Armando Ramirez's Pu or Violacion en Polanco: looking at race and revenge in modern Mexico.
dispara, dispara para levantar estelas de polvo por donde se vean nuestras casas en forma de choza, de casa de carton, que se vea nuestro polvo y nuestro lodo, nuestro miedo, y nuestro odio ... (Armando Ramirez, Violacion en Polanco
Armando Ramirez's Pu (1977) or, as it was reissued in 1980, Violacion en Polanco marks a stunning chapter in the development of Mexican literature that considers the issue of racial/cultural identity of Indians. This had been a type of presumably dated fiction considered bordering on the obsolete in Mexican letters since the early 1960s. Diverging completely from any of the previous canonical indianist or indigenous novels in Mexico's literary history, Pu demands to be seen as an angry representation of the long-term suffering and the simmering repressed hatred of the descendents of Nezahualcoyotl, Motecuhzoma, and Cuauhtemoc against the culture of their oppressors. Their enemy is a composite from the past (the invading Spaniards), the immediate present (the upper classes that prefer to not see the pitiful circumstances of the indigenous poor), and the post-revolutionary institutions (any of the successive Mexican governments of the years leading up to the novel's publication).
The work is gripping, graphic, and brutal in its depiction of three Mexican men, shown to identify with their indigenous background, who kidnap, rape, beat, and finally murder an upperclass white woman in a bloody joint sacrifice designed to avenge their ancestors for the indignation and humiliation that the Indians have had to endure for centuries. Before her death, which is inexorable from the beginning, she is forced to look at, to really see, the despicable living conditions and abject poverty of the under class in Mexico. While bringing his readers to this moment of sacrifice, Ramirez apportions time to take swipes at the institutions that constitute "civilized" Mexico, in particular the church, the literary establishment, even language itself, all in an angry campaign to create blatant violence against the "system."
Until this novel, works about the poor generally had been recorded by an intermediary from the educated classes, a necessity born of the rampant illiteracy among the under class. A clear example from Mexico would be Elena Poniatowska's Hasta no verte Jesus mio (1969). Ramirez's earlier novels had already gained recognition as fictions about the lower classes written by someone from the lower classes, a rarity among Latin-American writers. He rose from humble beginnings in the impoverished Tepito district in Mexico City to attain an education. Although others in his position might have abandoned their origins, Ramirez chose to give voice to the marginalized poor in such novels as Chin chin el teporocho (1971), Cronica de los chorroscientos mil dias del barrio de Tepito (1973), and Tepito (19770. As summarized by Vicente Francisco Torres, "por primera vez en la literatura mexicana, los jodidos se expresaban como jodidos" (50).
Later on, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there would emerge a cluster of novels that return to indigenista fiction but with innovations in style and a closer relationship between author and subject, such as Jesus Morales Bermudez's Memorial del tiempo o via de las conversaciones (1987) (Steele 249). In addition, one notes the long hoped for literature written from within the indigenous communities, what Cynthia Steele calls "literatura indigena," in particular from Chiapas, such as the theatrical pieces from Sna Jtz'ibajom or "La Casa del Escritor" (249). These works, however, depict the indigenous in their cyclical strife within their mountainous homeland rather than as active agents in an urban setting. By having his characters, specifically labeled as descendents of Aztec warriors and as inheritors of the lineage of Nezahualcoyotl, carry out their sacrifice in Mexico City, Ramirez in a sense plays Violacion en Polanco as an impassioned critique in fictional response against the artistic establishment as represented by Carlos Fuentes. In La region mas transparente (1958), Fuentes mythologizes the indigenous in the form of Ixca Cienfuegos, a citizen of Mexico City with cosmic powers who carries the narrative with god-like capabilities. In a manner of slapping Mexican readership into awareness, perhaps with particular emphasis on the literary clique, Ramirez turns to a neo-naturalistic text carried into excess that shouts about a different reality for the Indians and defies the reading public to attempt to ignore its deliberately offensive content. These Indians will not go unseen.
