The Restlessness of Tram83

In Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 we are introduced to a postcolonial unnamed city in Africa which in a way is indicative of the modern day mundanities and uncertainties of a colonized world. From the beginning and throughout the novel it is obvious that there is a precarious, or rather uneasy tone of writing that Mujila uses to depict the layout of his narrative. He uses sentences like “The Northern Station was going to the dogs. It was essentially an unfinished metal structure, gutted by artillery, train tracks, and locomotives” indicating the moving factors and unfinished, or rather untold stories of the people living in this City-State which eventually ended up in the same location.

shallow focus photography of railway during sunset

Photo by Albin Berlin on Pexels.com

Mujila catches the readers interest by his use of prose, use of strong imagery, and repetition as well as other literary devices. A phrase that arises constantly is “Do you have the time?” which is constantly used by the waitresses and prostitutes at Tram 83 which is a state reknown restaraunt and bar located in the city’s border. Interestingly enough it is also where individuals from all walks of life gathered “in search of good times on the cheap.” All aiming to selfishly satisfy their own needs through desires and to awaken from “sleeping sickness”.

Another good tool of writing Mujila uses is the constant binaries, or juxtaposition expressed in the novel. Illustrated with the contrast of both main narrator’s names: Requiem and Lucien. One is indicative of a dark side and the other of the light. Invariably indicating the constant struggles and uncertainties people in this unnamed “City-State” in Africa have sadly fallen victims to thanks to colonization. More often than not it also is aimed towards a dark side and inicates not only a dark past, but a precariously dark future. Lucien is constantly trying to find answers and hope in knowledge, and in the good things that still exist in this new place, but can he find it throughout the ruckus or the mournful songs of the few?

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Push the Machismo Aside

Yuri Herrera is one of Mexico’s greatest novelists, according to the front cover of his book, Signs Preceding the End of the World. Herrera’s novel plays with the idea of borders, both ideologically and physically. Reading into that symbol, we can extract gender as an ideological border between men and women. The protagonist of the book is a Mexican female. I found it interesting that he took on a female voice, but I also feel that he is working at something very vital. Allow me to explain why.

FE1BB22A-7E70-4006-817A-D737E0FC2F93In the Mexican culture machismo is a socio-cultural term referring to the natural superiority that men have over women. Men are raised to be macho, while women are raised to be submissive to men. Machismo gives an excuse to pay women less, give them not as desirable jobs, and treat them badly in general. This is not always the case of course, but still a very damaging narrative that has been in place for a long time. It is a big issue that is now just barely starting to be addressed and talked about.

Yuri Herrera, being a male author, is using the power of writing to attempt to correct or transform the narrative. In Signs Preceding the End of the World, the main character’s name is Makina. She does not follow the expected image for a young Mexican woman. She’s a revolutionary figure. She is a strong and street-smart and also not afraid to defend herself. She drinks and can handle it. She sleeps with men and does not get caught up with the sentiment of it. She is also more trustworthy than a man according to Makina’s mother, Cora. She is given the task to cross the border and retrieve her brother from the US. We are taken along on her journey through the book.

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Signs Preceding Sexual Harassment

tokyo-subway

I’ve been to Tokyo twice. Most people know about the wild public transport issues they have on the subway – the harassment, the people whose job it is to shove as meany people as possible into a single train car, etc. Having been on a Tokyo subway during rush hour… It’s a nightmare for someone that’s worried about misunderstandings. Sometimes I got crammed between two or more very polite Japanese women and have no choice but to smell their hair. (I’m roughly four inches taller than the average Japanese woman, so my nose is right at scalp height when standing straight up)

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Where am I going with this? I have a very specific issue with a single scene in Signs Preceding the End of the World. I’m sure I’m taking this too seriously, but there’s a part in the book where a coyote is helping Makina across a river on her way to Texas, and the narrative goes out of it’s way to show that he appears disinterested in her, which is interesting since every other male character so far seems ready to jump her bones with a second’s notice. Yet, while they’re rowing across, Makina notices him smell her hair. Just thinking about this…. If she’s on a back stroke while he’s on a front stroke with the oars, wouldn’t he be more or less forced to inhale while she was leaning back (depending on his breathing rhythm)?

