[email protected]: Stephanie Griest



welcome to authors at Google my name is Katina Johnson and I work in consumer operations in the online sales and operations department and we're here today to welcome Stephanie Christ I like to describe her as someone who has lived life she's traveled across America in in a hatchback named Bertha and mingled with Russian mafia and worked worked in China on newspapers and working on Chinese propaganda bellydance with Cuban rumba dancers and she's here today to talk about her book mexican enough which also includes a great set of stories involving travel and being with a Polish thief and a Border Patrol agent and and a dominatrix um so definitely lots of stories lots of great stories about living life but ultimately I think you know her book also talks about kind of finding your identity as you grow up and try and travel and figure out who you are so this has also led to a series of other memoirs across the block which details her time in Moscow Beijing and Havana and it's a thousand places that every woman should travel to that I've read and and I think are definitely worth checking out so without further ado I want to introduce Stephanie and she's here to talk about mexican enough well everybody thank you so very much for being here I'm really delighted to be here at Google Tucker with all of you today so um so probably the most important part of my biography that was left out that I'm from Corpus Christi Texas has anybody here from Corpus Christi Texas or anybody from the valley anybody from all right people for the valley okay so you my friends will understand what I say when my whole entire like upbringing in my whole like it'll make my my early years my teens was all spent in trying to get out of South Texas I was desperate to escape South Texas wanderlust literally pumped through my veins my great-great uncle Jake was a hobo who saw all of America with his legs dangling over the edge of a freight train my father was a drummer for the US Navy band and he jumped his way all around the world so I just grew up but he's hearing these most amazing bedtime stories about you know faraway places and I've just always known that I wanted to grow up and be the kind of woman whose stories began with once in abu-dhabi you know I'll never forget that time in Rocky jogo when under the kind of woman about a funky jewelry from its country of origin instead of the booth at the mall just had to figure out the details right how where and with whose money so so anyway so my journey basically began in 1996 when I was still at the University of Texas at Austin when his exchange student and ended up studying Russian really crazy language and you know I was in trouble the very first day when you know teacher walks in says hello does anyone know how to say hello in Russian is that that's what CA you know in Spanish it's Ola right so it's like oh man right but anyway suck it out I ended up spending a year in Moscow during which time it was a really really wild time to be in Moscow actually the Soviet Union had collapsed five years prior so the Chechen war was raging the ruble was falling the Mafia had infiltrated every aspect of Russian society from The Beggar's Row to the Kremlin and everything in between clipping the guy I was dating and then but I ended up staying there for quite a bit of time ended up spending time working at a Children's Shelter there was over 1 million orphans in Russia most of them are actually not our brother homeless youth over 1 million homeless youth in Russia majority them are actually not orphans I do have a mother and father but you know the collapse the Soviet Union times are really tough they've taken to the bottle for solace and the children just sort of run rampant cover the presidential elections anyway had it kind of a that was sort of like the birthing of my sort of activist stage of life and really really really got me thinking and feeling and being about travel from there I headed to Beijing China or was an editor at the English mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party raise your hand if that sounds like an interesting job description yeah I always started picturing myself sneaking out in the middle of the nights you know going down to the local prison cell riding a subversive message and sticking it to a dumpling and sliding it through the iron bars the prison cell of Wong Don and all the other demonstrators from Tiananmen Square in 1989 it's not quite what happens yeah my official title there was for an expert my unofficial title was propaganda polisher that's basically what I did for a year Polish propaganda but of course you know learned a lot about sort of free speech and democracy from from being in that sort of circumstance and then from there I headed out to Cuba and of course you know Cuba is a land that's people people who've undergone just sort of extreme state repression oppression repression had a lot of difficult times but they're also people that really know how it is singing into dance and it seemed like everybody I met there was an artist was a musician was a painter was a dancer the problem however was I couldn't talk to any of them and why would that be yes because I spoke Russian I spoke Chinese but I never in fact took any time to learn the language of my heritage of my of my ancestry which is Mexico there's actually a reason for that I'm free again I'm from Corpus Christi Texas this is the city that is about 150 miles north of the border and it's really demographically it's of course it's changing out but when I was growing up it was pretty much half Mexican American half white and some of the Mexican American families had been there for several generations and some people were you know had just recently crossed across the border and so do a half and half town and my family reflected that my mother was Mexican American 2nd generation meaning I'm their generation and my father was white gringo you know white man from Kansas basically I'd like to say I have something come with Obama you know anyway anyway so so that's sort of like how I how I sort of grew up and I never really thought anything unusual about this in fact there probably are a number of mixed families in South Texas but as I came to realize one day in elementary school and Texas you kind of have to choose which one you are so what happened for me is there was this one day in elementary school when the teacher announced there are too many of us and we had to be split into two groups and so very systematically she began sending a little brown Mexican kids to one side of the room although white kids to the other side of the room one by one one by one one by one and looking back on this what I realized today that but probably what she was doing was dividing us up for an ESL class of course the time we didn't really realize that right it was really traumatic to suddenly you know all of us being split up set in different directions cuz we've been together you know for a year or so at that point and she got to me I was the last person she got to and she looked down at me and she said what are you Stephanie are you aesthetic are you white and I just looked at her it was like but you know both neither either which one and so I looked over at the little white kid group and I kind of saw what's going on over there and then I looked over at the brown kid group and I realized my best friend was there and really diverse suit though so I said I'm Mexican and she goes okay so I ran over to that group and we got led into