CRAFTING A PARADOX: THE OPPRESIVE CONTRADICTIONS OF

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CRAFTING A PARADOX:
THE OPPRESIVE CONTRADICTIONS OF NEOLIBERALISM ON THE
UNITED STATES AND MEXICO BORDER
BY LOUISA CLARK
A SENIOR THESIS SUBMITTED TO PROFESSOR MANU VIMALASSERY
IN FULFILLMENT OF THE DEGREE OF BACHELOR OF ARTS
DEPARTMENT OF AMERICAN STUDIES
BARNARD COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
17 APRIL 2015
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.................................................................................................2
INTRODUCTION...............................................................................................................3
1. Margarita Cabrera: The Fabrication of a Crafted Resistance..........................................8
2. The Purépecha Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre: Survivance by Indigenous Craft....16
3. Maquiladora Workers on the Border: Crafting Value in the Face of Femicide.............31
CONCLUSION: How can we Decolonize the Border?.....................................................39
BIBLIOGRAPHY..............................................................................................................43
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
To my parents, thank you for always supporting me in all of my endeavors and
never questioning my ability to do my best. I would not have been able to survive
this year without your unwavering belief in me.
To Rosy, thank you for getting through this with me. There is no one else who
understood how hard this process was better than you and I am so grateful to
have you as my sister and my inspiration in life.
To Manu, thank you for providing me with valuable insight and repeated
reminders of my ability to do this on my own. I appreciate how you constantly
make me question my own assumptions and role in the world.
To my friends, near and far, thank you for listening to me and being there when I
needed you.
Clark
2
INTRODUCTION
At the end of the 19th century, an era began in which white Euro-Americans
greatly expanded their collections of Native American arts and crafts. They mistakenly
saw these baskets, blankets, and beaded works as symbolic of a free and natural life
carried on in a distant history. Contradicting this primitive view, native artists including
Zitkala-Sa and Angel DeCora produced significant work at the turn of the century that art
collectors and tourists widely consumed. As Native art was growing in popularity,
however, it was continually reduced to an association with domesticity and the white
Euro-American women that stayed within the home.
DeCora’s work challenged these notions “as she struggled to distinguish native
craft from white women’s devalued domestic labor.”1 In 1899, DeCora successfully
confronted the norm of indigenous art being confined to the home by publishing two
stories and six illustrations in the widely read Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, “a
powerful forum for establishing notoriety for writers and artists.”2 By infiltrating the
magazine, a medium usually dominated by her white male counterparts, DeCora was able
to augment her Indian identity by furthering the worth of her art beyond the home. She
saw her stories and illustrations as economically valuable and therefore forced the topic
of Native art into a new sphere, whereas Euro-Americans had tried to restrict its worth by
keeping it within the home and not acknowledging its value in the capitalist economy.
DeCora highlighted the economic value of her work by publishing it in a cultural
magazine effectively moving it outside of the domestic sphere. She made it possible for
Jane E. Simonsen, “Border Designs: Domestic Production and Cultural Survival,” in Making
Home Work: Domesticity and Native American Assimilation in the American West, 1860-1919,
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 185.
2
Ibid, 189.
1
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her “work [to be] a tool for creating Indian identity while redefining domestic production
as having both cultural and economic value.”3 By getting her stories and illustrations into
Harper’s, she was able to make her art sustainable within an economic system that
typically excluded it.
Unfortunately, most Indigenous artists do not receive the exposure that DeCora
did and exclusion is still a reality for those working in today’s neoliberal world economy.
Whether they are the artists themselves or they are included in the work of a non-native
artist, Indigenous groups are still largely absent from the front lines of the commercial art
world. Indigeneity, labor, and art intersect frequently on the United States and Mexico
border. The region is a zone of forced separation where an imaginary line has been
scratched across the desert. The border aims to keep people apart on opposite sides of this
line when, in fact, it actually becomes a cross where people mix and merge together more
so than in other areas of the world. This paradoxical zone creates an area of high tension,
where Indigenous women travel far from their homelands to work for cheap in the
maquiladoras,4 where they are raped and murdered at an unimaginable rate, where artists
flock to try to come to terms with this cross so fraught by its mistaken identity as a line.
In her book, Curating at the Edge: Artists Respond to the U.S./Mexico Border,
Kate Bonansinga examines various artists currently working in the region. One such artist
is Margarita Cabrera, a woman from Monterrey, Mexico who moved to the United States
as a child. In 2001, after receiving her MFA from Hunter College in New York City,
3
Ibid, 185.
Maquiladoras are factories or manufacturing plants located mostly along the border of the U.S.
and Mexico. They employ mainly women and are labor intensive operations that utilize American
imported materials to produce goods that subsequently get exported immediately back to the
United States on a tariff-free basis. “Maquiladora FAQ," The Borderplex Alliance: A Bi-National
Economic Alliance, Accessed April 15, 2015, http://www.borderplexalliance.org/regionaldata/ciudad-juarez/twin-plant/maquiladora-faq.
4
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Cabrera returned to the border when presented with an opportunity to take part in a
Border Art Residency in La Union, New Mexico. Over the past 13 years, Cabrera has
developed her art into large scale, multidisciplinary workshops that utilize indigenous
craft techniques in constructing projects that challenge the neoliberal turn toward mass
construction and humans as capital and instead highlight the significance of
individualized creation.
In order to understand Cabrera’s protest against neoliberalism, one must first
obtain a basic understanding of the current neoliberal state of the border economy and the
many contradictions that it presents. David Harvey describes neoliberalism as the
economic theory that “human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual
entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional frame work characterized by
strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”5 Neoliberal politics manifest
at the border as large American corporations own and operate factories just across the
national boundary in Mexico in the name of “free” trade. Here in the maquiladoras,
groups of mainly Indigenous women workers manufacture products made from American
imported materials. Once completed, these commodities are shipped immediately back
across to the American side of the border free from being taxed due to the North
American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA. The passing of NAFTA in 1994 acted as
catalyst to the maquiladora economy. The number of Mexicans employed in
maquiladoras rose from 689,420 to over a million in the first three years after NAFTA.6
5
David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 3.
Rachael Kamel and Anya Hoffman, editors, The Maquiladora Reader: Cross-border
Organizing Since NAFTA, (Philadelphia: Smith Edwards Dunlap, 1999), 3.
6
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The maquilas7 along the border represent the neoliberal state of the economy because
their existence is based on the ideals of private property and free trade.
Neoliberalism also assumes that, hypothetically, any individual could succeed
under these ideals if they work hard enough to use their own skills. Neoliberalism rejects
the fact that this institutional framework has hundreds of years of oppressive history that
informs how individuals succeed in the economy. It is within these assumptions that the
contradictions of neoliberalism begin to reveal themselves. The neoliberal theory
highlights a belief in the individual when in reality, it benefits very few individuals and
favors large-scale corporations.8 While in premise, neoliberal ideals vie to give
opportunity to each individual by promoting freedom, neoliberalism actually gives
opportunity for major growth only to those individuals that are already in a historically
situated position to succeed, mainly the wealthy white male majority. Historically within
the neoliberal turn, the benefits have been highly skewed as “the ruling elites along with
foreign investors did well enough, while the people in general fared badly.”9 Some
scholars even “go so far as to argue that neoliberalism was from the very beginning a
project to achieve the restoration of class power to the richest strata in the population.”10
And so far on the U.S. Mexico border, this has been the result.