Two Classes, Two Skin Colors, Two Mexico Cities, Two Discourses
At the roots of the novel is the notion of a fundamental inequality among "citizens." Ramirez brings to the foreground the hypocrisy of the official rhetoric, which argues for the identification of all Mexicans as sharing the same national imagination, by presenting the Indians in a double fashion: not only as an ethnic mix, but also as a metaphor for the entire underclass that barely subsists and is treated as unseen, invisible citizens. He continually reminds readers of the vast schism between the rich and the poor, the upper-class neighborhoods like Polanco and the shanty slums, the elitist south of the city and the lumpen north, the white-skinned bourgeois matron they kidnap and their own brown skin: "la ciudad al norte se extiende en sus ocho millones de habitantes, el norte es el oriente, es el zocalo para aca, al sur es la mierda entre arboles y jardines, agua, casas grandes para todos; aca esta el dolor, el viento y la resequedad" (Violacion 113). In an interview with Torres, he confirms this view and is even more specific:
[L]a ciudad de Mexico se divide en dos partes: el sur y el norte. El sur es la parte privilegiada de la ciudad de Mexico, y va desde el Zocalo, Narvarte, la del Valle, San Angel, etc. Alli estan las galerias, los cine club, la Universidad, las librerias donde puedes conversar sobre Godard, Proust o Celine. Al norte estan la Basilica de Guadalupe, Tepito, Nezahualcoyotl, el Puas Olivares; estan tambien Alarma, Lagrimas, Risas y Amor, las tolvaneras, el polvo, la sequia, las vecindades, las casas de adobe, los cines donde pasan las peliculas de la India Maria. Aca en el norte tenemos otra cultura, es una parte de la ciudad de Mexico que no existe en las guias turisticas. Torres 64-65 (1)
Analogously, in Pu he presents two discourses, largely in an alternating sequence, although later in the novel they will unite with devastating consequences. The narratives, although separated by time and space, are on occasion linked, thus anticipating the final unity. This linkage is mainly by means of the repetition of a name, an object, or an action. At the same time, they are extraordinarily complex in structure and vocabulary, so much so that it is frequently difficult to be sure of the content.
The initial segment introduces the sequence of fragments that take place in a movie house. In a position of privilege, it also establishes immediately the in-your-face language and a portion of the subject matter that will mark Ramirez's writing throughout: "PUTAS, putos, grifos, manfloras, cocos, transas, atracadores, todo eso y mas formabamos el grupo diario que se reunia en el cine" (Violacion 15; the first word or phrase in upper case defines the beginning of a new segment in the 1980 edition). The sense of the group, moreover, introduces the cohesiveness of these marginalized cinephiles who regularly engage in sexual activity in the darkness of the theatre, at times inspired by what is transpiring on screen. There are continual references both to heterosexual and homosexual activity, oral sex, full intercourse, prostitution, and masturbation.
From myriad characters emerges a group that will dominate the story: three young male friends, Abigail (a.k.a. el Abigail), Genovevo (Geno), and the narrator, Rodolfo; la Chuy, a young female prostitute of some nineteen years who is linked romantically with Abigail but clearly has the strong sexual attention and affection of the other two; and an androgynous figure who goes by the name of la Taylor (from Elizabeth Taylor), whom the narrator calls Lo, given the character's androgynous sexual identity and who trails la Chuy in total subservience. Readers receive comments about the pictures they view, their sexual adventures, and, critically, a plot thread involving an older (fiftyish), rich politician type who sets up la Chuy as his mistress. Although there is some dissention among the friends, it is an avaricious Abigail who urges la Chuy to accept the offer, thinking he will profit handsomely from the deal. Naturally, la Taylor goes along.
Segment two initiates the sequences that take place in a stolen bus, manned by the three friends featured in the alternating narrative. They begin their journey with an emphasis on sight, making observations about the opulent homes in Polanco (in the late 1970s, Polanco had the reputation of a solidly upper-class neighborhood, home to many embassies. Subsequently, it has grown to such an extent that it is considered a second "downtown" or city center in the Federal District). This segment, too, begins with a connotation of unity, with its privileging of the "we" form in upper case at the beginning: "SALIMOS de Cumbres para entrar a Palmas" (17). In Polanco, the men see many tempting women, but they have targeted a specific bourgeois specimen, the wife of the politician referred to in the movie-house segments: "la de Polanco, la del otro lado de la ciudad, la del otro mundo, la del otro sueno, la que no sabia de estas cosas" (49). They kidnap her and thus initiate a nightmarish ride on a Delfin bus with the expressed purpose of forcing her to look at the misery of the lower classes. During that ride, however, there is a savagery in their actions that combines the sexual and the violent, the motivation of which is hinted at, but not revealed until the very end of the novel when the alternating segments conflate.
