Monday, 20 July 2009

Blue, from the series,  'Angel' 2007-2009


By Pablo Allison

Growing up in Mexico I was always aware of the vast differences between the wealthy, the not so wealthy, the poor and the extremely poor. Indeed it was very sad to have seen this so blatantly. The suffering of many people, because of the greed of a few –this picture will always stay in my mind, no matter where I go.
The contrast of two paralleled realities, like Angel’s and mine, is just a strong example of the complex problematic that has surrounded many people in that country for generations.
I first met Angel at the end of the 1990’s. My connection with him was through the interest we shared in freight train spotting. His house was located on the outskirts of Mexico City, in a place called Ecatepec, a place that is densely populated, where money is scarce and where very few other opportunities exist, apart from factory work or doing odd jobs earning very little money.
I would travel from the southern part of the City, where a different reality surrounds us. The place I grew up in looked more like a defined city, where there was some sense of planning structure to the streets, where the drainage system appeared to work well (but maybe all the dirt that ran through the sewers passed through Ecatepec before it flowed out beyond the City limits), the roads were better maintained, among many other things. Although poverty was still out there in the open, the south side or any other part of the City were segmented with poor neighbourhoods and partitioned, with wealthy and extremely wealthy areas, all protecting their territories from intruders.
It would take me two and a half hours to get from my home to his, but we always shared the passion of spotting new freights that would come from the United States and then travel back up North.

I remember seeing some really interesting models that would run by the front of his house. Some times the Freightliners would carry immigrants who were coming from south of the border, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, etc., all in search of the “American Dream”.
Although Angel and I would hang out and talk about trains most of the time, there were always things that differentiated us from one another. The way we grew up was entirely different, and the culture we had grown up in was too, as I was from an Anglo-Mexican home where, as I recall, the predominant culture was the English one; I only got to discover Mexico through its streets.
In contrast, Angel came from a fully Mexican traditional home where values and traditions were very strong; the male figure was always the most predominant. His parents had been separated for quite some time. Alicia, his Mom, was from the east coast of the country, from the state of Veracruz. I assumed that she had come to Mexico City in search of better opportunities and that in the end she had established herself in Ecatepec. I never got the chance of meeting his Dad, as he had died a few months after I first met Angel.
In fact, I remember the day he told me about his Dad dying. He explained to me that they killed him as he was stepping out of a bar drunk, though he never told me the full details of that sad chapter in his life until some years later.
He was always very reserved about certain things, such as talking about his mischievous activities. He would only tell me that he was part of a gang from California called “Lopers south side 13” but as I was not into that I would not really understand what he was talking about.

On one occasion I remember calling him up, but nobody answered the phone, I called him up for days without getting any reply not even from his Mom or his sisters. I kept wondering what had happened as somebody would usually answer the phone in his house. Later, I found out that he had been detained and imprisoned for a couple of weeks after stabbing somebody over some money or something.
After that, I heard he was just off to the States. He was on the run from the police, as he had got involved in more trouble, although this time he had had to leave or he would be facing a longer prison stint. He escaped with his girlfriend at the time and with two other friends aiming to go to the state of California, although he ended up in Florida where he lived for the next four years before returning to Mexico City.
In the course of those four years I heard all kinds of stories about him. I once heard that American border patrol officers had intercepted him as he travelled across the Arizona desert. Supposedly, they had deported him to El Salvador as they thought he was part of a famous gang called “MS 13”, confusing him with a Salvadorian.
Another story that circulated was that he had been locked up in an American prison for robbery and was serving a long sentence. I was also told that he had been killed in a gang fight in America.
It wasn’t until recently that I met up with him again in Mexico City, just after he had returned from Florida. After hearing all those stories I was astonished to seeing him alive.
His house had changed a lot.
There were new rooms and the fa├žade had been done up. The kitchen was bigger, with a huge American-style fridge right by the corner, and the bathroom looked very modern too.
A lot of the money he earned in the U.S. had been used to refurbish his house, and to support his Mum and his Sisters.

I remember talking to him for hours, just exchanging stories and impressions of both our lives so far, the decision about why he return and what he intended to do now that he was back in Mexico. That afternoon we drove in his brand new car to hang out with some old friends of his. Smoking weed and talking about daily life was the topic that evening.
I soon understood what it was really like to grow up in a place where poverty sadly embraced people, a place where hardly any opportunities existed to succeed. I became fully aware of how fortunate I was to have had the support of both of my parents and the love and comprehension that surrounded me at all times although, I always knew that Angel was loved by his Mom, Dad and his sisters. This opened my eyes.
To this day I reflect on Angel’s life and on all the adversities that he has had to go through in order to fulfil his ambitions, and I keep wondering for how long he will be free, or whether he will survive.