Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ricardo Flores Magón

History is time’s invention and time is humanity’s invention and humanity is often a big ugly liar. Other times, humanity is drunk and has no recollection; or else, a faulty one, changing both time and history to suit its needs, desires, and so on. History is often written with the pen of a hangover, making research difficult or impossible for accuracy’s sake. Where humankind is involved, mistakes are bound to happen.

Researching the casinos that once sprang up in Tijuana after the turn of the century is a great example of how humans seem to want their demise to be remembered differently than it actually occured. The big casino, Aguas Calientes, either burned down, flooded out, or both, depending on whom one wishes to believe. Countless other rogue casinos also confound matters, by their ignored illegality during that era and by the confused historian that might use an inaccurate account of an incorrect location. My best source indicates that the same flood that destroyed the original racetrack also destroyed most of the casino.

Daniel flails me for it, but it isn’t my fault. It isn’t his fault either. Our references are tipsy, at best.

Even the origin of the name of the city of Tijuana is told in various ways. The most popular is from Tia Juana, or Aunt Jane, as having owned a friendly ranch here in the early days before anyone bothered to name the region. I have also read about three different indigenous tribes (depending on the story), that have some inebriated historians placing the name of the City of Tijuana as originating from the word Ticuan or Tihan or Tiwan and so on, all of which have some meaning to do with being near the ocean. But actually, no one really knows, the historians were all drunks back then I reckon.

In nineteen hundred and twenty-five they even changed the name of the city of Tijuana to Zaragoza; too bad it didn’t stick or the point would be moot. Then again, the Dandy del Sur might be one-half block east of Calle Olvera instead of Avenida Revolución if it weren’t for the second Mexican revolution. Of course, had anarchist Flores Magón succeeded in ruling the Tijuana area from inside of the United States of America, where he was in exile in nineteen hundred and eleven - until the Mexican troops that Magón once supported finally came and drove his fellow anarchists into the United States of America or else killed them, then Baja California might even have become a communist country.

Ricardo Flores Magón died in Leavenworth, by the way, after being arrested in 1918 by the United States of America for "obstructing the war effort" in violation of the Espionage Act of 1917, and received twenty years in prison. He didn’t make it out of there. Kurt Vonnegut’s moral hero, Eugene V. Debs, was also arrested in 1918 by the United States of America in violation of the Espionage Act of 1917. Small world. Debs made it out of prison though. At least Magón has a street named for him here, I have no idea about Debs.

The worst thing I can think of to say about Debs and Magón is that they were men who truly wanted to make the world a better place, they just used the wrong tools.

* * * *

There was a time when Mexico would shine for me on days like last Saturday did, when the newness and the difference of everything I had ever come to understand about people and culture were as freshly plowed fields in my vision. I would swivel my thoughts like so many moving pendulums, they would miss and collide and sometimes fly free and disappear completely, and at some points I often had to reel from the dizzy mess I made with my perceptions. The simplest things, taken for granted elsewhere that I had ever been, are the things most special here. Mexico won’t let anyone take anything for granted; She’s a jealous mother tediously tending to her children.

Mexico now shines for me every day, especially on days like last Saturday, because my perceptions have been saddled, harnessed, and reigned.

A simple walk is a precious thing, especially on the tenth of May, Dia de las Madres. Small fiestas are everywhere, gently blending into the warm afternoon, sweet music and extended families spill out onto their front patios, it feels like a holiday. The streets aren’t so mean and people seem slower and happier. I strolled to the market and realized that just the trip was the shine, and that step by step is how spices are added to flavor anything that tastes good. In this way traditions are added to cultures like the shine I sometimes feel and the spices I sometimes taste and it all glistens and simmers and for years until I finally come to realize how good all of it really is.

And that the whole world should be just this way, always. That was my last Saturday.

We ate posole, from two huge pots full of it, and I was the only one who dared to sling dashes of habanero into my bowl. The gifts were beautiful picture collages of motherhood, from beginning to now, history lessons so simply arranged as to convey the idea of matriarchal necessity. Some people played games while others sat content for the opportunity to share the afternoon. More collages.

These are things that history can never change, no matter which drunk is in charge of writing the particular chapter. The great thing about Saturday was that it will never have any relevance to politics or religion or whatever else makes written history swerve outside of the lane, because such events threaten no one on any level. Saturday made no statement, it only provided everyone with the great sense of hope and beauty and love.

Ricardo Flores Magón wanted to provide the world with hope and beauty and love, too, but he wanted everyone to live in communes and outside of the control of a government. This is certainly not very comfortable for the government that doesn’t appreciate anyone wishing to live outside of the sphere of its ability to control. Magón’s movement was certainly powerful enough to affect the second Mexican revolution to the point where, after infecting Zapata’s peasant army with enough reason to fight to the impossible fight, Madero felt that he had no choice but to quell it even here in Tijuana.

Even now, the Zapatistas in Chiapas embrace the Magónista movement from the turn of the twentieth century, it drives them toward whatever goal of autonomy that they feel they might be able to achieve.