a different room and that's when I realized that there was a profound difference between me and these are the students these other students all spoke a beautiful Spanish that's a language they spoke in their home but their English was it was a bit limited and so when they passed around the primary it was they kind of stumbled upon the words was difficult for them to do this reading and I remember just suddenly getting like literally this habilitation like oh my god if I stay with this group I'm gonna be left behind so when class was over yeah I'm terribly ashamed that I said it I put it in this sort of away but I I looked the teacher and I said I want to be the smart kids are what can I do and she said I think you should join the other group too so the next day I joined the other group and then for the rest of my kind of grown-up years and Corpus Christi any time anyone ever asked what I was which was pretty much like weekly experience for me I always said that I was white until one day in my senior year in high school so again like you know keeping with this this idea like I really want to get out of here gotta get out of here gotta get out far and why I gotta get out of Corpus Christi I I sort of thought you know the quickest way to do this the easiest way the the most logical way that my parents would be accepting of would be to go to college right to go to college out of Corpus Christi so I began to spend like every waking moment and the guidance counselor's office where they kept all the little scholarship bins and so slopey do that let me do that flippy through that one day my guidance counselor came up to me and she looked at me and she goes Stephanie what are you and are you Hispanic are you white and it was again like you know what do I say what is the right answer what is the wrong answer I don't know to say and she looked at me and she said said you know your SAT scores you're considered Mexican I don't really know what you're gonna get I mean if you're considered white I don't really know what you're gonna get if you're considered Mexican there might be some opportunities for you and I said really she said yes and I said okay so we literally got a bottle of white out and we wydad out the W on my transcript and we changed it to a big fat H for Hispanic and it was kind of extraordinary what doors that one little act opened for me suddenly I was applicable to apply for a whole other realm of funding and I did I applied for all these different grants and fellowships scholarships and money came in and of course at the moment I was totally elated like where I'm gone college you know it's a little money to spare this is amazing but then when I actually got there and I begin to meet the other recipients of this this award that I've been given to go to UT Austin guilt just came on like a hurricane you know I began to realize that these other students had really born they'd suffered from the way they appeared you know many of them actually a number of the students that I met were migrant farm workers over the children migrant farm workers maybe some of them actually spent summers picking beets picking you know picking fruit himself regardless you know they had sort of born the the hardship of their skin color and I just suddenly occurred to me that I had reaped in the benefits of being a minority and none of the drawbacks and again just the guilt the guilt the guilt and I called my mom one night cry actually the night after we had this big sort of reception to meet everybody and I called her crying I was like oh I can't be here I shouldn't be here at her deserve to be here I should you know take out a loan transfer to cheaper school like I shouldn't be here I'm not Mexican enough to accept these different scholarships and fellowships I my mom's like what you're crazy yeah my mom's like you know I suffered a great deal for being Mexican you know when she was in class when she this kind of like go to that of finding moments of my own mother's life was she was then I think she was in fifth grade and she got shared over her the teacher overheard her speaking Spanish to her brother in the middle of school in the middle of class and the teacher took her up stood in front of the classroom and shoved a bar of soap in her mouth to wash out this sort of dirty language anyway you have anyone here maybe has a mother that had that experience or a grand pad that's had that experience yeah it's really it's a very very common experience in South Texas is usually everyone's like yeah that happened to my mother that happened to my father someone something like that happens do you want to pass on the language yeah maybe not so much right so that's the reason that the language had been passed on to me and moreover just kind of basic sort of cultural heritage kinds of things hadn't really been passed on to me either so my mother's like you're crazy this is like a poetic justice that you know my daughter has a benefit to something that had only been a hindrance for me a my own my own growing up years and so she sort of urged me to to keep the scholarship and admittedly and of course I wanted to stay where I was I wanted to say the University of Texas but I decided that in order to like accept all these scholarships and grants and special you know special treatment that I'd been given because I'm Hispanic but I had to earn that H on my transcript so I hadn't said about Mexican izing myself and I did this very studiously you know I began to where they were in the Guadalupe all over my body and you know put her like hang her up in my walls I began to take to cut of politics classes I began to do some volunteer work you know volunteer would let me know students migrant students began to drink a lot of margaritas I got really good at shooting tequila things of that sort but I never went far enough because at the end of the day I had this mad crazy wanderlust and all I wanted to do was go and and I saw Russian a sort of my ticket out my ticket out to this other world but by and by I began to travel to these places you know I lived for every year in Russia I look for a year in China I spent a whole year just traveling around the former Soviet Union it was Becca census you kiss on Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tibet Vietnam Cuba we going to do all this all this traveling like a good 4-year period of my life that I was just on the road traveling continuously I suddenly realized something kind of profound about and all these nations you know all these nations have in common all those agents I do subscribes watch the see the communism right Connie knows and my post communism yes these are all sort of communist oppose communist nations what they all have in common is that the leaders of these different nations had sort of systematically tried to strip away what made all of these people unique you know join the Soviet Union for example Stalin forced all of these people all of the Uzbek sand the Lithuanians and the Latvians and the CUDA geese spoke so many different language that worshipped so many different religions and had so many different things that made them you know beautiful and original and unique stripped all of it away they were forced to speak Russian and to speak only Russian and to be punished they spoke any language other than Russian and they had to write only in Russian it or punished if they spoke they wrote in any other language other than Russian they had to give up their churches give up their temples give up the ashrams give up their mosques and and