Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Punk in Oaxaca

So I was in Oaxaca almost a year ago on this day, a time of year when many are getting ready get down with an indigenous party  at the Guelaguetza festival, and the policia municipal are getting ready to beat people up left and right.  As I write this, I am missing this town where I experienced both the best food and the worst political repression I have ever seen.  So, I figured I’d jot down a little tale for you guys...

I got to Oaxaca city, Oaxaca at the ass crack of dawn and despite not being able to sleep worth dick on the over night bus ride (multiple military, police, and military-police checkpoints, black clad guys with machine guns and maglights boarding the bus all night etc.) I definitely couldn't sleep when I got there.  I started walking around exploring the city before most of the street vendors had set up shop for the day.  I was able to score a styrofoam cup of nescaf√© and some kind of spicy breakfeast meat pastry thing so I was straight.  I walked around a bit looking at stuff.  Oaxaca it is a beautiful city with the nicest town center/social space of anywhere I have ever been.  In my tired and reduced state I stumbled along one of the main drags and saw a poster that immediately looked familiar:  jagged/pointy white letters on a black background on a xeroxed white page with assorted skulls with horns, anarchy symbols, etc. etc.  The universal symbology of hardcore.  I don't remember what all the bands were called but they all had these fake crust punk names like “nauseate” and “conflicted,” “disrupter” etc.   I said “well damn!” and made a mental note to check out that flier again later.  I continued exploring the city.  Perhaps because of the lack of sleep or maybe just the general lazy streak I have in me, I didn’t write down any of the info n the flier.  I just kind of took for granted that I could come back down the same street in a few hours and see the same flier and get the info then.  A naive notion informed by the experience of living with typically spoiled american punk rock.

So I went on down the road, saw a bunch of really cool shit and ate some food that changed my life.   You know, typical travel stuff.  I traced my steps home, going down that same street looking for that same flier.  Shit!  Was it on the pink edefico with orange trim or the yellow one with the red awning? ¡Puta madre!  where is it?? I couldn’t find that flyer again to save my life.  It had only been a couple of hours and there were still lots of flyers for the upcoming Guelaguetza festival and for movies and other lame shit, so it didn’t really cross my mind that it had gotten taken down.  I scoured the two block stretch where I thought I had seen it to no avail.  I chalked it up to being really tired and forgetful.  Damn.

A few days later, walking around town seeing huge cops wearing all black and combat helmets trying to intimidate old ladies and pointing machine guns into crowds of pedestrians, I noticed the flier again.  This time it was on a kind of side street with much less traffic and no other nearby hand bills.  It was also wheat pasted on to a concrete building.  Once again, for some reason I did not write down the info but made note of the date and time and general location.  It was a house show and there would be free vegan food available.  (¿comida no bombas?) Definitely some crusty shit going on.  Naturally, I was excited - Mexcan crust punk.!  I think I was in a bit of a hurry to get to a bus stop or something so I bounced thinking I would be able to come check it out on my way back.  When I came back, the flyer was gone.  But this time it had been painted over.  !  what the hell?  

My first day in Oaxaca I noticed the almost total absence of political graffiti -- strange I thought, seeing as how the adjacent state Chiapas was covered in it.  In fact, there was more stuff written on the walls in Chiapas about what is going on in the streets of Oaxaca than in Oaxaca.  But it’s not really strange, just a fascist military police and a really really quick buff.  

i really wish i had more pictures of things like this - these guys, in their full riot gear are all over the city.*  they ride around in the back of pick up trucks 8 deep and intimidate everyone in sight.  their job is as much to intimidate as it is to actually exact force.  they walk all over the city, around the clock.  rare is it that one or more is not somewhere in your field of vision, no matter where you are pr when.  Oaxaca is the only place I went in my travels that I didn't always feel safe - and because of these guys.

To say there isn’t a lot of political freedom in Oaxaca or even public freedom or freedom of any kind besides the freedom to go to work and not ever stand up for yourself or your people would be a fucking understatement of an understatement. 

It’s a total police state.  Activists and organizers are routinely murdered and yet there is still a lot of popular resistance, albeit underground (see links at bottom).  One gets the overwhelming feeling every second of every day in Oaxaca city the situation there is a proverbial ticking time bomb.  People are only going to take that shit for so long, as evidenced by the 2006 riots but anyway, back to the story...

All but given up on the crusty show and sidetracked by a mezcal festival I wondered around looking for anyone with a patch jacket or amebix t-shirt to ask about this show to no avail.  On my way back to where I was staying I saw the flyer once again - this time I was fucked on mezcal and free Sol, but mindful enough to write down the info.   The next day I got my shit together enough to get into a cab and head out into the neighborhood where the show was:

There was no exact address on the flyer which I assume was a measure against it getting properly and immediately shut down.  I figured with what I believed to be the expected logic that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a hardcore show in the neighborhood on an otherwise quiet sunday afternoon.  But alas, I walked and walked and asked anyone with so much as an eyebrow ring where it was going down and no one knew. I never found the show. I combed the entire neighborhood, which wasn't really that big (the lower part of that picture), and heard nothing.   I think it was shut down either before the fact or immediately after it began.  This would be consistent with the state of affairs in Oax city.

I realize this is a very anti-climactic story.  But that’s kind of the point -- remember it the next time you go to a DIY show at Wells street or i can fly or wherever.  There are some people who have to try much harder for this thing we do with ease, and for whom the stakes are much much higher.  Punk is criminalized in that part of the world because it is still dangerous.  In Oaxaca, the kids can’t afford to be complacent - there is a war, very literally, and hardcore is one of many weapons employed to fight it. These kids aren't afraid to burn shit down and hit cops with homemade rockets (see video), and they understand that every little bit counts. 

Up the mexipunx!

*it is difficult to find pictures of these guys except in full swing (see pictures from 2006 below).  one gets the impression that they don't want pictures taken of them.  i wanted to get more but also didn't want my camera to end up under a boot.  These dickheads like to do things like pick people at near-random and follow them for many blocks as well as point guns at people (me) for no apparent reason other than the jock-satisfaction.  But fuck them.  In the end, they will lose.

1 comment:

the xarlacc said...

AMEN. Best post ever! Maybe you will make it to see Nauseate, Conflicted, and Disrupter in the afterlife.

For real excellencia! Ayo!