Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our daily art, Part Three

Part One, Part Two

The story continues:

Reading over the letters from F, I decided that he can tell the story much better than I could; who better than the one who lived it? So this will be a guest post, taken from his messages and chat sessions, with his permission. My comments in italics.

The story starts in mid-October. He and about 100 other artisans had been moved to an alley near the Plaza Tapatia and the Degollado Theatre, leaving the main plaza open. Guadalajara would be hosting the PanAmerican games, starting the 14th of October, and continuing for 2 weeks. The city was in a celebratory mood, but there were still a few last details to be taken care of before she showed her face to the world.

Thursday, Oct. 10, 2011

Ate breakfast, and then spent what money I had on materials, and went to work. Sales were snail-slow, but it was only 12:30, and afternoons are when most of the fish bite.

“Huele a lluvia” (It smells like rain.) I told my neighbour, Pipa*.

”Si, va a llover”.

There were no clouds, and the minutes passed. Thunder, and then, without enough time to cover our stands with plastic, black clouds surround us and from the sky flows a torrential river of rain. Plastics now covering our stands, we take shelter wherever we can. And it rains, and the minutes pass and they become hours and the rain never stops. And then as suddenly as it began, it ends, the clouds have disappeared and the sky is clear in the fading light of dusk.

All of the possible clients have now gone, and all our stuff is wet.

That night, I lay out all my stand on the bed to let things dry. I´ve managed to sell about 30 pesos and buy myself a light meal and a ½ litre of milk.

Friday, Oct. 11, 2001

I wake up hungry, and a little late. Everything is dry so I pack it up and go to work. It rained again during the night, but the pavement is bone dry and the sun is glaring.

When I arrive at the plaza, pushing my little dolly, it is empty, save a few passers-by. And an army of civil servants in red shirts, with groups of police in strategic locations. With their steely glares, they tell me that it doesn’t matter if I’m hungry, I’m no longer allowed to work.

I begin to look for the others in the most likely spots, and find them lined up at the side of the Teatro Degollado, with small white plastic sheets on the pavement. So I join them in line.

70 families of Artesanos had been given a place to sell, and as we were a few blocks from the Plaza Tapatia, we had been told we would not be disturbed during the PanAmerican games. Obviously, someone had not told us the truth. Someone had decided that we would be seen by tourists, and that was not the image they want of their shiny new PanAmerican Guadalajara. Funny thing is, tourists, as well as the locals, want to see us. If not, they would not be our clients.

We were offered no alternative except to go find another way to make money for the next month. We could talk once the city was not crawling with international press, but until then, we were not able to work.

(They try, anyhow.)

It is around 1.30 pm. We place some merchandise on our white plastic sheets. Not very much, because we know it can be taken away. And we wait. Some of us manage to sell a bit. I manage to get enough for breakfast. Not all were lucky that day.

And then 3:00. They come. The army of red shirts, and a platoon of bicycle cops.

A few months ago, a few days before I came with my 7 diaries, there had been violence and more than a dozen of our compañeros had been beaten and jailed.

We are nervous and tense. We make a barrier in front of our plastic sheets. Some hold hands. Tension. We want no violence, but we will not back down. They have taken away our right to earn our food and keep.

We began to chant: “¿Quienes somos? Artesanos. ¿Que queremos? Trabajar. ¿Como nos tratan? Como delinquentes.” (Who are we? Artisans. What do we want? To work. How do they treat us? Like criminals.)
Fortunately, the press has arrived, and most of the public, local and international, are on our side. We are fighting for a just cause. There will be no violence. At least not today.

The civil servants stand in front of our stands, blocking the public from our make-shift stands. And the bicycle cops watch in small groups off to the side.

At first, it is fun. The public loves us and joins in our chants. Drummers come. It feels more like a party than a protest. We are hungry. We are fighting a just war. We will not back down.

But the days have worn on. And the violence has come. We are tired and hungry. And our stands have been diminished. On the 21st, we protested with drums and whistles in front of the Presidencia. We are fighting a just war. We will not back down.

We have finally been given a place to sell within the Plaza Tapatia but it is somewhat hidden and has been used as public bathroom for quite some time. We are cramped, three people to a stand. But at last, we have a cease fire. We sell enough to barely survive.