sort of become of this part of us like atheist socialist Soviet state but yet they defied it continuously as those travelling around this is part of the world I remember once I was in Lithuania and Vilnius Lithuania and I met this old gentleman it's probably 60 years old and he actually know probably more like 65 years old I would say and he'd spent a lot of his twenties in prison being tortured on a ritual basis because he refused to renounce Judaism you know I was in Tibet I meant all of these these monks who worship the Dalai Lama but they had to do so in private they had the works that dial up my sort of a hidden you know hidden beneath their mattresses they dug these little holes and kept his works and kept his images there very deep even though if they'd been caught with any of these things they would certainly be defrocked they would be better for the monastery these are things that still happened today in fact in Tibet but they did it because I did not want to betray their ancestry they did not want betray where they had come from and it suddenly dawned on me that all these people made these great sacrifices for their culture and I had totally walked away and abandoned my own culture so that's sort of Evora how I end my first book around the block my life in Moscow a Beijing in Havana this realization that maybe it's time to turn within to do some kind of like root searching within so I was sort of like the first indication that it's time for me to go and do something of that nature the second inclination happened here and do a really brief reading to you from Mexican enough once when I was six I leapt in front of a moving car my lips split halfway to my ear as a surgeon stitched my cheek I decided that motor vehicles were death machines and should be avoided this is why I live in New York City subways on the rare occasion that I find myself in the driver's seat I'm haunted by visions of children darting across the road perhaps images of my former self I gripped the steering wheel at 11 and 1 o'clock lurching and braking like now I'm sputtering down i-10 in a 92 Mazda and right from Los Angeles it's my parents house in Corpus Christi Texas today is a tucson el paso leg i've ear off the highway onto an isolated farm road curving along the Mexican border and wind up in a desert choked with cactus and brush this is my ideal driving scenario nobody had a hit the air conditioner is perished so it's hot as blazes I roll down the window I kind of like my 30th birthday which is a month away my 20s were consumed by my first book memoir about traveling around the communist bloc during the decade it took to research write and publish it I grew keenly aware that I was living backward Myron my past then and my present it's time to move on but we're so what when NASA's for my book tour I had a ready reply learn Spanish despite being third-generation mexican-american on my mother's side I'm growing up 150 miles in the texas-mexico border my Spanish is best described as Tarzan light I primitive vocabulary spoken entirely in the present tense I might have faced so much ridicule for acts like growing up she never taught my sister or me to speak it properly mostly picked up curse words in school not to learn Russian and studies show that only 17% of third-generation Mexicans still speak Spanish fluently but it riddles me with guilts especially now that I've entered the publishing world I'm turning down invitations to speak to groups I supposedly represent because I literally cannot communicate with them I love to go life plan will be to venture across this desert and explore the land the tongue of my ancestors the very notion terrifies me ask any South Texan to us Mexico means kidnappings and shootouts in broad daylight in river Laredo are the unsolved murder of young woman in Ciudad Juarez it means narco traffickers and every Cantina an explosive diarrhea from every Commodore when I was in high school a college student got snatched off the street while partying down with the Moto's during spring break bound and gagged he was driven to our ranch ran by satanic cults next thing you know he was menudo one worshiper wore a belt made out of his victims spinal cords so go to Mexico thanks but I'd rather return to Moscow and hunt down my old mafiosi boyfriend crest in a small hill now listening pools of water appear on the road up ahead then evaporate is dizzyingly hot glance down at the gas gauge it's nearly empty my cell phone is roaming and a soul has passed me on this road this masa breaks down I'm toast but I turn around and rejoin the main highway my foot hovers above the brake guess I grasped the clutch something appears in the distance objects in the middle of the road moving sluggishly than quickly bears what kind of bear browse around the Arizona desert no there must be wild dogs big ones standing on our hind legs in running no they're people when figure seems to be a child my lifelong phantom has actualized I slam the brakes they must be Mexicans fleeing the border i blare the horn agua thank allah i scream out the window they must need water I have two bottles I must give one to them but but what if water isn't all they need what if they asked me to take them somewhere of course I will say yes how can I deny I ride to people in the middle of the desert but but if they don't just want to lift what if they want my car what if they just take it toss me to the cactus and roar away that's what I would do if the tables are turned throughout the grin gun go the irony here is immediate nearly every accolade I've received in my life from minority based scholarships to book contracts has been at least partly due to genetic link that I share with these people charging through the snake-infested brush what separates us is twists of geographical fate that both me on one side of the border them on the other they are two Mexican I am just enough Mazda has slowed to a crawl but those border crossers have vanished what are shimmers where they won't stood I pause a moment wondering what to do and slowly begin to accelerate as they look off into the desert hills from which they descended a surprising thought flashes through my mind I want to go to Mexico so that's what began that journey yeah and so December 31st 2004 I basically quit my quit my day job in New York City put all my stuff in storage where it's been ever since actually haven't seen it since then and it jetted out to Mexico City which is a couple thousand dollars and just this dream to finally learn this language that it just evaded me my entire life raise your hand if you could kind of relate to that maybe your Spanish isn't quite what it could be yes a couple of us you know Spanish is a quite what it could be or maybe the Hebrew isn't quite what it could be or the Korean isn't quite what it could be or the French isn't quite what it could be you know I just grind up like Spanish to me had always been this language it was always like this party this party I was not invited to my mother always sounded just so much more fun in Spanish you know whenever she was with her relatives aren't they as if they are like you know she was always laughing cracking up she wasn't funny in English anyway so I finally just wanted to set off and fly learn this goddamn language however history had additional plans and store for me Mexico was really on the brink of a social revolution in 2005-2006 but with this apathy sty red alert down in southern Chiapas with the upper rebellion of the teachers and Oaxaca the central state of Oaxaca what with