Another White Van across the Street?
Fear and Magic Realism in a Mexico City Social Center
Looking straight into this room – or so it feels – is one of the 7000 surveillance cameras that the government of D.F. (Mexico City) installed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of Independence. Melipona, still a kitten, sleeps on my collarbone, but I have trouble falling asleep because I’m thinking about the lady who came to our poetry event on Friday and told one of us that she’s friends with the cops and can “protect us if we want.” I’m thinking about our neighbor who asked what’s up with the white vans with tinted windows that are now often parked in front of our house. I’m thinking about earlier this week when a woman rang the doorbell early in the morning to tell us her husband had beaten her up and she needed someone to go with her to confront him. She told us her husband is high up in the subway system hierarchy, that he can easily know what she is up to – if not through “his people” then with the help of the surveillance cameras that are now in every train station. People like him are “always watching kids like us,” she said, and that “they know what we are up to” and “where to find us.”
It has been nine months since we turned this house into La Colmena, a mix between a free school, a community center, and a home for around eleven of us at a time, including Melipona. Each of us undoubtedly joined this project for different reasons, but one thing that motivated me was a need to feel a sense of solidarity with and community in the neighborhood where I grew up. Apart from the political ideas and (perhaps unattainable) ideals that informed the structure and activities of La Colmena, I saw in this project a very concrete way to shape the way I experience my hometown.