mendoza said. “So that our young people, our children and our adults know that people in other countries are fighting for the same things.”
In a climate of indifference and hostility towards our neighbors to the South, it’s awesome to be part of such a beautiful exchange. I’ve always seen the U.S. as the world’s largest island always radiating noise, but rarely listening locked-in by a sea of self-importance. In light of that I’m glad this is happening. I’m glad to be a part of a group of young creators who are overtly looking to the rest of the continent, specifically Mexico, to seek inspiration, style and content as did the American Avant Garde of days past. I feel like a spearhead, breaking through something. If the drive were to continue along this path, perhaps collectively we may find the flavor and the identity of the Americas.
Winds kick up dust and bring change, and in the arts it’s no different. Covered in spray paint and construction dust, in the middle of courtyard/dump turned to a theatre with my feet on the ground I look up at the clouds and see them move on above me. I realize they don’t halt at man-made lines. This is what I learned in the city of youth, and I’m utterly inspired.
To see the entire photo essay visit the web site: http://flickr.com/photos/31164253@N03/sets/72157608421006431/show
Josue Rojas, editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia is a writer and video producer for New America Media. Salvador Ibe is a Bay Area-based freelance photographer.