Archives August 2005

Superbarrio: Darthmouth

Photo essay originally published online at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University
“Yo comparto la idea de que tiene que haber una transformación de la política económica, y si la política económica se está dictando desde Wall Street, desde el Departamento de Tesoro […] el gobierno norteamericano tiene un papel sustancial en diseñar esta política económica … Por eso, lo que yo estoy haciendo es atacar por los dos lados. Con la organización social, con la gente en movimiento, con propuestas de modificar la propiedad económica, y con la candidatura a la presidencia, para modificar de fondo esta política. Y sin dar el beneficio de la duda, en la cosa de la candidatura, podemos perder aquí, pero no podemos perder en el movimiento social.”
The Future is Now
In favor of progressive transnational politics via what can be understood as global gobernance, Superbarrio 1995’s electoral campaign for US president proposed that the citizens of the Americas must have the right of self-governance by having control over the US electoral vote. In other words, Latin Americans, and Latinos/as alike, must be able to participate fully in the US electoral process by having a representative voice. Superbarrio Gomez for US president against the “politics of fear” was the logic consequence.
Nine years later, from September 20, to October 4, the “Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride”, a national march organized by labor and pro-immigrant rights organizations toured the US nation. Their claims, the provision of voting rights to non-US citizens. In the tradition of the 1961 “Freedom Rides”, more than 120,000 immigrants arrived to Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York, the largest pro-immigrant march in US history. Predictions attest that by 2080, Mexico’s north and the US southwest will unify. The Mexicanization of California has already taken place long ago, now we are in the North East.
“Voy a estar en Harvard el próximo viernes, y me da miedo encontrarme a los mexicanos ahí, porque son ellos los que están pensando en qué va a hacer nuestro presidente, y hoy están estudiando un material nuevo que se llama: desastres económicos nacionales. La gente tiene una politización muy alta, tiene una conciencia social también muy alta, la gente ha desarrollado sus aspiraciones y sus formas de organización. El gobierno no ha sido recíproco con este sacrificio.”
“The problem of NAFTA is not about workers, it is about corporations because they are the ones benefiting from this situation….the corporations take the industry to México because the conditions are different, that is the problem. When the workers can find and meet each other, when they can talk between them, the problem is clear…it is not our problem it is the corporation and the government’s problem. We want to be a voice that identify these problems and think together about the solution. The workers from Canada, the workers from the U.S., from México should think together what is the solution about the problem of unemployment, social security, and work with unions…”
“…una política económica de carácter CONTINENTAL en donde también se puedan tener medidas para las plantas nacionales.”
While John Kerry, Rudolph Giuliani, and George W. Bush propose an America to reconcile either class division or national security promises, in 1995 Superbarrio’s campaign proposed an America comprised of alternative transnational political cultures. Superbarrio’s unified America, in conversation with Benito Juarez “America for Americans”, incorporated the participation of Latin American and Latino/a civil societies within and beyond the US.
“El concepto americano hasta nostros mismos lo hemos tenido que asumir, ya que nos hemos negado a nosotros mismos nuestra condición de americanos nacidos en el continente.”
Superbarrio has been a fundamental figure in Mexico City’s electoral concientization, the way in which winning for the majoritarian class became a real political imaginary. Superbarrio’s premonitory discourse further promoted the possibilities of global governance as the only consequential logic in a global world economy and its centralized accumulation of capital. Superbarrio’s candidacy for U.S. President promoted a cross-border alliance among workers in the search of what are human rights, decent working and living conditions. Because the U.S./Mexico border has been the location to rehearse and promote the dehumanization of the labor force, and NAFTA its later institutionalized model, Superbarrio’s transnational mobilization becomes the wrestling scenario to conceptualized “new geographies of governamentality” (Appadurai 2002). Superbarrio’s transnational activism became a fight for alternative forms of global citizenship in which to keep the mask on means to own one’s home within and beyond the Nation.