If the market is free, any person, even an Indigenous one, theoretically should be
able to succeed in the neoliberal border economy by promoting their own business and
utilizing their entrepreneurial skills. This opportunity should give a voice to those
marginalized groups such as Native peoples and women workers, but it does not. This is
7
Shortened form of maquiladora.
David Harvey, “Neo-liberalism as Creative Destruction,” Geografiska Annaler, Series B:
Human Geography, 2006, 145-58.
9
Ibid, 148
10
Ibid.
8
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the biggest internal contradiction of neoliberalism. It claims to support and give voice to
the silenced individual yet it actually provides a framework that just substantiates the
already existing system of oppression and exclusion.
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MARGARITA CABRERA:
THE FABRICATION OF A CRAFTED RESISTANCE
When I began examining the work of Margarita Cabrera in September of 2014, I
was impressed by her commitment to give voice to the populations that are so often
silenced or overlooked on the border, mainly Indigenous people and women. It seemed as
if her work provided a much-needed protest against the neoliberal contradictions present
at the border by highlighting the paradoxical exclusion of certain individuals within a
system that supposedly provides opportunity for all.
In one of her first projects, Cabrera began researching the maquiladoras along the
border in Ciudad Juarez and became interested in a factory that produced the outer,
plastic layer that holds
together all the parts of
small kitchen
appliances. In Pink
Blender (2002), Cabrera
replaced these plastic
parts of the blender with
pieces of colorful vinyl
material. She used pink
fabric for the blender’s
exterior and sewed it
together with black
thread leaving long
Fig. 1. Pink Blender (2002) Margarita Cabrera, photo by Julio
Grinblatt, Artlies Volume 36.
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untied pieces hanging at the end of rows of stitches. Her work humanized the product, the
pink fabric representing skin and the black thread hair. The malleable, fluid stature of the
blender itself mirrored that of a woman. She wished to bring value to the craftsmanship
of sewing in contrast with the generally mundane and repetitive act that the maquiladora
workers actually endured in the creation of these plastic pieces of appliances. However,
Cabrera’s small sculptures were just the beginning of inspiration for her larger projects.11
Two years later, Cabrera decided to scale up her first project and create a
Volkswagen Beetle from fabric and thread. But to produce a work of this size, she needed
more seamstresses than just herself, so she posted an ad in the El Paso Times soliciting
Fig. 2. Vocho (Yellow) (2004), Margarita Cabrera. William J. Hokin Collection,
Chicago, Photo courtesy of Sara Meltzer Gallery.
Erica M. Shamaly, “The Latina Experience Begets Unclassifiable Originality,” Artlies Volume
36, (2002), 23, Accessed November 10, 2014,
http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228065/m1/25/.
11
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9
help. She received a large number of responses mainly from those that had worked in the
bustling textile industry of pre-NAFTA El Paso. These seamstresses aided Cabrera in her
eventual construction of three life-sized Beetles or Vochos and one Hummer made in the
same style of the appliances, where the car parts manufactured in Mexico are replaced by
flaccid vinyl fabric stitched together by long untied and uncut pieces of thread. The
project represented similar themes of valuing craft over mass production, and humanizing
the workers through the product. Most importantly, the process of working on the vochos
with a group of women whose livelihood had been directly affected by NAFTA
represented a shift in the way Cabrera would think about why she was creating art. “The
work became more focused on others telling their stories and not so much about my
attempt to portray challenges,” stated Cabrera.12
In 2008, while Cabrera was a resident artist at Artpace San Antonio, she
conceptualized The Craft of Resistance. Cabrera created a temporary workspace that
mirrored conditions of maquiladoras along the border using florescent lighting, assembly
line production, and repetitive tasks. She invited residents of San Antonio to participate
in the performative workshop and together they crafted 2,500 life size copper butterflies,
imprinted with the pattern of Monarch wings on one side and the American penny on the
other. After their completion, the butterflies were transferred to the private home of an
Artpace patron and shown by appointment only. They can now be viewed via
photographs of the house interior. The project aimed to challenge the modern maquila
economy by displaying its harsh environment in the performance element and replacing
the typically Mexican produced commodities with tiny, hand crafted Monarch butterflies.
12
Kate Bonansinga, Curating at the Edge: Artists Respond to the U.S./Mexico Border (El Paso:
University of Texas Press, 2014), Interview with Margarita Cabrera, April 18, 2010.
Clark 10
In Bonansinga’s description of this particular project she outlines how the
construction of the butterflies was “inspired by the metalsmithing traditions of the people
of Santa Clara del Cobre,” and how “Cabrera had visited this village in Mexico, and she
taught the San Antonio participants how to craft the butterflies—in effect, sharing
traditional craft techniques and extending their life and impact.”13 At an initial reading,
one can see how Cabrera’s intentions shifted since her creation of Pink Blender. She has
an increased focus on the people participating in the construction of her project and she
also has considered and researched a specific indigenous crafting technique.
Fig. 3. Inside Cabrera’s maquiladora where the construction of butterflies took place. Photo
courtesy of Artpace San Antonio.
13
Bonansinga, Curating at the Edge, 129.
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In The Craft of Resistance, this craft technique is coppersmithing. Cabrera
supposedly traveled to Santa Clara del Cobre before executing the project yet in all the
information surrounding it, there are no specific details of what Cabrera did on her visit,
from whom she learned these indigenous techniques, and how long she stayed in order to
master the basics so that she could teach them to the participants in her workshop. I
contacted Cabrera asking her where she had studied when in Santa Clara del Cobre, but
received no response. The intentions of the artist to extend the life of a native craft are
admirable, yet good intentions are not always sufficient. Without actual references to
what the specific techniques are or to the people who have triumphed to continue their
own indigeneity throughout the colonial history of Mexico, The Craft of Resistance falls
short of protest.
Similarly, Cabrera attempts to include the maquiladora workers that work along
the border in The Craft of Resistance by setting her performance piece in the setting of a
recreated maquiladora. At first this seems to be an admirable inclusion of a community of
people who are normally marginalized. Cabrera set up long tables with different stations
that the participants would move through as they put together the small copper butterflies.
It was an assembly line type of construction, there was florescent lighting and the tasks
were slightly repetitive.14 However, upon further investigation, other than these three
qualities of the space, there is no additional evidence of how the project’s setting mirrors
an actual maquiladora. The instructions that the participants received at each station are
not made available and there is no indication of what type of precise research the artist
did on maquiladoras in order to find out what the conditions inside these factories were
like. Just like the artisans from Santa Clara del Cobre, it appears that the maquiladora
14
Ibid.
