Editor’s Note- Our very own Marivel Medel recently went on a trip to Ciudad Juarez along with the rest of the WNMU Millennium Honors Students. This is her own, first-person account of the class trip and her experiences across the border.
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico- Our interdisciplinary cultural exploration of Dia De Los Muertos starts in Juarez, Mexico with a kind, gentle man named Yorch. Born George Perez, Yorch adopted the moniker as a signature for his politically charged artwork that infiltrates the streets of Juarez. Accompanied by co-professors Dr. Lydia Huerta and Historian Dr. Scott Fritz, we descend the border in search of a real lesson in culture.
As a means to defy the lack of acknowledgement of taboo subject matter in Juarez today, like Police corruption and extremely prevalent violence, Yorch embodies the voice of the people, parallel to many of society’s heroes in global history.
Yorch lives in a concrete museum of street art. Entering a large gateway filled on either side by murals of vibrant color juxtaposed by portraits of black and white. Inside is a panorama of continuous artwork, crafted by the hands of a collective of artists known as Rezizte. Yorch and his friends accept us graciously. We meet Bets, a friend of Professor Huerta’s and a sort of mentor to Yorch in a sense of the politics of society in Juarez today.
The first thing Bets tells us is that Juarez is not safe, and to believe it is the first thing that will put you in harm’s way. This is disconcerting, we learn and begin to think of the brightly decorated houses and streets of Juarez as a sort of facade concealing the destitute that is perhaps most prevalent on the mostly unsmiling faces of the residents of Juarez and the abundance of the emaciated dogs roaming the streets. We begin to spot the most obvious distinctions of Juarez from America while touring the most proximate streets of Yorch’s house; upswept streets, poor building structures, and debris like trash and tires in the street. In an attempt at elevation of the city’s spirit, Yorch set out on a large endeavor of converting the city’s water tank and surrounding structure into a collaborative mural of substance and sustenance.
Titled “Mujer Juarense”, the piece depicts the women of Juarez chronologically from infancy to old age, with a woman in the center grasping the water tank in her clasped hands. The focus is Earth’s most precious commodity and the source of all life; water, one in the same with women.
Diverting the negative connote of public defacement with his expressive murals has inspired Yorch in a sense to carry on the tradition and artisan of his grandparents in their Panderia as a contribution to his community. Yorch makes an array of traditional pastels in his home by hand with no modern appliances, nor any specific measurements. Recipes passed down within the family remain embed in memory and also perhaps subject to appearance, like the addition of cinnamon and egg for color and Manteca spread atop the breads to retain moisture. The ease of craft of his baked goods is something that evidently comes from years of experience and growth. He invites us to help bake Dia Del Lost Muertos Pan, a sweet bread with Manteca saturated dough decorations on top whose cracked appearances resemble that of bones.
Ingredients are miraculously tossed upon a single sturdy wooden table, the floured poured in a circle and the wet ingredients pour within, and are mixed by Yorches bare hands. We keep up the best we can with Yorch and once we are through with five or six large trays of breads, Yorch directs our attention to an inconspicuous hole in the wall that is about twenty by fifteen inches and precisely inserts all of the trays into the oven. Fifteen minutes pass and Yorch abstracts the trays with a long wooden spatula. The results are an indistinctly uniform heap of delicious smelling, delicate breads that taste sweet and unaffected by lack of modern convienience or precision.
We depart the Panderia with bags of still warm bread and wish Yorch bueno suerte (good luck) for his works in progress, as well as his ambitions. We continue our journey to downtown Juarez, to the cathedral and market place. We observe the many real, vibrant alters made by the people of the city dedicated to heroes and family members. We find real Marigolds here, as well as ofrendas (offerings) of food, personal items and flowers.
Along the cityscape is art from top to bottom in some areas. We roam the paved streets with two or three story buildings, as well as the unpaved streets immersed in dust and people quickly scurrying to catch the busses.
We leave Juarez late into the evening, inspired and enlightened by the free flowing art and artists alike. We leave little bitter and resentful that the reality of this place is danger and injustice. Above all, we leave humbled at the experience that something so unique and important as experimental learning can bring us to new places, present us forging experiences and encompass the many facets of a well-rounded education.