The explicit horror of the content depicted in the bus sequences almost precluded publication of the novel. According to Ramirez, a representative from Editorial Novaro told him that a firm that published Walt Disney, with a clear target audience of children, could never publish this material (Torres 68). It was finally decided to add a measure of respectability in the form of a prologue to Pu by Dr. Alfonso Quiroz Cuaron, a specialist in forensic medicine, in which crime, hyper-sexuality, and violence are linked in part to cinema and in part to dreams, but, more to the point, as a reflection of society: "El delito es solamente un reflejo de la sociedad, el delito es el espejo en que esta se refleja, agradele o no" (7). The suggestion of a link to cinema can be traced easily, but, perhaps, too superficially to the ample space devoted to describing the films shown at the theatre frequented by the group. In this novel, life imitating visual media is confined to the movie-house seats where the sex is for pleasure or economic gain. It will be shown that what transpires in the Delfin is not so much rooted in the influence of the cinema. Rather, it responds to a much deeper emotion, more acutely felt: revenge rooted in centuries of hatred.
The Movies within the Text and The Influence of Cinema on the Text
Scattered among all segments, but with particular emphasis within the movie-house sequences, are the names of Mexican and international films and actors. The films brought to the foreground have to do with sex, violence, or a combination of the two, most of the time connected to class disparity or retribution against the upper class. Common thematics include violence against women, race, threatened machismo, and revenge. Death is a frequent companion. With some frequency there is a clear parallel between the cinematic content and what is transpiring elsewhere in the novel. The first, Escupire sobre sus tumbas, a marker of race that focuses on the relationship between a black man and a white woman, appears within the first few lines of the text. Among the identifiable titles are the following: Escupire sobre sus tumbas (1959, Michel Gast; French: J'irai cracher sur vos tombes [a.k.a. I Spit on Your Grave]); Point Blank (1967, John Boorman); Dos mujeres (1961, Vittorio De Sica; Italian: La ciociara [Two Women]); El sirviente (1963, Joseph Losey; The Servant); Straw Dogs (1971, Sam Peckinpah); Dr. No (1962, Terrence Young); Valley of the Dolls (1967, Mark Robson); Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn); The Last Tango in Paris (1972, Bernardo Bertolucci; Italian: Ultimo tango a Parigi).
The multiple international actors named are frequently misspelled, occasionally providing humor: Marlyn Monro (21); Candice Berger (107), and Warren Beuty (98). The majority are either European or products of Hollywood, ranging from Tuesday Weld to Marcello Mastroianni. Other than Maria Felix and Cantinflas, the Mexican actors are largely unknown to audiences outside the country. The three Mexican actresses who are presented prominently are favorites among the cinephiles because of their voluptuous bodies: Libertad Leblanc, Isela Vega, and Gina Morett. (2) Morett is the actress described as the quintessential Mexican actress, the embodiment of all that is Mexico (Violacion 33). In Rodolfo's opinion, Gina is to Mexico what Irene Papas is to Greece or Sophia Loren is to Italy. Her semi-porn work prior to the publication of Pu would place her on a par with the other two Mexican actresses mentioned: La horripilante bestia humana (1968; a.k.a. Horror and Sex or Night of the Bloody Apes); and La montana del diablo [1973; The Devil's Mountain]. Her function in the text, however, is to embody Mexicanness in a way that leads to identification on the part of the dark-skinned lower classes: "sus ojos son como nuestra raza, medio atristados, la mirada infinitamente melancolica, con su piel morena" (32).
The cinematic influence in and on the novel is clear, and freely admitted by Ramirez, who cites in particular Los caifanes (1966) as a film he admires because it breaks with institutionalized cinematic practice (Torres 63). It also suggests a source of the plot of Violacion, albeit in a milder version. Even more importantly, it represents one example of an iconoclastic work that serves to "violentar lo establecido" (Torres 66), that more generalized need to shock the complacent that Ramirez feels is essential to break with antiquated ways of thinking and of expressing ideas.
