Everything You Always Wanted to Know about "El Mono Bichi" or "Monumento a Juarez"
(iconic representations of Nogales, Sonora)
In this edition, BorderLore continues to look at how public works of art (murals, monuments, etc.) function as sites of collective memory. Below, we give you:
- a quick overview of the controversy over one particular set of sculptures in Nogales, Sonora
- we sit with UA historian and expert on Mexican popular culture Professor Bill Beezley to "read" the meanings coded in the statutes (and to talk about his new book, Mexican popular nationalism, and such).
In the last few months of 2007, word started spreading around Nogales, Sonora that the construction of the new highway overpass Ana Gabriela Guevara --a major public improvement work long desired to ease traffic in this border town-- would inevitably require the removal and/or relocation of the town's most representative and best know public monument: the Monumento a Juarez, colloquially known as the "Mono Bichi" (bichi in the Yaqui language means "naked" and "mono" is a popular term for statuette, also translated sometimes as doll).
In this photo, a cement column of the Ana Gabriela Guevara public highway in progess can be seen coming to a sudden stop only feet away from the Juarez statute.
The monument was erected in 1964 and dedicated by then President Adolfo Lopez Mateos. A group of civic leaders in Nogales raised the funds to commission the distinguished Spanish sculptor Alfredo Just Ximeno (creator of the sculptural works at the Plaza Monumental de Toros, among others) to design and make the original work of art. Mr. Just had an interesting story of his own -- arriving in Mexico in 1939 as an exile from the war in Spain.
The timing of the project coincided with the period when the Mexican government sought to "modernize" the border region, particularly through the PRONAF program, that aimed to stimulate industry in the zone as well as "transform the appearance of border towns" to "give Mexico a good name" and make fronterizos more Mexican. Although the work was not an official commission by the federal government, it captured the desire of prominent Nogalenses to be taken seriously as true "modern Mexicans."
Historic photo of the Mono Bichi during construction, circa 1962.
Just conceived of a public work of art consisting of two statutes: one, a likeness of Benito Juarez; the other a symbolic representation of the Mexican Nation in the form of a naked anonymous and very muscular man (actually he is all muscle and has no skin) impaling with a large stake a strange beast: half bat (murcielago) and half eagle (aguila).
I am grateful to the Nogales photographer Samuel Ruiz Acuña for sharing his knowledge and archive with BorderLore.
The popular name "Mono Bichi" came about when a local priest opposed the statute (supposedly on account of the afront to morality implied by nudity, although some local folk suspected Anti-Juarista sentiments as well, a suspicion that lingers in Nogales up to the present). From the pulpit, the priest decried that the statue was not truly a work of art but nothing more than a "mono" (figurine); the people of Nogales began attaching the adjective "bichi" to the priest's "mono" (like many Yaqui words, this one was and is in wide circulation in Sonora).
As the highway project continued and plans for a safe removal and relocation of the statute became blurry, in February 2008 a group of Nogalenses, under the leadership of local artists/muralists Guadalupe Serrano and Alberto Morackis (creators of the public art works on the "muro" or border fence and leaders of YONKE PUBLIC ART, visit their website here) formed a civic action committee called "Comite Pro Defensa del Patrimonio Cultural" (Committee for the Defense of Our Cultural Patrimony).
For the last ten months, the Comittee has been aggresively pursuing guarantees from the local, state, and federal authorities that: (a) the statute's safety will be guaranteed through any removal and relocation process; (b) that the statutes will be relocated as a single unit, not separated into two different statutes in different locations ; (c) that more care and attention will be paid by local officials to the local inventory of public works of art in various stages of disrepair throughout the city.
Comite Pro Defensa Patrimonio Cultural poses before the monument in September 2008
Since the Comittee was formed, it has succeeded in generating more than 100 news stories in the local press. In effect, the Ana Gabriela Guevara public work has been halted indefinitely until the proper guarantees for the safe removal and relocation of the Mono Bichi can be established. This last point, of course, is the crux of the controversy per se.
At stake are two different visions of what represents "modernity" and "progress" for this border town: a new super highway named after a popular sports hero......or......the cultural patrimony represented by Juarez and the romantic grand vision of "el pueblo" in the form of monumental public art?