the ridiculous presidential election I mean we think that Gore versus you know Bush was bad like it has nothing on Obrador vs. Calderon I mean really some serious serious issues were happening in Mexico and the people were really really rising and it was just such an honor to be there at my pad and pen going Monday Monday gay look at me esta pasando what is going on here so anyway so I'm gonna kind of like dip into some of that little I call them sort of underworlds that I that I wrote about and in Mexican enough and just kind of like give you like a little taste of a few of them and then I would really be delighted to have a Q&A about whatever one maybe you're interested in exploring a bit more I'm your cook is going to realize that I did not write Eat Pray Love Mexico okay this is kind of like Mexico on the raw side okay so so first of all II basically how this whole journey began is that I had his friends an artist she kind of artist named Greg Rubio loved him and he had happened to spend most of his 20s living in Mexico he's a Fulbright Scholar and then he just kind of you know hung out there basically and so and so he was the first person I contacted when I decided I want to go to Mexico actually who's the only person I had to contact about core New Mexico because most of my friends and family you know we're all like terrified of the place even they were from there so anyway so I call the Greg I was like yo Greg what's up with Mexico I really want to go he's like well hey you know as it so happens I'm about to leave you know he didn't living there for years and he'd actually been living and he kind of told me before like he lived in this really cool artists commune in Kedah that o-cana that oh is sort of right in the center of Mexico just a couple of hour bus ride away from there from Mexico City really really beautiful colonial town it's about the name of a state and its own capital get at that oka death row so anyway so he was living there and he was about to actually leave he got just got a fellowship to go do an art project in Spain so he said why don't you just come here and take over you know take over my room you know you can just step on in take over and not that they had at least but you know you can pay my rent and you know you'll be there and as a further enticement he told me that all of his roommates just so happened that mo there were all men all good-looking man all artists all visual artists and none of them spoke a single word of English I'm like Sundy Oh sounds great so but he failed to mention and what I recognized as soon as I walked the door is that every single one of them was gay so and moreover the place that we were living in was called the hot that idea I've connected Oh would anyone know anyone want to translation it what that means Lockhart that oh yeah okay so basically okay so where are you by fun bread but I depended a year right okay where do you find zapatos shoes and there's a pathetic where do you find hot those you find them in the hot area and that's where I lived so and so it quickly sort of realized like wow this is actually really good opportunity to just sort of explore what it means to be Mexican and to be gay because you know in some point you can kind of say like it's a possibly be Mexican be gay because he was such a Catholic nation and it's especially connected Oh connected oh is an extremely extremely conservative state like literally every two feet there's like a gigantic Catholic Church and they're like wow watching over the town watching over what's happening so so it was actually really fascinating you know what am i when people would come in like we are the epicenter of the gay community in this town and when people would like walk through the door walk through the threshold like literally there'd be a transformation like they were kind of like walk in the door back on that I can you know and they would immediately get the caller on there you know on their Polo and flick it up and then there we go head down to the bathroom we had this you know the little communal bathroom and there's just big fat communal jar of hair gel and it was sticking to that and like you know stuck back there hair spiked up their hair and then they go to the stereo and turn on their music and as I go to Mexico thinking alright I'm finally gonna learn South Side I'm gonna learn some oil arrows from corridos it was Madonna 24/7 and that ha ha ha but that was really a beautiful thing so anyway I loved living there you know not only were they really fabulously entertaining it's happening a far more colorful vocabulary and I was learning at the language school down the street and and then I kind of also began to realize that the status of gays and lesbians is actually a very revealing barometer to the social progressiveness of a nation you can kind of tell what's happening in the nation sort of politically socially by how gay people are treated what kind of rights gay people have and so with that realization I just began you know to do a lot of interviews with people and to a certain extent actually Mexico City Mexico State not Mexico but Mexico City the capital is more liberated than a lot of places in United States just in 2006 they passed the same-sex civil union law that gives gay couples the right to inherit pensions and property to join health and life insurance policies to make medical decisions for each other the border state of Coahuila actually passed similar legislation just a couple of months later that's really amazing Mexico was actually the first nation in Latin America do you send an openly gay person to their Congress a lesbian no less so so to a degree you know Mexico is quite liberated in terms of gay or at least Mexico City at least the capital has some sort of liberated policies however at the end of the day Mexico is a very Catholic nation and it has a certain image of men which in a word is what men should be macho right okay so gay men might my friends at this whole title year they were often at odds with like how to be macho and had to be Mexican so just as like I had my own sorta like identity with what it means for Mexican they also I said kind of began to realize different crowds from people that I was meeting I also had their own sort of question what it means and hate crimes are really astounding very very briefly there was this extraordinary activist living in Mexico living in Canada at that time as a mother Octavio Rubio Cunha 28 years old had two masters degrees one in Social Work and one in counseling and he did something that he wanted to do something for the community for the gay community so I decided to open up a corns Aneta yeah which is what a condom store okay and you actually will often see condom stores they're very very common throughout Mexico you'll find them pretty much in any major city but his was like it was the only gay openly gay condom store so he walked in there was a gigantic ramp a flag and I had a little bookstore with books like a mop-up bastoy gay you know it was like really this sort of like open thing and because he was a clinical psychologist on the upstairs level the upper level of the condom store he had counseling sessions and he was booked you know like every day of the week there are people that were coming in to have counseling sessions in the process of coming out and how to tell their family and how to share it with their loved ones and things of that sort so anyway it did take long before what he was doing attracted the attention of the police there's just one policeman