Significantly, a number of Mexican films in the late 1960s and the 1970s reveal suggestive parallels of an increase in violence or a turning of the tables against oppressors. (3) In part, this can be seen as a response to the increasing recognition of the inadequacy of the official government line to justify the disparity within Mexican citizenry. As argued by Jean Franco: "there was plainly a growing gulf between the ideal image of Mexico and the reality of the people's everyday life, culture, and practices" (129). Culminating in the student massacre at Tlatelolco in 1968, that impact would be felt in literary and cinematic treatments for years to come. In the sexenio of Luis Echeverria (1970-76), who encouraged new directors and allowed more freedom in thematics (Mora, "Alejandro" 111), there emerged both legislation to augment commitment to Indian affairs and an increase in the number of films that focused on the indigenous with concurrent attention to mexicanness and the nation (Berg 141, 154). This combination of politics and national identity brought a group of filmmakers to push for a Mexican cinema that would not only eschew influence from Hollywood, but also "deal honestly with Mexican reality" (Mora, Mexican Cinema 111), The most significant factor in the increase of more socially aware films, however, was likely the policies of Rodolfo Echeverria, the president's brother, in his position as head of the Banco Cinematografico. As Deborah E. Mistron argues, "[Rodolfo] Echeverria's policies were largely responsible for this new emphasis on films with social themes" (219). Mistron goes on to quote Rodolfo Echeverria's presentation to members of the film industry in which he invited social criticism: "I formally invite all workers, now, to unite with the State, to produce films on the great human themes of the Mexican Revolution; to undertake social criticism, to initiate self-criticism. Each of you must feel this with moral authority, aesthetic capability and imaginative force, so that, together, all of us can better Mexico" (219). We will examine two important works that are pertinent to the discussion of Violacion en Polanco by showing a similarity either in plot and aggressiveness (Los caifanes) or in a focus on racial tensions specific to Mexico (El juicio de Martin Cortes).
In Los caifanes (1966, Juan Ibanez), Paloma (Julissa) and her architect boyfriend, Jaime de Landa (Enrique Alvarez Felix), leave an elegant party in one of the upper-class suburbs (Ayala Blanco, La aventura 387-94). Clearly at one with this milieu, the pair feel frisky soon after leaving, and the more adventurous Paloma daringly suggests that they make love right then and there. A sudden downpour forces them to take refuge in a nearby car, where they commence their playfulness. The car's owners, a group of four rough-looking lower-class men, return, surprising the two and registering their disgust. Hostility soon resolves into camaraderie, however, and the unlikely mixture of social classes goes off into the night for some fun.
The setting for the escapades and a principal focus of the film is Mexico City: "ciudad donde se mezclan estratos sociales y economicos a los que incluso el lenguaje sirve para diferenciar, ciudad en que coexisten, ignorandose mutuamente casi por completo, diversos planos de evolucion, ciudad monstruosa, inabarcable y odiada" (Ayala Blanco 389-90). The night is a kaleidoscope of activity and color that begins with playing and dancing, but soon spills into physical violence and a series of affronts to both people and property (in a cameo appearance, Carlos Monsivais appears as a soused Santa Claus whose false beard is burned). Ayala summarizes the activity thus: "afrenta a la propiedad privada, al instrumento de trabajo ajeno, a la solemnidad oficial, a la respetabilidad burguesa y ciudadana, al atavico culto de la muerte" (391). In this manner, Ibanez establishes as targets of his critique consumerism or capitalism, national institutions, and specific aspects of national culture.
The caifanes, or lower-class men, consist of el Capitan Gato (Sergio Jimenez); el Estilos (Oscar Chavez); el Azteca (Ernesto Gomez Cruz); and el Mazacote (The Boa; Eduardo Lopez Rojas). Despite the gang-member names, these four men are closer to urban picaresque characters in their puerile pranks, like spilling greasy hair gel onto the nightclub's dance floor to wreak havoc among the participants. According to Ayala, they are not inherently evil. They do, however, demonstrate a sense of social marginalization and alienation bordering on dehumanization (393), which will be brought into full play by Ramirez.