Superbarrio: Enchinitas

Photo essay originally published online at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University
The voting of Mexicans for Mexican President in the US allows citizens to practice their rights of “national citizenship”. On the other hand, the effect of Superbarrio as a political figure in the US allows us to imagine a utopic space in which the interest of the Latin American majoritarian class is represented not by a corporate State, but by a social fighter at the transnational level. This transnational vote becomes a practice of global governance.
In the year 2000, 9.9 million people were potential candidates to vote for Mexican president in the US. They constituted 16.5 and 17.5 percent of the total of Mexican citizens. Currently, Mexicans, or the children of Mexican nationals living in the US have dual-citizenship. This means, 15 million of US citizens of Mexican descent would be able tovote in the 2006 Mexican presidential election.
Global Governance via National Actors and Cross-Border Government Alliances
“Yo creo que es muy difícil que un solo país pueda lograr una transformación económica únicamente en nuestras fronteras, dentro de su territorio. Creo que tiene que haber una reacción de una serie de países sufriendo el mismo poderío económico de manera tal que permita remontar esa situación, eso es lo primero.”
Currently, there are 22 million Mexicans living in the US from which “10 millions can vote for the 2006” Mexican presidential election if Congress accepts the bill.
Superbarrio’s transnational politics result from their political awareness of a future ruled by corporate and privatized nation-states. NAFTA materialized this future.
“Una nueva política económica tiene que ver con garantizar que los beneficios de esta política vayan a las clases mayoritarias. Actualmente los beneficios están yendo al capital especulador, a las bolsas de valores -Stock market. Esta nueva política económica tiene que priorizar la defensa de la planta productiva nacional, porque la planta productiva nacional es la que ofrece mayor índice de empleo a los trabajadores. La actual política privilegia a las corporaciones transnacionales, y la competencia entre las transnacionales y la planta nacional es muy dura. Es decir, el gobierno no estimula la pequeña industria, o la micro industria sino que privilegia el gran capital extranjero. Eso provoca que la pequeña industria cierre, y el número de desempleados crezca.”

Superbarrio: San Diego

Photo essay originally published online at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University
In 1989, Superbarrio made his first18-day California tour, “Superbarrio Vs Agente Fronterizo” [Superbarrio vs. INS Officer]. The goal of this cross-border solidarity campaign was to discuss with farm workers, university and community leaders the rights of immigrants, Mexican-Americans and Chicanos/as—particularly their struggle with police brutality and abuse of members from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). He visited San Diego, Encinitas, Los Angeles (where he was detained by the INS during his speech), Fresno, Berkeley, San Jose and other places. Meanwhile, on the Mexican side of the border, the Assembly presented a petition to the Mexican government to prosecute those Mexican custom officials who extort Mexican visitors crossing the border south.

Superbarrio: Tijuana

Photo essay originally published online at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University
Superbarrio’s urban politics collapse the thin border between the “inside” and the “outside” of the wrestling ring. For the legendary Mexican wrestler El Santo, wrestling assumed the risk of dying. “Not many have, but some did.” El Santo explains that the highest risks took place in seconds, for instance, when he “flew” outside the ring into the audience’s chairs. The “outer ring” was the easiest location to break one’s head, or the head of somebody else in the audience. Lethal accidents had to be controlled during actions that took place in seconds. “To think in a second, while I am flying, so that by the time I am landing, I know almost simultaneously how to hit the floor and what to do next.” Superbarrio, like El Santo, performs in the confines of the “outer ring”; he risks his head, and his mask, in the dangers of political activism. Superbarrio inverts the wrestling rings inside out turning the streets into a ring of urban politics and performance.