Clark 12
workers that Cabrera had wanted to include in her sculpture piece have actually been
excluded as well.
It becomes apparent that Cabrera’s The Craft of Resistance is a contradiction in
itself. Cabrera tries to bring attention to an indigenous Mexican community by
supposedly using their traditional crafting techniques yet she gives them neither
authorship nor recognition in the execution of her sculpture other than mentioning the
name of their town. Additionally, the traditional coppersmithing techniques still in use by
the artisans of the indigenous community of Santa Clara del Cobre are very different
from how Cabrera constructed her butterflies. The artist attempts to recognize the
community of women workers employed in the maquiladora system of the neoliberal
border economy by presenting her performance piece in the setting of a maquiladora that
she created. Again, however, she fails to give the actual women who work in these
factories any role in her sculpture. Not only are the women continually excluded, the
maquiladora qualities which she uses to describe the space do not actually represent the
horrific conditions of true maquilas on the Mexican side of the border. Her simple
execution of a space defined by long tables, florescent lighting, and repetition fails to
recognize the “the fragmented nature of the production process, its suppression of
creativity, its alienating character, and how this constrains human intellectual
development,” as well as the “dehumanization that results from giving priority to
production values rather than workers’ health.”15 The labor issues present within
maquiladoras go far beyond Cabrera’s portrayal in The Craft of Resistance. Her incorrect
15
Norma Iglesias Prieto, Beautiful Flowers of the Maquiladora: Life Histories of Women
Workers in Tijuana, translated by Michael Stone with Gabrielle Winkler, (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1997), xx.
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and oversimplified portrayal of these spaces has further excluded the workers that survive
them daily.
Even though it was not her intention, Cabrera has created a sculpture piece that is
an actual mirror of the contradictions within neoliberalism. Her project claims to present
an opportunity for the voiceless to finally be heard yet ends up continuing their silence.
Even more importantly, the voices it reclaims are explicitly different from the true
existence of the marginalized groups. The Purépecha artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre
participate in daily survivance16 by continuing to utilize the indigenous techniques of
their ancestors while they create copper crafts. The way Cabrera constructed her
butterflies diverged greatly from these traditional methods. The women who labor in the
maquiladoras along the border survive and endure horrific conditions and a dangerous
daily existence by living in a region strained by an ongoing femicide.17 The conditions
under which Cabrera’s volunteers “labored” in her mock maquiladora in San Antonio
cannot begin to represent the daily struggles of the actual maquiladora workers.
Neoliberalism attempts to create opportunities for all individuals to be recognized
and Cabrera’s The Craft of Resistance attempts to provide an opportunity for the more
16
The term survivance is a combination of the words survival and resistance used widely in
indigenous movements meaning the mere fact that Indigenous groups have survived global
colonialism is an act of resistance in itself. In Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of
Absence and Presence, Gerald Robert Vizenor articulates how the term is also “more than
survival, more than endurance or mere response; the stories of survivance are an active presence.”
The act of surviving is resistance and the act of resisting means survival. Gerald Robert Vizenor,
Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence, (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1998), 15.
17
Femicide or feminicide refers to extensive violence against women often resulting in death that
implicates both the state and the individual perpetrator. Specifically, these terms refer to the
phenomenon that emerged during the 1990s of “unspeakable forms of degradation and violation
of women’s bodies and their being: disappearances, murders, mangled, burned, and tortured
bodies, raped girls and women, both in the context of wartime and so called ‘peacetime.’” RosaLinda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano, editors, Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Américas,
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 3.
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typically marginalized individuals to reclaim their voices and show their true existence.
Not only does Cabrera not give the actual individuals any recognition, she also explicitly
brings to light techniques and conditions that are not representative of the reality of the
communities she claims to recognize. Because her sculpture project mirrors the larger
contradictions of the neoliberal border economy, it can provide an opportunity to
question these paradoxes that aid in the continuation of an oppressive reality. By
recognizing how these contradictions are so engrained that they penetrate even a project
that was attempting to do the opposite, we can begin to decolonize the border.
Clark 15
THE PURÉPECHA ARTISANS OF SANTA CLARA DEL COBRE:
SURVIVANCE BY INDIGENOUS CRAFT
While Margarita Cabrera’s The Craft of Resistance strives to protest global
neoliberalism, it fails due to the absence of explicit and detailed indigenous inclusion.
Contrastingly, artist Michele Feder-Nadoff and the Cuentos Foundation dedicate a
significant section of their book Rhythm of Fire: The Art and Artisans of Santa Clara del
Cobre, Michoacán, México to first person interviews with 19 artisans from Santa Clara.
Feder-Nadoff articulates how Santa Clara del Cobre became the perfect location
for Cuentos’ first large project because “the story of Santa Clara del Cobre is larger than
Santa Clara. The community’s struggle, their history, their challenges, and their
accomplishments speak about a process (of cultural transformation, migration and
exchange) taking place all over the world.”18 In this statement, she localizes the work of
the artists in Santa Clara del Cobre yet simultaneously argues that their regional struggle
is one that is happening across transnational borders. This focus on “adamantly
emphasizing the diversely localized projects and struggles,” helps in understanding
“these subjugated or ignored struggles not as the detritus of history but as the work of a
still ongoing decolonization, the place of different social imaginaries and formations,
actively preserved and invented.”19 This framework for analyzing art proves valuable in
determining a piece’s ability to play a significant role as a protest to neoliberalism.
However, not only must culture as protest to colonialism and neoliberalism be examined
for its diversity at the local level while maintaining significance on the global level, it
18
Michelle Feder-Nadoff, Rhythm of Fire: The Art and Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre,
Michoacán, México, (Chicago: Cuentos Foundation, 2004), 31.
19
Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd, Editors, The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital,
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 6.
Clark 16
must also place indigenous people in a more central role. Cabrera’s The Craft of
Resistance wants desperately to exist as such a protest due to its holding up of indigenous
craft techniques while simultaneously challenging the current border economy that relies
daily on the exploitative labor of maquiladoras. This type of labor sits in stark contrast to
the individualized and indigenous craft of making her butterflies. Yet to claim to be
utilizing, and therefore preserving, an indigenous crafting technique, while not giving any
details as to what that technique actually is or whom one learned it from causes the
overall protest of the project to fail.
The chapter of first person interviews in Rhythm of Fire composed by María
Ofelia Mendoza Briones, the National Historian for the Institute of Anthropology and
History for the state of Michoacán, combines Mendoza Briones’ own analysis of her time
spent interviewing the artists and utilizes much of their actual voices translated into
English. By providing an extensive resource committed to the narratives of the artisans
themselves, the Cuentos Foundation has made it possible for the reader to see how the art
and the artisans of this Mexican town can act as a protest against global neoliberalism.
