The Architecture of Memory: THE HOUSE OF EL HIJO DEL AHUIZOTE
Text by Mar Gámiz
Photos of Rodrigo Jardón
A few blocks from Palacio Nacional, the grand building from which Mexico’s president acts, there’s a building located in República de Colombia # 42, amongst the street trader’s hubbub (voices, colors, and streets saturated with all kinds of products). The façade and a big part of the interior of the building, which once hosted one of the most emblematic pre-revolutionary satirical newspapers in Mexico: El hijo del ahuizote (The Ahuizote´s Son), has been restored.
The building that used its windows and balconies to protest in 1903 seen one hundred and four years later, in 2007, only revealed to the trained eyes its proud past. Almost in ruins and given to the informal traders as lot, following their promise to withdraw from the streets bordering the Zocalo, its façade was practically stripped of its painting and its windows sealed with bricks.
Under these conditions was found by Daniel and Diego Flores Magón, grandson and great-grandson of Enrique Flores Magón, whose lineage meant nothing to the current residents of the property, as it does perhaps to most Mexicans. History, they say, is written by the victors. And although this saying has for long been questioned, and new ways to (re-) write and (re-) think history have been found; this still causes dissatisfaction to those who, like Diego, haven’t found any answers to questions that arise as a result of the world’s becoming.
Before the building´s vision in 2007, and with their history on their back, Daniel and Diego Flores Magón decided to recover the property, with the main goal of turning it into the space that would house their most precious heritage: the Documentary Archive of Enrique Flores Magón.
Ricardo, Jesus and Enrique Flores Magón were three Oaxacan brothers dedicated first to the press and then to politics. Founding members of the Mexican Liberal Party, they recurrently set foot on Mexican prisons, which consolidated them as strong critics of the Porfirio Diaz´s regime due to their advanced ideas, some of them have not been able to find space in the drafting of laws today (such as regulating domestic service); and others whose victories have found so much resistance, that had to be reversed or tinted (the Flores Magón fought for the abolition of the death penalty).
Ricardo was the main writer of the newspaper they founded, Regeneración (Regeneration), as well as the most radical sibling. Jesus, more moderated, participated in demonstrations and wrote occasionally. Despite being the youngest, Enrique also had an active participation in the social movements and joined Ricardo in prison and exile. Because, after closing Regeneración and El hijo del ahuizote as a direct result of censorship, the three brothers crossed the border, and found fertile ground among their countrymen migrants in the United States to reopen their newspaper and continue their activism.
In the United States, they passed from reformist liberalism to revolutionary anarchism. In the run between cities in the neighboring country, the repressive veins of the Porfirian regime, in the beginning, and later the Carranza government, were still throbbing in the ears of the Flores Magón brothers. Imprisonment was also recurrent in this country; during the time lived in exile Ricardo Flores Magón gained notoriety by the radicalism and consistency of his ideas. He died in prison in 1922.
In 1922 Enrique was just out of prison and subject to deportation procedure, for which he could not accompany the remains of Ricardo to Mexico, this marked deeply the spirit of Enrique. In 1923 he was finally deported to Mexico, a country that he no longer knew, and with no money in his pockets. Unlike Ricardo, Enrique raised a family, so, when he came back to his country he was a man torn between the need to continue the revolutionary legacy of his brother and the arduous task of raising a family (safely).
For the rest of his life he would be forced to negotiate between the ideological and the pragmatic; and the found solution is now crystallized in his eloquent Archive. In the words of his grandson Diego, “an archive is against nature, things scatter unless there is a resistance.” Continuity and muscle resistance is derived from Enrique’s vital need for recognition, this Archive was necessary to demonstrate his commitment, his revolutionary genealogy.
On the other hand, for the conservation of such heritage an affective element from the heirs is essential; in this case, Daniel, the grandson was the one who rescued the collection form the risk of loosing it and sheltered in a civil association: El Centro Documental Flores Magón, A.C (The Flores Magón Documentary Center). To this day, Diego continues his resistance from oblivion adding a ludic element that has given life to the house of El hijo del ahuizote.
Thanks to a scholarship from the Harvard University, it’s been possible to digitize about 70% of the collection of over 15,000 documents. With the digitization, the house reveals its anarchist origins and establishes its position towards the archive, as shown in the following analogy Diego made:
The archive as an Institution is the State, i.e., a coercive body over the civil society that is the documentary collection. It is possible to order the documents without coercion of the Archive. What we want to do here is to eradicate the archive, as you can eradicate the State, and have a much superior order, more spontaneous, infinitely re-classifiable, which is the repository.