The Comite Pro Defensa has involved the main Mexican cultural agencies concerned with "patrimony" in the matter: the Institute Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) and the Institute Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) have all been to Nogales recently weighting in on the appropriate disposition of the Mono Bichi. BorderLore algo got involved; through our home unit, the UA's Southwest Center, we made available the services of Tucson-based historic preservation specialist, the architect Bob Vint, to give a second opinion on the removal schematics.
"Reading" Mexican Popular Art (with Bill Beezley)
BorderLore: Bill, thanks for talking to us. You have written several books arguing for the importance of looking at ordinary people and events ---the stuff taken from everyday life and popular culture--- to understand Mexican nationalism. Before I ask you specifically about the argument of your last book, tell me: as a historian, what do you see when you look at this statute of Benito Juarez in Nogales, Sonora?
Bezzley: I think it is a montage of a scene; both monuments need to be seen together to capture their meaning. The Juarez figure, which is a very good likeness of Juarez, by the way, compared to a number of others around the country, represents the most Juarista of the Juarez ideas. First, he has his arm extended and his finger pointing; he is declaring "Afuera"! You can say this is a "dedazo" (a finger strike of authority).... you know, there's probably no decision Juarez made that had greater global consequences than his decision not to pardon Maximilian. By that, he said that the foreigners are not coming into this country without paying a price. He is also holding the Constitution of 1857, the set of laws governing the country. He is in civilian clothing wearing a judicial robe. This representation is meant to say: equal justice for ALL Mexicans. The idea of equality before the law is central here.
BorderLore: But it wasn't enough just to represent Juarez monumentally....
Beezley: I think that in some ways this is the Juarez story; the Juarez belief spelled out. You have the civilian, the laws, but when necessary then you've got to take up arms, to take on challenges. Together, the two statutes say: this is civil society, and if you are challenged, this [impaling the forces that keep you in the dark and hold you backwards] is what you have to do.
BorderLore: The figure in the statute is killing a hybrid beast, part bat and part eagle. What does it represent? What is it that one must kill to preserve civil society?
Beezley: Well, the black garb....the bat, we know points to the priests, and then the eagle is the Imperial Eagle of the French, or of Europe generally, of European monarchs. In no uncertain terms, these are considered retrograde forces that impede the development of Mexican civic society. And here, as represented, they must be killed by the vigor, the "fuerza," of the nation as a whole, the Mexican citizen (represented as male). The idea is this: that kind of vigor can only come if you have both a belief on the laws and a willingness to defend that belief at all costs.
BorderLore: Some Nogales newspaper columnists, writing about the Mono Bichi recently, have hinted at the fact that if there is any subterranean anti-Juarista sentiment in the lack of action to save the monument it is because of the rising force of the Right (derecha) in Mexican politics. What do you make of that argument?
Beezley: Well, the newspapers have to publish something! My general view is that the Juarez ideal represented in this work is crucial to any party acting in Mexico's civil society today. The Right in Mexico wouldn't touch Juarez, simply too risky. It doesn't surprise me, however, that an idea like that would surface, because one thing we know about popular culture is that there is an association of symbols with the political culture of the times.
BorderLore: But there is a secularism evidently manifested in this Juarez vision of Mexican society....right?
Beezley: Well, we think....right? Remember that a lot of people around Juarez were Catholics, in the sense of the popular aspects of the faith, and many popular symbols of religious fervor carried through the Reforma.
BorderLore: One is struck by how close the new highway came to the figure of Juarez and the Mono Bichi without having a plan in place to remove them; it is almost as if the statutes would simply disappear whence the highway came close enough, it's a bit puzzling........yet, this image is a fundamental icon for Nogalenses. What do you figure is taking place in such an obvious disregard for a public monument like this?
Beezley: Of course, I don't know the specifics at all, but as a historian, what's interesting here is that for political leaders this highway project --which are also called "public works," by the way-- this Ana Gabriela Guevara "vial" is another symbol of civil society, of modern society. And some would argue, one that is much more important than a 19th century figure. But of course, that's why the civic committee invoked the idea of "patrimony;" who can be against that?
BorderLore: Bill, your latest book "Mexican National Identity
Memory, Innuendo, and Popular Culture" (UA Press 2008) extends the argument you made in your earlier book "Judas at the Hockey Club" about the power of seemingly unrelated and commonplace occurrences --not the far more self-conscious and organized efforts of politicians, teachers, and others--- in the 19th century to create a far-reaching sense of national identity in Mexico. How does that happen?
