Last summer I went backpacking across Mexico, attempting to translate contemporary Mexican aesthetics through conversation. Accompanied by my good friend and visual artist Max David, I engaged in dialogues with Mexican artists in search of a contemporary recapitulation of post-colonial thought in Mexico. The following is one interview from Conversations in Mexico, a manuscript based on my travels. Every other week, another interview will be published here. For more explanation of this project, see the addendum.
Archeology: an Interview with Jesus Reyes Bustos
Bustos is sitting on the rooftop deck of a posh hotel overlooking the city park in Queratero, a small state in north-central Mexico. It is midday, the street outside is bustling. Construction is a low hum two blocks from the hotel. We are the only patrons on the roof.
I was told that you recently won the national historical fiction prize for your novel Epigmenio González: Circunstancias. What is the inspiration for your work? What are your thoughts on Queretaro City?
I am an anthropologist. I’ve dedicated my life to the structure of human culture. How does man move within and outside urban constructions, how does he form his identity within these places? I also write stories. Circunstancias is the first historical novel. I am currently working on a “novela negra” or black novel.
When you speak of place, you reference a single point in time but also the entire sequence of history that has led to this particular moment. As an anthropologist, how has the history of Queretaro informed the city we move through today?
I see the constructive identity of Queretaro as … it is infamous for its cloistered people, devoutly religious and conservative. This is precisely how I address the social-territorial encounter. The cities of Queretaro and Puebla are transient cities. Migrants from northern Mexico pass through Queretaro en route to Mexico City. Founded as places of passage, the province has been ingrained to resist the influence of travelers to preserve their own culture. Queretaro is a city forcefully changing its mode of being due to the influx of foreign capital. This is … the Mexican Silicon Valley.
A waitress serves coffee.
During the presidency of Benito Juarez, there were many protests in support of the president all over the country but not here. Queretaro, for the most part, has been closed-off to social-political movements that have influenced the rest of the country. We still believe in our own independent identity, separate from Mexico.
Do you think this is a reaction to non-traditional values?
The majority of the people who were born here adhere to tradition. The contemporary condition revolves around the hyper-local, the barrios, The Aqueduct that helps create a city in the desert. Older, established intellectuals do not bother with the cultural ideas of other places. Queretaro acts as an island in this respect. We have an emerging generation who grew up with foreigners, American humor, the Internet that will allow you to connect in however trivial a fashion with the rest of the world.
When I first arrived in Queretaro, I was surprised to see how globalized the city has become, replete with urban malls, minimalist high-rises, and luxury cars.
Yes, yes, this development is called glocalization: globalism served for the local palate. The people here are preserving their identity in the modern flux of generic development.
Reyes reclines in his chair, fiddles with his wide-brimmed hat.
You know, there are a lot of writings about Queretaro, works that view the city with foreign eyes. Intellectuals such as Octavio Paz, Baron de Fumbo, and Diego Rivera have all spent time here. But again, they were only passing through. We are provincial, but proud to be provincial! We produce our customs like provincial people. When you feel assaulted, it’s hard to passively accept this kind of imposition in your space, your home. Everyone is content with what they have. I am content with what I have.
Reyes, rubs his beard.
Communities form words, ideas, gestures to address the unknown. It’s all perspective — you are the Other. We are brothers but not really. All pueblos have reflexive perspectives of the Other. Some communities are welcoming, others distant. Are you familiar with Todorov?
In the end, all you can do is try to control your innate reaction to what is different from yourself and welcome new ideas, new experiences, without suspicion or anything else that can hold us back from treating people with basic human dignity.
As I stated in a conversation with poet Leslie Dolejoel, “The Event is not always what occurs but the fiction of life as it is.” As a Mexican – American, I have a dual identity that afforded me parallel histories. I have two languages, two identities that allowed my perception to unfold in a sporadic game of chance. The practice of translation inevitably reveals itself as a conversation with an idea. The opening, the deciphering of symbols carried across languages forces the translator to relive and reimagine an event as it occurred. I am interested in the poetic event: literature that challenges the arrow of time, an understanding of life from one’s own universe of experiential relations.
As I traveled from the north-central region of San Luis to the Guatemalan border, I spent the day with each of these artists, asking questions, holding their responses in my hand as I examined the curvature, the luminance, the gravity of it all. The interviews were conducted in Spanish, transcribed in English, with creative liberties taken in collaboration with the interviewees. The collection includes interviews with poets, musicians, an anthropologist, and a philosopher. Included are a collection of my photographs that imitate poetic concepts I encountered in Mexico as well as trans-creative poems from poet Jesus de la Vega and an essay by Erich Tang.