First and most importantly, these interviews highlight how the art of
coppersmithing is truly an indigenous craft. The artisans have gained their knowledge
through multiple generations of apprenticeship that predate colonialism. The techniques
themselves originated with the native group of the area known as the Tarascans or the
Purépecha, and the strong theme of family shows how these traditions began with these
pre-colonial tribes and have continued through to today. However, many artisans are still
struggling to fully support themselves and their extended families. Most incorporate some
newer non-indigenous techniques into their work and others have had to migrate to the
Clark 17
border region or to the United Sates in order to make more money. Even though they are
struggling, the artisans’ continued commitment to maintaining the indigenous techniques
of coppersmithing and teaching them to younger generations exists as a protest against
neoliberalism.
The artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre are known for their traditional techniques,
specifically cobre martillado or hammered copper. Essentially, this technique utilizes
hammering by hand to extend a piece of raw copper into a thinner mold that can then be
formed into any of the various copper objects such as cazos or large pots, pitchers, vases,
and decorative ornaments. One artisan points out “the tools…all have Purépecha
names.”20 The indigenous language used to describe the process and the tools themselves
is still known and used by the cobreros.21 An additional section of the book put together
by Master Artisan Felipe Pérez Pamatz and Purépecha translator Benjamin Lucas lays out
Fig. 4. A copper cazo or kettle on display at the museum in Santa Clara del Cobre.
María Ofelia Mendoza Briones, “The Voices of the Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre,” in
Rhythm of Fire: The Art and Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacán, México, Michele
Feder-Nadoff, (Chicago: Cuentos Foundation, 2004), 258.
21
Spanish for coppersmith.
20
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an extensive chart that lists all terms relating to coppersmithing in Spanish, English, and
Purépecha so that the reader can see the continued knowledge of the indigenous words.
Kostani is the Purépecha term for extending or stretching a copper disc with a
sledgehammer and cendrada is the Spanish translation for p’itakua, which describes “a
mold dug directly into the earth and lined with ash, in which the copper is smelted.”22
These and many other Purépecha words still circulate in Santa Clara del Cobre. Although
the community has new Spanish and English terms for explaining their work, the
Purépecha words are still present in the culture and the minds of the artisans. This
continuation of indigenous language, technique, and tools is important to the native craft
and shows how survivance is currently happening in Santa Clara. As one artisan
emphasizes, “Here one does what one wants with one’s own hands.”23 The unique
character of the crafts that come out of Santa Clara is due to the fact that they are
executed by hand without the use of modern machines that have the capability to more
easily thin out pieces of raw copper in a uniform fashion ultimately getting rid of any
unique qualities that each hand-crafted piece would obtain.
While reading about these techniques and seeing photos of the enormous copper
cazos crafted by these artisans, the metal working that Cabrera executed in The Craft of
Resistance seems far from the indigenous reality experienced in Santa Clara del Cobre.
Cabrera’s butterflies are made from small thin pieces of copper that do not appear to have
been hammered by hand because they lack the indicative welts made by a hammer and
“Glossary of Coppersmithing,” in Rhythm of Fire, 393-398.
Mendoza Briones, “The Voices of the Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre,” in Rhythm of Fire,
306.
22
23
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they are a uniform thickness. Additionally, they have smoothly cut edges clearly executed
by a mechanical tool and their etchings of Monarch wings and the American penny could
not have been done by hand due to the uniformity across all the butterflies. After
witnessing these staggering
differences between Cabrera’s
work and that of the
indigenous artisans from
Santa Clara del Cobre, it
becomes clear that Cabrera’s
attempt to reclaim voice for
these artists has blatantly
failed. However, even more
important is that no one seems
to notice that she has. When
Kate Bonansinga describes the
piece, she praises Cabrera for
having “visited this village in
Mexico, and [having] taught
the San Antonio participants
how to craft the butterflies—
Fig. 5. Detail of Cabrera’s butterflies. Photo courtesy of
Artpace San Antonio.
Clark 20
in effect, sharing traditional craft techniques and extending their life and impact.”24 But
the techniques she utilized were explicitly different from the actual indigenous ones of
cobre martillado. This attempt to “extend the life” of indigenous crafting is a way in
which Cabrera was trying to protest the turn toward mass production and the supposed
support of the individual in neoliberalism. However, the fact that her project ended up so
far from the actual techniques of these people shows how entrenched neoliberalism is on
the border. Her sculpture that was supposed to challenge the oppressive reality has
actually ended up using its manipulative processes and therefore mirroring it.
The interviews in Rhythm of Fire highlight the deep importance of family within
the coppersmithing trade. It is an art that has been passed down through generations since
pre-colonial times.25 These strings of generations show how the art of working with
copper is truly indigenous in its roots and the use of families to pass down the craft has
made the survival of these roots possible. Felipe Pérez Pamatz, the same Master Artisan
who aided in the glossary of coppersmithing terms, currently works in Santa Clara, has a
Masters degree in metallurgy and “does research on copper alloys and other metallurgical
matters connected to the town’s traditional raw material. But above all, he expresses
family pride in the extraordinary career enjoyed by his father, Don Jesús Pérez Ornelas,
as part of the artisan tradition of Santa Clara del Cobre.”26 Pamatz has reached a higher
level of academic education concerning copper crafts than most other artisans in the
town, yet he still expresses that what makes him most proud is his father’s long career of
crafting copper in the traditional cobre martillado style. This distinct pride in one’s
24
Bonansinga, Curating at the Edge, 129.
Feder-Nadoff, Rhythm of Fire.
26
Mendoza Briones, “The Voices of the Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre,” in Rhythm of Fire,
296.
25
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family is a widespread feeling among most of the artisans in Santa Clara. They value
their families very highly and therefore take pride in their work, as it is a reflection on
themselves and their relatives.
It is common for children of cobreros to grow up in their parents’ forges learning
from a young age how to work copper by hand. When sons get married it is common for
them to leave their father’s workshop and open their own (although many women have
started to open their own studios as well). This way, “the forge takes on yet another
meaning: it is the hearth around which the newlyweds begin their life together.”27 The
taller or studio is the foundation for the new marriage and the place in which they will
carry on the tradition of teaching their children about the forge. Because the family holds
an essential role within the art of coppersmithing, it is natural that the act of teaching
younger generations about copper also becomes important. Not only do the artisans
express their deep gratitude and respect for their families, they also articulate how
important it is to teach the traditions they learned from their elders to their children.
The prioritized importance of family in Santa Clara del Cobre is another element
of indigeneity that Cabrera leaves out of The Craft of Resistance. Rhythm of Fire
mentions all the artisans by name and lists the names of their wives and children. This
explicit naming is an important element of highlighting the family’s role within the craft.
The act of self-naming is critically important to indigenous identity as “there is power in
naming, in renaming…Many communities struggle with the names given to them by
others, and the deconstructing of the categories and borders placed on identity.”28
Indigenous communities like the Purépecha became more well known as the Tarascans
27
Ibid, 282.
Winona LaDuke, Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming, (Cambridge:
South End Press, 2005), 132.
