All reports indicate people are being taken off buses between Matamoros and the rest of Tamaulipas by drug cartel members, slaughtered and thrown into mass graves. Hundreds of suitcases are stranded in Matamoros, the belongings of people who didn't make it to their destinations. The worst thing is that none of the bus companies even reported the kidnappings and assaults on their buses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some reports are saying police officers themselves were partially responsible. Now bus companies are canceling routes. My guess is some companies were covering it up and also distrustful of local authorities and their power to resolve the crimes.
I've seen the "Bienvenidos a San Fernando" sign on many, many occasions. I've personally driven this route or taken buses on this road countless times riding between Houston and Tampico. In fact, buses leave every day to travel this route from my neighborhood in the East End. I don't think I will ever be able to look at this welcome sign in San Fernando again without cringing. I love the land though in this part of the Gulf Coast: flat and full of scrub brush. In the distance, low mountains. An unpretentious, human-sized landscape. And the fact that I and my loved ones have spent so much time on these roads means the violence hits home. It could have been me or a friend or a loved one in those mass graves. But something tells me if it was me with my white skin and U.S. national privileges, there would have been a lot more reporting on my disappearance. The media wouldn't have waited until bodies were found to begin their reporting.
Today, I'm angry and scared and deeply saddened by this news. I just needed to say something in the face of this continuing, daily violence. Even if my words are entirely insufficient to deal with the complexity and horror of this violence.
Last night I went to see artist Ken Gonzales-Day talk at the UC San Diego Art Gallery about his Erased Lynching project. He spoke about his research into the lynchings of Mexican-Americans and other ethnic groups in the Southwest, in California, Texas and along the border. He was able to document hundreds of lynchings and other findings in the book, Lynchings in the West 1830-1935. His artistic project consists of erasing images of lynched bodies but leaving the trees, the audience, the public, the land. The images are haunting and troubling, forcing the viewer to see in an entirely different way, aware of the erasure at the heart of the photo. Gonzales-Day said he didn't want to show to the bodies of lynched people because he wasn't interested either in re-victimizing them or in being known as an artist who exploited images of suffering. Rather, his goal was to make them present in their absence, critiquing the erasure of lynchings in the history of the Southwest.
After listening to him last night and now reading about the San Fernando mass graves, I go back to similar questions. What bodies do we see? Images of the dead in the previous San Fernando mass graves holding 72 Central and South American bodies flooded the media a few months ago. The images of the alleged Zeta perpetrators of the more recent killings are now being circulated.
I have to ask: Which images and bodies are erased? Which are remembered? What do we really see? What do we lose track of? What memories are held in the landscape? What bodies are under the ground beneath our feet, unremembered?