Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cartoon 20: Enemy of the State

In Guatemala City the police drive huge black pickup trucks and they are all over the place. In the face of all this security, I’ve never felt so insecure.  They look like war tanks roaming the streets prowling for the enemy.  This is in the wake of a 36 year war between the government and the pueblo that ended in 96’.  Come to find out that our US tax dollars helped supply the funds and ammunition for the Guatemalan elite to kill 200,000 children, women and men. 

I drew this cartoon after the fourth time we were stopped and searched by the police in Guatemala.  A group 8 of us were walking down the street to get a drink and one of those trucks pulled up and at least ten police men and women jumped out and told us to get up against the wall.  Each one had a huge gun that could probably extinguish a whole village in under five seconds (and maybe did at one point considering that many indigenous villages were massacred and erased during the war).

During the search I felt like I was in a bubble.  I was originally facing the wall but I turned around with my hands up to see what was going on.  I watched as the police-woman aggressively searched my friend, passing her hands over my friend’s body like it wasn’t a living thing.  I watched the looks on my friends’ faces being submitted to this invasion and waited for my turn. It never came, they skipped over me.  My friends told me that this is probably because I look so foreign and the police don’t want diplomatic issues.  I looked at the line of police that stood watching us with their riffles and I wondered how this scene would end.  They recorded our information in their little black book and then, not having found anything, informed us that this had been a routine revision and that we could continue on.

Even just being present, not having been touched or spoken to, I felt totally criminalized and violated.  What were these people doing pointing guns at us???  It made me think of how folks who were racially profiled in the aftermath of 9/11 must have felt.  Or Latino folks in Arizona and the other states that recently passed the law that says police can stop and search anyone they even suspect of being an illegal immigrant.  Or how folks in other marginalized communities in the US must feel at the hands of corrupt police.

One thing I love about what I’ve seen of Latin America is that people spend time in the streets.  People talk to strangers.  They joke a lot and are warm and friendly.   Quite the opposite, the people of Guatemala City seemed very serious.  People walk fast, they don’t say hello or make eye contact.   I felt like people were scared and couldn’t expand too much into their skin for fear of repression by the authorities.  I drew this picture at a barbecue thrown by the generous folks who housed us.  The backyard of the home was fenced in by a tall, cement wall topped with barbed wire.  With this cartoon I hope to express the feeling I have that the well being and happiness of the people of Guatemala City is seen as dangerous in the eyes of its government.

Upon talking to folks, I began to understand their response beyond the seriousness and closedness  that I perceived and it is truly amazing.  Many neighborhoods have organized their own community police.  They take responsibility for keeping justice within their own communities and negotiate with the state and federal police for them to only come for routine checks.  A friend brought me to a creative and interactive free museum documenting the war which seeks to assure that the war crimes do not go unpunished. We worked with an organization called Caja Ludica ( that hosts international parades of stilt walkers which declare loud and proud their dedication to free expression, art, song and dance. 

I leave Guatemala feeling deeply shaken with my heart strings pulled up and down by equally fierce forces...  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cartoon 19: You Might Be a Hippie If...

I’m getting quite good at peeing outside. It’s something I’ve always had trouble with, never could seem to not splatter myself.  But on the road I’ve gotten lots of practice. Aren’t you proud mama? 
I’m letting myself get all hairy too.  It’s kinda crazy cuz for most of my life I’ve shaved almost every day.  My toenails were always painted and I even blow dried my hair for a while there.   Now I am meeting parts of myself that I’ve never known!  Weird!  I realize I’ve never known what I truly look like, without any alterations.  For the first time since I was 12 I am not seeing my legs as sexual objects.  The beauty of my armpits is not more important than truly knowing and honoring myself.   I have to admit that for a while there I didn’t want to lift up my arms cuz I thought people would be grossed out but little by little that's less important and now my bushy armpits make me feel rather cool.
And you know that style of jewelry that’s all beads and shells and seeds?  The kind thats often brightly colored and sometimes really big?  Don’t tell my new friends but I always thought that kind of jewelry was kind of tacky.  But it turns out for some, wearing it is a source of pride and an act of rebellion.  The pride comes from using products that celebrate a closeness with and respect for nature.  The rebellion is against systems and industries that radically damage the earth and its inhabitants… In this case, specifically against gold and gem mining.  I want to try to explain what I’m understanding about this rebellion… We all know that folks from Europe came to the Americas, among other reasons, in the wild search for gold.  They killed, raped, pillaged and exploited in the name of progress.  What I didn’t know is that this conquest is still in progress.  That was 500 years ago and all that gold got used up.  But the demand for it hasn’t gone anywhere so the conquest continues.  So many communities that I visit here share the story of being forced either physically or by poverty, to leave their land to big mining companies from Canada, Europe and the U.S.  All of the sudden wearing jewelry made of beads and seeds is a lot more appetizing.
The last thing I want to talk about are my crusty feet.  For real, this is a big deal for me cuz like I said, I used to paint my toe nails all the time.  There wasn’t a day that I didn’t have a perfect pedicure.  Now, oy vey, I’ve got callouses and infinite desert sand under my toenails. The callouses are kind of useful though cuz they’re great for scratching the millions of bug bites all over my hairy legs!
Oh the sacrifices we make for our dreams…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cartoons 18: Shelter for Sons of the Beast

One of our first stops in the caravan was a shelter that was built close to the border between Mexico and Guatemala that was established as a refuge for sick or injured immigrants. "The Beast" has become the name of the cargo train upon which undocumented immigrants ride through Mexico on their way to the United States. (I originally thought that this train went through Central America so that's why the drawing shows it there.) The path of these people is incredibly violent.  As shown in the picture, the immigrants ride on top of the train. Many loose their lives because, having traveled for long periods of time in constant risk and without rest, they simply fall asleep and fall off the train. One young man told me that he got caught up in the adrenaline of the constant danger and began testing the limits jumping from train to train. He lost his footing and lost his legs.  A woman that I met told me that woman who travel this path pray that rape is all that happens to them...
When we arrived at the shelter, I stepped out of the motor-home, saw the people missing legs and arms, and I stepped right back in. I sat my butt down in the bathroom of the motor-home and cried all the tears my eyes could squeeze out.  Out of respect, I didn't want to cry in front of these folks who have lost so much fighting for the opportunities that I was born with.  I closed my eyes and imagined myself growing roots.  Time to face reality.  As grounded as possible, I stepped out and almost immediately, a woman with one eye in a wheel chair called me to her.  She spoke garbled Spanish but I eventually understood that she wanted me to roll her into her room and put her next to the fan.  It was HOT.  I met the other two woman who lived in the room, one missing a leg and the other didn't speak.  The two vocal women started squibbling over who the owner of the fan was and I just sat down in a plastic garden chair that was one of the few pieces of furniture.  In the face of basic humanity of the squibbling woman, all of my big understanding of the social systems that brought us to this moment faded out and with it my anxiety about being there...

We stayed at the shelter for three days learning about how it functions and interviewing workers and residents. On the last night, we did a social circus show for the folks living there and in the surrounding community.  Afterward we performed excerpts of the show in the rooms of the folks who couldn't come out to see the show.  The moment in this picture moved me to tears.  During our performance was the only time I saw the woman lying in the bed open her eyes.