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  • Writer's pictureVigilance


Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Afterword by Karen Moe

English Translation by Karen Moe & Habacuc Morales


Since morras [1]

we have learned to look into the fire

muy cerca del comal, the loose breasts

and backs slightly bent

Pure, without pretense, and with crest-fallen eyes

como mi abuela y mi mamá y mis tias [2]

the women who came before me and the ones with me now.

Ahí mero, next to the fire, flipping las tortillas

we start to speak a language mixed with

tears in salsa macha [3]

rage in molcajete [4]

drowned howls in chiles poblanos

y la dignidad en harto arroz [5]

garlic and salt to protect from el mal augurio [6]

rosemary smudging and liberating the secrets

we learn en épocas de temblor. [7]


Cold bodies, no touch


We learn to open the windows and let out malos aires [8]

At the birth of a new moon el tiempo para limpiar [9]

we eroticize ourselves, bewitched by the heat of the full moon

our hair grows as melancholy braids

y cuidarnos las envidias [10]

long, to trace the path,

long, to look deep into our years

long, as our sorrows and rivers

long, as our ancient souls

Since morras, we started to serve la resiliencia en la mesa. [11]

Poco a poco, [12] we measure fire to time

and lose our fear, stop talking about the belly fat

the teeth, about what is too small, or too big

we are bigger than bias

and become earth

as we give birth together

move oceans together with la loba [13]

we already burned our oppression

the serpent dances our spines and fertilizes our blood

inhabits us

transgresses us

to name us, we menstruate the world.

With the weapons of witches: amar, armar [14]

we are sown by the sea

and sustain one another, ablaze

nos arrimamos al fuego, mayordomas al fuego [15]

progenitors of ritual, callers of the campfire

we have the pain between al mojo de ajo

nosotras somos las cihuas,[16] from cihuatlampa,[17] nahualas [18]

here we are: made of a volcano wrapped in hoja de aguacate [19]

and uterus in mole de olla. [20]


Notes for the Poem:

[1] A slang expression from the north of Mexico that means ‘chica,’ ‘mujer,’ ‘muchacha’ and, in this poem, ‘young and innocent’ and, at the same time, from the barrio. [2] With my grandmother, my mother and my aunts. [3] Macha sauce. [4] A molcajete is a large mortar and pestle made from volcanic stone used to prepare Mexican food, particularly salsas. [5] And dignity is in plenty of rice. [6] The bad omen. [7] The epoch of earthquakes. [8] Bad air: it is ever-present and usually remains invisible. The air has the quality of a ‘being’ with its own will because it can intentionally make people sick. It is a psychic entity whose main characteristic is luminosity and heat. [9] The time of cleaning. [10] It is said that African women braided their hair to mark the paths they were forced to take as slaves. It is also a ritual to save energy, release it, unite and tell stories. [11] The resilience of the table. [12] Little by little. [13] Women Who Runs with Wolves is a book written by Clarissa Pinkola Estés about the discovery of the wild women with the wisdom to feel, intuit and act instinctively. [14] Loving and arming ourselves. [15] ‘Steward’: the women who leads the household and shares food, rituals and prayer during The Day of the Dead, the celebration of saints, funerals and the birth of the Catholic God. [16] ‘Woman’ in Nahuatl (one of the 63 recognized indigenous Mexican languages). [17] The place of the woman in Nahuatl. [18] Our power animals. [19] Avocado leaves. [20] Mole: a traditional Mexican sauce; Olla: a cooking pot.


It’s time to go backwards. Not backwards as a regression, as some sort of dreaded Darwinian de-evolution. But yes, backwards. A backwards of losing what is killing us, what is killing the earth, both literally and existentially. Re-wind.

“We have forgotten our mothers. Our ancestors,” Mexican poet Cynthia Franco told me. “Ancestors,” the first ritual of three in Vigilance, begins ‘since morras,’ since the youth and innocence of girl in a barrio, with her grandmother, mother and aunts: “the women who came before me and the ones with me now.”

