Fair Play

News of the Dead…December 10 – 16


“…in this land”, it is always “either summer or winter.”  Autumn does not exist. “It’s either sunny or rainy. You either go to Hell or to Heaven”

Franz Sammut, (November 19, 1945 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

Lázaro Blanco Fuentes (April 1, 1938 – May 4, 2011)

the photographs of Lazaro Blanco work as a binding agent. they express a quiet solitude, haunting in their painful tranquility, that ties us to the landscape.  sculpted in shadow and light, using emptiness in equal measure with form, we meditate upon these images and are reminded of emotional continuity.  through them we understand that suffering — like joy — can traverse time and place.  the moments they capture make it clear that not only does history matter, but that it is both a liberating force and a nearly unbearable burden upon the shoulders of those who bear it.

Juarez, Mexico lies directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. two sides of a whole, they are partitioned by a 2,000 mile fault-line that is, arguably, one of the most contested frontiers the world has ever known. long before the Spanish, Mexican and former British Colonies arrived in successive waves to stake their claims to this arid landscape, the territory existed as a fluid cultural geography. as late as 1930 people could cross freely from the South Side to the North. today, only commodities have that privilege. families, cultures, collective identities are left behind. the city has been dissected with all of the surgical precision of the nation-state. both halves evince that peculiar combination of absolute clarity and insular fog that is the price of trauma…

running along the neurotic, bi-polar lines of settler colonialism, difference, affiliation, sadness and hope are ripped apart. they are compartmentalized and transformed into distance. the flowing, brown waters that run between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso mark the razor-thin margin enforcing the “us” from the “them.” the object from the objectified, the commodity from the commoditized, the colonizer from the colonized.

born in Juarez, el otro lado, Lázaro Blanco’s loyalties are transparent. his statements touch us too deeply for there to be any doubt about his allegiance. it is to the human spirit. his vision helps us reconcile the present with the past, allowing us to reoccupy the present — this ambivalent territory is a place we all increasingly occupy as the melting pot of history continues to boil until the flesh falls from the bones. looking through Blanco’seyes we discover a shared solitude that works, oddly enough, to unify. it offers a moving point of departure for the week of December 10 – 17.

On The Politics of Cats and Mice

“Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”

Noam Chomsky

Geronimo, ha? Probably went in with Apache helicopters, do not you think?…using of course Cherokee bullets…All you servicemen know…that are over in Iraq…when you go out in your “mission”…into “Indian Country”, that is what it is called: “Indian Country”. And now for all of you other people to know the official hat of the entire army is a knock off, is an exact replica of the cavalier hats of the 1800s. They are still fighting the “Indian Wars” and now they are calling, they, the army are calling their targets by Indian [names], our patriots, the ones who fought for our people, protecting our women and children, They are calling Arabs Indians. This just backs up what I’ve been saying all along, The Arabs are the Indians of today, and we are the Palestinians of America. It NEVER stops. What is this, this purpose…to build in hatred for me and my people in an entire hemisphere- half the world? What is it? Why this institutionalized racism?

Russell Means

as usual, i have been thinking about the american frontier and its mythos: its ideological formations on the one hand, and the many concrete, often brutal manifestations of its ethical universe on the other.  the american century, so short as we look back upon it, contained ever-shifting frontiers whose zones of encounter were illuminated by a spectrum whose colors may not have exactly run but did, most certainly, bleed profusely.

i am not at all sure what a war on fear might actually look like. declarations of war — on poverty, on drugs, on HIV, on malaria, playground bullies and our own self-esteem — have become euphemisms, mere code words for illicit operations not only conducted in our name but, decisively, enacted upon the affective terrain we ourselves have helped chart. as for peace, history tells us that all of its vows are redeemable.

our insecurities are a burlesque peopled by rogue actors

designated thespians, we are taught to strike a pose. we bend ourselves into firm shapes, alert and always looking out upon the horizon. our work ethic is dedicated to the honor of our parents, national heroes and, most potently, our children. we hear our echoes in the disembodied, media driven fictive kinship of our virtual peers, dear friends all who, like us, have offered themselves as a balm for our deepest anxieties. huddled in our stations, our spirits zig-zag between the extremes of paranoia and euphoria; between insecurity and elation; between fear and the ethical imperatives of fair play — we find communion in the grotesque violations we tie to our ankle like a ball and chain. even our odes to justice create enemies and ghosts along the way, ballads reminding us of our own inglorious actions just as passionately as the innumerable slights to one another’s impervious virtue.  as any addict or soldier will tell you, this makes for a curious, intoxicating ontology. it continues to propel our obsessive inquisition against any and all forms of dis-ease.

together we stand inoculated.

to root fear from its hiding place once and for all. to chase it away for good.  to capture it in our claws. this, perversely, is our deepest anxiety.  our most cherished fear. the end of hyperventilation; the abandonment of ecstasy as we know it. colonial desire, always for the colonizer but i suspect for the colonized as well these days, works like a carrot dangled before a horse…a prize always hovering somewhere off on the horizon. for a settler-colonial culture such as the one we occupy, resolution, serenity, peace…redemption, would run against the freedom and liberty the popcorn of our dreams hold sacred.