28
Clark 22
which was a name given to them by Spanish colonizers. By reclaiming the Purépecha
words for their tools and by explicitly highlighting the names of their family members,
the cobreros can effectively construct their own identities for “it is time for the settler to
end the process of naming that which he has not right to own, and for us collectively to
reclaim our humanity.”29
In Cabrera’s piece, she fails to mention anyone by name. The authorship of the
final sculpture is given to her and her corporation FLOREZCA30 even though a large
group of volunteers completed the majority of construction on the butterflies. This
exclusion of naming is an element of Cabrera’s project that ends up mirroring the
exclusion of neoliberalism. When Margaret Thatcher was elected in Britain in May of
1979, the rise of neoliberalism was already well on its way. She argued, “all forms of
social solidarity were to be dissolved in favour of individualism, private property,
personal responsibility, and family values.”31 This shift away from social solidarity
would supposedly benefit the individual. It did not however, go well for those individuals
who were not already positioned to succeed as part of the white richer class. This
contradiction within the new economic system is exactly what Cabrera’s The Craft of
Resistance ended up duplicating. Neoliberalism is a system that claims to provide
opportunity for all individuals and in this case ironically mentions its support of family
29
Ibid, 149.
FLOREZCA was founded by Margarita Cabrera in 2011 and is a “for-profit enterprise
functioning as a multinational corporation that promotes cultural capital.” Cabrera states that the
corporation “functions both as business and art” and can more easily obtain visas for Mexican
artists to travel to the United States and participate in and lead some of her workshop projects.
“Who We Are,” FLOREZCA: Creatively Changing the World, accessed April 16, 2015,
http://florezcacreativa.com/about.html.
31
Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 23.
30
Clark 23
values. Anyone is expected to have the ability to succeed yet large groups of already
marginalized people are preemptively excluded and Cabrera excluded them as well.
Most children in Santa Clara grow up learning the art of crafting copper from
their parents. However, in order to extend the lessons to children that are not growing up
with artisan parents, a group of master artisans formed the Casa del Artesano de Santa
Clara de Cobre in 1973 which functions as a school for copper crafts which most of the
town’s children attend, even those that are children of campesinos or poor farmers of the
area. One of the current teachers at Casa del Artesano explains, “What we are trying to do
here is to make sure that we don’t lose the tradition of cobre martillado. We have always
thought that this art that we inherited from our ancestors, and which has become a
tradition—we don’t want it to be lost.”32 The art of crafting copper by hand is carried
through by generations of family and through the commitment to teaching younger
children how to carry on the traditional techniques. Existing here at the school and in the
homes of the cobreros is a strong emphasis on teaching to carry out a tradition
throughout generations. Without this commitment, the traditional techniques that rely
heavily on crafting with one’s hands could easily be lost among the trend toward mass
production and globalization.
One American artist who took part in the creation of the school was James
Metcalf, a sculpture from New York. Upon moving to Santa Clara del Cobre in 1965,
Metcalf described his initial experience:
I found a group of artisans making a copper kettle being sold to the poorest
social strata of Mexico. In Europe and the United States, wealthier people seem to
get along with iron or aluminum substitutes. Yet the Santa Clara cazo is a
necessary household item for a great many Mexican families. Culturally, this is
Mendoza Briones, “The Voices of the Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre,” in Rhythm of Fire,
322.
32
Clark 24
very interesting. How is it that these peasants still prefer copper kettles? As poor
as they are, they can still afford a copper kettle, more and more of a luxury
everywhere else. This is what impressed me most when I first discovered Santa
Clara. After thirty years, it is still the foundation of my interest in this community
of artisans. The artisans of Santa Clara with an unimaginably primitive technique
predating Homer and the Bible (where smiths forge on iron not stone) have been
able to underbid modern industry for at least a section of the Mexican
market.33
Metcalf immediately realized the importance of the indigenous origins of the
coppersmithing industry in Santa Clara. The prosperity of the native constructed cazo or
kettle was an essential element of survivance in the small Mexican village. The economic
success of the copper cazo portrays how “survivance… is more than survival… It means
holding on to ancient principles while eagerly embracing change. It means doing what is
necessary to keep our cultures alive.”34 Even though the town was experiencing an
economic depression like the rest of Mexico, its residents still put value into the craft of
their copper and therefore they maintained a competitive edge over the massive
industrialization of most commodities produced in Mexico. They were able to continue
their indigenous tradition within an increasingly exclusive neoliberal framework.
To a certain extent, the emphasis on teaching traditional techniques through
generations of family fosters a space in which the indigenous roots of coppersmithing can
be preserved. However, in recent years, the artisans of Santa Clara have struggled to
survive solely on their traditionally crafted pieces. When the Casa del Artesano was first
founded in 1973, it functioned on monetary support from the Michoacán state
government. Annual competitions among the artisans created additional funding
Roy Skodnick, “James Metcalf of Santa Clara del Cobre,” Metalsmith 18, no. 1 (Winter 1998):
37.
34
Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners, quoted at “Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities”
(on going exhibit at the National Museum of American Indians on the National Mall,
Washington, D.C.), in Donna Deyhle, Reflections in Place: Connected Lives of Navajo Women,
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009), ix.
33
Clark 25
opportunities because the top pieces always sold for a good price. More recently, the
Casa del Artesano has lost significant funding and “some years ago the state government
discontinued its practice of buying the winning pieces at the annual concurso,35 then
donating them to the Museo Nacional del Cobre in Santa Clara.”36 Facing these
dwindling economic conditions, artisans are teaching their “young apprentices in the
principles of martillado, as well as in the use of modern tools, materials, and techniques
that have become essential in order to survive in a highly competitive market with no
support from the government.”37 Some of these more modern techniques include the uses
of lathes, machines that rotate a piece of copper mechanically against a variety of tools,
and more modern ways of welding two pieces of copper together as opposed to the more
traditional way of using one piece and extending and thinning it out to form a finished
product.
These more modern techniques are being introduced but by no means is the
traditional cobre martillado being forgotten. In their interviews, many of the artisans
envisioned how the indigenous techniques might be supported fully without compromises
being made to include modern techniques. Mendoza Briones highlights the ideas of
Master Artisan Félix Parra Espino in response to the dire economic situation of the
artisans:
To address the lack of markets for artesanías,38 a problem that has plagued
cobreros for many years, Don Félix has proposed developing a chain of stores
that would operate not only in Mexico but abroad. Copper pieces would be
exhibited and sold in the stores, and trained, English-speaking demonstrators
would be available to explain the whole production process. ‘And if possible,’ he
35
Spanish for contest.
Mendoza Briones, “The Voices of the Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre,” in Rhythm of Fire,
312.
37
Ibid, 284.
38
Spanish for craftwork, handicrafts, or craftsmanship.
36
Clark 26
adds, ‘there should be a small workshop where an artisan could be making his
pieces—because without that live demonstration, there is nothing.’39
Espino wants to create a market for Santa Clara’s copper crafts that could be profitable in
the increasingly global economy. He wants to be able to spread the unique hand crafted
goods made by him and fellow artisans across Mexico and even past international
boundaries. The key element to his idea is that the authorship and the compensation
would go directly to the artisans themselves and it would not be an outsider’s
interpretation like The Craft of Resistance.