Now residing in Mexico City, Cynthia Franco is from Tijuana, a city of cross-border bargain flesh, corpses, drugs-for-all and machine gun fire. “Tijuana is nowhere,” Franco writes of her hometown that straddles the world’s busiest border. I say straddles because, even though Mexicans and other Latin Americans are notoriously kept out by walls, internment camps and American border officials, the double-dealing promises of a better life—if one could only get across—has created “a landscape of blood-letting.” [1] In the globalized world of neoliberalism, deprivation generates the wealth for the insatiable few.

Intellectual activist Sayak Valencia is from Tijuana too. The first chapter of her book, Gore Capitalism, is El Inicio/ The beginning:

Esto es Tijuana.

The fury of clouds that is the Pacific Ocean. A dismembered torso strewn across the highway at rush hour. Cigarettes lit in rapid succession. The neon lights of the red-light district, microscopic universes. Arboreal metastasis. Narcos. Machismo. Silicone Land. Whore-Barbie’s Factory. High caliber weapons laughing, cackling. Esto es Tijuana. [2]

This is the birth-place of Cynthia Franco’s revolutionary joy.


But Franco’s joy is not without a fight. Her liberation is fierce as dance, song and poetry resist the nucleus of necro-power where “death [has become] the most profitable business in existence” [3] and where, in this dark heart of neoliberalism that throbs as a shallow grave, “economic survival often mean[s] grabbing a gun and snatching what you [can] to survive.” [4] In her rituals, the poet, “with the weapons of witches,” deploys her resistance with word-play: amar/armar/arma; love/come together/weapon. “We love and arm ourselves,” she told me “and sustain one another, ablaze.”

In Gore Capitalism, Valencia identifies the endriago [5] “as the new, ultraviolent, destructive subjects of gore capitalism.” [6] Speaking from the precarious world of the Tijuana border-zone, endriagos are predominantly men, “damaged machos,” [7] who see what they are deprived of as dystopian empowerment that can only be earned through violence. Far from other, far from being confined by the politically correct designation of ‘marginal,’ far from existing on the edge of what they have to kill to get into, an endriago turns the First World centrality in upon itself to expose its engine of the constructed Third. The “Third-Worldized,” in Valencia’s words. [8] As Thomas Friedman, former special advisor to the American Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration revealed, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist” [9] Endriago: the B-side of neoliberalism;[10] the hidden fist of the self-made man. The endriago subject, strutting his murderous charisma, is the soldier born from ferocious logic. [11] And the monster always tells the truth.

“My body is a territory,” Franco told me. She guards her body with its liberation. Her poetry comes from ritual, performance and spontaneous song. “We eroticize ourselves, bewitched by the heat of the full moon,” she writes, she lives. Women’s oppressed sexuality at the hand of machismo culture is transformed from “cold bodies, no touch” by “courage” until “we already burned our oppression”: now and before we began. It’s time to return.

Feminism for Franco resides in the traditions of medicine women, the shamans and healers in Pre-Hispanic cultures who, like the fire that nourishes, fed their cultures from within. Centuries before the colonizations by the blood-thirsty Aztecs with their enslaving hierarchies and now beneath the de-humanizing imposition of globalization, [12] Franco’s rituals break the mythology of hyper consumerism, what is always just across the border, out of reach and, when grasped, is hyperbolized into the soulless hedonism of narco-culture that enslaves the Mexican people from outside and now, also, from within.

In this first ritual, the women are always very close to the fire, the comal, the center of the home; cooking guides the poem as both metaphor and reality. Resilience, resistance cannot exist without nourishment, the need that is shared by every living creature and enacts ‘Mitákuye Oyás'iŋ,’ a Lakota prayer: ‘All Are Related.’ As she sings her ancestral prayer, Franco’s feminism calls for a return to this crucial truth. She told me how, her feminism is about men as well—her brothers—and how deprivation and anger create machismo culture and a culture based in violence. “Everything has heart. Everything has life. My feminism is a ritual for All,” the poet, the medicine woman, told me.