Yet, if Mexico City had thought enough to go after John Frémont, then Alto California might still belong to Mexico, imagine that. Or, perhaps, if Frémont had been a communist, then maybe either Mexico’s troops would have been dispatched in the most rapid manner possible; or else, again, Alta California might would have been a communist country.

And then Magón would have been spared Leavenworth and then a suspicious death while in prison there.

* * * *

Cultural misconceptions are another source of inaccurate history. Duly, on Sunday, Mother’s Day in the united States of America, I called my mother and we talked a lot about a lot, and I shared one conversation that I had recently enjoyed with a young lady from the United States of America. This young lady was very nice and mentally sharp, and upon learning that I lived in Mexico she teased me with jokes about Mexico and Mexicans. But then she looked at me, and changed expression, serious as a nun in a habit.

"Is it really true that in Mexico they eat beans with every meal?" She asked innocently enough.

"Every meal. Even with corn flakes."

The young lady looked at me, and only when I finally grinned after waiting a moment did she laugh.

Sunday was lazy, too. Juan washed his car and drank my beer, I watched him while we continued to devour yesterday’s posole at random intervals.

"The other day, I crossed into the United States and the customs guy was asking me a lot of stupid questions. Finally, I had enough. I told him that I was a United States citizen with a valid passport, and that I had already showed it to him. What else did he want from me?" Juan said.

"You told him that you served in the military, I assume," I said.

"I told him that it was how I got my citizenship," Juan told me.

He scrubbed away at the motor with a rag that looked like it deserved to be a rag scrubbing a motor.

"Finally the guy looked at me, and he asked me why I lived on Mexico. ‘Simple,’ I told him. ‘When I want a beer, I just go down the street and buy one. No one asks me any questions. No one cares who I am. I don’t have to get into my car and drive anywhere. I just go buy a beer.’ And then the guy looked at me, and he said, ‘Really?’ And I told him how it is here in Mexico."

I grinned.

"And he let you pass?" I asked sort of knowingly.

"Of course!"

My guess is that Flores Magón passed through the border with relative ease in the years of the second Mexican revolution, that there was really no point at the time in controlling border traffic. At any rate, he spent half of his time in jails and prisons in the United States anyway, because the Mexican government had a price on his head. Again, anarchy certainly isn’t an easy path to follow. Neither is communism, because communism is basically anarchy, except that someone is in charge of everything so that people who supposedly aren’t repressed but really are repressed, can’t challenge the concept of anarchy.

So, there are people who feel that Magón got what was coming to him, and it’s difficult to argue that point.

* * * *

The wobbly route-cab held only me for the longest time. The driver tried at everyone, every person in view, no one needed anything at the moment. I was patient for him, early and entertained by wandering pedestrians and graffiti-ridden cinderblock, wondering who would bother to tag illegible scrawl onto the face of a mortuary. I wasn’t in any hurry to get anywhere in particular.

"No hay nadie," he said, and there really wasn’t anyone, at least anyone that needed to get somewhere else.

"Es Lunes, como las cuatro," I reminded him, Monday at four o’clock is a bad time to drive a cab.

Many cab drivers just go home and take a nap.

"Son las cuatro?"

He didn’t have a watch. Finally we picked some people up, avoided striking other vehicles through what had to be divine intervention, and I found myself in the Dandy del Sur again, saying hello to old acquaintances. Scott showed up, we were catching up on life while watching the Cubs hammer the Padres. The quirky jukebox spun eclectically behind us, and lesbians crowded our space and then left, we moved over and took their seats.

"No tacos tonight, he’s taking the night off," Scott reminded me, as I came back from checking, hopeful that somehow he would be wrong.

Monday night in the Dandy del Sur, evidently, means that there will be many lesbians and no tacos. This would make for a great title to a short fictional story: Lesbians Without Tacos. Or maybe not.

I was hungry. Scott left, and Daniel came in and we drank. There was even tequila. And then I began to inquire to anyone within earshot if there was a Chinese restaurant nearby that was any good at all. Fourth Street, on the other side of Constitución.

We drank some more and then walked over there and the food was pretty good. Daniel had read what I wrote about Charlie and told me about my style and so on, but this is tantamount to telling a dog about its bark, the dog can’t change it even if it wants to. It was good, that Monday evening, especially when the Mexican waitress came over and asked us if we were brothers.

"Brothers? No. We’re lovers," I told her, and Daniel actually had to get up and go over to her and tell her that I was kidding.

The waitress didn’t take her eyes off of me after that, for the entire time that we were there. I guess I can’t fault her for assuming that Daniel and me are brothers; I reckon that white people all look the same. Maybe anarchists all look the same, too, maybe that’s why Ricardo Flores Magón was lumped in with Eugene Debs and all of the others who were locked up for being in violation of the Espionage Act of 1917.

So far as I’ve been able to research for the last week, Ricardo Flores Magón didn’t even speak English.

So, either history is lying, or history has lied.


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