Recently, I had the opportunity to spend three days (17th-19th of May 2015) in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was there to meet up with colleagues and friends who are researchers in film studies. They have an active group, REDIC, which organizes publications in print and digital (see, the re-vamped El ojo que piensa), as well as others who work independently. They are an active group who work hard to disseminate their research and are generous in including others. As well as meeting with a variety of these scholars, I also attended one of their monthly seminars. It took place from 10.30-1.30, which allowed for an in-depth presentation and a sustained discussion. It was a stimulating experience and an insight into other practices and modes of sharing-both work in progress and completed projects-amongst a community of individuals from different universities in the city.
It was a brief visit, but one that happened at a moment of escalationof violence in the city. As a result on my way to Guadalajara from Los Angeles, taxi drivers, fellow academics and friends looked askance and asked me whether I had been following the news. Implicit (and sometimes explicitly) it was suggested that I was crazy and perhaps a little foolhardy to go there. I was assured by those there that all was fine, so I went. I asked people in Guadalajara (mostly academics, but, again, some taxi drivers) about living in the city. Everyone was keen to tell me how normal it was, saying that everything was happening peripheral to the city, and that if you weren’t involved you were unlikely to be effected.
Guadalajara is a city that in the past received many visitors. In the 1960s and 70s it saw a boom in migrants from the US looking for an alternative to city life and they established communities around the lake town of Chapala. Most recently, it had become an eco-tourism destination. This has diminished in the last few years, largely because of the recent violence, or the perceived violence in the city. The small queue at the airport for non-Mexicans testified to this.
While I was there it was pretty peaceful. There was a significant police presence. They drove around the city flashing lights and some were in those large trucks with two police in the back holding guns. This is a curious normal. But, they passed through a busy city, with young and old going about their days and nights. Shops, restaurants, bars and streets were busy. It’s a formerly conservative city full of hip young people, who are tattooed (some gang, but mostly in a Mexican hipster form of self-expression), drink craft beers, ride fixies, and hang out eating an international mix of Mexican, Asian and European food.
I came across the aftermath of an attack on a Starbucks in a busy central thoroughfare. As far as I can see, it didn’t get reported in the press, so I don’t know the details. The place had a heavy police presence. The security guard was obviously very shook and was being treated by ambulance staff. It didn’t attract a large crowd of bystanders, as such an event would have in my experience of previous visits to Mexico. Instead, everyone continued with their everyday activities. Is this what it means to live with the constant, everyday treat of violence? Is this the new normal?
Much normality continues. People are resilient and life must go on. Perhaps, it’s the best way to respond while it’s still safe to do so.