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I learn about the JAR through Victor Garcia, an activist friend who had been closely following the life of this collective and also who cultivated a friendship with some of its members. I met Victor in the mid-nineties, when I was a teenager. I shared with him the political awakening of a wide variety of social sectors in Mexico prompted by the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional.
My generation was born in an neverendig avalanche of crises in Mexico. This included legalized corruption in government, the unleash of a profit spirit of wealth in privatized banks, the reduction of labor rights and the deterioration of working conditions, the growth of our domestic and international debts, the reduction of the State, the decrease of public subsidies,the privatization of national industries and the cynical delivery of our economy to transnational companies mainly american.
Those where days of massive and frecuent demonstrations and marchs to publicly display social solidarity with the Zapatista movement. In these mobilizations, it was common to see punk collectives marching with their black flags. Those were days of social efervescence when different communities came together in ways that previously would have been considered impossible. In Mexico City, the political left, represented by the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD for its initials in Spanish, won the elections for the first time in 1996. Civil Society were foreseeing that the PRI, the Party that had governed Mexico for more than 70 years was going to fall down. Those were times where the political right, represented by the National Action Party, or PAN had not yet taken the Federal Government. Even though we were immersed in the fierce consolidation of Neoliberalism in Mexico, those were times of hope.
It was within this context that JAR was formed as an organization of diferent groups of punk youth willing to coordinate their actions. They developed self-managed projects and autonomous cultural, social and political actions, which they came to call “Anti-authoritarian Resistance”. As an activist, Victor had the interest to register those experiences. As an artist, I was interested in fabricating an aesthetic device whereby impure resources, different affective responses, humor, celebration and absurdity could deal with the accounts by the members of the collective. I was interested in constructing rather than reporting. I was interested in exploring non-assimilable differences rather than pretending to “speak in their name” or “giving them voice”, which I consider a usual position for artists who work with “specific groups”.
Victor sellected 5 male members from the collective and I chose the only woman to be intervieweed. It surprised me that there were so few women in the collective’s accounts about punk activism in Mexico City.Victor and I wanted to present quite different perspectives from the life of the collective, aiming to challenge stereotypes and homogeneous versions of the Mexico City punk community in the mid nineties.
We conducted open-ended, relatively structured interviews to elicit narratives such as stories from their neighbourhoods, their social backgrounds, how they met punk culture, the relation between their punk activist collective with other social movements, their influences and ideological references such as anarchism, situationism, zapatismo, punk rock among others, their organizational strategies, the insurrection in Mc Donald’s in Zona Rosa and the patriarcal structure of the collective.
The JAR was founded in 1993, aiming to create an organization that could gather together different punk groups in order to march to commemorate the 25th aniversary of the students massacre in October the second of 1968. In 1994, the indigenous Zapatista Uprising, and their ideas about autonomy were crucial for their ideological training. The JAR participated in a variety of actions to support indigenous zapatista communities. They diversified their autonomous activities: they organized learnig circles, created fanzines, launched alternative radio stations, initiatied urban gardens, organized free softwere workshops and underground events with national and international punk-rock bands. They also opened underground venues for punk communities in Mexico City.
In 1994, Californian Republican Governor Pete Wilson promoted Proposition 187 also known as Save Our State Initiative to prohibit “illegal aliens” from using social services, education and health care.
The JAR collective called for a demonstration against Save Our State Initiative, which ended up in an improvised riot in a Mc Donalds in Zona Rosa in Mexico City, which is on the way to the US Embassy.
As a consequence of this unfortunate event, some of the JAR members and other demonstrators were prosecuted. The punk movement was stigmatized as vandals and a hostility policy towards these groups was launched.
I was particularly interested in the Riot in Mc Donalds as it was a point of internal and external conflict for the collective, while opening up a stage of contradictory positions, media manipulation and manichean accounts.
