I thought that it felt fitting to write my first blog post from an airport. JFK in New York to be exact. My day started at 5.30am and right now it’s 6.50pm (GMT) as I wait for my transfer to San Diego. It will be 3.30am* (GMT) by the time I land at my ‘final’ destination. Though ‘final’ in this project doesn’t quite make sense… please excuse if this first blog is a little rambling and has a few grammatical issues – I have been awake for a while.
The rest of Outriders journey will take me from San Diego – Tijuana – Mexico City – Oaxaca – Merida – Tulum. My time in Tulum is actually outside of this project but I think inevitably it will add to my understanding of the country so it seems silly not to add it to my list of cities. I will also be traveling with Mexican playwright and director Ximena Escalante, who after weeks of emails I simply cannot wait to meet. Also, Karissa Kary the excellent producer of the American Outriders journeys will join me for the first 48 hours as I cross the border to Tijuana.
Anyway. What to write about when I haven’t yet embarked on my journey? I suppose this is a moment to capture my ‘before’ thoughts, my naïve, big broad brush stroke thoughts that I can’t help but feel in 4 weeks time will seem very green but maybe that is the point…
I first got invited to be part of the Outriders project in February and back then, May felt like a lifetime away. I had a whole show to make before that, a 30th birthday to celebrate, a house to move and well, just a lot of life. But suddenly, look – May is here. Fuck.
So, in the past 4(ish) months I have been attempting to wrap my brain around what I might hope and want to see, do, learn and experience during my journey through Mexico. I asked to travel from border to border because in the UK so much of our understanding of Mexico is rather crudely about the countries on either side of it. Interestingly, the San Diego / Tijuana border is the most crossed border in the world, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see what it’s like – even if I am travelling in the easier direction.
Other than that, the premise of my trip has always been relatively open because I didn’t / don’t know much beyond the headlines and Hollywood portrayal of life in Mexico. Initially, my thinking fell into two strands. The first strand was an enquiry about how this particular country affects the artists who inhabit it. An open-ended question that I hoped would allow me to understand the culture(s) and country better but also have exciting conversations with Mexican artists and writers. I love talking about aesthetics and process with other artists so the chance to do this across the ocean is thrilling.
The second strand was to try and talk to people who are doing work to help improve living conditions for those on the margins of society, with a particular focus on the welfare of Mexico’s indigenous population (which is one of the biggest in the world) and the welfare of women (the statistics of domestic and sexual violence against women in Mexico is scary reading). I suppose – at the risk of sounding trite – both of these lines of enquiry are about trying to find light in the darkness. They are also an attempt to subvert the singlular narrative that we receive about Mexico – that everyone wants to leave! So – bluntly – I wanted to talk to the people who stay and want to improve their country.
Since then, my exploration has shifted, or maybe just evolved. While I am still interested in following those particular lines of enquiry, an issue has been brought to my attention from my travel partner Ximena and this is the rising numbers of assaults, kidnapping and murders of journalists in Mexico. A book I am currently reading stated that in Mexico every 26.5 hours a journalist is assaulted and since 2000 over 100 journalists have gone missing or been killed. Facts that trip off the tongue but are also inconceivable. What does truth mean when the media struggles to report it? Where and what is the truth? The USA and the UK have its own problems with truth-telling but Mexico is facing it’s own problems.
I won’t go into it now as I run the risk of painting an inarticulate picture because this particular issue is complex and deep rooted. I also have no interest simply reporting the dark, difficult stuff. There is so much beauty, history and art in this country. I don’t want my first blog to simply be an act of highlighting all the depressing facts I know about Mexico.
I have read books that tell me to be cautiously optimist about Mexico’s future and others that tell me there no way out of their current political problems. I guess the truth is probably somewhere in between and certainly 4 weeks isn’t long enough to learn the truth. But maybe it’s long enough to unlearn some of the lies.
I suppose my thoughts, feelings, enquiries and opinions are in transit too.
In my last email to Ximena I said “let’s make sure we celebrate what makes this country wonderful”. This is something I am also looking forward to doing, something which feels vital.
My conclusion after 27 hours awake? This is a journey about attempting to learn a little more, see a lot more and maybe, just maybe, create a little light in amongst the darkness.
*It was 6.30am – delayed flight!