A very deep wound

Alejandro G. Iñárritu

New York Nov/1/2017.- They taught me that America was a continent, not just a country. It is great to be in a place that speaks of the true America. The only one, the real one, the inclusive one: the one that belongs to all of us.

On September 19, I was inside one of the aluminum classrooms at the Ibero-American University. The earthquake started and the metal plates creaked with a deafening noise.

Our professor, losing his balance and holding on to what he could, ran out quickly and kneeled to pray. He shouted for us to do the same. The year was 1985. Only six years before then, the earthquake of 1979 had destroyed the Ibero-American University made of brick, and this “henhouse,” as they called it, was an improvised space while they built the new university.

I don't remember ever living moments of unity and solidarity as those that emerged in Mexico and especially in the capital over the three weeks that followed.

I don't think there is another country in the world with so much empathy and such big hearts when faced with tragedy as Mexicans’. Our capacity to respond immediately with passion and explosive generosity is perhaps the biggest in the world.

However, our ability to prevent, plan, and respond mid and long-term is nonexistent or very deficient.

It would seem as if our passionate fire to respond to the immediate consumes our ability to respond, no longer with the heart, but with the head, to the things that require not euphoria, but resolve, commitment, rigor, and discipline. While we can’t avoid the earthquake, we could avoid the terrible consequences this type of natural event can have on our poorest communities.

Thanks to the impressive and generous response of Mexican society, especially young people, many were rescued and received medical attention, and many of the affected could count, and will continue to count, on invaluable support to recover part of what they lost.

It was inspiring and exciting to see how society took the city in a horizontal way and gave itself completely to provide help and ensure that this help was implemented fairly and effectively. The amount of associations that were formed immediately to collect funds, and the numerous nonprofits that offered their experience to implement it in the best way, was a symphony of what we are capable of doing and the pain brought, as it always does, a gust of hope.

All the funds that civil society has donated until now, and the funds that it will collect today, are magnificent and much necessary for those who were affected the most.

However, this is not and will not be enough.

As well-intentioned as these actions can be, to think that this is the solution is as naive as thinking that an aspirin can cure the cancer in a sick body. It will certainly help alleviate the pain momentarily, but it will not address its source.

The recent earthquake in Mexico has opened a crack we already know well. Just like in 79 or 85, this crack has exposed once again a very deep wound, which crumbles every time the earth shakes us. This painful wound has been covered up with bandages and alleviated temporarily with aspirin.

The cause of the problem is so threatening that if we don't address its cause, I don't think we will have enough bandages or aspirin to keep this exhausted and dying patient alive.

Over 76% of the population in Chiapas lives in poverty.

In Oaxaca, 67% live in misery. More than 50% of the youth in all the Republic live in total poverty.

More than 85,000 homes collapsed or were affected in Chiapas and Oaxaca. And when I say homes, I mean huts made of dirt and metal sheets, with no water, electricity, or real foundation.

There is no way that these homes, inhabited by people who have no jobs, no education, no opportunities or safety, would not collapse with a small tremor, landslide, or hurricane as it happens every year.

The problem is not the earthquake. The problem is the conditions these communities are exposed to when these inevitable natural events happen.

As generous as the contributions from civil society can be, they vanish in front of the great misery of these communities. In fact, if these funds are only enough to give them tents and temporary shelters, we run the risk of having this help, as well-intentioned as it can be, only perpetuate their misery and put them in a sort of “misery plus” state.

While this help is supplementary, the only and true solution in mid and long-term lies only in the hands of the government. Because a real government has not only the strength, the means, and the power to create true change, but also, and most importantly, the responsibility to do so. We must create holistic solutions on the long term; successful communities, which not only implies donating money, but also generating synergies of work, security, and community that work.

Unfortunately, the state of corruption, impunity, and rampant decay of our government has not done it.

Mexico is a country where there are no rules. And when there are rules, they can be broken, or they are made in such a way that those who break them do not pay the consequences. For decades, Mexicans have put our money and our trust in leaders with no true vocation, who have served and benefited only themselves and their parties in an increasingly vulgar, cynic, and open way.

They have had the opportunity, the honor, and the great privilege of serving their neighbors and the community (and to be financially compensated for it), and in exchange they have betrayed our trust by robbing hand over fist what should have gone to education, health, housing development, urban planning and thousands of other needs.

The deplorable living and habitat conditions of those who were most affected is unacceptable. And those are not due to natural disasters, but caused by disastrous and destructive human beings who have deviated the resources that were supposed to go to the communities and have, instead, gone to ranches, properties, and personal bank accounts.

If we truly want to fix things in their core, we need to extend our passion to not just the immediate, but also to the mid and long-term.

If Mexican youth, with the same path passion as it gave itself to the rescue of their brothers and sisters, would give themselves to a pacific but rigorous and constant civil vigilance of its leaders and their actions, Mexico would be the country that it could and should be.

Only by demanding for the best, most prepared and humanist leaders with unquestionable social and service vocation, only by demanding accountability and absolute transparency, only by establishing laws and rules with inevitable consequences for those who break them, only by being vigilant every day to ensure that the government and the industries are not corrupted, only by making corruption the worst of crimes with no impunity, as Claudio X. González Guajardo is doing in an exemplary way, Mexico will be the country that all those who went to the streets to help the past 19 of September deserve.

That would be the only cultural earthquake capable of saving us, because there hasn't been a single society in human history that has advanced or evolved without enforcing rules or laws for the common well.

And ever since I was a child I have been hearing the promise of change from the politician species, and us, the civilians, spend our lives stupidly believing and allowing them to lie to our faces. How much longer will we tolerate them robbing a country so rich in natural resources, culture, diversity, nobility, and potential as ours? How much longer will we believe this lie, dammit? And how much longer until we believe in ourselves and how great we could be?

It will be a decision from the youth if they want to continue living in a dispossessed country, or in one reconquered by them.

Today I am here with you because, although far away geographically, I feel closer than ever to my country. I know that every single dollar collected tonight will go directly and with no intervention from anyone or the government, to rescue the most desperate people living in indescribable conditions of misery. As a Mexican, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and invaluable help for our compatriots who need it the most.

I would also like to thank the Fuerza Mexico Trust and the Committee Amigos de Mexico for inviting me and giving me the privilege of helping, even if it is just a grain of sand, as the citizen that I am and will continue to be.

To conclude, I would like to share here a beautiful and moving poem written after the earthquake, on this Day of the Dead, by a Juchiteca, Héctor Yodo, who apparently lost his home and a relative.

Xandu’ after the earthquake

How will you find the road that leads to what used to be your home?

The streets are full of rubble

The houses of the neighbors have been demolished

In what used to be your home now there is a desolated yard

The smell of cempasúchil is mitigated by the dust

The aromatic incense dissipates in the air

Even so, I will wait for you like every year

Even though now the feasts will be fewer

The altars will not be adorned

But still

I will leave a light on,

not just any light, a light of hope that will illuminate your way.

A light that will lead you to find us and even though we cannot see you and even though we cannot offer you much, you shall arrive and know that we still remember you

Receive this light and this cup of water, with some bread and fruit.

I imagine your journey has been long,

I am sorry if I cannot greet you like in other times

But it just trembled over dampened land,

it rained over what had trembled

and it still trembles over the rubble.


if this year you cannot find the road that leads to what used to be your home,

I wish you a good return to what is now your dwelling,

may smiles paint again our faces on your next visit

and may we celebrate life again

as if not a single tear had the earthquake taken from our eyes

Héctor Yodo, Juchitán, Oaxaca, 30 days of the month of Xandu’ in the year of the big earthquake.

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