in particular who began to you know Kennedy came into the store one day they had a big argument to the policeman was like you need to shut this down it's not a family business he said what do you mean you know I'm only doing what all the other stores do they had this altercation and his life began to change rather dramatically after that the store got broken into the store got spray painting with homophobic graffiti his tars in the car his tire tires on his car got slashed he began to get death threats on his cell phone this is actually something that often happens to activists in Mexico it's really terrifying you get a death threat on your cell phone you change the cell phone number within a week you get another call change it again within a week you get another call they somehow managed to find you and he began to get quite afraid he filed the Quecha a complaint in the state's Department of Human Rights in cadet that oh then he filed another one at the national level no help ever came and then five o'clock on a Thursday his some some young people came in for their counseling session I found him in the back of the Conda Nydia stabbed six times dead his wallet was bulging out of his pocket his back pocket full of credit cards full of money nothing was touched in the store it was clearly a hit it was a hate crime and it came to find hundreds of these go every year so that was sort of what would sort of transform my trip you know when I first arrived it's just like we're gonna lose banners we'd have a good time we're gonna dance Madonna it's gonna be great you know and then it was like wow there's serious issues happening in this nation and again like sort of my activist Paul was like it's time to record it's time to listen it's time to do right so anyway that was one of the first the first of the issues that I that I kind of really looked into while I was there second one was this this is a little more fun who is this oh yes El Santo and here's who the most famous luchador ever to walk the planet anybody want to guess how many matches this man Juan just guess start number 40 years 40 year career how many matches did he win 300 anyone else 3,000 anyone else 5,000 or is he like to say all of them and don't fret if you never were able to see you know some throw in action in the ring he actually died in 1983 buried in his silver lemon desk but if you didn't get a chance to see him in the ring then he left behind a legacy of no less than 50 action films my personal favorite of which is a swamp though versus the mummies of Guanajuato really really great television viewing anyway so the man is like an icon in Mexico everywhere you go you see a Santa well something well something you see him everywhere and and so I really wanted to like you know kind of get in with the legacy of it'll Sunstone so I tried to get an interview with Ellie who they sent though you're the Son of Sam though he has a mask that's just reversed it's white with silver trim you know just try to get to Batman's PR agent it's not gonna happen so I I had to settle for the next best thing which is someone who actually fought him in the ring this man was one of my favorite people to interview in Mexico his name was Bulldog Quintero he is the oldest continuously fighting wrestler in Mexico this is his daily schedule wake he does the graveyard shift at the local gas station goes in at midnight works till about 6:00 7:00 a.m. goes home takes a little brief now it goes to Jim at noon trains trains trains then goes into the ring and fights fights fights all night three to four times a week how old you suppose he is how can someone possibly be to do that kind of schedule 65 65 the man does not have a single tooth left and he can actually tell you he can tell you the biography of every single tooth was like this on me this was done oh sorry get valuable what happened olive is urban teeth anyway so we were there interviewing I need to tell me all these crazy stories but him five emails on throw and in fighting this person that person like losing a majority of his fights it back but still in the ring still out there fighting and once this one moment when mrs. mrs. Bulldog came home kind of slammed the door the lad the door canvas made this loud noise and he turned and something plopped out of his neck it was a tumor the size of half a baseball and that's what I realized something very profound and that is that Mexicans have Mexicans that I encountered on this long journey are tough in a way that I cannot fathom resilient in a way that I will never fathom all from booba Quintero so then after that that was sort of my journey and get at the DOE like kind of hanging out with Luchadors hanging out with with my gay friends and then I kind of began to get the pull South you know after after seeing what life was sort of like in northern and central Mexico I wanted to see what life was like in more southern Mexico where he had the indigenous people and moreover the indigenous resistance movement so that means your little fashion show change for you so you can see right now I'm wearing what a month on the mania I got this in Barcelona right okay so I'm wearing this to represent the colonizers right the Spanish okay okay I'm about 500 years ago rains something maybe the women something similar to this they arrived however and discovered people wearing something like this okay anyone know what this is called a we peel right and can you recognize where this would be those from right huh exactly and you know which women in Oaxaca wear this thank you okay choice a is up with dick choice be tricky choice see the what that goes ha that's the tree just gonna be fuzzy a tricky oops hey can you thanks so so yes as you began to travel sort of south and into into the the southern regions of Mexico you encounter and actually not just Mexico but all of sort of Central America you encounter women wearing these beautiful beautiful blouses which are called would be Liz right and I'm so I'm wearing one that's worn by the Oaxaca people might of Oaxaca part of the tricky nation which is sorta from Northern Oaxaca what's amazing about these out these these beautiful blouses is this they are basically they kind of form a textile roadmap to to this part of the Americas you can tell where you are by the wheat beans by the colors and the designs of what the women are wearing and you furthermore you can see the woman creating these you know they they kneel into the earth they have this backstrap loom that is connected to their womb and it goes up to the highest point of their home the highest point of their Hut tied up to the hut and by doing this they believe they have a direct connection to their ancestors who whisper what to weave and so they're sitting there weaving their stories weaving their stories if you're very good at reading with me it is an addition to me but like I can kind of tell you know okay then this woman is a tricky this is the what that go this is of this this is up what that guy this is of this this is of that you know I you your eyes kind of get trained to like what the different rips where but if you're really good at reading them you can also tell something about the actual woman you could tell if she's married you can tell something about a family name you can tell different things about her biography by what it is she is wearing so anyway as I begin to travel south I'm actually cuz there are a number of different groups that I spent time with and I would love to talk if you're particularly interested in one of them