Ayisyen and Catrachos in Tijuana

  • La Buena Estrella
  • March 8, 2019 — March 23, 2019
  • Gemma Argüello Manresa
  • Out-of-pocket

When we arrived at La Buena Estrella, an independent space in San Rafael, one of the first things Olivia Vivanco said to us was that “the images are not in narrative order.” She then explained each image to us, in no particular order, in great detail. An image of empty bunks with foam mats piled against a while like one of the massive but drooping forms of Nairy Baghramian came from a temporary migrant center—the only one, Vivanco explained, that not only has separate quarters for men and women, but also separate quarters for queer people. Another image, a man standing in front of a cellphone shop, was X, who had started not only that cellphone shop but was about to open two others, exemplifying the hard-working and can-do spirit of the Haitian community in Tijuana; an adjacent image, of a tent community in the middle of a dusty square, was the Honduran caravan so famously scapegoated by Trump, a community under the false protection of local police, who collaborate with local cartels to recruit men and kidnap women.

There were other images, of Haitians working and communing, of Hondurans waiting. While talking to us, Vivanco emphasized again and again the strength of the Haitian community, leading the Mexicans in the room to talk about how Protestantism must somehow be the explanation for this, as opposed to Latin American Catholicism, and me to wonder about Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell and how perhaps the migrant Haitian community was defined in response to a discrete disaster—an earthquake—whereas perhaps the Honduran community lacked such definition, coming from a less discrete, more constant, disaster—the deleterious antipolitical and antihuman effects of neoliberalism—and hopefully all of us to wonder at the dangers of making such sweeping generalizations about the people of any nation. On a waist-high shelf sat a laptop, playing videos of various Haitian community areas, again non-narrative, again simply watching.

Although we talked about sweeping generalizations standing there with the artwork, the artwork does no such thing in and of itself. Vivanco’s images are not didactic, they tell no story, they are not of scenes of sudden suffering or violence, they are not “shocking.” They do not attempt an explanation of anything, they do not attempt to help anyone, they are documents of a process, yes, but a process without an endpoint, without a need to “help.” Vivanco stayed with the Haitians, stayed with the Hondurans, talked to them when she could, went to meet them where she could, in the process putting herself occasionally in grave danger, walking by herself in the hills in the most violent city in the world to meet the operator of Radio Haiti.