As Santa Clara’s artisans sought a global market for their crafts, artist Margarita
Cabrera created a project entitled, Mexico Abre la Boca in 2011. This piece takes the
form of a taco stand and makes appearances at various exhibits of Cabrera’s to offer
“information about FLOREZCA, a for-profit multinational corporation recently formed
by Cabrera that produces, sells and exhibits original works of art that address issues
impacting immigrant and migrant communities.”40 The merchant at the stand also
“promotes and sells artistic cultural productions from Mexican craft communities.”41 In
this photo from the cart’s exhibit at the Texas Biennial in 2011 it looks as if the crafts
being sold are copper pieces from Santa Clara.
Briones, “The Voices of the Artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre,” in Rhythm of Fire, 280.
“Margarita Cabrera: Mexico Abre La Boca 2011,” Texas Biennial, 2011,
http://www.texasbiennial.org/images/Cabrera_TX11.pdf.
41
Ibid.
39
40
Clark 27
Fig. 6. Mexico Abre La Boca (2011) Margarita Cabrera. Photo courtesy of UC
Riverside Sweeney Art Gallery, Riverside, CA; and Walter Maciel Gallery, Los
Angeles, CA
However, there is no authorship information available for which crafts were sold
at which exhibits nor is there any data about how many are sold and if the project has
been successful in making money for some of the artisans. Similarly, the Cuentos
Foundation has a page on Etsy, a virtual marketplace where individuals can sell
handmade goods, promoting crafts from the artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre. Their page
proudly announces “each purchase directly supports the livelihood of the artisans,”42 but
there are no items actively for sale and their history shows a total of seven sales ever
transacted. I contacted Cuentos via their Etsy page to enquire about the success of
creating an online space for selling art from Santa Clara and they responded that they,
42
“Cuentos About,” Etsy, accessed December 10, 2014, https://www.etsy.com/people/cuentos#
Clark 28
“have not really been working on it like [they] can”43 but hope to do more with it in the
future.
Both of these attempts to bring the crafts of the artisans of Santa Clara del Cobre
to a more global stage have been admirable but, in the long run, unsuccessful. More
successful is the hard work and commitment that the artisans themselves have put into
maintaining the traditional, indigenous roots of their craft despite having to diverge
occasionally to more modern techniques and despite a small percentage of artisans
changing professions. By doing work with their hands and passing their knowledge down
through generations of family, the cobreros challenge the neoliberal ideals of mass
production and free trade. Yet they are still struggling to survive solely on their craft.
They have introduced some more modern techniques and some have even been forced to
immigrate to the United States in an effort to make more money to support their families.
However, despite these challenges, the majority of the artisans continue to execute the
traditional cobre martillado technique in the crafting of their art. Projects like Mexico
Abre La Boca and the online attempts of the Cuentos Foundation to sell art from Santa
Clara must become more focused on the artisans and even authored by the cobreros
themselves. They must present the clear authorship of the artisans and a celebration of the
specific indigeneity of their craft if they want to be able to succeed in supporting a
community that provides a strong foundation for a larger protest to global neoliberalism.
The failures of these projects, like that of The Craft of Resistance, show how the
contradictions of neoliberalism are so entrenched in our global economy. When outsiders
attempt to assist a marginalized group in challenging the neoliberal economy, they end up
continuing oppressive qualities like exclusion and mass production. The fact that attempts
43
Cuentos Foundation, email to Louisa Clark, December 9, 2014.
Clark 29
to challenge this global economy so often end up mirroring it shows us how ingrained
neoliberalism is. Only when we turn the focus back to native peoples can we begin to
decolonize the oppressive colonial reality of neoliberalism on the border.
Clark 30
MAQUILADORA WORKERS ON THE BORDER:
CRAFTING VALUE IN THE FACE OF FEMICIDE
In Margarita Cabrera’s The Craft of Resistance, the artist created a makeshift
maquiladora factory inside her studio at Artpace San Antonio. Cabrera had set up this
maquila as a setting in which community members and volunteers could assist in the
construction of 2,500 life-size copper butterflies. The creation of the tiny sculptures
themselves was intended to be a large part of the overall project. The artist “invited
members of the San Antonio community to re-create a production line typical of a
maquiladora environment”44 and she used this setting to draw attention to the conditions
that women endure at the border while working in these factories to produce cheap goods
that are immediately exported back to the U.S. after their completion under NAFTA.
Artists in other media have addressed maquiladoras and the maquila workers
along the U.S. Mexico border and have placed these women in a more central role,
providing the viewer with a clearer picture of what the lives of these workers would
actually entail. One such example is the documentary film Maquilapolis: City of
Factories (2006) by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre. The film examines the lives of
two maquila workers living in Tijuana. By putting the actual camera in the hands of the
women, the workers themselves are given a first person voice, which is missing from The
Craft of Resistance. The film follows specific injustices and details the workers’ struggles
against them.
Maquilapolis covers the struggles of two specific women, Carmen Durán and
Lourdes Luján. Durán fights a legal battle against Sanyo, a major American electronics
corporation at which she was formerly employed, in order to receive severance. Luján
44
Bonansinga, Curating at the Edge, 129.
Clark 31
has suffered various health issues along with other members of the community so she
tries to organize an environmental cleanup at a factory site that was abandoned years
before. These real women provide a significant and genuine look into the lives of
maquiladora workers. In using their first person perspectives and focusing on their
participation in each respective project, the filmmakers successfully provide a platform
through which the world can learn more about the injustices happening at the border
specifically to the workers of maquiladoras.
Filmmakers Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre put emphasis in their
documentary film on the first person narratives of the women workers themselves.
Throughout the documentary, the women narrate scenes as they film on small hand held
camcorders. The filmmakers clarify at the end of the film that “the women in this film
developed and created its images, sounds and ideas in collaboration with the
filmmakers.”45 Funari and De La Torre wanted the women to have an integral role not
only in starring in the film but also in making it. They clarify how this “collaborative
process breaks with the traditional documentary practice of dropping into a location,
shooting and leaving with the ‘goods,’ which would only repeat the pattern of the
maquiladora itself.”46 This is rare for a documentary film, which would normally record
the situation from an outside perspective. These filmmakers put the cameras literally into
the hands of the workers so they could make the film their own and so the “film's voice
will be truly that of its subjects.”47 Even though the film is credited to Funari and De La
“Maquilapolis: City of Factories,” YouTube, published April 3, 2013, accessed January 25,
2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDIEW09MQNQ.
46
Ibid.
47
Ibid.
45
Clark 32
Torre, the names of the women are credited as well and the filmmakers articulate how
essential their role was in the completion of the film.