for now, the prayer beads of penance will need to wait.

some years ago Toni Morrison asked us to consider the tropes of national identity americans return to, compulsively, in their cultural artifacts:

“individualism, autonomy, newness and difference,” she pointed out, were simply part of an ideological architecture…one which invariably ends up breeding heart-racing strategic questions, such as: how might we exercise “absolute power over the lives of others.”

here is one of my favorite passages from Playing in the Dark.  the words are scratched in red ink and my scribbles line the margins of the text:

Eventually individualism fuses with the prototype of Americans as solitary, alienated, and malcontent.  What, one wants to ask, are Americans alienated from?  What are Americans always so insistently innocent of?  Different from?

the smell of the grease paint, the roar of the crowd.  sweat and jubilation are the promise, no, the birthright of our puberty…humans, herd animals, have overrun the shaman.

yes.  the children.  the dear souls.  innocent, pure and angelic.  it is always for them that we mourn; for them that we pay this debt in other people’s blood.  and so the question remains: what or who is it that stands in the way of our well being? our peaceful future? what or who is it that is always violating the mute secret of the american dream? the mission of frontier occupancy…

the people of Juarez are well acquainted with how suddenly and how seamlessly the sacred existential anxieties of hetero-patriarchy, euro-supremacy and the entire network of nation-state alliances we have woven upon the geography can translate into brutal, tangible assaults upon dirt, song, sex and procreation. the people of the passage are now the gatekeepers of our cul-de-sac.

today the birthplace of Lazaro Blanco is best known for being a whirlpool of grief — the scene of spectacular, euphoric rituals of human suffering. it is a sacrificial testament to the gods of modern cruelty, another front in the world’s undeclared wars, a zone that our disembodied talking heads call, “the murder capital of the world”…indeed, in the last two years as many people have died in this arid landscape than western children during ten years of U.S. and NATO hunters combing the deserts, mountains, hills and cities of Iraq and Afghanistan…this is what passes for frontier justice.


the southern frontera america’s own little Baghdad — is the cozy little playground of Goliath, the result of and justification for its most cherished phobias…the savage, eternal land across the river Styx, it is, quite literally a construct of everything this brutal nation claims not to sanction…a haven for sex slave venders ; a dumping ground for thousands of disappeared, maimed women…a holding pen for modern industrial slave labor; a haven for racialized, hunted migrants and home to the mass graves and headless torsos that are the refuse of drug trafficking battles waged in the city’s streets and public parks. Juarez gives us 364 new meanings to the Día de los Muertos.

in short, nestled on our doorstep, Juarez, the city directly across the river from “the passing” exhibits all of the wounds of global capitalism — the contagious refuse of the neoliberal world order that our intercontinental cowboys have made law.


we don’t know for sure who occupied this land before “predator came.”

as far back as the late 16th century the Passing was a crossroads for people heading somewhere else.  the first Europeans were self-described conquerors. nomads of a sort, their journals display a feverish distraction brought on by the quest for shiny metal like the suits of armor they wore as they rode out to greet the unknown world around them. they were already men wanting…drooling from a lack so deep and profound it has never been filled…suffering from something they were afraid they wouldn’t get or else lost in a solipsistic vertigo, whirling into deafness from a conviction they could get it with no effort, help or kinship at all.

wealthy men running from petulance with private militias, they were on the lookout.  if asked, they might tell you they were marching for the monarchs of Spain or even, g-d forbid, the pope in Rome. practiced in defamation, if this were the case they were, in truth, in search of something more precious: salvation. others dragging their weary, dusty feet behind the king and queen’s train were outcasts from the edges of Europe’s promise. rootless warriors, sons and grandsons of moors, jews and peasants with new last names…a people banished after centuries of ethnic warfare who set out on a different kind of moral crusade – escaping social upheavals they found themselves a lonely and very unforgiving ocean away. whatever the case, these were world weary, cynical men nurtured within city state fiefdoms run by lunatic royalty. medieval robocops, their job was to fight strangers and make way for the second amendment: to order the landscape, to ensure the tithes were paid if not in silver then maize and wool at the harvest moon.

one of these metal bulldogs, Antonio de Espejo, set out in 1583 with 14 mercenaries, 115 horses and nearly three dozen indigenous slaves whose names we do not remember.  as in a fever, they were in search of the legendary walled compounds of the Pueblo, the nucleus, the nest of the queen bees.  Espejo provides us with one of the earliest surviving accounts of the people he encountered along the Rio Grande Rift where Juarez and El Paso meet:

“These people, who must have numbered more than a thousand men and women, and who were settled in their rancherias and grass huts, came out to receive us…Each one brought us his present of mesquite bean…fish of many kinds, which are very plentiful in these lagoons, and other kinds of food…During the three days and nights we were there they continually performed …dances in their fashion, as well as after the manner of the Mexicans.”

fifteen years later it was Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, another warrior nomad who encountered people occupying the areas of the two cities. by his testimony we know that he was shown a similar hospitality…which is why he called them the “Manxos”: The Peaceful People.