: Representations --popular ideas of what things are--are interesting because they show up in fiction, theater, puppetry, in fiestas with giant figures, in table games like Loteria de Figuras, so, there's a kind of overlapping of characters and forms that people know. In the 20th century the same happens with radio and television and film. You see the emergence of characters that everyone knows. What I wanted to get at is that things were being said---and if you wanted to, you could read into them, read interpretations of them. To be more precise, there's a cultural, visual and audio literacy, that people have. It has nothing to do with being able to read or write, but it has to do with people possessing a cultural understanding so that they know who these characters playing this song, dancing that way, speaking in this manner, are. They "know" who the Judas figure represents; no one has to lecture them about it.
BorderLore: And because they "know," they get the humor, the innuendo....
Beezley: Absolutely, and there's something that happens in people when they are able to see themselves as "readers" of their own culture in this way, in these types of messages --that may be different than the reading intended by the state.
BorderLore: It's not a reading meant to discipline people into something specific....it's more open ended. And people then read by paying attention to the details: there are nuances as to why the Panzon is represented with a big belly, or the politician with the exaggerated "bigote" (mustache). Pictorial elements that are on the one hand stereotypical.....
Beezley: But they are stereotypical for a reason....
: Yes....in other words, they have a history. THANK YOU Bill, this has been a most interesting conversation.
|Registration Still Open (Limited Space) for Sabores Sin Fronteras Symposium and Events
Sabores Sin Fronteras/Flavors Without Borders is a new regional, bi-national and multi-cultural alliance to document, celebrate and conserve farming and food folkways that span the U.S./Mexico borderlands from Texas and Tamaulipas on the east to Ambos Californias on the west.
Loosely modeled after the Southern Foodways Alliance and its Cornbread Nation publications out of Oxford, Mississippi, Sabores aims to bring together people like you who celebrate and work to preserve our local foods and foodways traditions.
"BorderLore" serves as the official home of Sabores. But the Alliance will not have a single hub. Rather, it will function through several workgroups, each dedicated to one of the following activities:
- collaborative cross-border field studies and documentation;
- culinary practices and agri-tourism;
- publications (print, web, audio, video, etc.);
- events (symposia; food-related dance, music, and literary performances; festivals; hands-on workshops; etc.
We believe that food and "time at the table" are inherently fun and festive and can open doors to shared humanity and reconciliation.
Borderlands Foodways Symposium
Friday, November 21, 2008
9:00 am to 8:30 pm
REX RANCH, Amado (about 30 miles south of Tucson)
This day-long symposium includes lectures, panel discussions, participatory workshops, a dance performance, a film premier, two meals and tastings of locally-grown heritage foods. It is the grand "lanzamiento" event of Sabores Sin Fronteras.
To register, (download the full schedule/agenda), and MORE INFORMATION, visit our website! (Click here)
|BorderLore past-issues are now archived!!|
Go here to see past issues
where we alert you about interesting "cositas" worth checking out
(watch it here)
Felicitaciones a nuestro colega, el Sonorense Luis Carlos Romero, por haber terminado un documental bien interesante y ademas bien hecho, sobre la vida en la frontera Arizona-Sonora. Ahora pueden ver el trailer de "389 Miles" en YouTube
Speaking of the border,
a story in the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday Nov. 9/2008 reports the devastating effect on the local curio and tourist industry of the recent U.S. State Department warning about violence in Nogales, Sonora. Simply stated, the tourists and shoppers have stopped coming.
Since it was first established, Nogales was has been a post to sell goods to those passing by (on the new railroads). The economy of the border-town, despite the rise of the maquilas, is largely based on sales of goods to day-trippers (the actual sociological term used to measure those who cross but won't stay overnight) and on the informal economy (vendedores ambulantes) that supplement this.
Many shop keepers and local artisans are closing their shops. Some of these have been part of a border cottage industry of curio makers for decades and generations.
Que descanse en Paz
This impromptu obituary comes from The Center for Digital Storytelling:
humanitarian, and the inspiration for much of our work in life story.
May 16, the International Day for Sharing Life Stories was chosen, in part, because it is Studs Terkel's Birthday. We felt it critical to honor his life, while he was still around, able to share the idea that an entire world holds a debt of gratitude for his work.
At 96, he has left behind an enormous volume of work, scanning 8 decades
of work as an interviewer, more than a dozen publications.