We do not want hand outs.

All we want is to be able to work, as we had been doing, and at least have the opportunity to have our families well fed, and to struggle with dignity for whatever dreams we may have. We are fighting a just war. We are Artesanos. We will not back down.

(Somehow, they hang on.)

November 5, 2010

Yesterday, from 11:30 til 7:00, I sold 10 pesos. Can’t even buy a coffee with that. Around 4:00 PM, I find a guy that owes me some money, and get enough out of him to buy me breakfast. I share it with Lupe, a good loyal friend, and Estela; it is their breakfast, too. They have not sold anything yet, either.

At 7:30 PM. I am in the Plaza Liberación, with my mochillas in a line with other artesanos. There’s a group of inspectors, we all chat, and at 8:00, their shift is up, and they begin to leave. Down go the mantas, and we begin to display our wares. There are many artesanos and sales are slow. I sell 40 pesos worth. At 11:30, I buy two hot dogs and a cup of coffee, and go home to write; I am dead tired and just fall asleep instead.

Today, I have been displaying my stuff since 11:00 am; it is 3:00 pm. Still haven’t sold anything yet. Paco is off drawing on the pavement and playing marbles with the kids and he is happy. He asks me when I’m going to eat, because he’s hungry. “When I sell something.”

“And if you don’t sell?”

“I don’t eat.”

Estela has sold 30 pesos and comes with some tacos around 3:30. Paco also brings some. Under a puesto, sitting in a circle on the pavement, Estela, Lupe, Paco and I share breakfast together. At the end of the day, between us, we have sold 40 pesos. I go off to Liberacion, and stand in line. Paco has gone. Between the 3 of us, we manage to sell 200. Tonight, we will eat. I get home at 12:30.

A couple of weeks ago, Consuelo asked me “¿Como te va?” (How's it going?”)

”So-so. How about you?”

“I haven't sold anything. Nor has my grandma.”

Its 5:30 PM.”¿Have you eaten?


I reach into my pockets and buy her breakfast. Consuelo is Mixteca, from Oaxaca. She is 10 years old. That night, I was hungry, but I think that there is justice in that.

The hunger is real. Poverty is an extreme form of violence.

Usually, this is not our reality. Before 10/11, we were doing quite well. We were rarely hungry, our stands were growing and in our pockets there was usually a little more than enough to meet our simple needs.

It has been a long 2 weeks. My stand is half the size it was and except for my efforts, I have no way to invest in material. The weight I had gained is now gone and when I reach in my pockets, I find them empty.

Artesanos, since time immemorial, have worked in the plazas of Mexico’s cities. That is one of Mexico’s “charms”. If we try to sell artesanías in stores, or markets, we can't pay the rent. People don’t buy artesanías in stores; they buy them in city plazas. That’s how it always has been done here in Mexico.

We draw people, and the business that are in the area,are usually very happy that we are there. The only one that seems to be having a problem with that is City Hall. And they gave us 10/11.

We don’t sell now for the following reasons:
  • We are hidden behind trees, away from the flow of passers-by, cramped beside an abandoned building under the archways, where there is still a residual aroma of human urine. 
  • We have all just received a three week sh*t kicking that has left us battered and exhausted. We are hungry and our puestos are decimated. 
Personally speaking, my puesto before 10/11 was worth more than 35,000 pesos. I had built that from an initial investment of 3000 pesos only 2 months ago. I had just had an order that would earn me 2000 pesos in 3 days work. If I felt hungry, I ate. There was always enough money for that.

Now,I’d be lucky to get 3000 pesos for my puesto if I sold it all. I have material. But I don’t have the essentials. I can’t work my material without the essentials.

My puesto is visually not appealing. It’s been through a war. It has been trampled on and bleached by the sun. It needs lustre. It needs the essentials.

The order that would earn me 2000 in 3 days went out the window because it was from a compañero who had wanted diaries and today, he’s just as jodido as I am.

Please remember us in your prayers. I am not a religious man, but i do believe that there is a power in prayer.
Thank you.

There's more. What's more, there's hope. Continued, soon.

*Names have been changed to protect the vendors and their children.

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