Superbarrio: Mexico City Political Climate

sb2Photo essay originally published online at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University
Historically, Superbarrio has been strategic in promoting democratic electoral change. He first emerged in June, 1987 as representative of the Neighborhood Assembly; but in order to win, Superbarrio and the Assembly understood they had to create an alternative political imaginary against seven decades of PRI government, its repeated electoral frauds, and its unpunished corruption. In 1988, the Neighborhood Assembly nominated Superbarrio for president. But, already exercising a profound understanding of coalition building, he gave up his nomination to support Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the progressive leader of Mexico’s Democratic Coalition.
Superbarrio Gomez is like any other working class man; he is a street vendor, lives in the barrio and owns a Barriomovil. According to the Cumbia de Superbarrio (Superbarrio’s cumbia song), he was an orphan. While a teenager, he witnessed the ’68 military oppression against the students uprising in Tlatelolco. Superbarrio “tried selling clothes, driving a taxi, about 200 different jobs before settling on a career as a luchador calling himself Black Prince.” Eventually he fell in love with “Lucha,” not the popular ranchera singer Lucha Villa, nor Lucha Contreras, but Lucha Popular. (Lucha is a proper name which also translates as “struggle.”) He married and had a wrestling carrier. Gomez’s life changed after the September earthquake in 1985, and after he and his neighbors were evicted from a building in downtown Mexico City. He decided to stop fighting fictional enemies in order to fight the real enemy, the government, and its illegal alliance with landlords who perpetrated tenant evictions. In his interview, David Brooks asked Superbarrio what was behind that mask, if there were many Superbarrios. Superbarrio replied that there were thousands of Superbarrios, in fact that anyone who rises his/her voice against injustice was Superbarrio.
Superbarrio’s consciousness is the result of the unification of Mexico’s majoritarian class against a large national problem, the government’s consistent project of gentrification. Superbarrio explains: “The policy of the government over the last decades has been one of forcing people from the center of the city to the periphery, and giving the properties at the center of commercial use to benefit large enterprises, warehouses, restaurants, tourist attractions.” In 1993, Mexico was the fourteenth-wealthiest country in the world, and the most politically stable country in Latin America. Simultaneously, Mexico City had the most unequal distribution of wealth; it concentrated the richness and the misery of the entire country. Superbarrio adds that, “when peasants demanded land to the government, the government gave them land—but 6 feet under. Those who petitioned housing and invaded vacant lots, got housing—but inside jail. And those workers who asked for wage increases—found themselves fired.”
La Asamblea de Barrios (Mexico City’s Neighborhood Assembly) is a grassroots organization concerned with the egalitarian acquisition and distribution of decent housing for the poor. In the late 1980s, working class women and amas de casa constituted seventy percent of the organization. La Asamblea de Barrios was the result of the unification of the representatives of 40 neighborhood unions, which emerged to oppose the city’s evictions against the marginal population in Mexico City. The government proved its lack of commitment to the poor during the most difficult moments after the earthquake. Taking advantage of the situation, the government spent most of its time “organizing” the evictions of thousands of underprivileged people living in downtown’s historic center, rather than rescuing other thousands of people dying, or already deadly trapped, “aplastadas,” by the Government’s poorly constructed building projects and hospitals. Two hundred and fifty thousand people were left homeless after the first earthquake, while, 500 thousand Mexicans slept on the streets with one eye opened, looking at their houses, afraid to lose the rest of their belongings. This devastation and corruption, and La Asamblea de Barrios’s infrastructure, created the context for Super to jump into the ring of urban politics to renovate and reconstruct the Mexican political arena. “To confront these problems a super human effort is required, and that is why it takes a Superbarrio to change it.”
Superbarrio’s ability to transform the practices of popular culture, such as wrestling and its rhetoric, into an alternative political imaginary produces the transformation of social space into urban mobilization. Simultaneously, his wrestling performance within a social movement transcends and conveys his fictional character into a real political leader.
The wrestling mask is designed to differentiate each wrestler within the various social spaces in which they interact, from the wrestling ring performance to the “fotonovela” print. While Superbarrio’s mask connotes the traditional strength of wrestling championship, he subverts this exclusive function by adding to it an extra layer of signification. “Behind the mask there is the whole struggle of the city’s inhabitants, to make it more livable, more democratic, to resolve the great problems we face. The mask is the symbol, the identification of the people in this struggle…it is not an individual struggle…” For Superbarrio to keep his mask on in the wrestling ring and the social struggle means that we are all winners, we are all Superbarrio.

Superbarrio: Panama

sb4>Photo essay originally published online at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University
Manifest Destiny and El Tamal’s Counter-Attack (or the future weapons of mass destruction?)
George Bush senior, in his war against drugs (chemical substances that would cross north of the border and sustain the cocaine addiction of the upper class right?) invaded Panama. The evidence: Mexican tamales found at Noriega’s freezer. ACORDING TO AN INTERNATIONAL NEWS AGENCY, THE PENTAGON INFORMED THAT THEY HAD SPENT ONE MONTH DOING DETAIL LABORATORY TESTS OF THE SUBSTANCES WITHIN THOSE BANANA LEAVES.
In an emergency response, alarmed that Mexico would be the next target, and given the fact that Noriega’s tamales were of Mexican origin, Superbarrio and the Asamblea organized a tamalada, an action against US intervention in Mexico. Why wouldn’t Mexico be invaded (again) when it is the country with the largest, uncontrolled, unmonitored, domestic and regional production of green, red, sweet and fruit tamales? (photo of tamales should have a text saying: “this is a dramatization”). Marco Rascón, then one of the Asamblea’s leader, inaugurated the event:
“Today, one month after the US invasion of Panama, the killing of thousands of people, the violation of all international laws, and a proved prepotency, the Empire’s judges lack legal evidence to sentence Noriega because what they had found in Noriega’s house [refrigerator] was not cocaine but tamales.”
Luckily for Mexico, tamales were still prepared with national, un-chemically altered corn; after NAFTA, and the US hyper-processed corn invasion of Mexico, tamales have become chemical weapons of mass market destruction!

