Questions from the rubble
The first words for suffering Mexico and many questions from the rubble:
Why did the alarm sound so late? Why didn’t Mexico learn its lesson?
Who’s responsible for those deaths and for the tears they caused?
These and many more questions for which we have no answers
are for Mexico, for which we grieve so deeply today.
William Grigsby Vergara
What happened to the Teotihuacán pyramids during the earthquake that shook Mexico to the core on September 19? What happened to the Panteón Civil de los Dolores, Mexico City’s largest cemetery? Have they checked the graves? Were they broken, like the hearts of the young Mexicans who ran out into the streets with shovels, helmets, mallets, flashlights and pickaxes to break apart the debris of the collapsed buildings then asked for silence so they could try to identify voices of victims buried under the negligence of construction companies that didn’t comply with the safety standards set in the laws of a Constitution turned 100 this year?
Where are they?
What happened to doña Conchita, the lady who sold pozole [a rich pork, chicken and hominy soup] on 71st Street south, there by the National Arts Center, from whom I bought chocolate atole [a hot corn flour-based drink] and chatted with her about Cantinflas movies? What happened to don Miguel’s artisanal coffee house, selling coffee beans from Oaxaca, Puebla and Chiapas on the corner of Doctor Navarro and Doctor Lucio, where I used to drink American coffee every morning while cold winds from the Valley of Mexico fluttered the long hair of doña Victoria, the lady who extracted pure coffee from an ancient brass machine?
Where’s Paco, that 50-year-old boy who lost his mother when he was 10 then found his father dead on the ground floor of the building where they lived when he went out to buy him his lunch, afterwards regarded as insane? I repeat, where’s Paco, that 50-year-old boy who wore the same clothes the last four years and didn’t bathe for months, and had a weather-beaten dark beard and scabs on his white chest, and hair so long and encrusted that it fell in locks in his face like chunks of charcoal while his deep green eyes observed a city where God never appeared?
And what happened to that young street artist who showed me the secrets of La Condesa neighborhood and the work of Rafael Cauduro who immortalized the London Underground and Paris Metro in Mexico City’s Insurgentes metro station? What happened to that Third World Don Quixote? What happened to that dear friend with whom I toured the Colonia Roma-Norte, where buildings and houses constructed in 1904 fell down?
What happened to them?
What happened to all the cats that lived over there in 102 Unidad Morelos, in the Colonia Doctores de la Delegación Cuauhtémoc? What happened to the ones that befriended me when I didn’t have anyone to talk to and looked at me with their round Toltec eyes? What happened to those enigmatic animals that went around in gangs and slept in the shadows, under the ocote trees and the pine trees and the monkey puzzle trees, covered with thick fur like Persian carpets full of elasticity and shine? Where do they sleep now? Who feeds them if they used to eat in the Unidad Morelos that’s now in ruins, just like the hearts of those young Mexicans who went to help their compatriots trapped under the debris and raised their fists to ask for silence?
And what about the copy of Michelangelo’s David in the Colonia Roma’s Rio de Janeiro Square, at the epicenter of the tragedy? Did It remain intact, still standing, always so tall like all monuments made with great care? Do the pigeons still perch on his shoulders?
What about Marianito, that 3-foot-4-inch tall gentleman who worked as a supporting actor in innumerable movies from the golden age of Mexican films, and who lived, just two months ago, selling lottery tickets near Álvaro Obregón Avenue, in front of Café Garat to be exact, next to the old building where the El Globo bakery once was?
What happened to don Roberto, that 65-year-old gentleman who had cataracts
and could hardly see but was afraid of the operation, and worked as a caretaker to take money to his daughter Daniela, who was getting great grades in a public school in the south of old Mexico City that collapsed, just like the Rébsamen school?
What happened to don Alejandro, the 45-year-old diabetic who was in a wheelchair and looked after cars in front of one of the OXXO convenience stores as he rolled along the sidewalks of the Ermita-Iztapalapa road to buy tacos al pastor near Coyoacán, where the Central Church almost came down?
Why don’t they talk?
What happened to all the vertical rotisseries in all those neighborhood taco places? Why doesn’t anybody talk about the sweet potato sellers in the mass media, where modern tragedy is presented as a profitable circus for the corruption of a country with an absurd public debt? Why isn’t CNN showing the video of Peña Nieto posing with the First Lady in front of Televisa cameras pretending to be affected by the hundreds of Mexicans who lost their lives? How long will the Mexican people continue to allow it? How will this earthquake not cause a needed social tsunami? Who said young people are a bunch of apathetic squatters?
What happened to the Copilco buildings, over there by the university, where people are used to living with cockroaches and wake up with them in their hair? What damage was suffered by the National Anthropological Museum, which conserved much of the cultural patrimony of the Mayan and Aztec peoples who, despite giving color to the handicrafts sold in parks throughout Mexico, are still treated like simple pre-Hispanic relics? That marvelous building where I learned that we Nicaraguan Chorotegas are also Mexicans because we came from Cholula? What happened to the Indians who were holding traditional fiestas in the Chapultepec Woods while the flat bottomed Xochimilco boats wobbled like gelatin?
What about the overcrowded buildings that became makeshift cemeteries in the states of Mexico, Chiapas, Guerrero and Morelos? And what of the unconfirmed numbers of anonymous dead who still haven’t been counted by the failed state of Mexico? What happened to the superhighways that buckled like biscuits and the avenues that cracked while the pavement, open like a wounded body in an operating room, breathed hot blood before the Mexicans’ astonished gaze? What happened to the Monument to a Mother that also fell down over Insurgentes Avenue, between Manuel Villalongín and James Sullivan? Where are that mother’s children? Who’s going to rebuild a symbol raised in honor of Mexican mothers who stand powerless in a country isolated by one tragedy after another?
How does one recover it?
And what happened to the Angel of Independence that rocked like a candle in the wind in a city that’s sinking year by year because it was built on a swamp?
How does one recover the decomposed face of a city where the pyramids poke their noses out of the earth to breathe and tell us that the churches, cultural centers and government palaces were built over the ruins of Aztec society, whose debris can be seen in the shaken faces of the Mexicans who saw their houses fall down from the hills, foothills of mountains where not even water reaches? Why don’t they say what happened to those overcrowded houses after the earthquake?
What became of San Cristóbal de las Casas after the cathedral walls were broken? What did the bishops say about the saints that fell down and the angels that broke into pieces? Where did the magic from the magic towns end up?
What of the people still buried in Jojutla, a municipality in the state of Morelos, the earthquake’s epicenter?
Where did the provisions end up that were meant to help the victims of Oaxaca but were plundered by corrupt politicians who left the storage centers empty?
What happened to the cynical cast of superstars who starred in the 21st-century Mexican soap opera where the villain was implacable Nature and the heroes hired actors who took selfies with the victims then uploaded them to the social networks while people were crying over a make-believe girl called Frida?
Is it really feasible to accept everything that happened with total tranquility? Is it really possible to accept as perfectly normal that exactly 32 years after the 1985 earthquake, Mexico suffered a catastrophe just as tragic, even though it was 10 degrees lower on the Richter scale?
Why did the alarm sound so late? Why didn’t Mexico learn its lesson? Who’s responsible for the dead and for the tears caused by their deaths? In short, if we have too many questions, what should we do with the extra ones?
William Grigsby Vergara is a Nicaraguan writer and contributor to envío.