Charging The Cavalry
Down Prison Road
Games of Shame
Our Kind of Guy
Zaps - 10/10
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Dread and Redemption in Mexico City
Book by John Ross; New York: Nation Books, 2009, 512 pp.
In El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City, long-time journalist and author John Ross summons the magic of Mexico's history. This work is spiced with humor, murder mysteries, gossip, and haunting detail. By focusing on El Monstruo, Mexico City, Ross tells an epic history of the region from the Aztec Empire through the Mexican Revolution to the 2008 presidential elections and the city's struggle with swine flu.
The book is interspersed with brief interviews that Ross conducted with local characters in and around the hotel where he lives in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City. In one such exchange, Alfredo spoke to Ross about his work buying and selling gold jewelry. He told the writer that he has "never knowingly bought or sold a stolen watch." Alfredo called himself an urban gold miner. "You never know where you will encounter gold in this city."
Ross is also a kind of urban gold miner. He digs up one story from 1928, when the cartoonist José de León Toral drew a picture of President Álvaro Obregón while the leader was celebrating his re-election. Toral placed a pistol under the drawing before showing it to the president and shot Obregón five times. Or did he? The case isn't closed and the truth about who pulled the trigger "went to the grave with Toral." At the end of this unsolved mystery, Ross tells us that "Unrepentant, Toral sucked down his last cigarette—a Faro, the slim-jim cheapos that were then the smoke of choice…. The term chupando [puffing] Faros has since become Chilango slang for giving up the ghost."
Such details pop up in the most unexpected places throughout this history. For instance, on the night of the Zapatista uprising on New Year's Eve 1993, President Carlos Salinas's party put away three bottles of Dom Pérignon and he contemplated a late night cruise on the presidential yacht. Before the party could cast off, Salinas received a phone call from one of his military officials about a certain masked insurgency taking place in Chiapas, declaring war on the Mexican state. Ross then leads the section on the Zapatista uprising with "Feliz Año Nuevo, Cabrones."
Ross is rightly skeptical of most politicians. When reflecting on the results of one mayoral election in Mexico City, he writes, "The Monster was powered by its own internal contradictions. It could not be made to wear the bridle of the Left or the Right. El Monstruo had no political party or perhaps it was its own political party. Those who sought to rule here had to make peace with the beast. There were certain protocols to follow. As in all 12-step programs, those who claimed to be in charge had first to admit that they had no power over El Monstruo. Once that was established, negotiations could begin."
Perhaps the same political analysis could be true for the entire nation. This is one of the many strengths of El Monstruo: that in gaining an understanding of the city, we gain an understanding of Mexico itself. After all the tragedy and glory covered in this book, Ross writes that the "social immune system" of those living in Mexico City "is still healthy enough to resist the bullshit of their rulers...." And it's that people's energy that keeps El Monstruo from chupando Faros.
Benjamin Dangl edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, covering activism and politics in Latin America. He is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press, 2007), and the forthcoming book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press, 2010).
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.