Franco holds rituals in her Mexico City apartment. By embodying and singing through their power animals, “we make the discovery of the wild women with the wisdom to feel, intuit and act instinctively,” Franco said. She is ‘animal de salvia,’ finding her animal through salvia, a plant from Northern Mexico that is used to clean with, to smudge spaces and to make tea. “I am an animal,” she proclaims, alive in the fact that the human is one of many animals and how we will only survive through acknowledging and living our mutual dependence. Franco’s life and rituals are acts of connecting borders, smudging all separations. Mantras of interconnectedness.

“Since morras, we started to serve la resiliencia en la mesa,” the poet re-nourishes us. “[L]a dignidad en harto arroz”: the resilience of the table provides the dignity of plenty of rice. The rice is mixed with the liberation of living grief where there always will be “tears in salsa macha/ rage in molcajete/ drowned howls in chiles poblanos/, … garlic and salt to protect the bad omens/ [and] rosemary smudging and liberating the secrets.”

“The women who came before me and the ones with me now,” Franco sings, are “pure, without pretense.” And, “little by little, we measure fire to time/ and lose our fear.”


Sayak Valencia ends her beginning:

At the brink of el bordo, I become blade. Tijuana is affectionate. Unfathomable. Full of possibilities. To be in love with a psychopath and to say so with a smile.

You should leave now.

This is the birth place of Cynthia Franco’s revolutionary joy.

Photo by Julie Lobster

Cynthia Franco was born in Tijuana. Migrant. Magician. Poet. Performer. Major in Communication. Teacher and maker of Spoken Word. Manager and Master of Ceremonies. Member of the Association of Writers of Mexico, National Poetry Slam MX and Centro Transdisciplinario Poesía y Trayecto AC. She has worked with children, youth, women and new creators. She published her book Hatsi at Astrolabio Ediciones y Libros del Cardo de Chile in 2017. She has presented her work throughout Mexico and in Havana, Cuba. She coordinated community projects such as Haz un libro y haz barrio, Lleve sus poemas por kilo y calientitos, Petra la Barriobocina, among others. She is part of the Rapquimia project: Feminist Rap together with Masta Quba and Marie V. She coordinates the projects with a gender focus, exploration of the voice, dance and multidisciplinary transits: Combative Voices and Calendulas Canela.

Karen Moe is a writer, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. She has been published in such magazines as Border Crossings, ArtSpace, WhiteHot and Revista 192. She is the editor and founder of the magazine Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms. Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico and has just finished her first book, Victim: a Manifesto that is being published in Fall 2021. Karen lives in British Columbia, Canada and in Mexico City.


Notes for the Afterword:

[1] Charles Tilly 2003 The Politics of Collective Violence. In Sayak Valencia Gore Capitalism. Translated by John Pluecker. South Pasadena, CA: semiotext(e) intervention series 24, 2018: 34. [2] Valencia: 15. [3] Ibid: 21. [4] Misha Glenny McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld (2008) Valencia 142. [5] Valencia “take[s] the term endriago from medieval literature, specifically the book Amadis of Gaul. The endriago is a literary character, a monster, a cross between a man, a hydra and a dragon. It is noted for its large stature, agility and beastliness.” (132) [6] Valencia: 132-33. [7] Valencia: 55; “[T]he cartels take advantage of the chronic unemployment and the lack of social development projects by neoliberal governments, both in the Third World and the First. Subcontracted by criminal organizations to work in the lowest level of the pyramid, these workers are usually young (and mainly male), individuals who have been seduced by the hyperconsumerist drive into signing up with these criminal groups” (145). [8] Valencia: 37. [9] Thomas Friedman, former special advisor to the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Clinton Administration quoted in Valencia 23 [10] Valencia writes: we could say that what we are designating here as gore capitalism is one of those processes of globalization, its B-side, unmasking the extent of its consequences” (23) [11] Valencia: 106. [12] Ibid: 21.


Photo by Cynthia Franco

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