Friday, September 22, 2017

reflections_1: cdmx earthquake

My studio overlooks a great working class barrio just south of El Centro Histórico in Mexico City. As it shook violently in the early afternoon a couple of days ago, I heard a crash from outside and saw a several story garment factory collapse.

I and most of my neighbors, thought it was the grammar school next door, because we saw kids covered in dust running down the street crying.

In the time it took me to navigate the mess that the earthquake made of my studio spaces, get a first-aid kit and some tools together, and make sure my building was structurally safe, dozens (if not hundreds) of rescue workers were already onsite starting the search for survivors. In the following hours and days, I went to various disaster sites near my house to see what else I could do. I moved some ruble. I moved some food around from donation center to donation center. And I observed.

My neighbors huddle on the streets for hours. Everyone tries to contact their loved ones. People share phones. People fight back tears.

Whatsapp and messenger vibrate on all our phones every few seconds. Some of the messages are profoundly chilling. People asking for help. They are trapped and injured. Or their friends or family are. Or we need cutting-torches in this location. Or we need jackhammers, or …. It becomes clear that there are millions of people desperate to help thousands of injured, missing and displaced people.

I keep getting messages asking if I'm okay. After a while I stop to answer them. I mention that I am safe, that I am looking to help, and that my building is structurally okay but my studios are trashed. I live on the top floor of a converted (read: gentrified) light-industrial building, not entirely unlike the one that fell. It moved a lot. Good design. But that caused my tools, brushes, bookcases, art work and etc. to all fall off the walls and ceilings. Everyone offers to come help me clean up.

This is the first and most important impression I have of this earthquake. People are profoundly hurt, lost, and insecure. In shock. Suffering. We all seem to feel that at any second an aftershock will bring our buildings down. That the entirety of our world will collapse. And yet, most people seem desperate to help someone else, not themselves, to feel like they are making an important contribution to their community.

Most rescue or relief sites that I have visited have more help than work to do. Most donation centers are over-flowing with goods and volunteers. Many of my friends are frustrated at not being able to do more.

This is the exact opposite of how we present disasters in our cultural imaginations. We seem to profoundly believe in a Mad Max world. In a post-capitalist narcissistic subject whose worth lies in acquisition, in the accumulation of power and its signifiers. In a subject that will trample you to save themselves. In capitalism we are all zombies.


The first two nights after the earthquake, I return to my studio to begin clean-up, too tired to keep looking to meaningfully contribute to my community.

I have days of work to do in here. Everything is covered in the dust from the collapsed garment factory. Everything has fallen. I work to a strange soundtrack on the street below me, half a block from the collapsed factory.

Sirens, helicopters, screams, trucks.

Dead silence. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people on the street below raise a fist in the air.

And sometimes clapping and cheering. At first this seems to happen every few minutes or hours. And then less and less so. The clapping is from the hundreds of volunteers in a bucket-brigade that stretches down the block, moving rubble away. It's from the people on-site with picks and shovels. It's from the people preparing food and collecting water. Each time I hear it, I tear up. It's another person found alive and rescued.

I have been down there with them, and at other sites. One thing is clear to me. The State wants us to think that without it, life will descend into disorder and violence. That the cop and the soldier are the only thing that protects us from collapse, from a life that is nasty, brutish and short. I can tell you with certainty that in this case the opposite is true. The collapse of the normal function of advanced capitalism in this city has revealed that in extraordinary circumstances we are capable of the extraordinary: a vast decentralized, self-organized and effective response to catastrophe; we are capable of mutual-aid and community.

This is not the zombie-apocalypse. Send the cops and the soldiers home to their families. They can lay down their guns, take off their uniforms and pick up buckets with the rest of us.


  1. I love you and miss you. - jooooooaaaannnnnanannanananaaa

  2. This is so beautiful...
    From your fallen angel in Montreal xx