He has been described as a champion of underdogs, but his contribution, like many of his generation of social change activists, was his humble,
but unwavering, sense of justice. He listened to thousands of interviews, from world famous celebrities to local workers, but his ear
was always attuned to a sense of righting wrongs, of giving voice to the oppressed."
Listen to this wonderful NPR story about Mr. Terkel's passion for recording "the human voice" (recorded inside the Story Corps trailer, parked on the driveway of Mr. Terkel's home in Chicago).
P.S. Story Corps plays on NPR "Morning Editions" every Friday morning.
The Story Corps mobile will be in Tucson in December. ANYONE can make a reservation to tell their story.
BorderLore does not yet have specific information on where, when, or what about the Stry Corps visit.
But you can click here for information.
These are some interviews with Studs posted on You Tube.
Guest Lecture at UA
Nicholas de Genova
"The Ghost in the Machine: Migrant Labor and the Homeland Security State"
Thursday, November 13
Modern Languages 413
De Genova is the author of:
(see all Amazon links in the titles)
Comments that De Genova made against the US-waged Iraq war were the object of a widespread controversy in 2003. Read a short summary of his polemics here
It is loaded with fact sheets, reports, images, and reports from the frontlines of immigrant organizing efforts all over the planet.
And speaking of how people transit the world over to reinvent their life conditions, check out the, shall we say, transnational "situated" cultural vision of a the group called
"Cuba en Tucson"
(their logo image says it all)
Of course, it is not surprising to see this new group come together; Tucson has a vast, and it really is vast, network of cultural associations (Nordic, Greek, Jewish, Colombians, Costa Rican, Puerto Ricans, Spanish, Laotian, in addition of course, to Mexican, African-American, Yaqui, and Tohono O'odham, etc.).
The organization that most effectively keeps its finger on the pulse of who is coming, who is here, and how each group organizes it cultural life is the Cultural Exchange Council
(vist their website here
The CEC is also the nonprofit producer of
"Tucson Meet Yourself"
THURSDAY, NOV 13
UA/ The Little Chapel
Cuban acoustic music by recent arrivals --musicians from Cuba-- Duo Libre, Cuban food and a film.
Read all the details in their Blog (here)
not-so-well-known folklore gem:
Published by Arte Publico Press (University of Houston 1993), this small volume was originally going to be subtittled by Paredes "Mexican Jest and Legendary Anecdotes." But as it turns out, Paredes later wrote: "the finished volume is not so scholarly after all....but [still] it is meant to be a serious piece of work."
Collected during a year of fieldwork, mostly along the Lower Rio Grande border in 1963, Paredes assembled "verbal lore that reflected the attitudes of Mexicans and Texas-Mexicans toward Anglo-Americans, especially jokes." And indeed, it is plenty funny (but most of the humor is for adults only. Most of the entries were collected during joking sessions (mostly among men) called "tallas" where drinking, verbal sparring, and sexual innuedo are common (so, you see, not ALL traditions are innocent).
The title, of course, evokes the Uncle Remus character of African-American Southern folklore. "Uncle" was a derogatory term used by plantation owners to refer to older African men. The old uncle told folk tales to children. This lore was captured in a series of chronicles published in 1879 in The Atlanta Constitution by a young copy editor named Joe Chandler Harris. As it turns out, the tales were not just cute and quaint; they also contained coded commentaries on post-Civil War Southern culture and society.
Paredes was interested in those elements of vernacular culture that "informants" never told the folklorists or anthropologists. One of those elements were jokes about Anglos -including the ethnographers among them. But along the way, there are also lots of jokes of self-deprecation, about Mexicanos learning English, trying to "pass" for upper class, becoming "agringados," etc.
Here's a small sample where linguistic competence is the central theme (p. 125)
Los Dos Turistas
Andaban estos dos turistas en San Antonio. Solos, pero se encontraron por alli frente del Alamo. Y le dice uno al otro, "Say, jombre, ustey no saber donde esta por aqui el Buckhorn?" [exaggerated Anglo accent].
Dice el otro: "Oh, mi no saber. Mi ser turisty."
"Oh, you ser turisty tambien, jombre?"
"Yes, mi ser turisty too."
"Donde vivir ustey, jombre?"
"Oh, mi ser de Cadereyta."
"Ustey from Cadereyta? Well, mi vivir en Monterrey."
[In good Spanish] "Pos en esa caso, pa' que estamos hablando en ingles?"