suffer the little children and interpret this as you will.

we do not know who it was, with any precision, that Espejo, Salazar and all of the later habitues encountered at this crossroads on the rio grande. the Jumano and Suma like the Manso, belonged to an elaborate quilt-work of native societies extending from modern day northern Mexico (or south-western Texas as the case may be) through Arizona all the way to the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. but one thing appears to be certain — they were most definitely nomadic hunter-gatherer societies on the wrong side of modernity from the moment they reached out to say “pleased to meet you.”  most troubling to predator, no doubt, was the refusal of these “child-like” people to stand still.  always on the move, they occupied a psychic geography that was ever changing. a people whose idea of the surface of things was wrinkled — and thus in need of ironing.

nevertheless, three quarters of a century after Salazar first visited the area the peoples who occupied this land were clinging to mobility, refusing to be domesticated…but the idea that the inhabitants of the Rio Grande Rift possessed spirits of generosity and mutual aid had long vanished…by the early 17th century they had become the ruthless savages of lore.  According to one predator:

“The nation of Manso Indians is so barbarous and uncultivated that all its members go naked and, although the country is very cold, they have no houses in which to dwell, but live under the trees, not even knowing how to till the land for their food.”


if the predators barely thought twice about the nomadic bands they encountered along the Rio Grande, they were uniquely obsessed by the more sedentary culture of the mythical Pueblo Indians.  the metal clad conquistadors had first learned about the Hopi, Tewa, Kerasan and Zuni settlements from a Franciscan monk, Father Marcos de Niza, one of the lone survivors of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca’s less than merry jaunt into Florida.

after his long journey around the Gulf of Mexico the monk had narrowly escaped with his life after an ill-fated raid upon a Zuni pueblo in the twilight dawn of contact, 1539.  on his return de Niza spoke enchantingly of the elaborate mud-walled compounds and sedentary civilizations spread throughout the southwest: settlements which the monk described as most certainly, the legendary gold encrusted, fabulously wealthy “Seven Cities of Cibola.”

while not exactly lined with gold, the Pueblo civilization was a mesmerizing sight for one accustomed to the urban squalor of europe.  the settlements were said to be, by virtually everyone who encountered them, equal to the most grand experiments in collective living of its day. its political and social structures and on a level with the Iroquois Confederacy far to the north.  they undoubtedly rivaled and perhaps even surpassed the chaotic — although increasingly wealthy — cities of europe such as Seville and London…places where the “undeserving poor” were whipped, imprisoned and if incorrigibly bad proto-capitalists, executed or sent across the ocean.

the Zuni created a flourishing sedentary civilization despite the harshness of the Southwestern terrain. located upon what Juan Gonzalez has described as an “ocean of barren scrub-land and buttes” they survived by carefully utilizing their scarce water supplies, channeling them to plant lush crops of maize, beans and squash along barely trickling river beds.  they were potters, their blankets and clothes were colorfully decorated using sophisticated weaving techniques passed down from the Aztecs to their south as early as the 13th century.  spiritually, they practiced a “complicated animist religion that revolved around their ceremonial center, the kiva, where they taught their young that ‘competitiveness, aggressiveness and the ambition to lead were…offensive to the supernatural powers.'” (Gonzalez, 2000)

Francesco Vasquez de Coronado wasted no time.  he organized a fighting force and initiated a scorched earth policy of robbing, raping and pillaging. his armies ambushed and utterly destroying the largest and most elaborate of the Zuni pueblos, Arenal, and sent out armed expeditions against the smaller constellation of settlements in the vicinity before heading north. already by the late 16th century, even before Vincente de Zaldivar massacred more than 800 Acoma Pueblo in Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico and Don Onate had ordered the amputation of the right foot of every male Acoma over the age of twenty three, the production of terror had fused with the language of domination all along the landscape that was the frontera between east and west, north and south, them and us. the continent was riven by trauma and anguish.  fear and outrage were established conditions.

Member of the Isleta Pueblo tribe

which brings us to the Apache resistance and to the haunting specter of the man the Mescalero-Chiricahua called the “One Who Yawns”, the one whose visage still creeps into the waking nightmares of the liminal imagination of the american frontier.  the one whose homeland straddled the brutal frontier between Mexico and the territories being held in trust by the states of Arizona, Nueva Mexico, Texas and Colorado.


as i meditate upon this war with terror i wonder what a real war on anguish and fear and historical pain would look like.  a truth commission like the ones conducted in South Africa and El Salvador? rituals of confession and penance? what will it take to purge this collective ontological crisis, this unresolved mourning and rage.  but most of all sadness for what could have been but wasn’t — and for what was but could have been so easily avoided.


i suspect that the frontiers of America lay somewhere between the borders of fear and fair play.

n.b. This entry was begun on the week that Osama Bin Laden was killed by United States forces in Pakistan and put on hold due to the realities of work pressures that come with holding a position at a neo-liberal corporate knowledge factory.  I was inspired to pick this project up again after meditating upon the killing of 20 school children and 8 adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.


~ by dAlton Anthony on December 17, 2012.

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