Now I’ve polled a few people that I assume are female, and they’ve informed me that this kind of thing isn’t uncommon, it is very noticeable, and it is “totally gross,” but I really don’t know what to think of it. Did he do it on purpose? Why? Did he like what Makina smelled like? Does it matter?

I can’t even begin to answer these questions because I can’t even fathom why someone would smell another person’s hair. I think I’ve only ever done it on purpose when my girlfriend asked me if I liked the new conditioner she got. It was pretty good, kind of like a melon smell but better because it was coming from a woman I love.

I guess my point is that there are certain aspects of the novel that I can’t even begin to understand, principally the female experience. I’ve been to gay bars and been objectified and hit on in ways that made me super uncomfortable and had people touch me without my consent, I’ve had coworkers at work make weird advances on me or hit on me or touch me, but as a man it’s a much different experience with different types of weirdness and different feelings of conflict. And even when it’s directly happening to me, I’m not really “tuned in” to it like Makina is in the novel.

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I’ll end with this: is it even worthwhile for someone like me to try to understand this aspect of the novel? Or will I always be fumbling trying to deconstruct an alien experience from a perspective totally divorced from my own ego? I’ve always felt constrained in these respects as a man, and I want to understand these aspects of life in a way that doesn’t make me feel like Ice T on Law and Order SVU.

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Signs preceding the end of the world

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“Signs preceding the end of the world” by Yuri Herrera is a book about a young girl named Makina and her journey to cross the border to the United States. Taking place in Mexico and being created by a Mexican writer, Makina is very much your typical Latina. Yuri Herrera created Makina’s character to make a connection towards his own people. When reading the book, Makina is very smart, protective entitled to her own opinion, very beyond her years. As a girl who’s on her own and is trying to cross the border she needs to to be trucha as many Spanish speaking people calling being “cautiously aware” which Yuri paints Makina very well with her strong personality. Yuri characterizes Makina like any other Chicana X writer would; for example in the beginning Makina is always taking about pulque. In “the big Chilango” which Yuri is (or at least I strongly believe) referring to Mexico City is really known for its pulque. However, the pulque isn’t for everyone and certainly not for women; its frowned upon to see a young lady drinking this since its such a strong drink. It’s enjoyable to see a male author write this from a female perspective and it being so positive without him bashing women who drink. Also, pulque itself is the staple alcoholic drink of Mexico City/Hidalgo so for Makina to be drinking it and liking it is a very meaningful to her own heritage and culture.

The Luck Across The Border

 

Immigration is such a hard topic to discuss about right now. Especially when it’s about Illegal Immigration between the border of The United States and Mexico. Yuri Herrera though, wrote a short fiction novel about it named Signs Preceding the End of The World. Within the novel, we follow Makina, the female protagonist, as she travels from her hometown in Mexico to America in hopes of finding her brother to deliver him a message. This short novel can be eye opening as it’s filled with a different perspective of the struggles of crossing the border illegally, this novel though seems to simplify the realistic struggles these migrants face when illegally crossing over the border.  Also, spoiler alert from here on out. 

 

migrants traveling

Makina seems to be one of the luckiest migrant crossing over to America. There is almost a rule that people should not cross by themselves, especially if you are a young female, crossing the border safely is a very difficult thing to do. And even though Makina shows that she’s street smart and can handle herself against a young boy trying to flirt with her on her bus, it almost ignores the huge topic of sexual assault that happens to migrants when they cross over. Which is one of the reasons why many migrants travel in packs, because there is safety in numbers.  

 

Makina later is touched by another stroke of luck leading up to the events of finding her brother once she was in America. Everything fell down so coincidentally that its almost too good to be true. It’s understanding that the young guy who harassed her would like to help her as Makina helped them not getting sent back to Mexico, but everything else falls to perfectly. Of course, the young guy’s boss would know where her brother went, of course the tenant of the house knew about the past tenant and knew that they left their son at the base. Finding family after crossing over isn’t as easy as this seems and its unfortunate to not have seen more of the frustration that was given in the book of looking for a lost relative in America. 

happy reunion

 

This book was honestly a great read, and as said before opens up new perspectives for those who read it. And though there were a few sections that were based on luck rather than showing the darker truths and struggles that usually happen to migrants coming over, its great to see this type of novel being read today.  