Tied to differences of class, race is tacitly a factor of conflict in the film. Although it is never stated, the physical appearance of at least three of the lower-class men makes clear that they are of Indian descent, and the society duo have a much lighter complexion. Through a series of point-of-view shots, with Paloma's body as the object of the men's gaze, Ibanez reveals the potential for violence among these lower-class mestizos. It is important to note, however, that despite showing the men's lust for the white woman (whose name translates into "dove") and their resentment toward Jaime, the insensitive bourgeois type who breaks into English when he wants to confer with Paloma in secret, Ibanez depicts the men as being in control of their emotions. The film's emphasis would appear to be more on promoting awareness of social class and on whether or not there exists the possibility of achieving some kind of unity or sharing of values among classes. The English-speaking engineer, clearly more influenced than his companion by the "northamericanization" that would grow in intensity in the 1970s and beyond, despite enjoying aspects of the evening returns to an inherent disdain for the rowdy group. For him, they clearly belong to a class he would prefer not to have to see: "los caifanes representan la irrupcion de un submundo despreciable que preferiria nihilizar en su conciencia" (Ayala 393). Paloma, on the other hand, responds more favorably to the lower-class men, enjoying a heightened sense of liberation. She spends time in private with el Estilos, and there is a suggestion that they have made love. Before parting, the caifanes drive the couple through the depressed neighborhoods of the lower classes, a gesture that could be seen as a sort of tame prequel to Pu. Although she does not seem to truly communicate with the men, Paloma exhibits enough inner growth to make a point of rejecting her up-tight companion at the end of the evening (she gets into a cab and slams the door before he can join her, leaving him stranded in a distinctly foreign, lower-class milieu). Ayala concludes that the film is about "la incompatibilidad definitiva de dos mundos" (394), separated by culture, custom, and language (with emphasis on the albur of the lower class).
A later film in which the indigenous theme is played out more forcefully, El juicio de Martin Cortes ("The Trial of Martin Cortes," 1973, written and directed by Alejandro Galindo) focuses on a play-within-the-film called "Martin Cortes, the First Mexican," that features two sons of Fleman Cortes, both named Martin (Berg 142-44). One brother, the offspring of Cortes and dona Marina, is the first mestizo, hence the title character of the play. The other Martin, whom Galindo saw as the first Creole, is the legitimate son of Cortes and his second wife, dona Juana (Mora "Alejandro" 110). In the play, there is immediate tension between the brothers when Cortes brings the Mexican Martin to Madrid and arranges for him to be given honors suitable for a Spanish noble. The Castillian brother labels his half brother a bastard and, in a tone of scorn, the product of the union of a Spaniard and an Indian. After the death of their father, however, the two men are involved politically, the mestizo supporting the other brother's plot to establish himself as a leader in Mexico. When their plot is exposed, the Spanish brother tries to blame his stepbrother for the treason, even if the result could lead to his brother's beheading. Although the Mexican escapes physical punishment thanks to the sacrifice of dona Juana, he loses his inheritance and standing in a humiliating public display. The final blow comes when his Spanish brother tries to have him deported from his adored Mexico, which drives mestizo Martin to turn violent against his brother.
What provokes the film's political agenda and sequencing is the murder that takes place on the very first night of production. The actor playing the part of the mestizo brother (Gonzalo Vega playing the part of Oscar Roman, the actor in the play) becomes so steeped in his role that he kills the actor playing the offending Spaniard. The audience evidently approves of the carnage and gives loud vocal support. In search of justice, a police investigator is called (David Reynoso), a mestizo himself, but also the mouthpiece of the government. Thus, when confronted by the defense argument that the actor playing the mestizo was overcome by centuries of repressed animosity that had been jolted into the present tense by the play, he calls it nonsense. Choosing to feature the official line that would suppress all recognition of class struggle cum racial disparity, Galindo has the detective, a self-described part Indian, say: "There is no racial prejudice in Mexico" (142).
In order to finalize the case, key scenes are played out for the investigator. At the same climactic point that had produced spontaneous violence from the play's opening night, the investigator jumps to his feet and screams "Kill him!" (143). Carl Mora reasons that the inspector is shaken by this undeniable evidence of his own racial hatred ("Alejandro" 110). The man then recuses himself from the case on the basis of being mestizo and, in explicating his sympathy for the defendant, gives voice to the underlying emotions common to the indigenous in Mexico: "Four centuries of history, four hundred years of hatreds and humiliations neither resolved nor overcome. In one moment it all exploded" (Berg 144). As of the mid 1980s, Mora considered the film "one of the very few Mexican motion pictures to confront the sensitive issue of unspoken racial tensions between mestizos and creoles (whites) in a middle-class ambience" (107), concluding that it is "possibly the only Mexican film that has attempted to explore the complex emotions underlying Mexico's racial composition" (110).
