In 2016, the borders that divide cities in California and Mexico (and even internally divide each city) grow wider and harder to cross. These borders include the US-Mexico border, which for centuries was little more than an imaginary line on a map, but now are violently drawn in the landscape out of rusty steel, barbed wire, and police. But they are also conceptual, cultural, linguistic, and occasionally pragmatic. What is the role of California’s public universities in addressing these borders?We need to develop the tools that will enable an alternative way to produce knowledge—one that co-creates with community organizations by combining scholarly, artistic, and activist practices with one another. The images that follow not only represent the near future of such knowledge production, they aim to create it. Produced in both Los Angeles and Mexico City, they sit at the nexus of learning the city and simultaneously intervening within it, seeking out an established network between these two places from which to draw and on which to build. This network was made up of too many actors to count, although the primary ones included LIGA, Casa Gallina, and Laboratorio para la Ciudad in Mexico City, and Self Help Graphics and Art, Multicultural Communities for Mobility, From Lot to Spot, and Libros Schmibros in Los Angeles. Of course, no place is ever left untouched by those who try such interventions: we, too, as a research group from UCLA, became yet one more of the many intimacies between Los Angeles and Mexico City.
These images provide glimpses from a near future that has begun to dismantle the barriers within and between Los Angeles and Mexico City, building bridges instead. There is a new body of practical learning made up of this and other networks, one that stretches deeply across the region to produce poetics for understanding and changing both the city already present and the city yet to come.
LA 24: We All Can Get Along Here, a thick map juxtaposes the Olympics, which are planned for 2024, with the social and environmental justice histories of South Los Angeles. Do these conversations have a place with an event that purports to celebrate athletic achievement, world peace, and human life? Image by Heidi Alexander, William Davis, Louis Monteils, and Chantiri Duran Resendiz.
Lotería Urbana. Lotería is a traditional bingo game common in Mexico City. Here it has been developed into a platform for community engagement in Los Angeles and Mexico City, representing a world where alternative reality gaming can bring neighbors closer together. Image by Angélica Becerra and William Davis.
Is the spatially determined appropriation of sensorial experiences an (in)formal tool of political resistance? In Mexico City, there is a visual onslaught of signage and text, even in public parks, where street vendors have staked a claim. Here is a visual poem that questions our assumption that these signs are merely signs—instead, they are multiplied as instruments that can intervene in power dynamics as a political tool of the disenfranchised. Image by Kendy Rivera.
Can I share electricity with you? This visual poem shows a world where the unending mess of power cables that snake across any street vending spot in Mexico City are coalesced into a single totality. Perhaps this everyday act of sharing resources is actually one that could be politically revolutionary. Image by Benjamin Kolder.
Can a seemingly meaningless tarp be a political tool? In interviews, UCLA researchers discovered an unspoken dance at the Plaza Santísima in Mexico City. Vendors use tarps to wage a secret war with city officials, raising the tarp when their demands are met and lowering it as an act of political resistance. Here, a visual poem pulls this latent reality to the fore. Image by LeighAnna Hildalgo.
Boyle Heights en Movimiento What if cyclists felt as if they owned the streets of Los Angeles? Here, bikers not only visible make themselves but celebrate their place on the street in Boyle Heights and greater Los Angeles—are you one of these bikers? Image by Lucy Seena K Lin and Jeannette Mundy.
Peatonito and the Peatoniños Mexico City safe-street personality with his new taskforce of urban advocates. Photograph by Jeff Newton.
Peatoniños Visual material from Peatoniños, an event that imagined what it would mean for children to have a right to the street. Peatonito, a local celebrity in Mexico City who advocates for street safety, and his taskforce invited children to play in a protected street, liberating it from cars for play. Image by Devin Koba.
Erasure Film documenting racial and environmental erasure in and around La Placita, Los Angeles. Image by LeighAnna Hildalgo, Andrew Ko, Paola Mendez, and Teo Wickland.
Jonathan Banfill is a Ph.D. student at University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on interdisciplinary higher education across Asia Pacific.
Angélica Becerra is a Ph.D. student at University of California, Los Angeles. She is studying Chicano art in solidarity with international struggles.
Jeannette Mundy is a master’s of architecture student at University of California, Los Angeles, from Los Angeles.