 

 

Sources:

Signs Preceding The End Of The World (Amazon buy link)-

First Image Link – https://goo.gl/images/Bji8wd

Second Image Link- https://goo.gl/images/17NLyk

 

On the Way Down

Across countries, across oceans, across mountains, and across borders, despite differences in culture, history, and belief, there is at least one thing that all humanity shares: death.

All stories, as I have been told several times by a couple of professors, are about one of two things: sex or death. I am hard pressed to prove those professors wrong. Of course, some stories are more blatant than others. Some use death as a blatant metaphor, such as Yuri Herrara’s novel Signs Preceding the End of the World.

In the novel, the heroine Makina makes the journey to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. The novel is portrayed with a dreamlike tone, and the main character has a kind of invincibility that is common to heroes of myth and legend. Specifically, the

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Underground

novel calls back to the myth of the Quetzalcoatl. In the ancient Mexican pantheon, the feathered serpent was a powerful and influential figure. In modern media, the Quetzalcoatl can be portrayed in a myriad of ways, such as a feathered dragon, as a colorful animal, or as the thing on the right of this paragraph that I’m sure no one wanted to see today.

Like many myths of gods and heroes descending into the underworld, Quetzalcoatl has a mission to resurrect humanity. As the story goes, he descends into Mictlan, the Aztec underworld, with his brother Xolotl. Together, they cross through the nine realms and ask Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the dead, to take the human bones back with them.

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Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and creator god of the Aztecs

Mictlantecuhtli begrudgingly agrees but attempts to trick and trap the two gods several times, before Quetzalcoatl escapes with the shards of bones that became humanity.

There was one condition for the gods to take the bones: that all of humanity must one day return to the underworld in death. This is something that Quetzalcoatl does not dispute, and humanity is doomed to his fate. Quetzalcoatl and his brother symbolize the cycle of life and death. While Xolotl can find the way into the underworld, it is Quetzalcoatl who finds the way back.

What does this have to do with Makina in the novel Signs?

Immediately, it is made clear that Makina must cross the border into another land with the mission of bringing someone home. Her brother has lost his way, and he has lost all contact with his family. Makina is aware that when people cross that border, they are permanently changed. Their language changes, their mannerisms change, and there is nothing to be done to restore the life that these people once had; “Sometimes, more and more these days, they called from the North; these were the ones who’d often already forgotten the local lingo” (19). She knows that she doesn’t want that to be her fate when she crosses, so she takes almost nothing with her.

Her journey is told through nine trials, much like the nine realms of the underworld. She only makes it into the US through the help of friends. One of these friends is Chucho. Chucho is introduced almost like the ferryman of ancient Greek myth, and he rows Makina across a deadly river and to this new land where the sky is already a different kind of blue. However, Chucho is also the man who introduces Makina to her final trial,

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Underground

her final decision. After Makina has found her brother, and found that he could not be saved, she can also no longer return home to the life she used to have. She makes the choice to start the new cycle, where she can join her brother in a new life on the other side. Chucho is both Xolotl, the one who lead her into the underworld, and Quetzalcoatl, the one who leads her back out into a new era.

You got this Girl

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The book Signs preceding the end of the world by Yuri Herrera is a story with such themes like migration and family. It is an excellent tale because it follows the story of young girl named Makina. Makina must go on a dangerous journey in search of her brother her immigrated to the United States a few years before. Makina has a letter from their mother, so reaching her brother becomes very crucial. So Makina must to migrate to the united states.  Her success is based on a set of rules that she has obtained and gives herself, but in order to survive she must challenge herself.

This is a story about the horrible journey that immigrants face in order to be granted a better life. It is very similar to the way things are now and it shows real struggles that people face. But it also shows strength in the sense that Makina would do anything to get to her brother, much like most people would do anything to their new life.

I think this book is a great way for others to see what it is like to try and Immigrate here. I think it heavily shows the impact that it can make on them. but it also shows the outstanding courage that they have.

