Given the recent debates from both the GOP and the Democratic party the subject of the Mexican individual has been an issue that has once again reached the forefront of the U.S.’s political climate. Stemming from Donald Trump’s hyperbolic statements on illegal immigration along with his hypothetical and dystopian, deportation plan, the rise of the Mexican as a political subject is a topic Americans are once again forced to ponder.

Yet, with the inevitable discussion on immigration in the U.S. it is worth returning to the political and cultural origins of the Mexican exodus and how this diaspora is intimately tied to the U.S.’s political and economic foundations. Journalist John Gibler in his work Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt (2009) points towards Mexico as an amalgam of various political and imperial conquests that have always marginalized and disturbed some sort of subaltern. Witnessing multiple oppressive entities such as the Mayan empire, the Spanish Conquistadors, the criollos (Spanish-born Mexicans) and finally even the partners of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico has a strong history of exploitation.

One of Gibler’s key arguments analyzes the current rule of law in Mexico and how the state needs to be understood not as a government functioning with corrupt proclivities but rather its very nature and foundation is politically exploitative. Gibler reveals:

Again: arbitrary detention, systematic use of torture by all levels of police and the armed forces, and total impunity for officials. Can such widespread irregularities and enduring practices be considered irregularities in the system? No. They are the system. (67)

The horror stories that arise from Mexico over oppressed indigenous groups, sexual violence and governmental oppression are symptoms that do not point to political aberrations but rather they reveal a governmental infrastructure that is designed to corrupt, confuse and grant those with economic power the authority to rule and subdue. In this sense, Mexican citizens and immigration as a whole are tangled in a web of bastardized political rule which has accrued its authority from histories of imperial/colonial conquests and perverse ties to the U.S. and other stakeholders who have commandeered the Mexican lower class as the economic backbone and subject to their political system.

Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño’s last book 2666 (2004) captures the countless rapes and murders of young women in Ciudad Juárez. While fictionalized as the city of Santa Teresa in the novel, a majority of Bolaño’s book describes in objective and medical fashion the theatrical and violent deaths of young women. From patterns of vaginal and anal rape, strangulation and sometimes the purposefully obvious burial spot, 2666 points towards a single serial killer but one who is always out of reach. Perhaps the most interesting shibboleth from the murders is that most of the victims worked at maquiladoras (tariff-free factories) a clear criticism of the capitalist machine.

As the novel progresses various detectives take their crack at the cases — jotting down statements, following up with interviews and a majority of the time falsely accusing ex-boyfriends. Most of the deaths remain unsolved, not unlike the reality of Juárez’s incessant murders since the 1980’s.

The incompetency of the detectives and their general lack in follow up with the cases reveals a disturbing truth about Bolaño’s Santa Teresa — no one really cares. The terrifying reality is that the murders in 2666 are based off Juárez, a city where, as Gibler points out in his book, “Phrases like ‘human rights violation’ or ‘discrimination against women,’ pale and fall apart” (80).

This, I argue, is where we must locate the Mexican subject — that subject which rests in a landscape of complete nihilism. Contrary to various analyses, I stress that in this sense nihilism is not the absence of meaning but where meaning is constantly be altered, destroyed, reproduced and corrupted. The authority in Mexico has no law except what resources it can draw on to exert power when seen as necessary. Here, nihilism becomes the oscillating meanings in which stability is relegated to the hopes of solidifying the power of a certain, social class. Journalists and lawyers who pursue the cases of these murdered women become killed themselves because of a “shapeshifting ideology” (37). Justice becomes a hollow term that is stuffed by whatever financial or political agenda is desired by the elite. 

Bolaño’s book contains characters from other social stratums: literary academics, a New York journalist, an elusive German author and a downtrodden, philosophy professor. But each becomes drawn to Juárez and becomes captivated by its desolation and secrets. If this is what postmodernity has presented us with, a strange, hypnotic appeal to the violence and abject, then are the sociocultural and political landscapes we have blanketed ourselves in really the best of all possible worlds? Furthermore, if we locate the Mexican subject as one situated in this postmodern landscape, how can we better understand the U.S.’s allure as not only a nation for opportunity but as a provider for a deeper, metaphysical stability? Bolaño’s and Gibler’s work reveals that the state of Mexico has become so apt and precise at conducting violence that the theatricality of its own brutality cuts deep into the history of meaning, symbol and thought. It is not just a war on bodies but the social constructs which can provide knowledge, culture and social foundations. The mere concept of justice has become so lost in Mexico’s abuse of semantics that the U.S. is not only a financial provider but it promises a resource of symbolic order to those who cross the border.

Anthropologist Ann Stoler’s manifesto in the work Imperial Debris looks towards ruins of colonialism (both literal and symbolic) as new avenues for social scientists to analyze the post-colonial and imperial field. What we find in ruins are not just haunting projections of the past but how these previous artifacts of culture, domination and meaning are absorbed, resisted and are utilized by those who remain. 

Her argument can be used to look at the murders in Juárez as not just tragedies but as components and hints to a larger image about the system which props the Mexican state. Stoler argues, “If imperial debris deposits in the disabled, racialized spaces of colonial histories past and present, it is gendered as well — in how it is embodied where it is lodged, and how it is expressed” (16). If Mexico’s history of oppression and revolt is still alive and absorbing a process of ruination then perhaps it has devastatingly been lodged within the female body. That the reality of suffering, declining economics and cultural decadence has been patriarchally fixed along the feminine aspect as its own theatrical expression. The fact that these murder cases are never solved and that they have become a societal norm emphasizes that they are the debris of the true beast of a dilapidated system that supports a facade of democratic rule. Meaning is so crucial to these bodies that they become an abject language, symptom and expression of a political miasma. In this image we trace the lost “concrete trajectory” (23) of political underpinnings which lie dormant yet actively exclude, position, opaque and appear in traces of violence and marginalization.

Other phenomenon can point in this same direction. Julia Morse wrote an article on the probrefazilia, the new social media trend to display explicit photos of young, dark skinned women from Mexico. This cries out as another indication of a broken system as the lower class becomes fetishized and digitally symbolized as sexual objects. Morse hauntingly states at the end of her article, “What spins through our news feeds are images of the world that surrounds us. Emblems of the oppressed being further beaten down, both by the privileged and by themselves”. This digital debris which is birthed out of the political organism, along with the Juárez murders, uncovers a trajectory of complicated political ties, yet still provides very little solutions. I could quote various research on how the Latino population currently props up the U.S.’s economy but I want to stress that we need to pay attention to what is occurring to women and how can immigration policy alleviate the damage done to millions of Mexicans both in and outside the U.S. This is a critique on discourses that have meticulously accused, confused and have destroyed lives. To be held accountable, meaning and justice must be stabilized and not become a resource for those in charge to redefine for oppression.

Works Cited
Gibler, John. Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt. San Francisco: City Lights, 2009. Print.
Bolaño, Roberto, and Natasha Wimmer. 2666. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.
Stoler, Ann Laura. Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination. Durham: Duke UP, 2013. Print.

Morse, Julia. “What #Pobrezafilia Means for Mexico – The Morning News.” The Morning News. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct. 2015.

One thought on “The Mexican Subject: Semantics, Violence and the Female Aspect

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