The house of El Hijo del Ahuizote
Originally, the reconstruction of the house was conceived as a very structured cultural and academic project, which contemplated three primordial functions. The first one, was to be the Digital Documentation Center, in which the scattered documentation sources on the Magónismo could meet; the second one, to create a space for the transnational community of Mexicans on both sides of the northern border, that could host an annual residence of a scholar who studied topics related to the Magónismo and the Mexican press, and used the space as a showroom for Chicanos and Pochos artists, creating a network of allied institutions and organizations on both sides of the border; the third one, to establish itself as an active monument of the Mexican press history, offering their rooms for seminars and research of narrative journalism.
In each of the planned activities underlie existing oppositions between archive and history and between legendary and everyday history. It also gives the archive its “ahuizotera vocation”: to be a destabilizing source of official history. That’s the reason behind the re-appropriation of the mythical and subversive figure of the ahuizote as the emblem of the place.
The house began to be restored with these objectives in mind, the fact that it “landed” on República de Colombia Street, in an area previously granted to a group of merchants, meant political and unexpected coexistence challenges, amongst them the fact that the leader of the group took the project hostage to grant a dialogue with the authorities.
As a result of these talks between three different interests (the leader, the authorities and the new team working on the house), an agreement for coexistence was achieved and the necessary activities for community engagement were added to the initial project.
The non-profit organization that was developing in the first sector of the property located in República de Colombia # 42, coexisted daily with traders located in the inner courtyard of the place.
Such coexistence would not have been possible without the interest in the project of Genesis Flores Rojas. Daughter of itinerant traders, migrants first, Genesis learned from a very young age “to goad” (be aware of the arrival of the police to warn the other traders so they could pick up their merchandise in seconds), shout to announce her products and deal with suppliers. Her grandparents were artisans, who also walked the downtown streets to sell their merchandise.
She lived the street trader’s reorganization of 2007, when the merchants of the city center were dispersed, with good or bad ways. For example, she remembers how an area in the República de Argentina Street was burned on purpose to throw its inhabitants out, who had arrived there after the devastating earthquake in 1985. She also remembers her mother selling on the corner of República de Colombia and República de Argentina.
As a witness to these social changes in the city center, Genesis decided to study Anthropology. And it was during that time, that one evening, while she was accompanying her mother to the trader’s post, she saw two men who weren’t locals, who came to ask questions about the property in República de Colombia # 42. They were Daniel and Diego, whom she heard saying that the Flores Magón brothers had been there, and she, at the age of 19, approached them with an interest in working with them.
Naturally, she became the key informant of the area. Time passed and the project grew, while Genesis progressed in her career, which she would finish with a thesis on the history of the street. With this and her experience, Genesis gave Diego the keys to intervene in the community.
One of the key points were the children. She knew that the children of merchants do their homework on the street, with the help of their parents and colleagues. She saw a big irony in the fact that children and teenagers working in their parent’s selling posts in the city center, were so far from the cultural capital that this space offered. For Genesis, this was a result of many factors, including the marketing ideology of their families, in which culture is considered useless, and the lack of significant bridges that involve people with cultural activities.
Once fully committed to the project and with the desire to create spaces for social interaction, her first idea was to give workshops to children living or working in República de Colombia and the surrounding streets. With that she fomented reciprocity with the community, because there was no way for the children’s parents to not go through the house.
However, it was still difficult. During Easter break, the most marginalized and violent neighborhoods took possession of the streets for the “burning of Judas”, without allowing access to anyone from the outside. Genesis thought what would be the best way to become a part of this, and the fist approach with a proposal came form them, which was to ask for money for the celebration, which she refused, because that kind of relationship did not appeal to her. And she came up with a better idea: give a workshop to the children of these neighborhoods to make their own “sons of Judas” to burn on the celebration, such proposal was well received and with it they opened the neighborhood doors. After that, a network of alliance and community vigilance was created.
In addition, Genesis is focused now on editorial and printing workshops for the children. She brings the archive to the street, while fomenting the value of the written word and its dissemination between residents and neighbors. For Genesis, El hijo del ahuizote is a house that seeks to bring up its child, the cultural project, so it can socialize and develop.
Finally, El hijo del ahuizote’s House opened in 2013 with the following slogan:
“Through its programs of historical and contemporary Collections, Museum, International Bonding and Community, and “Ahuizote ambulante”, the house aims to facilitate contact with archival sources, and establish constructive relations with its community, in the northeast of the historic center Mexico City.”
With all the difficulties this reconstruction has represented, the house bets on memory and daily action to move forward. It is the result of a series of individual and collective efforts, that after eleven years, start to consolidate the new image of El hijo del ahuizote, El predio # 42 (lot # 42) and Repository Archive Enrique Flores Magón.