In the interviews, JAR members evoked different experiences about their marginal background, concerns about social exclusions, recalling narratives about worker’s and indigenous movements, the counter-cultural scene in Mexico, and the subversive features of punk rock. Each of them edited their biography by creating their own character investing in their discursive positions. It is inescapable that the interview process was affected by the anxiety that this artificial situation might produce. In addition, differences such as gender, social class, and life experiences assymetrically operate between participants as researchers, as each part projects their prejudices, feelings or ideas on to the other. Given that Victor was so close to them, on the one hand he facilitated the trust and on the other hand he seemed to elicit answers that he already knew, as he wanted to reclaim their remarkable experiences. I felt somehow excluded of that dynamic of paying tribute to the collective although I saw the relevance of their path and their achievements.
Once I finished the transcripts I started the composition of song lyrics. I was interested in representing a variety of singularities of each interviewee as an individual, but I also wanted to write songs that could represent the collective as such in a more homogeneous way, since being part of a specific group always involves a certain degree of alienation. To compose the music, we contacted Panke, an argentinian punk rocker who was very close to the collective. Panke’s role was crucial as he edited the lyrics, added lines, composed the music and directed the recording process.
At this point of the production, communication with Victor diminished. In consequence, his role as a mediator was suspended.
After some failed attempts to gather documentation about the history of the collective, I started to look for non-actors who could stage the songs. I started by searching in venues related to the collective but I didn’t find any echo. In a moment of whim, I thought about making reference to The Pinball Wizzard in the film Tommy by The Who, by including in some scene a punk stilt-walker. Between the fanciful impulse and the search for a non-actors who could stage de songs, I found a juggler’s collective called Circo Anónimo from the street, that used to gather together in the Alameda Central to practice and teaching each other some juggling. After several visits to Alameda, some of them accepted to participate in the video. We decided together the characters for each of them. They shared their skills when planning the choreographies.
We went into a Mc Donald’s to juggle with burgers and fries, we took a guy dressed as Ronald Mc Donald in a Punk and Dark party at Zona Rosa to be slammed by a group of punk guys, in the monument to the Mexican Revolution we did image-theatre from mexican agit-pro . We marched in October the 2nd to commemorate 1968 student’s massacre, while we sung and shout the songs from the project as if they were slogans, we wrote Walter Benjamin’s quotes in the restroom’s doors in a public highschool, we made a mexica-punk choreography in a hairdresser studio, we used a carpound as a dance floor, and finally we played children games at Carrillo Gil Museum, where Pirate Utopies was going to be screened for the first time.
When I had a first draft of the video ready, I contacted the interviewees to show it to them. Just 3 of them responded. But they said that they could represent the collective as a whole. A condition for an encounter was that Victor had to be there as a mediator. They expressed their discomformity and desagreement with the depiction of their accounts, expressed their absolute distance and rejection to jugglery, and said that they felt I was mocking them. However, they really liked the songs. We negotiated and agreed on the following:
1) I wouldmake their disagreement explicit in the video
2) Their names, images or voices would not be used in the video
3) It would be mentioned that the accounts were by members from the collective
4) The interviewees would receive a hard drive with the interviews, as they wanted to be able to use the material as they wished.
Despite this overall disagreement, the only female interviewee called “La Magos” empathized with the video. She caught right away the role of the imagination, fiction and humor. She never asked for a mediator and she insisted in the patriarcal roles that still prevail in the so called counter-cultural groups. I’m still in touch with her and I could say that we have built a special complicity with one another. She asked me for a dvd copy to show the video in encounters of punk feminists in Mexico City.
Before I started this project, it had not crossed my mind that it would end up with a reflection about gender. Women rising their voices, critical insights, and opositional positions are still far to be as well received as men’s voices.
Bootleg Utopias is the visible result of a series of encounters and conflicts, findings, missunderstandings and misinterpretations, idealizations and tremendous dissapointments, failed attempts of communication, explorations of unassimilable differences and a variety of ways to organize affection and memory - an unfinished memory of a fuzzy moment of social mobilization in the mid nineties in Mexico. An unsettled memory that refuses to be solidified in homages, monuments or official History, but yet it still restlessly searches for spaces to provoke little flashes –of humour, indignation, magic, desire, fantasy or hope- that allow us to blink and see again.