I loved this book because of all the hidden meanings and I think it is a good read as well as an important one because it can teach those who are ignorant about the process. It is not easy to try and immigrate here, many don’t make it, but yet everyone still tries because they know there is a better life waiting for them on the other side. That is commitment.  It is such a sad and heartbreaking story because it is sad what some guards will do. and it is sad that this actually happens to people. Even though it isn’t based on a true story it still shows the truth behind the process of immigration and allows everyone to be educated on the process. It gives people a better understanding of what these people go through and how it can affect them.

 

Makina

Makina in the novel “Signs”, portrays someone who couldn’t truly find her own identity. She thinks of herself as being “malleable, erasable, permeable”, which signifies that she isn’t too clear on how she is being seen to other people. She goes on a quest, and truly sees the differences between Mexico and the US. Makina recognizing how thugs all look “the same” in Mexico, and then meeting a redhead in the US who all he wants from her is to kick or fuck her. Stereotypes are a very important topic in this story, and how different people from different places are being treated. Sadly, there will always be stereotypes when it comes to immigrants and the people who were born and raised in the US. However, they are not the only ones who get stereotyped. Every race in the world gets stereotyped one way or another. There has always, and will probably always be this type of judgement in our society. Especially now in today’s society, where they want to build a wall to keep everyone “reinforced”, and that will cost billions to make.

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A very meaningful point that the story brings up is when Making writes at the camp. Makina makes this remark by the end of the story: “We are to blame for this destruction, we who don’t speak your tongue and don’t know how to keep quiet either. We who didn’t come by boat, who dirty up your doorsteps with our dust, who break your barbed wire. We who came to take your jobs, who dream of wiping your shit, who long to work all hours. We who fill your shiny clean streets with the smell of food, who brought you violence you’d never known, who deliver your dope, who deserve to be chained by neck and feet. We who are happy to die for you, what else could we do? We, the ones who are waiting for who knows what. We, the dark, the short, the greasy, the shifty, the fat, the anemic. We the barbarians.” Makina brings out most of the ignorance, and mockery that some people from the US think of the immigrants.

She is a powerful, smart, and brave young lady, that wants nothing but equality for the immigrants. She wants people to understand that immigrants are not who the others portray them to be. In conclusion, they are all human beings too, that want to better themselves and their lives each and everyday, just like everybody else.

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The Resilience of Immigrants

Growing up in San Diego, I am familiar with the political climate about the border and how it affected my friends. The novel, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera showcases the struggles of growing up between two cultures and the challenges of being an immigrant.

Her perceptions of the United States compared to Mexico shows that she’s more fond of where she grew up in Mexico and find the United States far from home. Makina’s experiences remind me of the stories my friend’s and family would tell me about how they came to America. I was editing my friend’s college essays and they talked about their experience coming back to America. They were born here but their mother took them back to Mexico soon after and they didn’t come back to the US. They spoke about how transitioning to living in America was and how they were teased for not speaking English when they were starting elementary school in the US. This story resonated with me because it reminded of how my mother would tell me about her experience about immigrating to the US from Cambodia. She would get bullied because of her race and how she didn’t know any English. I believe that immigrants are diminished and discredited for their struggles. People love to think that whether or not they are here legally or illegally, we need to alienate them because they’re not born here. But that argument is invalid because this land has never been ours. We were never the first to inhabit it, the first people who inhabited this land were the Native Americans that IMMIGRANT Europeans slaughtered, massacred, and hoodwinked into stealing their land and erasing their culture. The stigma about immigrants is stemmed by this idea that they are stealing our jobs and are freeloading off our country but the reason why people come to America is because of the safety and/or opportunities this country would be able to provide for them and/or their families. As a daughter of immigrants, I grew up watching my parents work hard to provide for our family in order to give my sister and I the opportunities they were deprived of. I feel like that’s what most immigrants and immigrant children have in common; the strive for a better life. Another aspect is being ignorant of the reality of becoming a citizen. I had a friend whose family immigrated here from South Africa in 2000 but did not get their green cards until 2013. But there is this blurred ideal that immigrants do not have a positive impact in our country and only hurt our country but this is perpetrated by harmful stereotyping and toxic white savior narratives that oppress minorities instead of showcase the resilience of immigrants.

