After missing my bus to Xilitla, I decided to scrap my plans and go instead to the historic city of Guanajuato. I began to furiously seek out Couchsurfing hosts on the bus ride over, and soon came across Fer’s profile: “Come here if you want to discover the history of the city and state, talk about local and global politics, philosophy, and literature. I’ll take you to find non-common places in town and talk with extraordinary people” Yes, please! Sign me up!
Two days later we were going together to a Mexican wedding, and over the course of my visits we also went to a fútbol game, a Corrida de Toros, a seafood restaurant in the countryside, and had many lovely conversations about everything under the sun. This interview ended up being a bit longer than usual, but vale la pena to read it because it’s full of good stories and insights!
My mission is to keep studying, to get my masters, and keep on doing things to make this whole place better. I think it’s absolutely urgent for us to take care of the world and the rest of the people around it.
I am a teacher, but I need more. When you’re a teacher, you to try to walk with the students so they can see the world with a critical eye, but you don’t see the results immediately and you may never see them. So I want to go back to the job I used to have, where I was directly working with the people in human rights violation contexts. In order to do that, I want to travel a little bit and learn other cultures, languages, and social sciences.
Silao is located in one of the most conservative regions in Mexico. So it’s difficult for me to find that sort of space where I can relate to people that are a little bit different. I had been living in different parts of Mexico… and it has been quite funny to get used to being back here.
[The area] also has interesting stuff: we have a nice cultural life in Guanajuato, the capital. We have lots of Mexican traditions that I like learning about and being a part of.
What’s one amazing experience you’ve had?
When I was working at this immigrant shelter in the north of the country, we worked every day with two hundred different people. People would come in from the train, and they stayed for three days. They would rest, eat better, and talk to their families and stuff. Then they had to go on because a lot of people were coming in.
Some people stayed there for a long time, mostly because they had some kind of injury. One day the hospital called us and said “Hey we have this Honduran guy and he lost consciousness and is badly hurt. Come see him, do whatever you have to do”. So we went there, and I started this approach with him. He couldn’t remember what had happened to him, but he was hit in the head and what do you call it when part of your body starts rotting? Gangrene? His foot had that, and we never knew how.
So I had to talk to him: “Manuel, if you don’t let the doctors proceed, the gangrene might continue and they might have to amputate further up.” And it was a really difficult but also really interesting approach with a human being because he was like “I am a peasant. I work in the fields, how can I work if I don’t have my leg?”. And he was absolutely right.
When they operated, they had to amputate above the knee, so it was a really difficult process for him to accept his condition. There were maybe two months I was working with him… trying, I don’t know how, to give him the strength to live, and think about his family and keep going.
After some time, I had finished my volunteer program… and he called me. He was in Arizona, working: “Hey, thank you for everything. I am working now. I hope your family goes well”. He was this absolutely beautiful human being. He was working in this grocery store, and he didn’t speak English. It was difficult for him: he didn’t have many social or cultural skills.
I like this Spanish philosopher who says, in some part of his writing, ‘life is agony’. At first, I was like, what does that mean? because that’s kind of sad. Agony?
I started to think about the meaning of the phrase, and I started reading, and it made a lot of sense for many countries in the world, mostly third world countries. In many countries in Latin America, Mexico included, there are many times where life is fighting to keep on living. And not just surviving in an animal way: you have to make sense of a life that’s hard to keep.
That’s what I learned from [Manuel]. You have to keep on going and you can enjoy even the pain. Not in this masochistic way, but for example, he started a group with these immigrants. He taught them to play the guitar; they got together and sang, and he was a great teacher.
Tell me about your trip to Cuba.
I went to Cuba back in 2008, the 49th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, with a group of friends. We were all interested in the Cuban process and we had tons of questions. We came back with even more questions, so it was a good trip.
During some moment on the trip, we went to Cienfuegos, which is in the south. We weren’t doing this tourist-hotel-normal trip like most people do. We had little money and we were trying to meet people and stay with them and learn their point of view: history politics, religion, economy. We met this ice cream seller who was a really nice guy and invited us to stay in his house. We went there, and he was translating this book by Che Guevarra called paisajes de la Guerra Revolucionaria in which he describes the military strategy they had to beat Batista and the old system. He was working on that book but converting it into poetry. He didn’t have a computer; he had maybe a thousand paper pages of his work.
Then his son came during the night, and they started playing on the guitar, Cuban traditional songs, and he said, I see you are interested in Che Guevara? Do you want to meet an old man that used to be in Che’s group? So of course, we had to go there.
The next morning he took us with him, his name was Don Marcial, he was an old man and he showed us a shirt he had with all the medals the government gave him, and he started talking about what it was like to be with Che. so it was really interesting because he said, it was nice being with Che but from the other point of view, it was a pain in the ass because the guy never got tired.
You had to walk 40km a day, can you imagine like through mountains and the weather of Cuba, and maybe a lot of times without eating. He was really strong and it was tough to deal with him because his moral standards were so high. He could not ask you to d0 anything he hasn’t done before, but he pushed you to your limits, always. Also, he had this solidarity that made him so special.
He told us this one story when they didn’t have enough food to eat. One of the fighters, a peasant, came and said:
“Hey Che, Comandante, we have this can of beans”
“How many of us are there? ten? OK.”
So he split the content of the can in ten.
The can was small, and he split it. Another comandante would have eaten all of it because he was high ranking, but Che didn’t. He was truly supportive of his people and he was really trying to create a new society built on new values: solidarity.
So that’s Che for me. That’s why I have that photo: because he appears smiling. We always think of him as this hard guy, this guerilla leader, but he was like that.