we can definitely talk about in the QA the first group with the deputies does you know I spent time in Chiapas hanging out with Marta Koston hanging out this up at these dozen open theek which is sort of that kind of coal the governing center that is nearest to san cristobal de las casas so if your interest in that we can talk about that in a bit a really really cool community center and I also spent time in Oaxaca working with the FAA today the head to toe popular revolution not a young one thing that I was really amazed to learn in Mexico is that you know well here what this up at these studs right where he's here but that's up at these days in there and they're their resistance movement their indigenous resistance movement because they're sort of like what put the indigenous resistance we've been on a map but in fact there is at least 30 or 40 other indigenous resistance groups that have none of the fame none of the groupies like the zapatistas literally have groupies that come from all over the world to come down and sort of howl them in their resistance movement so I spend time with with that particularly group spend time with the with the strikers in Oaxaca and let me just tell like a brief story about that and that is this I like to say that Mexicans have as many words for strike as Eskimos do for snow okay it is no joke it is something they take incredibly incredibly seriously and and they do it with a resilience that always blew me away the highest form of a strike is called the Blount thon and the plantain is basically where what happens it's like when it's like the last you know it's the last stand you know you've you've been fighting for something and you're they're just not giving them the government is not giving in so you say fine then we're not gonna give it either and so you basically go to the center of power which in a Mexican city is what the plaza or their zocalo that is sort of like you know surrounded by the different government buildings you go there with all of your crew with a piece of cardboard or a bedroll or maybe a tarp you roll it out and you sit on it and you do not move and tell your demands are met or until you are physically removed guess how long the longest blunt thong that I personally researched and wrote about but not I'm not saying this is a long akwonton in history but the one that I personally like uncovered just just take a guess how long do you suppose that would be but a group of people can sit there under the hot Sun atop a tarp and just sit and wait until the demands are met how long would you say six months anything else three years okay very close four years can you imagine for four years I grew up that was accused of being the FAA editor they had to tip off your lab rubber to see audio but in fact they were not for years they sat in the zocalo in downtown Oaxaca making their tamales making their tortillas making babies eight babies were born on the plaza during this four year period of time no joke craziness okay so that is a little story about Mexican and then of course no talk about resilience in in the night and the nation to our South can be complete without a brief word but undocumented workers so I would like to end a little talk with that I'm sure immigration is something that you all have thought about a great deal I read about a great deal can probably have an amazing a bit debate about you know we know as we all know we have a 2,000 mile border that we share with Mexico depending on the statistics you read anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 to up to 500,000 people cross that border every single year depending the statistics you read between one and eight or 1 in 10 and Mexicans lives here without papers so it's an incredible number of people it's an incredible amazing journey and often very tragic journey there's actually a group in Houston the University of Houston called the border death project and their whole you know goal is to determine how many people died crossing each year come up to about 500 or so it's really an extraordinary thing tragic thing so I I ended up interviewing hundreds of people about their experience not only crossing but being the family that gets left behind you know when when tragic thing that you see in Mexico as you travel around the countryside you're continuously coming upon villages that it's like it's like there was this sort of genocide of the male gender it is entirely bereft of males when you go to these villages and boys once you know boys of maybe 15 and higher they're just gone they're just not there and then maybe you have like men that are sort of in their 60s and 70s and that's it's but all men between you just about 50 you know 15 and 50 gone they're all here women are beginning to migrate and greater numbers than before and so now you have some villages in Mexico where there's just no middle-aged people there's little bitty kids and there's big ethos and there's nobody in between you know it's just like the the social impact this is going to have in Mexico it's just calamitous it's already becoming calamitous so I ended up doing all of these interviews and one of the many things that sort of struck me one of the first things that kind of to initially strike me about it there's a term that they used to describe themselves what these undocumented workers they refer to himself and that word is what we know that word mojado right it's a more hollow word okay sorry okay okay so yes mohith oh so so I don't know about you but you know grandpa taught Texas where I'm from like if you call somebody mojado like who you know are you gonna stop in the face means what back right it's an incredibly derogatory thing to call someone of Latino descent but what I was surprised and amazed to discover is that this is actually the word that so many undocumented workers used to describe himself so Mahalo so Mahalo everybody says it everybody doesn't everybody uses that word then we kind of think you know during this passage when they do make this crossing the often literally do cross the body of water you know they often do cross the Rio the Rio Grande or some other River regardless they're gonna sweat a lot so they literally are drenched with the time they arrive to that states they don't north they soaked with you know with with the water of the river or soaked with just their own sweat with their own anxiety so it literally is a crossing of water and begin to see it in almost like a biblical term you know it's a it's a baptism it's this pilgrimage from one world it's the next a transformation so i mojado if you're mojado you survived only the survivors get to be called the mojave so i'm actually running a play called the mojave monologues and so that's just kind of bringing all of these voices which we so often do not hear so I'm just gonna close this little talk with you I'm gonna read to you when one will have a monologue and then we'll open up for questions and this muhabba monologue is by man named I'm hello Castillo he was born in raised in Milagro which is a webelo in querétaro the state that I spent a lot of time in his eyes are red he smells faintly of liquor when we need but if anybody has an excuse to be partying at 9:00 in the morning it's him he's about to cross the desert for the doesn'the time at the end of the week he's wearing a bright yellow baseball cap his name on the hill a Spaniard painted across the front tattoos of foliage and hearts adorn his arms he started 2 years old this is his story well we realize cross to Laredo it's much better