Land of Opportunity or Land of the Dead?

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In many of the texts that we’ve read in class, the authors often create mirror images of the characters within someone else. In Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, the main character Makina was created in the image of Quetzalcoatl.

Quetzalcoatl was an ancient Aztec god that was described to be a plumed serpent. He went on a journey to Mictlan, Land of the Dead in order to retrieve the bones of humans so that he could repopulate the earth. When Quetzalcoatl tried to ask for the human bones back, the King and Queen of the Dead were reluctant to hand them over. They made Quetzalcoatl pass a series of tests before he could take the bones and these tests were designed for him to fail. When he passed all the tested and the King of the Dead handed over the bones, the rulers of Mictlan set a trap for Quetzalcoatl so that he could not leave their arena with the bones.

In a very similar way, Makina set out on a dangerous journey to retrieve her brother from the other side of the border. Along the way, Makina had to pass various “tests” before she could continue on with her mission. The author created a parallel between Makina and Quetzalcoatl to imply that the United States is not actually the Land of Opportunity, but rather the Land of the Dead. When Makina makes her journey she experiences both literal and figurative death.

“She saw her belly before her legs or her face or her hair and she was resting there in the shade of the tree. And she thought, if that was any sort of omen it was a good one: a country where a woman with child walking through the desert just lies down to let her baby grow, unconcerned about anything else.” (43).

In this scene, Makina saw that there was a literal decaying body, which was symbolic of ruination and loss of hope.

Not only that, but Makina’s hopes experienced a figurative death upon encountering the corpse. Everything that she thought about the United States came crashing down; it was not a land of freedom and goodness, because the first thing she saw was death and ruination.

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Genesis 3

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Photo: here

Most of us know about the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, here is a quick recap…

It has been said that God created the first man, (Adam) and the first woman, (Eve) and let them live in the Garden of Eden to take care of the animals and tend to the land. He told them that they could essentially do as they please, except eat from the tree of Good and Evil and if they did it would kill them. Then one day, Satan came along in the form of a serpent and tempted Eve into eating the fruit from the tree of Good and Evil and Eve shared the fruit with her husband, Adam. As a result, the two were naked and felt shame so they clothed themselves with fig leaves. These two were the ones who created original sin.

In the novel Baho! by Roland Rugero, the opening image that is created is one that reflects the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.

“It’s November, and the heavens are naked.

Ashamed, they try to tug a few clouds over to cover up under the merciless sun, which brings their nakedness unflinchingly to light.” (1)

The opening image also goes on to reflect on how the land that was once abundant and supple is now dry and running low on resources. This is a direct reflection of the results of colonization and missionization. By using the parallel with the story of Adam and Eve, the author was able to reference how invading cultures come in during colonization and use religion as an initial “nicety” to try and convince indigenous populations that they are there to save their country and reform them in the best way possible. When the dominating group is not successful with their “peaceful/religious” reformations, they often become violent and oppressive.

There is a specific image speaking about how the water sources have depleted,

“Not so long ago the water there was clear and crystalline, abundant. Now it is gone. A dry November.” (1)

Within a biblical sense, one could also infer that due to colonization, there has been so much irreparable damage done to the people and the land that there is no more water to wash away the “sins” that resulted from injustice. Water is viewed to be pure and can cleanse is more than one way, since that is now gone, we could say that the damage from colonization cannot be reversed.

If Serving is Below You, Leadership is Beyond You

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Tram 83 by Mujila takes place within a dysfunctional City-State of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This dysfunction manifests itself in the form of inadequate governance, belly politics, and corruption.

One of the most prevalent images that we get throughout this novel is that of the train and the railroads. The first image that is created of the railway station is one of incompletion,

“It was essentially an unfinished metal structure, gutted by artillery, train tracks, and locomotives that called to mind the railroad built by Stanley…” (1).

The image of the railroad is an analogy for the City-State and the bizarre failing system that it appears to be. The train station itself shows scars of violence from artillery, and the reference to Stanley is regarding colonialism and wars of the past. The trains themselves have an uncertainty and unpredictability about them because no body knows when they will arrive. In addition, the trains primary purpose is to export goods, not to provide transport for the people who live there. To create a parallel to the City-State, there is not much governance for those who inhabit the area, the primary focus is profit and the people who live there seem to fall to the side.

Other example is that big company tycoons started to ration the amount of resources that people could receive each day in order to increase their profit by using the resources for tourists. For example, the electrical companies would ration the people so that they would only have 5 hours of electricity per day, then they would cut it down to 2. The people would experience “black outs” throughout the city because there would be no source of electricity because it would be used for someone else’s benefit.

“If you do not restore running water and electrical power, we shall burn the tracks, the trains, the churches, and the copper mines. If the dissident general persists, we shall burn the central prison, the police stations, and the seventh wife’s house.” (136). 

The people who govern are more concerned with catering to the tourists and others who don’t inhabit that area, as oppose to those who live there. It’s the same concept with the trains; the trains primarily focus on exporting goods, not servicing the people as a form of transportation.

It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

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Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World constructs both literal and figural
borders that the protagonist, Makina, has to overcome. Makina is crafted to be a somewhat mysterious character who sets out on a quest to cross the border between Mexico and the United States in order to find her brother and return him to Mexico. The literal border here is quite obvious; she has to physically cross the border between Mexico and the United States with the aid of a contact that was provided to her.

While that border in an of itself provides its own challenges, Makina also faces figurative borders that are fluid and unsettled. At one point in the novel, Makina crossed over into the U.S., and saw what she thought to be a pregnant woman sitting beneath a tree which she thought to be a good omen. “a country where a woman with child walking through the desert lies right now to let her baby grow, unconcerned about anything else. But as they approached she discerned the features of this person, who was no woman, nor was that belly full with child: it was some poor wretch swollen with putrefaction, his eyes and tongue pecked out by buzzards.” (43-44)

At first, Makina was optimistic and hopeful of this new country on her quest to find her brother. As displayed within the quote, she believed it to be a country in which a woman was safe enough to lay down in the desert while she was with child but the reality was that as she approached the figure, she discovered that the figure was in shambles. The image of a pregnant woman represented birth which was a symbol of new life and a good omen. However when the figure transformed from a pregnant woman into a dead body, that representation of birth transformed into ruination.

 

Until the Bitter End…

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 8.37.35 PMDeath is a topic that we are all a little curious about whether we like to admit it or not. It is something that people have called into question time and time again. Is there life after death? What does death feel like?

Utopia by Ahmed Towfik launches into the topic of death within the first few moments of the novel. The narrator of the book references the movie Platoon, specifically the iconic scene in which Willem Dafoe is dying a death full of pain, starvation, and weakness. The narrator describes this gut-wrenching scene in a way that glorifies death in an almost seductive way.

We come to find that this particular character glorifies death and finds it to be so attractive because it is, for lack of a better term, ‘forbidden fruit’. Let’s put this in a context that is applicable to most people. We are often attracted to the things that we are not supposed to do. There is a sort of adrenaline rush and thrill that we feel when we do/ see something that is elusive to us. Well, the narrator in this story is a bored Utopian who has every possible need taken care of and is bored of doing the same old thing over and over again. And what is the one thing that seems to excite him? That’s right, death. That is because for some reason it seems as if death does not come easily to the Utopians and is something of a novelty.