A Discourse to Articulate Released Repression
Violacion probes more deeply into the lower classes than the films described above, and conditions are that much more grievous. References to homes made of cardboard in Tepito and a starving child described as "panzon y flaco" (68) are contrasted with "la gran Tenochtitlan" (23, 67) establishing a mental link between the hopeless present and the glorious past. The references pepper the text. Mexico is a "Monstruopolis (128, 129, 139), a "mierda de ciudad" (132). Within "estas callecitas de dios, de hambre, de polvo, de lodo" (52), "citizens" conclude that life is a constant struggle: "Pinche ciudad, cada dia es una mierda vivir" (25). Given these circumstances, one might well expect a heightened nature of the potential explosion suggested in El juicio de Martin Cortes. Indeed, this novel suggests the textual equivalent of a primal scream in the releasing of centuries of pent up emotions.
Ramirez chooses a discursive mixture appropriate to his graphic content of sex and violence. He emphasizes anaphora combined with crescendo with an analogous accelerated pacing of both the bus and the narrative. The 1977 version, entitled Pu, places the thematics of released tensions on the cover. The word is evidently a slang neologism or idiotism for "making love" or, more to the point, producing semen at the moment of climax, the releasing of body fluid in the moment of orgasm (some two thirds into the novel, there is depicted an extended masturbation fantasy in which the word "pu" cascades down the pages [108-10]).
The prose in Violacion is largely delivered in long paragraphs with run-on sentences that build in intensity and pacing until the final segment, the lengthiest in the book, that combines the story elements from the movie house and the bus. At the same time, readers are told periodically that the Delfin bus is going faster and faster: "la velocidad se va aumentando, hay que llegar" (136). There is an analogous crescendo of inevitability in the building of tension within the bus and in the intensity of the violence. Ramirez skillfully works these various aspects of the text toward an inevitable literary orgasmic explosion.
Linguistically, the crescendo is grouped with anaphora, or the repetition of initial words in phrases. Abigail implores the woman to stop crying: "'No llores, ?que no ves que me pones mal ...?' La senora sigue llorando. Abigail le repite: 'No llores, ?que no ves que siento mal ...?' La senora sigue llorando; abigail [s/c] le repite 'no llores por el amor de Dios ...' la senora sigue llorando, el abigail [sic] le repite: 'No llores, por vida tuya'" (62). The crescendo ends with "No llores, hija de la chingada, !!!que no ves que te voy a poner en la madre!!!" This heightened intensity pairs also with a change in verb choice toward a preference for the imperative, as noted by Valentina Pabello de Mickey, specifically with reference to Violacion en Polanco: "el imperativo sirve como vehiculo expresivo para descargar la ira, es un elemento que expresa violencia, que se pronuncia a gritos, sirve de exhortacion a la violencia" (124).
Finally, readers reach the climax of the novel, the conflation of the two "stories" into one closing section of nominal phrases, incoherence, and chaos. Despite its complexity, this last segment reveals the moment of murder and of sacrifice, and it also suggests, in the ultimate example of crescendo, the "why" of choosing this particular woman and the "how" of la Chuy's death, which is evidently what pushed the men into the expression of their rage. At first, it would appear that the politician's career suffered a blow because he was photographed in the nude along with la Chuy and la Taylor: "ya te miraste en el periodico, en esa foto: La Taylor, tu, y la Chuy, los tres desnudos" (140). Then, the scenario is revised to announce their deaths: "viejo cobarde mata y se suicida" (142). The third in the crescendo makes it a mutual suicide, but hints at a manipulation of the newspapers' readers: "quieren hacemos creer que se suicidaron los tres" (143). The final revelation, albeit less than clearly stated, points to a fourth party, the politician's wife, the target of the kidnapping: "por que los mato, por que no se mataron los tres de propia voluntad" (145).
