“Extreme sport” or cultural resistance by James McBean

2:00 AM. Ixmiquilpan, Mexico…somewhere in the state of Hidalgo. I was not entirely aware that Mexico could get so cold. Why did I not know this? I thought my body was well trained; weeks of running in Polanco (a high altitude suburb of Mexico City) would have prepped me for this. I was confident I could endure this caminata nocturna. Smug.

Simulating a border crossing was supposed to be entertaining, supposed to be fun, supposed to be a “learning experience” I so often heard Americans say; a catch phrase used to remind oneself and others of how progressive, tolerant and morally superior one is for doing something “non-normative.” Though I was feeling rather uber-tolerant amidst the innocent giggling, occasional outbursts of excitement from los chavos that flanked us, my mind still wafted, I realized my own thoughts now were seldom in English, and something seemed eerily amiss. As I huddled with other border crossers the very stars seemed to withdraw. They abandoned us. My eyes then met with those of our guide/coyote 15 yards away. I realized this guy never took his mask off.  He gave an alluring and captivating speech hours prior, reminding us of their trials, the irony, the sadness and the reluctance with which they risk their lives to cross into a land that repudiates them, that hates them. I could not see his facial expressions but those Otomi eyes peering at me carried yeas of oppression, even memories from the trail of tears. This was only a simulation. Right? Who is this guy anyways? Is he thinking the same? Is he suspicious of me being affiliated with the embassy? Why keep up the role unless– gun shots rang out! Frightened footsteps and bits of Spanish mixed with Hñahñu assaulted my ears. Corre! Corre! Run!

I spent the next few hours amongst the Otomi people (otherwise known as “Mexicans”) learning of their trials, their shame, and their triumph as they reclaimed what seemed to have been lost, their pride, their land and their identity. Worlds away a French social theorist, Henri Lefebvre, made a rather interesting point pertaining to those that suffer oppression in spaces created for them by hegemonic forces. He posited that while social spaces are created for the subaltern, though sequestered, it is nonetheless a space in which there is room, albeit limited, for persons who are socially, politically, and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure, to manipulate the same space in order to contest the larger over-arching dominance of conceived space. They can potentially change their lives.  It is in this sphere of the caminata nocturna that one can locate the resistance and revolutionary practices that are a prerequisite for changing the overarching power structure of the societies in which the Otomi have found themselves since those they thought were Gods landed on their shores.

The caminata nocturna is, in fact, a part of such a resistive practice, more than a neutralized “extreme sport” turned commodified practice that has been subsumed by late capitalism and branded by ESPN and other media outlets. The caminata nocturna, still, rather than offering exotic displays to be discovered and explored by those privileged enough to deliberately endure suffering, this experience owns the various ways that the Otomi produce spaces of resistance through this boarder crossing phenomena turn social entrepreneurship.

Running, ducking, hiding and cowering is not what this experience was entirely about. The larger picture is that of the subaltern reclaiming their own spaces of conception which is not often heard of.  In cultural studies we often are perplexed by the forms of resistance that can meaningfully interrupt that onslaught of, or in the case of the Otomi people, the pull of capitalist forces.

Literally keeping their male population from dwindling, retaining the use of their language Hñahñu , and using this debilitating phenomenon of mass migration  to highlight and bring to surface their true selves. Most importantly this eco-tourist venture enables the Otomi of Hidalgo funnel capital back into their communities. They are producing their own capital. Would Karl be proud? An advocate of social entrepreneurship I found their enterprise to be outstanding their measurable outcomes and their social benefits tremendous.

I had the opportunity to be a part of individual’s taking control of their lives in efforts to solve their own dilemmas independent of nominal government assistance which ultimately only handicaps and perpetuates the dependence. This group of Otomi people are reclaiming and redefining their spaces and in time will reclaim their men that have disappeared across the US border, ultimately reclaiming their lives.

As it pertains to my PCS I envision my scholarly deliverables to manifest in tangible ways such as this lest I end up following in the anthropological footsteps of our intellectual predecessors who studied and documented culture if not for knowledge’s sake, but to use the knowledge to perpetuate evil.  Identifying a social or policy issue, situating the problem through theoretical lenses and then deploying information or interventions to those whom it would impact are my highest priority. Perhaps this is not the place of (Physical) Cultural Studies scholars?  I do wonder what Jameson would make of such a form of resistance. Is it or could it be co-opted by the forces of monoculturalism?

Blindfolded we returned to camp on the backs of pick up trucks. Thoroughly discombobulated, emotionally drained, the jeering had subsided. Frustrated, losing my temper I tore off my blind fold. I felt sick at the thought I was looking like a “spoiled American.”  The stars had returned to the sky and at my side was our coyote. My guide. I’d recognized his voice throughout the hike. I realize he’d been there this whole time. Still wearing his mask.  I hope he remains true and never takes it off…


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