to cross the border there than anyplace else via Juana that's the worst I don't like I don't notice that either I once got mugged there he took my earring in my ring and my necklace and even my shirt because I had the Virgen de Guadalupe on it I don't like it or nuts about another it takes about four days to cross the border I packed two of everything pants shirt sucks I also pack food corn tortillas frijoles cookies whatever is like in two liters of water that's water in the mountains but it's pretty dirty it's beautiful though and peaceful we always walk during the night it's cold in the winter in the mornings I water has ice in it I once saw a man beneath the tree I thought he was sleeping but he was dead I think he was a drunk a lot of people get drunk before they cross the border it's a really bad idea sometimes you find people who have been abandoned by their birthday their smuggler we invite them to walk with us sometimes they're in big groups like fifty or a hundred there's a lot of nigra the Border Patrol a lot of make it on the highway and they've got helicopters but if you cross at night you can avoid them a couple of times I've run into the migra but they just ask you for Mexican and if we've got our papers we say no they put us in their Jeep which is air conditioning and they give us cookies and water and they drive us back to the border I don't mind because they're just doing their job and they tell us maybe we'll have better luck next time because they know we're just doing our jobs – I like your Migra much better than ours I do all sorts of working on north day we usually trash or construction in Louisiana or Alabama and Mexicans we work thirteen hours a day we work 14 hours a day we come in even if we're sick the buses they like us a lot because they said I look like burros and we do like a Mexican burros though I like American burros you're Boris they live like kings anything then just paint your pores they live better than me mehgan's don't make them work they won't kill them for anything we work six days a week on Sundays we rest sometimes to go fishing but I'm gonna have a license so it's risky I Drive but I don't have a license so that's risky too my whole life and on that day is illegal Sunday's are fun because we're all together we made food we we drink we fish but it's also the hardest day because I think about our families here but we've got the house with our money my girls have a bed now my wife has clothes now I don't ever want my daughters to go to North Day not ever that's why I go so they don't have to so anyway that is a little bit about my journey thank you so much so there's actually three books I'm seeing up here anybody want a book all right back over here and then over here shadow questions if you have questions thank you for coming to Google I have a question so Mexico some people think of it as a country of three different regions the South Center and then the north have you had a chance to go to the other regions beside yourself yes yes I actually did spend time in the north and the center on the south yes and what I discovered that was so interesting again like you know the large reason for me going here is to cut a pack have my own sort of Mexican identity search and what I was really fascinated to discover is that Mexicans have the very same identity crisis as a matter of fact what it means to be Mexican in a way if you think about it it's a biracial nation by definition so cultural schizophrenia is literally encoded in our DNA hey you know if you're Mexican and you're confused about what that means are just kind of any degree of Latino like that's what it means to be Latino in a way um so in the north people struggle with being men and cheese stuff like that means you're too much like the north you're you're too much like a stud or something those are too much like the US you know so you're not Mexican enough you know when you like like as an that's sort of the argument they have in the north you know in the south a lot of my friends that I encountered that are kind of maybe more activist intellectual artists philosophers musicians those people try to they really want to be seen as more in viña you know because like to be anicca anatta to be like more down with the people and so they're always like you know you're not indigenous stuff you're not this enough you're not that enough so it's very interesting I kind of noticed that and these sort of like regional differences that the difference or this identity cultural I don't have these struggles they have as well yeah yeah so it was great yes did you have it my last question would be part of life is dying so when you die and you got to be pearly gates in what language would you like to be welcomed well they actually say what is what is that saying like French is the language of love and German is the language of business and Spanish is the language of God you know so I imagine that I will be greeted in Spanish if I make it up there anyway thank you yes yes you're actually in Mexico okay so the question is basically you know wouldn't when I was in Mexico did I have the same experience as I did the United States of people wondering it my this or my that well what was really interesting about and I'm sure any any of you who are mexican-american who spent any time in Mexico and just try to like introduce yourself as Chicano or mexican-american and later like ah you know what you're not you have nothing to come with me you're not gonna go you don't I mean like no matter how down with it you think that you are like it's it's a really sort of they're very quick to to to to break down that that notion that you might have its you're anything remotely like that and it was really an interesting experience for me and I like just for four years now I've spoken about Mexican sort of in the third person like we are no first person right first person plural like the we but then I quickly had to learn how to like shift to that you all yeah and the day because anytime I would ever sort of like express a we and if Mexico they were quick to say you're not us you know and and I totally of course respect that so so yes to be to be this sort of border so it's yes so the quickest way to kind of like realize you're you're US citizen is you can spend any time in another country so to them that's like all it is and I think what kind of like had an appreciation what people definitely had an appreciation people in Mexico are incredibly proud of their nation I think it's a greatest nation in the world so they're like of course you want to come and learn more about you know if you think you have something to come with me of course you want to learn more about me because we're the best you know so that's something that I that I really loved as well but yes yes I don't recommend referring to yourself as a Chicano when you're in Mexico because they will only laugh which is sort of a term that I always embraced has anyone had a similar yes what's my next travel destination well you know I've actually been spending some time in Africa this year I was in Johannesburg Mozambique in Swaziland in January February and my boyfriend and are actually planning a trip to Cameroon in December so I'm thinking that's probably yeah it's Africa has been a really interesting completely completely unbelievably different from anything I've experienced in Asia Latin America Eastern Europe that's a whole other realm so yes I think that's maybe yes yes okay so the question was I'm what I plan to do this in the US and as a