Michael: I asked Christopher Brown to interview Pepe Rojo about his photo/essay DISINTIGREETINGS because they’re both products and students of the vast, complex interleaving and interblending of natural and unnatural, culture and language that is the U.S./Mexico borderland.
They did not disappoint.
Pepe: All of the time! And I just can’t stop it. And maybe I don’t even want to. I decided to title this piece disintegreetings because whenever something appears to be disintegrating it’s just really becoming something else, something that should be greeted, and that changes the way that particular thing, or person, connects to the world and the environment. We are so used at being unique and impermeable that we usually fear these transformations and see them as menacing, because, yes, they will end us; but then there’s always something else. At the same time, these moments in-between can be truly scary, disorienting and generally weird, especially when they either happen too fast or they take too long.
All disintegrations are greetings.
Chris: How do you think experimental writing can help us explore issues of environmental justice?
Pepe: Our language and traditional genres are ill-equipped to translate experiences in which identity is blurred, plural, or non-human. We don’t even have adequate pronouns to talk about nature, or about the agency of the nonhuman. Our linguistic apparatuses are too clumsy for that, especially the ones that rely on a very rigid form of the “I”, and its possessive needs.
In order to imagine other ways of being we have to undo the invisible grammar that holds our reality together. Experiments can at least induce us to understand that there are other ways to be, and to understand not just the world, but our relationship to it. Language —particularly official and scientific language— hardwires us so that we see nature as something different from us. Tweaking it might help us find new ways of relating to the environment.
Chris: What does the borderzone teach us about the ecologies of the future?
Pepe: Life doesn’t care for political borders. And neither does non-living nature. That’s why borders create their own particular ecology. If borders are violent so will be the ecologies they engender.
Being so, borders are always creative spaces, where different relations between the forces they try to separate are negotiated and spring up constant and relentlessly. Borders need not be destructive, or hierarchical, or violently enforced, but pact-respectful places of meeting and mutual growth, of becomings. And they are everywhere.
Pepe: Well, as Norma Iglesia said it, Tijuana is a border city, Sand Diego is not. And the contrast is brutal, in terms of wealth, in terms of infrastructure. You can be in hi-tech very-wealthy La Jolla and totally forget that you are thirty minutes away from Tijuana slums. And even though a lot of San Diego residents act as if Mexico doesn’t even exist, the proximity between both places points to their mutual dependence and shows how global inequity works on this age. There’s not another place in the world where the so-called first and third world share such a busy land border. There are lots of guns everywhere, from the US military camps to the Mexican cartels. And while San Diego is postcard pretty, Tijuana is alive and teeming. There’s such a strong and vital pulse beating in Tijuana contrasting with the anodine and conservative San Diego vibe, it provides a really paradoxical counterweight to the economic difference.
Chris: Who were the Magonistas, and why should we care?
Pepe: The Magonistas were a ragtag army of IWW workers from around the world, Mexican revolutionaries and Native Americans (from both sides of the border) that occupied Tijuana and Mexicali in 1911, at the beginning of the Mexican revolution, aiming to install an anarcho-communist commune in California, the first one on this part of the globe. They were led by Ricardo Flores Magón, the most radical writer/fighter of the Mexican Revolution. Their short-lived experiment has been almost totally forgotten or condemned on this border, as they were accused of trying to annex Baja California to the US, bypassing the fact that they were against any kind of state. It was here, in northern Baja California, that the first “Tierra y Libertad” flag was raised.
Since 2016, the Comité Magonista Tierra y Libertad has been conducting our own iteration of the historical event with interventions that reintroduced the flag to Tijuana and the 21st century. We have produced more than a thousand flags with a community of more than 100 artists, activists and academics. This community has organized a series of public events around Tierra y Libertad. The Comité Magonista has paraded, staged an historical tour of revolutionary Tijuana, handed out blankets and food, seed-bombed land and burnt the phrase into the beach, that other border of Tijuana. The project has taken us to Mexico City where we displayed “La Constitución ha Muerto” (the constitution is dead) mantas at the Palace of Fine Arts as well as Mexicali and Imperial County, organizing festivals full of flags, art, film, music and poetry, usually on the anniversary of their defeat.
Michael: Thank you both so much, that was awesome.