Forced Sight before the Inexorable Sacrifice
Thus there is a personal motivation for these individuals' having kidnapped and raped the politician's wife. The ultimate source for what happens on the Delfin, however, reaches far beyond Polanco and this "senora" with her white skin and perfect teeth. The rape, beating, and murder by disembowelment are a communal retribution for years of deceit, humiliation, debasing poverty, and invisible citizenship suffered by the indigenous in Mexico. (4) In itself, the rape symbolically inverts for the Indian population the violation of Mexico by the Spaniards. Significantly, the rape-murder represents the ultimate revenge against the Spaniards' women, in partial retribution for the many indigenous women given over to the conquerors, for the woman is disemboweled through the vagina. Such a replication of patriarchal sexual violence against women should be seen as learned behavior, not so much from media sources as from the colonizers themselves. As Jean Paul Sartre explains in his preface to Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, when the oppressed natives finally rise up against their colonizers, they do so employing their masters' techniques: "Can [the colonizer] not recognize his own cruelty turned against himself? In the savagery of these oppressed peasants, does he not find his own settler's savagery, which they have absorbed through every pore and for which there is no cure?" (16).
The trip by bus is used in part to force the politician's wife to look at the poorest barrios of Mexico City, to see what the upper classes would choose to avoid, locked away as they are in their fancy homes in Lomas, Pedregal, and Polanco, with one hundred and eighty degrees of separation. Ramirez emphasizes this forced sight throughout the text, at moments of violence, of sexual conquest, even in death. As they drive through the dirty, muddy streets, the narration is explicit with names of barrios and specific roads; they pass through Peralvillo, la Nueva Atzacoaico, San Juan de Aragon, El Cerro del Penon, Iztacalco, Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, la Aurora, Iztapalapa, El Moral, Ignacio Zaragoza, San Lazaro, and Lecumberri (Torres 55). The narrator insists that the woman look at him, his weapons, his body, and his hatred, the latter two expressed in the plural to include not only his two companions, but all of the indigenous: "pinche vieja, sigue viendome, mira la varilla y la pistola, y los miembros, y nuestros ojos, y nuestros odios" (128). They know she must die, but she must also be kept alive until the final destination, the "canal del desague" the last canal remnant from Tenochtitlan: "nosotros la queriamos conservar hasta llegar al canal del desague, a que viera las aguas negras, como corre la suciedad, como la agua [sic] cristalina se vuelve agua negra y grasienta" (121; emphasis added). In death, her sight will be fixed on the cosmos: "para que este cuerpo de mujer vea el firmamento, y mire la luna, y mire las estrellas" (151) after their mutual sacrificial death. All of the bus's inhabitants plunge into the canal, not just the chosen victim, but also the symbolic representatives of Indian heritage.
This is an Indian sacrifice, the sun will return, and the spilled blood of the ancestral warriors is, at least in part, avenged. For just as there is a syncretic joining of the story elements in the final segment, so too there is the symbolic macro-joining of all Mexican Indians, past and present, in the person of these three men, a compression of time that helps effect the avenging of a people: "nuestros poros son los atomos de los otros, nuestras lenguas son sus lenguas" (142). At one crucial moment, Genovevo is likened to a tlatoani (105), an Aztec ruler on a par with Motecuhzoma. The destination of the old canal from the center of Tenochtitlan returns them to the site of sacrifice (128), here a destination and a destiny that must be reached, hence the numerous references to "lo que ha de suceder" (51; followed by a citing of Aztec sacrifice] and the anticipated "hora de la verdad, tantos anos estaban concentrados en este momento") (117-18).
The unity among Indians and the inexorability of death are presented from the beginning. In a preface to the text, there is a declaration of identity, signed "El autor" (7-9), that begins with a marker of unison: "somos producto de la revolucion" , which anticipates with uncanny equivalence by some fourteen years the statement that marked the revolt of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional [EZLN 33; "Somos producto de 500 anos de luchas"). The first-person plural that dominates these pages refers to the lowest of the low, the macehuales, described as descendents of Nezahualcoyotl, "concomitantes y contaminantes" (7). Nezahualcoyotl, both a poet and a warrior, was known to have suffered a humiliating defeat during the Aztec territorial and political expansion, when, having agreed to a sham battle in which he would feign ceding to his enemy, he found that his troops were in fact conquered (Kandell 41-43). In a brief three pages, the Indians are shown to have been used and abused repeatedly in Mexican history, all the while being told that they were, in fact, the victors: "Fuimos dominados y disfrutaron por nosotros largos anos--los que despues nos dijeron que habiamos vencido" (Violacion 8). The declaration ends in unity, but also ominously, in an early example of anaphora and crescendo:
Ahora avanzamos a traves de las faldas de los cerros, como una mancha nos extendemos, hemos sobrepasado el campo santo, hemos levantado nuestras construcciones, hemos levantado nuestros mitos, hemos levantado nuestras familias, hemos levantado nuestras formas de vida, hemos comenzado a cantar a fuerza de permanecer en la oscuridad, a fuerza de vivir entre los topos, o como la lava en los volcanes. El canto se eleva hacia el cielo irrumpiendo de entre las sombras. Somos una Cultura que habita el recinto que pretende ocupar otra cultura. (9)
These Indians are united, and they perceive themselves as foreign to the invader culture. They speak in masse and they act in masse, giving one the impression of an army, perhaps of small individual units, but with a potential for strength specifically through their cohesive spirit and unanimity of thought and action. Ramirez picks up on this notion within the text through the metaphor of ants (111, 112) and their misery, "oliendo su angustia" (111), but also their tendency to work together (133). Ants, moreover, are known as savage, ruthless, and courageous. They are among the very few species other than man to make war, and they can dwarf man with their savagery.