Superbarrio: Introduction

sb1Photo essay originally published online at Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University
This photo essay is about Superbarrio Gomez and his journey in the construction of a “politics of the possible” (1) , an alternative political imaginary constituted via popular culture and the construction of a national and transnational social movement. Superbarrio makes evident the collapse between politics and performance; he forces us to think beyond the performance of politics in order to understand the politics of performance. Superbarrio belongs to both the majoritarian class and to the wrestling ring of popular culture, which makes his politics possible. Superbarrio’s practices of popular culture creates a political imaginary in which winning was possible in spite of corrupt referees. But Superbarrio makes evident how the wrestling ring teaches us about political culture as well as social mobilization. Superbarrio’s wrestling ring is a place of possibilities where corrupt landlords and politicians are unmasked .As long as Superbarrio keeps his mask, we all win. Superbarrio’s journey maps an alternative political imaginary that functioned at the local, national and transnational/hemispheric register. At the local level, Superbarrio, with the strength of Mexico City’s Neighborhood Assembly [Asamblea de Barrios] created a social movement that understood that to win one’s home, one had to win at the national level, the National Palace and la Casa de los Pinos [presidential house]. Superbarrio became the symbol to mobilize the political imaginary in which to vote, (against seven decades of perfect dictatorship) was the only option to own the Presidential house. In 1988, Superbarrio aligned forces with Cuauhtemoc Cardenas in the winning of the national vote and they won.
But against systemic corruption, to win was not enough and the social movement had to reach beyond the US/Mexican border. In order to do so, Superbarrio made his first US tour promoting the possibility of Mexicans, living on the US side of the border, to vote for Mexican president. After all, their income has contributed to the Mexican economy 13 thousand million dollars in economic gross. Superbarrio promoted a political imaginary in which voting– a fundamental right of citizenship– could be exercised across national borders. But this transnational campaign was the practice of a political vision that understood the rules of the game within the then nascent process of globalization and the privatization of the Nation-State. In 1994, NAFTA (North American Free-Trade Agreement) would become the national precedent. Knowing the dirty rules of what became a macro-economic political game, Superbarrio jumped out of the national arena to fight for the rights of workers transnationally; he ran for US president in 1996. Superbarrio’s strategy was to contextualize the concept of national citizenship (exercised in the voting of national citizens such as Latinos/as and Latin Americans living in the US with dual citizenship) into that of free trade, not of goods but of people. In his campaign he proposed “free citizenship”, a concept that assumes rights to decent housing and working conditions across nations for all, citizens and non-citizens, the workers of the hemisphere within and beyond the US territory. Superbarrio’s free citizenship becomes a model of global citizenship in which fair housing and fair working conditions function within the realm of human rights transnationally. He also proposed the voting rights of these transnational workers, their vote would count for Mexican as well as US president. Superbarrio’s US presidential campaign, and his premonitory “politics of the possible”, produce an alternative political, social and cultural imaginary. By implication, to believe in Superbarrio is to believe in a collective struggle that functions regionally and operates as a social movement across borders. To believe in Superbarrio is to believe in us as transnational social agents. Beneath the mask, we are all Superbarrio.
(1) I am borrowing this concept from Kumkum Sangari “The Politics of the Possible,” Cultural Critique 7 (Fall 1987: 157-186).

Superbarrio's performativity, his embodiment of popular strength and collective self, is only possible through his direct participation within the imaginary and memory of popular culture.

Superbarrio’s performativity, his embodiment of popular strength and collective self, is only possible through his direct participation within the imaginary and memory of popular culture.

The fence from the U.S. to Mexico is recycled and settled in the Palestinian territories. The U.S./Mexican border becomes Wall-Mart Nation, where peso salaries purchase dollar products. Wall-Mart becomes the contact zone, the bridge where socialization takes place via consumption, and transculturation functions by way of gastronomic hybridity with post-national and post-natural products. The category of migrant and/or undocumented worker disappears, now replaced by the Wal-Mart migrant shopper. Wal-Mart becomes a brand citizenship. Mexican workers are from both sides of Wal-Mart as the U.S. becomes Mexico and the south of Mexico becomes the place where the corporate oligarchs live in their natural resorts of Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Acapulco. Wal-Mart workers are mostly women; child labor laws have been dismantled, given the population’s gastronomic diet made of intense hormonal doses in super-size meals. Workers overdeveloped in size and Mexican mothers conspire by creating cilantro pills to sustain the IQ levels and cultural memory of their overgrown children. Workers sneak in the pills. Reports from the information guerrilla network attest that those who intervene against the Wal-Mart production line risk being devoured into the fast food menu. In the south, the formation of a Coca-Cola State becomes a preventive model against military occupation and tamales are assimilated into Wal-Mart’s production line. The Chinese, out of earthly space, transport their maquila sweat shops into outer space in Bangladeshi man-made space ships. Meanwhile, the electoral process experiences radical change, voting acquires a Wal-Mart redirecting points system; the more one purchases, the more points for the ruling BWW Party. In Wal-Mart World, former U.S. citizens and radicals vote a la the Mexican “si no?” vote against the ruling party even if it is not in favor of any candidate. Chiapas is yet to be conquered.