Dear Coordenadas readers,
At Pilsen Fest 2018, author Gustavo Rueda told me about an essay he wanted to write. He wanted to write about bridges. He said, both actual bridges, like the one on 95th Street that crosses over the Calumet River near where he used to live, and also bridges as a metaphor for many complex ideas. From there, he worked on his essay, El Puente, which is included in this issue.
We at Coordenadas were so intrigued by the idea that we decided to expand it into an entire issue, of which you are about to read and view.
Along with photographer Leo Hernandez, we went throughout Chicago’s south side walking over and taking pictures of industrial bridges. While doing so, the way in which we viewed bridges changed. Bridges were more than a passage over water. They were tangible metaphors that we were still grasping to understand. Coordenadas’ Executive Director Alma Campos told me stories about the bridges she’d cross in South Chicago and El Paso and Juárez. She told me how these moments changed the way she saw the world. To be on these bridges were something beyond what words could describe. Alma told me how when she was a teenager and when she punched out from a shift at a florist shop, she’d take handfuls of flowers home to her family. Alma brought love home. Flowers represented love just as bridges symbolized life.
Leo reached out to photographers Anka Karewicz, Valentine Espinoza, and Leonardo Penada. He asked them to send us photographs with the concept of bridges in mind. Each photograph contains a representation of a bridge. While not always photographs of bridges, each photograph held the enduring idea of transition. Anka had a photograph of a child’s reflection in a street sized puddle of rain water. Valentine had a photograph of a Zapatista bass player on stage in Chiapas. Leonardo took photographs of young men working at a scrapyard. It became clear to Alma, Leo, and I that these pictures transcended both metaphor and its temporal objects.
The stories in this issue of Coordenadas illuminate moments of transition – as one crosses a bridge from one side to the other.
Gustavo’s essay gets to the heart of the Chicago experience, where past generations of immigrants ghostly walk on bridges beside the immigrants of today.
Asmaa Alhalabi writes about her childhood home in her narrative essay: My Last Turkish Coffee. After a bombing, Alhalabi’s family fled her hometown outside of Damascus. Asmaa retells the horror of civil war and how she had to leave to survive.
In the essay, From Village to City, Ameline Magne writes about trying to get her ill grandmother from their village, in Cameroon, to the hospital in the city. Ameline gets on a bus with her grandmother. The bus driver is drunk and speeding when the police stop the bus. The driver isn’t arrested, but the passengers have to present their IDs to the police. Ameline’s grandmother forgot hers. Police force both women off the bus and Ameline and her grandmother are left stranded on a rural highway as it begins to rain.
In Not Just a Promise but an Oath, Martha Alicia Montes Madrid writes about her mother’s suicide attempt, in Chihuahua, Mexico, and how decades later, while Martha is in Chicago, her mother, still in Chihuahua, passes away from cancer. Martha cannot attend the funeral. She is heartbroken. She wants to be freed from a promise she had made to her mom. She goes to Chicago’s Millennium Park for the Mexican Independence Day celebration. When she joins the crowd yelling out “El Grito!” it is not just a Viva México but it is a yell to her mother, a shout expressing her love and grief.
In Mahmood Saeed’s If You Know Your Party’s Extension, he writes about an elderly Iraqi man’s frustration with technology and Chicago’s winter. Through its comedic commentary and events, this story becomes more than a slice of life.
In Ever Ramirez’s essay, Big Promise, he writes about the promises he made to his family. To keep his promise, he left Guatemala and traveled through Mexico to the United States where he was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol. He writes about what happens next. He made promises. After being deported he returned to the border and succeeds in keeping his promise to his family.
In the late winter of 2018, the Coordenadas team drove to Hammond. We met with local journalist Michael Puente of WBEZ. He represented a bridge for us. We talked with him about the history and current news in the Calumet region and the broader area of Northwest Indiana. We at Coordenadas have many memories and experiences in “The Region”. Our friend and photographer Rosy Campanita met our other dear friend Rudy Avina in Hammond. She and other friends traveled to the Gary area with Rudy Avina and James Foley. Both Rudy and James were murdered years later. James was a journalist covering the civil war in Syria when he died. Rudy was a musician who had stopped at a local bar. I lived in Northwest Indiana for most of my youth.
As we rode in Puente’s car, we stopped at a beach in Gary. This is the beach that inspired my new book, The Line. To the left and right of us were steel mills. In front of us was The Lake. As we watched, a wind surfer, with his wetsuit on, jumped in The Lake. His feet were strapped into a surf board. He held on to a handle where ropes connected him to a kite and he flew in the air for a while before crashing and disappearing then reappearing again. Puente told us stories about how he became a reporter and about when he covered a train accident and was the first person on the scene. He spoke about how his father, a steel worker, inspired him.
As I reflect on this, I remember my dad who worked at US Steel in Gary among many places in his life. He died at the hospital this past January. The life he lead continues to inspire me.
In this issue of Coordenadas we tried to capture the moment of transition where we fell in love and where we met. We had met at the Jumping Bean Café, and, we didn’t know it yet, but we were already on a bridge. We were walking across it together. We stopped for a moment to observe people passing each other as they went about their daily routines. We looked down at the river below and how it leads into The Lake.
We were on a bridge. At one end was our birth and at its other end will be our deaths. Life is that bridge. We are on it now, and we don’t want to rush it. We wanted to know how we were living. In this issue, we present to you the conditions of our lives.
May the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso and Dayton be remembered and for justice to arrive. The families in pain need to be honored and loved.
Let’s free the men and women in Mississippi. The Gestapo ICE agents attacked them at work putting many of these parents in concentration camps on the first day of their children’s school.
Let’s free the children and their parents who are incarcerated in concentration camps across the country.
We have to fight fascism. Ya Basta! And, you know it. We will win. We will get free. We have a plan of unity. Somos Coordenadas.
Samuel Du Bois