Speaking for the under classes, Ramirez clearly indicates that inside what might be perceived from without as a placid exterior, a bowed head, a slow shuffle, or a submissive look there could well breathe a simmering hatred of those who would not see them, even, perhaps, of those who purport to be aware of the indigenous and to be willing to work on their behalf (the politician is shown on TV remarking specifically on his concern for the poor [Violacion 130]). Couching his material in an exaggeratedly brutal tale, Ramirez suggests that the indigenous in Mexico are potentially violent, whether as individuals or as a united force. As descendents of Nezahualcoyotl, they are capable of making both beautiful verses and savage warfare. It is not clear what might spark their flare of emotion. Some might prefer to see the bus sequences as a dream, a nightmarish fantasy brought on by exposure to movies, but, if not, Dr. Quiroz's final remarks in his introduction to Pu pose a chilling conclusion: "las sociedades tienen los criminales que merecen" (14).
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Carol Clark D'Lugo
(1) Alarma and Lagrimas, Risas y Amor were comics dealing with frightening cases of real-life crimes and Cinderella-like love stories, respectively. The India Maria films featured an indigenous character of limited intelligence but with a good heart who generally won out based on her levelheadedness. People who read comics had to have had some limited education. Similarly, if these young men got into the movies, they are not from the truly lowest classes. There are Indians of much fewer means in the slums of Mexico City who could well harbor even more anger than this trio will express.
(2) Libertad Leblanc is an actress from the 1960s whose film credits strongly suggest a sexual component: Acosada (1963 a.k.a. The Exploiters, The Pink Pussy, and Where Sin Lives); La flor del irupe (1965; a.k.a. Love Hunger); Psexoanalisis (1967); and La perra (1967; The Bitch). Isela Vega has an enormous list of credits ranging from 1966 to the present. Her earliest work from the 1960s reveals iterations of death and sex: La senora muerte (1967; a.k.a. Mrs. Death); The Fear Chamber (1968); Cuernos debajo de la cama (1968; a.k.a. Cuckolded Under the Bed); Basuras humanas (1972).
(3) Violent Mexican films from the 1970s include El hombre desnudo (1973), La isla de los hombres solos (1973; from the Jose Leon Sanchez novel about despicable prison conditions in Costa Rica), and El hombre (1975; a particularly cruel and bloody Western). Two other films worth mentioning in this category are El apando (1975; Felipe Cazals), which shows the brutality of prison life, and Canoa (1975, Felipe Cazals), in which villagers attack university employees, thinking they are Communist agitators. As for a film depicting aggression toward the patriarchy, La pasion segun Berenice (1975; Jaime Humberto Hermosillo) has a woman not only returning the male gaze, but also being the aggressor in the relationship, thus pitting herself against institutionalized machismo (see Berg 84-88). In Flores de papel (1977; Gabriel Retes), lower-class people, displaced from their shanty huts, invade the home of an industrialist.
(4) There is some disagreement as to the manner in which the woman dies. M. Isela Chiu-Olivares argues that she is immolated (120). I concur with Torres that they insert a varilla, a metal bar, through her vagina and disembowel her (55). Although used by the Aztecs, immolation would be less consistent with regard to their mythology and praxis. As argued by J. M. G. Le Clezio, "For the Indians, blood and suffering sealed the common destiny of men, their total submission to the gods" (64).
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|Author:||Clark D'Lugo, Carol|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2001|
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