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chapter 7 Del Otro Lado border crossings, disappearing souls, and other transgressions C. A. Griffith (Arizona State University) Mexico is not simply the sweaty, sickly yellow-green of recent cinema, home to corrupt officials, drug traffickers, and one good cop who stands up against them all. It is much more diverse and complex than that, magnificent in the way that only a nation with cultures thousands of years old can be. Here in Mexico City, below Aztec ruins, tons of asphalt , skyscrapers, and the harmony of competing water and tamale vendors on their bicycles calling out their wares— ! Agua . . . agua! Rojos , verdes, dulces, tamales! ! Rojos, verdes!—the subway swooshes into the station on pneumatic tires so quietly that you can speak softly to the person next to you. The shiny steel doors open and you go inside, one of millions of people moving underground every day. But here, unlike in el Norte, at almost every intersection, and along dozens of spots along quiet roads at the edge of the city, is un altar, un descanso (a memorial), for the dead.1 Crosses, candles, flowers, a name, sometimes several names, sometimes a photograph—these memorials mark the crossing from life to the other side. Waiting for the light to turn, watching with amazement as cars do not stop and do not care about those without steel, you feel the dead beside you. Cuidado, they whisper. “Don’t be so arrogant. Don’t be so casual with your life. It doesn’t belong to you.” You are in a nation haunted by legions of ghosts. The appetite for jornaleros, domésticas, and maquiladora workers2 that the U.S.-Mexico border, poverty, indifference, and aids consume is unfathomable. This conspicuous consumption of souls reaps costs too great to repay. From the whole hinterland of South and Central America the youngest, the brightest, and the most hopeful—improbable in their very existence in the aftermath of the horrifying rampages of the death squads—make their way to the United States, with and without papers, with and without education, for a narrow chance at something perhaps better on the other side. One in ten Mexicans lives in the United States.3 The unofficial numT4989 .indb 139 T4989.indb 139 2/27/09 6:57:32 AM 2/27/09 6:57:32 AM 140 c. a. griffith bers are unknown.4 Since 1993, in the border city of Juárez, Mexico, thousands of young women have disappeared. Over 430 were later to be found raped, mutilated, and murdered in the desert and alleys surrounding the maquiladora factories where they worked.5 In the state of Illinois, where I lived for six years, every day thousands of Latino workers are injured without compensation, and one Latino worker dies every day while on the job.6 In my new home state of Arizona, the official count of the 206 immigrants who lost their lives along the Arizona-Mexico border in the one-year period beginning December 21, 2005, includes three generations from one family who died of dehydration , a twelve-year-old boy who was run over by a Border Patrol truck, the named and the yet to be identified.7 Worldwide, 12.3 million people work as slaves or in other forms of forced labor, with 2.5 million people in forced labor as a result of cross-border trafficking.8 And while the most painful price of this migration—exploitation, disappearance, and death—continues to rise, the arithmetic of consumption requires a heavier toll in souls for its factories, fields, homes, restaurants, and construction sites. Only the devil’s accountant could rationalize this commoditization and disappearing of souls. Del Otro Lado (The Other Side) Produced in Mexico and the United States, Del Otro Lado (1999) is my first feature film. It is a story about love, friendship, Mexico’s inability to deal with the aids crisis, and the problematics of U.S.-Mexico border policies. Independent in almost every way, it tries to be faithful to the Mexican tradition of melodrama, as well as to queer traditions of community building among friends, lovers, and the “family you choose.” The film was adapted from a play by Gustavo Cravioto, Mario Callitzin, and Josué Quino and centers on Alejandro (Cravioto) and Beto (Callitzin ), a gay couple, one of whom is hiv-positive and must cross the border, leaving his family behind, to secure medical attention if he is to...


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