matter of fact I wouldn't spend a year of my life driving about 45,000 miles around the United States so I actually feel like I know the Unites States better than I know any any other place and in the past couple of years I've been I've actually been nomadic for two years now the year that I lived in the car that was in 2000 2001 so I really just got this and that that is actually when I became a patriot actually at the United States you know my own experience traveling abroad has always been like aha you know I just get upset with different policies and things that are happening here but it actually took a year of relying on the kindness of US citizens people in this nation that I really came to have a deep deep deep compassionate love for people of this nation it's a really beautiful place and actually the past two years of my life I've been completely nomadic my stuffs still in storage in New York I don't know when I'll get it out and I'm just kind of living in the combination of writers colonies writers a residency who's doing book tours crashing with friends you know their couch is like Catina and so things like that so so yes anyway so yes the United States is really I mean sometimes like we think of traveling we're like oh we got to go far and that was certainly my thought you know when I was in Corpus Christi just like wanting to travel travel travel like at the furthest place I could think it was Russia so I was like that's where I want to go you know but in fact some of the most amazing traveling we can possibly do is just get in a car and boom or better yet a greyhound and you will see a whole other side of humanity by a javelin Greyhound which I frequently actually do on the book tour it's a whole other world a whole of the u.s. world and Greyhound and just you know go out and see what our own dismissed nation has to offer it's quite extraordinary question yes well I actually I kind of identify with a lot of things I grew up actually in the border I'm not chicken I'm actually Mexican yeah had a chance to come here to work for Google but on the personal side I identified with you when you said you went to Russia and other places because this summer I spend it in South America with the indigenous people there so growing in the border area of Mexico you said we are kind of half in between so we I personally never got the chance to kind of lift up that part closely you actually had a chance to join an activist movement there and in my case it was kind of learning about Mexican culture from outside of from a different angle and I think like maybe you mention a little bit when you're thinking about communist salmon and you were another party what kind of extrapolating it I don't know if you can comment on that kind of second part and and in a and if I extrapolate your experience I haven't done that journey in Mexico myself yet I did for example in India and it was amazing but the crucial part I knew for example in India was not going to come back and lived what was your experience when you were in all these places you saw there you so people they're like they're going through all these tribulations and trouble and I assuming that you were thinking well I'm not going to stay here forever anyway so I might as well just indulge myself in everything because that's that's a real dilemma that I have like sometimes I try to immerse F and I know that the key difference is when you know and you know you're going to stay there or you just transient yes yes that is that is actually something that I've often had a lot of difficulty as well you know you go and you and you see a new experience like the hardship and then and but then you always know that the back of your mind we can go to a place where you'll completely escape it all and so I guess the way that I've just sort of been able to work with my unconscious although obviously like I'm Catholic I'm I suffer extreme guilt so I really like names beyond thick when I when I'm traveling to and all my travel has been mostly in the developing world so it's you know but um I guess that's that's why I'm really grateful to just be a writer because I feel like and some what I really do believe in stories I really really really believe in the power of stories and I really believe that stories it can be very empowering for the person telling the story you know I've interviewed a lot of people who have never been interviewed before which is one of the reasons why I left newspaper business because you're often interviewing you know people that are like politicians or celebrities or whatever like I hated that I really loved it every people that I've never spoken to anyone before and and they they do it is sort of like this kind of cathartic thing to to get out that to get out that story and to sort of share it something that really blew me away about about Mexican people in particular is that you know my experience interviewing people in Russia and you know Oliver former civil union and in in Chinese what is that they were always really really scared to give me their name and with with very good reason you know in the case of Russians maybe I think it was just like this paranoia leftover from the sort of Soviet regime Chinese often could they could be ramifications of you know of talking to an outsider but Mexicans also really had something at stake but they never wanted to change their name they're like no I want my story out and you put my name you put my full name you know because I am tired of being anonymous I'm tired of suffering in silence I want my story to be shared so that was amazing and actually there's actually one part of the book that I go into that I have not resolved and that is and it was actually brought to my attention by one of my roommates and cadet that Oh was that as a journalist aren't you just taking people's stories and using them for your own benefit and so that it's like this whole other level that's what I'm really trying to deal with now is like at the end of the day you know it's like should I ship half the proceeds of the book you know the people that I encounter you know what I mean it's like that that sort of a thing is interesting and that's stuff that's up that was like kinda one of the big dilemmas in the book actually and then I guess the other part is just I think that kind of what you're alluding to is his mother lands and they sort of important the first out of your question is and and that's just something I mean I hope that if you all take anything away from this this this little talk here today it's just you know please at some point in your life make a journey to that motherland to learn from the roots occur within you you know it's it was just for me it was a really really really profound experience I mean to finally I mean I'm not fluent in Spanish I would publicly will never be fluent in Spanish but at least now I can have a conversation at least now you know I can conduct an interview at least now like I think I can catch you know half the jokes that are said you know like the George Lopez show or whatever you know to me like it it's just that is just it's it's in a word that is liberation it isn't current incredibly just liberating to finally speak this this language that had just kept me from speaking with members of my family with members of my community you know with half of my community in this case about Texas so yes I just make that trip from within it's a beautiful thing so are we out of time yes yes sir okay thank you

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