This active effort to portray the actual women that work in the maquiladoras
differs greatly from Cabrera’s The Craft of Resistance. The artist created what she called
“a makeshift factory in her Artpace studio”48 However, the details of Cabrera’s
maquiladora are unspecified and those that are made clear and not true to the reality of a
maquila setting. Artpace San Antonio’s description of her exhibition on their website
states that Cabrera’s “factory setup parallels the interior of maquiladoras found in Mexico
with its fluorescent lighting and long makeshift tables. The workplace is divided into
twelve schematic cubicles that guide volunteers through each step of the fabrication
process.”49 Florescent lighting and long tables are not specific to maquiladora factories.
These two elements could also be describing a school, library, or office space. The twelve
cubicles in which specific construction steps took place seem like they may represent a
more realistic model of a maquiladora. Unfortunately, neither Cabrera nor Artpace
provide any further details about the steps taken at each station and how the volunteers
moved throughout the maquila while they constructed the butterflies.
Once the butterflies were completed, they were transported to a private home and
were accessible only through photographs or reproductions from within the house.
Cabrera chose to turn against the traditional pattern of making art in private studios and
displaying it in public galleries so that she could emphasize how the products made in
maquiladoras are so quickly returned to private American households and subsequently
Emily Morrison, ArtPace Curatorial Assistant, “The Craft of Resistance,” Margarita Cabrera,
http://www.margaritacabrera.com/the-craft-of-resistance/
49
“The Craft of Resistance: About the Exhibition,” ArtPace San Antonio, accessed January 25,
2015, http://artpace.org/works/iair/iair_spring_2008/the-craft-of-resistance.
48
Clark 33
she “emphasized the gap between consumption and production in the post-NAFTA
environment.”50 So many American consumers buy a cheap product and bring it into their
homes without thinking of the possibility of its unjust origins. With Cabrera’s
transportation of her art into a middle class American home, one revisits the struggles of
DeCora’s art, which was “regarded with nostalgia and placed within the sentimental
economy of the middle-class home.”51 In the maquila economy there has been a
renaissance of certain goods retreating into the privacy of the home. For DeCora, the
challenge was to bring her work out from the shadows of domesticity and for Cabrera,
her work is done to highlight the injustice of hiding Mexican made commodities within
the shadows of a middle class home when the atrocities of how they were made should be
public knowledge. This interesting reversal of where Cabrera wants her art to exist
provides a successful inquiry into consumption within neoliberalism on the border but
within her piece it shifts the focus back to the construction of the sculpture.
The process of moving Cabrera’s completed piece to a private space turned the
attention of the project to the construction of the butterflies and the process of making
them as opposed to the final display. By centering on the creation process, the
maquiladora setting became important. However, Cabrera did not include any actual
maquiladora workers in her project and did not clarify the qualities that made her mock
maquiladora mirror a real one. Obviously it may have been hard for the artist to get actual
workers from maquiladoras to participate in her piece. Being a volunteer for a large-scale
sculpture project happening in San Antonio, a city that is not on the border, is not a
priority for these women workers and it may have been difficult for Cabrera to have
50
51
Bonansinga, Curating at the Edge, 130.
Simonsen, Making Home Work, 184.
Clark 34
made them aware of it. However, for her piece Cotton Circles (2011), FLOREZCA
“successfully secured a visa for artisan Luisa Monica Nambo Torres to visit Fresno and
guide local participants in the traditional weaving technique of her hometown of Santa
Maria de Huazolotitlan.”52 For Cotton Circles, Cabrera made a specific effort to bring an
indigenous individual, Nambo Torres, to the United States in order to have her present
her native craft first hand. A similar effort could have been made to have Purépecha
artisans from Santa Clara del Cobre present on cobre martillado or have maquiladora
workers be present in the mock factory to provide a first person perspective.
By excluding these key players in her sculpture workshop, she fails to fully
recognize the everyday survivance of these women workers and does not bring the
injustices of global neoliberalism to light. The media and government on the border often
try to keep the insertion of femicide in the daily lives of these maquiladora workers quiet
but “connecting feminicide to the maquiladora industry proved to be a compelling
narrative, especially since the murders of poor and dark women began in 1993, a year
after NAFTA…the treaty that solidified the project of neoliberalism and economic
globalization in this part of the world.”53 The mass rape and murder of women on the
border spiked following the passing of NAFTA so not only was the treaty a catalyst for
the maquila industry but also for violence against the workers that would support such an
economy. In this sense, feminicide cannot be separated from neoliberalism. Cabrera’s
oversimplification of such a space neglects to realize this violent connotation, which is
necessary to understanding the maquiladoras that are part of the neoliberal border
economy. Just like the media and politicians on the border, Cabrera ends up shadowing
52
Bonansinga, Curating at the Edge, 127.
Rosa-Linda Fregoso, MeXicana Encounters: MeXicana Encounters: The Making of Social
Identities on the Borderlands, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 6.
53
Clark 35
the realities of femicide that occur as part of the maquiladora system and in this sense,
her exclusion causes her project to become a mirror of the neoliberal reality of the border
economy.
In the film Maquilapolis, two inclusive stories dominate the narrative of the film.
The first is that of Carmen Durán, a single mother to three children who has worked at
various factories in her neighborhood in Tijuana. Most significantly, she worked for the
American electronics corporation Sanyo, assembling TV parts. She describes her
experience in working there:
They harassed and pressured us. We were also exposed to all these chemicals…
When I started working there, my nose used to bleed. I started having kidney
trouble because they wouldn’t let us drink water or go to the bathroom. But I had
friends there, and we stayed because we were together. I also stayed because I’m
really hardheaded.54
Carmen begins to speak about the struggles that she faced at her job including inhumane
treatment that eventually led to medical problems. But as she nears the end of her
statement, a smile spreads across her face remembering the camaraderie with her friends
and she laughs at herself for being so hardheaded and stubborn while simultaneously
stating the fact that she was loyal to her job and took pride in it. This personal anecdote
makes the viewer see Carmen as the real person that she is. It prepares the viewer to
empathize with her as she continues to tell her story, which is valuable in spreading the
reality of what happens to maquiladora workers at the border. She stayed with Sanyo for
6 years until they told the workers that production was being moved to Indonesia because
the labor was now cheaper there.55 Sanyo left without paying severance to its employees
so Carmen and her co-workers filed a labor claim against them, asking for them to pay
54
55
“Maquilapolis: City of Factories,” YouTube.
Ibid.
Clark 36
the severance, as the law requires. Because the viewer sees the issue presented from the
first person perspective of Carmen, he or she is more open to accepting the reality of this
specific injustice that these women have faced.