Signs showcases the perspective of the reality and cruelties of how America does not take ownership towards the racism they inflict on minorities and immigrants. The video I attached above is from The Hamilton Mixtape and samples the line from the Hamilton song “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” where Hamilton and Lafayette exclaim “Immigrants, we get the job done”. That line has resonated with many fans of the musical as I’ve seen protest signs made with phrases from the popular musical. I think it’s worth sharing because everyone’s story of how they got here is different and to diminish their struggles and calling immigrants “lazy” – especially if they’re not here legally is flat out ignorant.

Makina in Signs

In Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, translated by Lisa Dillman, the main character Makina journeys to cross the U.S/Mexico border in search of her brother, who departed from their hometown seeking a “promised land” to their family.

Makina’s character is a powerful portrayal of a female Latino in a patriarchal world; she is a fearless, street-smart, linguistically gifted woman. She gracefully yet fiercely survives the emotionally and physically challenging journey: a deadly river crossing, desert crossing, several encounters with intimidating male authority, a bullet wound, walking miles through freezing tundra-like conditions, and more to complete her mission. Her versatility in tongues, native and anglo, allows for her success in her passage and encounters along the way.

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https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/25/americas/us-mexico-border-before-trump-trnd/index.html

Makina breaks the stereotypes of the usual qualities and roles that we are used to seeing from female Latino/minorities. Rather than being weak and submissive, she is strong, vocal, and doesn’t tolerate men’s sexual advances on her. For example, early on in the journey, she is on a bus ride where a young man tries to sit next to her and “accidentally” touches her. Her response is to painfully yank his finger back, and put him in his place with her words: “I don’t like being pawed by fucking strangers, if you can believe it.”/ “You crossing over to find a gig? Then you’ll need every finger you’ve got, won’t you?”/”Listen up, I’m going to let you go and you’re going to curl up with your little friend back there, and I swear on all your pain that if you even so much as think about me again, the only thing that hand’s going to be good for is wiping ass.”
The young man backs off in fear, and he and his friend avoid her for the remainder of the bus ride.

She is respected by her community because of her role as a messenger/communicator. Her job in her hometown is to operate the village switchboard to connect families and often translate their dialects for them. She knows how to “keep quiet” and effectively deliver messages in all three languages, and so she is respected even by the top dog men of her community who need her services. Through this, she is able to be connected with guides and contacts that help her in crossing the border and also once she is in the U.S.

Makina’s interactions, especially with aggressive patriotic American men, prove her fearlessness and strength as a female heroine. The first American rancher that she encounters gets into a physical fight with Chucho, one of her guides in crossing the border. Even though the rancher shoots to kill her and clips her, she still deals him a kick in the jaw before running endlessly into the mountains, and only stopping after the scene of incoming police officers was out of view to check on her bullet wound.

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http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/5/25/us-mexico-borderwreakshavocwithlivesofanindigenousdesertpeople.html

During her encounter with a cop in the U.S. when he about to arrest her along with many others,  she again takes powerful action, but this time through her gift of words, when she takes on the challenge from the officer to write poetry on a piece of paper. She writes the following ten lines:

“We are to blame for this destruction, we who don’t speak your tongue and don’t know how to keep quiet either. We who didn’t come by boat, who dirty up your doorsteps with our dust, who break your barbed wire. We who came to take your jobs, who dream of wiping your shit, who long to work all hours. We who fill your shiny clean streets with the smell of food, who brought you violence you’d never known, who deliver your dope, who deserve to be chained by neck and feet. We who are happy to die for you, what else could we do? We, the ones who are waiting for who knows what. We, the dark, the short, the greasy, the shifty, the fat, the anemic. We the barbarians.”

By owning up to the name that Americans have deemed Mexicans as “barbarians,” she takes the hurtful patronizing value out of the label. She owns up to all of the wrongs that Americans say Mexican immigrants commit, and all of the stereotypes that Americans place on them. She reverses the racist ideology by reflecting how the American Dream is supposed to be a promised land of equality and liberty but this is how people are really treated. She does this while also cleverly pointing out how Americans actually need Mexican immigrants and rubbing it in the officer’s face. Her words are so powerful  and catch the officer off-guard that he goes from yelling and roaring to being silent and simply walking away without arresting them.