In November, shortly before Mega-Hate-Crime Tuesday, I attended a book launch/spell-casting ceremony for my friend Wendy C. Ortiz, author of the memoir EXCAVATION and the dreamoir BRUJA.
Dreams weave alternative, sometimes dolphin-infested, realities. Americans aren’t living in one though many of us keep trying to wake up.
A witch, the Oracle of Los Angeles, led Wendy’s audience in an occult ritual meant to bind the powers of the tweeting insomniac whom our fellow American’ts, despite our magical intentions, elected as dumbagogue.
After reading from her dreamoir, Wendy signed books at the back of the store. While she communed with fans, a brown poet acquaintance that I hadn’t seen in years approached me. She introduced me to her white companion. This new person greeted me in a warm German accent, it conjured the smell of pretzels and the wurst of Europe, and my brown poet acquaintance put her arm around the white woman’s shoulder. She leaned towards my wine-stained incisors. She cocked her head at her companion and explained, “She’s a journalist.” Conspiratorially, she added, “She covers Mexico.”
I smiled at the white. “Oh,” I said, “You write about the ‘activities’ of my cousins.”
The cartel of us giggled. I pulled some lip balm, cherry-scented chapostick, from my tote. I applied it.
TBH, I felt complicatedly awestruck by the jourman. Writing about the Truth in Mexico invites Mexico’s favorite deity: Death. Also, writing about the Truth in Mexico requires that one understand that many Mexicans practice magical empiricism. Empiricism is practiced magically for evolutionary reasons: It ensures the survival of the deafest, blindest, and dumbest. It causes reality to evaporate and to reconstitute itself as a ghost.
My grandfather, Abuelito, schooled me in this phenomenon when I was but a pre-pubescent thing suffering emotional ruin as the result of hair tragedy. A perm that made me look as though something carnivorous was using the top of my head as a penthouse.
Picture this mildly tropical tableau…
We’re in Guadalajara. My cousins and I are riding in a luxury sedan driven by my aunt. She stops at a red light. Something seems off. Tense. Abandoned. Perilous.
I scan traffic. It stands still. Empty, or perhaps ghost-crammed, cars fill each lane. I wonder why riderless vehicles colonize the streets. My eyes seek passengers, drivers, people, LIFE, WHERE IS EVERYBODY? and finally, I notice a vehicle with two women, one at the wheel, the other in the backseat, yards from us.
A man crashes into my peripheral vision. I turn to watch him and a gang of others wearing leather and denim charge up the asphalt. Machine guns accessorize their look. They surround the women’s car and command the INSERT ALL THE DEHUMANIZING SPANISH WORDS FOR WOMEN to unlock the doors. They beat the car’s windows, doors, and hood with their guns, but I’m not scared. My American couch-potato psyche frames the danger as fiction. TV.
Half of the men look like Erik Estrada.
“Drive!” my cousin screams at her mom.
“But the light is red!” screams my aunt.
“GO!” we scream.
My aunt presses the gas pedal and we flee the intersection. About two blocks away, we see a cop resting against his motorcycle.
“Tell him!” we scream.
My aunt pulls up next up to him. She shouts a description of what we saw out the window. His expression and posture remain fixed.
“Thank you,” he mumbles.
We drive off. I stare at his inertia through the rear window. It shrinks. Disappears.
When we get to my grandparents’ house, I sprint inside and run to the TV.
I pant as I flip through channels. Abuelito hobbles into the bedroom, dressed in his usual three-piece suit, a PRI, (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, which my dad insists is an oxymoron; how can the revolution be institutionalized?) button pinned to his lapel.
“What’s going on? Why are you so excited?” he asks.
“WE SAW SOME PEOPLE TRY TO KILL SOME LADIES BY THE STATUE OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS AND I WANT TO SEE! I WANT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED!”
A soft, misogynistic chuckle wafts from him. Shaking his head, he pets my perm. My perm wags its tail.
“There’s not going to be anything about that on TV,” he says.
As a gringa, I don’t believe him. I don’t understand that my version of empiricism hasn’t crossed the border with me. I believe that because I’ve seen a violent spectacle and reported it to a state actor, the media will mirror it. Media will affirm my visiting-gringa reality. I know that men who look like Erik Estrada did something bad down by 1492.
A Mexican, Guillermo González Camarena, invented (one kind of) color television but it doesn’t matter. I kneel on my grandparents’ bed, flipping through channels. No colorless coverage of the events that took place by the Christopher Columbus statue appears on the small, glass screen. No colorized coverage of the events that took place by the Christopher Columbus statue appears on the small, glass screen. The absence of story confuses me. Hatred boils. I loathe Abuelito for being right. I loathe Abuelito for finding my faith in mimesis cute. But it must have been very cute from his cultural perch.
I tell this story because American empiricism is metamorphosing. Or, perhaps, it’s migrating. Vacationing in Mexico like so many Yankee snowbirds. Every time Sean Spicer opens his mouth, it grows more akin to the magical empiricism Abuelito, a publicist and grand liar, taught me. Seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and touching elemental reality constructs the Thing itself but not knowledge of it. TA (tantalio), C (carbono), O (oxígeno), and S (azufre) constitute elements, ingredients, but we may deny the thing itself.
Ceci n’est pas TACOS. You can’t see, hear, smell, taste, or touch them.
If, in the tradition of Marcus Aurelius, I ask myself, “[th]is thing, [this thing that took place by the statue of Christopher Columbus [or, alternatively, this tiny thing that took place on January 20th] what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what is its causal nature [or form]? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?” do I answer according to American or Mexican standards?
Empiricism possesses a national character. Sometimes, it claims citizenship.
Violating the rules of magical empiricism can lead to the revocation of citizenship through death.
The Committee to Protect Journalists states that between 1992 and 2017, 37 motive-confirmed murders of journalists happened in Mexico. Decapitation, dismemberment and being executed in front of one’s family are among journalists’ fates. Most of the aforementioned 37 covered crime and corruption.
The motives for 49 other murders committed during that same period have yet to be concluded.
Watching Sean Spicer argue reality with the press returned me to Abuelito’s chuckle and how cute it must seem to watch Americans struggle as our empiricism’s national character changes. As our empiricism emigrates, declaring itself an expat, we might easily come to believe that all perms are created equally. And that is a very, very dangerous proposition.
“THE BORDERLINE (FEELS LIKE I’M GOING TO LOSE MY MIND) BETWEEN CULTURE AND EMPIRICAL REALITY BECOMES MORE AND MORE INDISTINCT.”