These first person perspectives aid in the further understanding of specific
economic injustices of neoliberalism on the border. In the film, community activist
Lupita Castañeda explains how “within globalization, a woman factory worker is like a
commodity. And if that commodity is not productive, if she’s not attractive for
globalization because she starts to defend her rights, then they look for that commodity
elsewhere… We are just objects, objects of labor.”56 When workers like Carmen and
Lourdes began to recognize injustice within their labor system, they worked to correct it
but because they are seen simply as a commodity to these corporations that own the
maquiladoras, operations moved to Southeast Asia. These women can begin to realize
that they are seen as worthless. This is the narrative of the “crafting of the Mexican
woman as a figure whose value can be extracted from her, whether it be in form of her
virtue, her organs, or her efficiency on the production floor. And once ‘they,’ her
murderers or her supervisors, get what they want from her, she is discarded.”57 This
narrative begins to be engrained through the implementation of neoliberalism on the
border which treats women as having the amount of worth equal to that of an small round
piece of copper, the American penny. This worthlessness is then further supported by the
staggering feminicide in the Juaréz area, which shows women that they do not even have
the value to live. They are worth more dead, as some of the victims have their organs sold
56
Ibid.
Melissa W. Wright, “The Dialectics of Still Life: Murder, Women, and Maquiladoras,” Public
Culture 11(1999): 469.
57
Clark 37
on the black market.58 Finally, the blame for all these atrocities is placed on the women
themselves and their supposed loss of virtue. This narrative of the irrelevance of these
women workers originates with and is continuously supported by the system of
neoliberalism.
Cabrera made an attempt to criticize the patterns of private consumption in the
neoliberal border economy and how the maquiladoras have negative effects on
perceptions of value and women. But she failed to include explicit details about her
maquiladora factory and did not reference the actual workers of these factories in any
element of her piece. She oversimplified the working conditions they endure at work and
failed to recognize the feminicide they face as they leave the factories each night. By
keeping the details of the factory vague and simplifying the issues that these women face,
she therefore excluded and devalued the workers themselves. Cabrera’s sculpture ends up
being a mirror image of the narrative of worthlessness that surrounds women on the
border. Instead of recognizing the reality of the violence committed against women or
meeting her goal of challenging this devaluing pattern, instead, her project helped to
continue it.
58
Ibid.
Clark 38
CONCLUSION:
HOW CAN WE DECOLNIZE THE BORDER?
The unique crossing and intermixing of people happening simultaneously
alongside forced separation on the United States and Mexico border creates a space
where decolonization must take on new forms and challenges. The colonial reign of
neoliberalism has created an environment that is strained by oppression whether it is
poverty, violence, or exclusion. This system contradicts itself because in its claims of
individualism and egalitarianism, it serves to oppress and disenfranchise massive groups
of people.
Additionally paradoxical is the attempt at protest that is currently happening on
the border. Various people and groups have tried to show the atrocities that neoliberalism
has brought about including the mass feminicide against maquiladora workers and the
blatant exclusion of indigenous groups. Artist Margarita Cabrera tried to highlight these
injustices when she brought together a group of volunteers to create small copper
butterflies supposedly using the techniques of the Purépecha from Santa Clara del Cobre
in a mock maquiladora setting that supposedly mirrored the actual factories. She pulled
together ideas of labor, indigeneity, capitalism, migration, and the border. She and her
volunteers etched the design of the wings of a Monarch butterfly on to each of the
twenty-five hundred tiny sculptures and pounded the formation of the American penny
into the bottom, shaded side of the wings. Cabrera was trying to show her volunteers and
her audience the reality of how the United States exploits cheap labor through the
maquila economy and simultaneously puts the female workers into extreme danger. She
attempted to show us that we value these women as much as a worthless copper penny as
Clark 39
we take the commodities they produce into our homes and away from the public eye.
Cabrera tried to highlight the indigenous craft of a tribe little known to the north. She
wanted to extend the life and value of such individualized, handcrafted work and show
the stark contrast to the products that have been mass-produced on the border. However,
in her attempt to show injustice, most paradoxically of all, she excluded the groups that
she was trying to hold up to the light. Her attempt at protest became a mirror for the
reality of neoliberal exclusion and oppression. She did not use truly indigenous
techniques and she did not show the reality of a maquiladora factory. She did not name
the Purépecha people and she did not name the workers of the maquiladoras. Her
sculpture piece became a continuation of the colonial reality it had originally been
created to attack. And here lies the paradox of protest within neoliberalism: these types of
attempts at resistance only mirror the reality of the neoliberal border and allow its
colonial oppression to continue.
Many native scholars working actively to decolonize their communities and
homelands look to resurgence as one of the main pathways to justice. Words like
resurgence beginning with the prefix “re” dominate these narratives. This prefix means
back or again and terms like revival, renewal, re-envisioning, and reconciliation all flood
the pages of these authors’ works. However, resurgence itself has different meaning
across various movements for decolonization. In Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories
of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence, Leanne Simpson
clarifies that she has been careful “to not define ‘resurgence.’ It is my hope that readers
will take the concepts and ideas presented in this book, return to their own communities,
teachings, languages and Elders or Knowledge Holders and engage in a process where
Clark 40
they figure out what ‘resurgence’ means to them and their collective communities.”59
Resurgence embodies the idea of going back and reviving ways of life that have been
smothered by colonialism and depending on location this can manifest itself in different
ways. Jeff Corntassel articulates how “if colonization is a disconnecting force, then
resurgence is about reconnecting with homelands, cultures, and communities.”60 The
reconnection, renewal, and revival that these scholars address becomes even more
complicated on the border, which is a zone of fraught identity.
Not only is the border a space with Indigenous history, it is also dominated by two
conflicting colonizing powers: the United States and Mexico. The invisible line that
stretches along the Rio Grande believes it has the power to divide two nations when it
actually brings communities of people together into a zone of high intensity multicultural
interaction. Artists thrive in such an environment and in many ways art can act as a
decolonizing force. Performance art particularly, “because it is based on process,
contradiction, action and connection, is closer to Indigenous ideas of art and
resistance.”61 Margarita Cabrera’s The Craft of Resistance made a valid attempt to create
a performance that focused on the process of constructing the butterflies that she hoped
would shed light on the contradictions of the neoliberal economy of the border but her
project could have done more to actively take part in decolonizing the border by
explicitly including the Purépecha artisans and the maquiladora workers.
If we want to more actively employ decolonization on the border, we must engage
with all communities including Indigenous ones. Native artists can “interrogate the space
Leanne Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation,
Resurgence, and a New Emergence, (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011), 25.
60
Jeff Corntassel, “Re-envisioning resurgence: Indigenous pathways to decolonization and
sustainable self-determination,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society 1 (2012): 97.
61
Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, 96.
59
Clark 41
of empire, envisioning and performing ways out of it, [giving us] a glimpse of a
decolonized contemporary reality.”62 In the creation of art on the border, it is possible to
see a different space where divisions between people are no longer highlighted and free
movement and interaction are brought to light. Native groups must continue their daily
efforts of survivance and non-native peoples must daily interrogate their role in the
exclusion of those marginalized. We all must question why we allow ourselves to exist
within a paradoxical system. We must no longer believe that we are all getting an equal
chance within this economy. We must continue our daily acts of resurgence and continue
to highlight the paradoxes and protest the exclusive, oppressive, and violent reality that is
neoliberalism on the border.
62
Ibid, 98.
Clark 42
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Clark 45
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Clark 46
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