Last Wednesday, I was privileged to witness an informal performance titled “Cuerpo Migrante” (Migrant Body) by La Barbacoa Danza Contemporanea, a modest dance troupe hailing from Morelia, Mexico. We met at Performance Works NW, a speakeasy of a dance studio, located in the quaint residential area of Southeast Portland’s Foster-Powell neighborhood. Here we became a part of what would function as a collaborative research-based performance for Isabel Nares (choreographer) and Jorge David García Castilla (composer).
I arrived later than I expected to, but seemingly right on time. The damp tail of my skirt licked my ankles as I raced to the studio where I was welcomed by owner Linda Austin. Two rows of standard metal fold-out chairs on either side of the room were prepared with miniature, irregular cushions. I took my place upon the roundest and most immediate one I could find sitting Indian-style, like I do everywhere. I assume that not many knew about the performance, as I sat with about seven other audience members. It felt secretive, but not exclusive as part-way through the introduction, three or four more bodies tiptoed in.
The wall to my right screens The Invisibles, a series of short documentaries by actor Gael Garcia Bernal. Its focus is the migration of Central Americans through Mexico to the United States border and the dangerous struggle implied. In an interview with NPR, Bernal explains a need to balance his desire to create a lengthy feature film on the issue with the urgency to document and share in order to educate the population. To further his point, he explains that this call to arms comes six to seven months before the massacre of 72 migrants from different parts of South America at a Mexican ranch in Tamaulipas, about 15 miles from U.S. border.
Physical exhaustion, financial hardship, assault, robberies, rape and kidnapping can all be expected upon making the journey through Mexico to the “land of opportunity” but as one man mentions in the documentary, the latter is most feared. Kidnapping is not always an isolated incident because in these situations its ball and chain is often illegal immigration. It wouldn’t be a surprise to think that the smugglers migrants pay to lead them through the desert may be in close relation to the gangs that descend upon them.
Because migrants are not documented on their journey through Mexico, they become invisible to Mexican and Central American governments and anyone looking for them — making them disposable to kidnappers. The gangs that find them are free to extort the migrants and their families for ransom or off them at will. This torture and financial siphoning can go on much longer than the initial kidnapping so long as the assailants have collateral in their victims’ immigration and information about their families.
Activists claim that the Mexican and U.S. governments have the knowledge, power and force to stop these attacks on migrants but refuse to pay it the attention that it deserves. Locations where these incidences are prevalent are no secret to Mexico or anyone else. If you’re any small part conspirator, you can imagine a world where the U.S. government works in cohort with these gangs in order to maintain some form of unrealistic border control. Stranger things have happened.
A poll from CBS in 2014 (New York Times) showed that 56 percent of Americans were in support of illegal immigrants remaining in the states while applying for citizenship here, yet 29 percent still support the opposite. I suppose there’s a glimmer of hope for the future; however, that’s still roughly 92 million Americans that raised their hands in favor of deportation. So why is it that migration of a body of people or specifically “immigration” puts such a bad taste in the mouths of so many Americans?
That’s not even the right question I guess. What I meant to ask is, why is it that human beings temporarily residing in one section of a continent are so bothered by this shared desire to seek opportunities and ultimately, greater comforts for ourselves and those we care about? I’m not exactly a patriot, but directing this question at those who are: is that not specifically the principle upon which America was founded? Are we not immigrants ourselves? 92 million Americans decided not to mirror themselves in this struggle. Although I’m not surprised, it doesn’t take away from the gut-punch of a realization that this is over a quarter of the population we interact with daily.
“Cuerpo Migrante” served as the flint that sparked a necessary conversation last week, one I didn’t really expect to be having. After viewing The Invisibles together we watched as Isabel soloed an interpretive dance that rode on a soundtrack of city clips, white noise, spacey interludes and conversations in Spanish. This was combined thoughtfully with a live microphone that she would move over her body causing distracting ripples in the sound waves.
Toward the end, our focus was on her as she spun herself by hemp cord into an asphyxiating cocoon of sorts. Unraveling, she began to weave back and forth connecting us, winding the string between each member of the audience. It was then that I realized we’d been cats-cradled. Interconnected by way of our determined catalyst. The natural shifting of weight queued light tugs that drew my attention to those across from me, to truly feeling their pull. I felt a useful, pulsating sense of connection to those I’ll probably never see again.
The rest of our time was spent in open conversation about the project — although I didn’t speak a word. It was enough for me to play the sponge. An interactive witnessing of translation from Spanish to English occurred as audience members aided Isabel and Jorge to describe their intention to the rest of us. The message is: feed your head; inform yourself of the struggle of others. However it is that you need to get there, go.
It’s difficult because I feel naturally inclined to seek lessons and continue to self actualize — as a human, not simply as self. I’d like to say “the message wasn’t lost on us” or something to that effect but it sort of was, as it always is. Lost and found again. This small group has surely moved on since the show last week, myself included. Immigration is not yet my challenge, however, better understanding always is. Suffering is imminent regardless of magnitude. If I’m anything, it’s careful not to draw conclusions about suffering within myself or others. It’s important to me to attempt to be somewhat mindful in seeking experiences that bring me closer to that understanding, although, not all are intentional. It’s certainly the purely accidental that seem to inspire the most thought.
Statistics cited in this article are important but what’s more are the actual experiences had by those involved. Becoming versed in the art of relinquishing our grip on any bit of knowledge we have is essential to connectedness. Trust that truth is out there despite the landfill of contradictory media piling up at a constant and any authority falsely collected because of it. Listen to the people and understanding will come.