Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 11, 2012

In the Vortex: Calexico and Charles Bowden in 'Flor de Muertos'

  Flor de Muertos, hot new Calexico music video and border documentary, in the vortex of the borderzone

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
TUCSON -- Flor de Muertos screened tonight, a hot new music video of Calexico, mixed with the sights, sounds and taste of living and dying in the borderzone.

So, who will love this hot new film?

Those who love Calexico’s music and anyone who wants to look for their friends in the All Souls Procession in Tucson (and at those great acrobats in the sky) will love it. Who else will love it: Anyone who want to look for their friends on the streets of Nogales, and anyone who wants to get really mad at Charles Bowden.

In my scribbled notes tonight, I wrote, “Finally a rock video about the border.” Then, I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out what Calexico music is. Is it Tex Mex? Definitely not. Whatever, it infuses the spirit of Tucson/Nogales/Sonora, that linear and circular path of fast music and fast cars, mixed with the food and culture of this land, where the desert meets the sea.

Most of the film is a music video of Calexico, and the rest is sure to lead to heated discussions, especially for those who want to get really mad at Charles Bowden.

At the screening at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona tonight, the first question from the audience focused on, well, who else.

"Why Bowden?"

Bowden, who made his home in Tucson for years, makes powerful, and controversial, observations in the film, like this one: There are no drug cartels in Mexico.

“There are no cartels. That is a lie of the US government.”

Bowden, longtime news reporter and book author, points out there is a drug industry, an industry that is now leaving the border strewn with dead bodies. Bowden goes on to say that the drug industry is a mainstay of the Mexican economy, producing $30 to $50 billion each year.

Bowden, author of two dozen books, also ventures off to reveal something of himself. He says he has no interest in crime or drugs, and would rather be writing about plants and animals. Further, he says he never got up a morning in his life and thought he would “go look” for a story. He makes it clear that the stories beckon everywhere in life, and that a person would have to be morally dead to have the need to look for a story.

Which brings us to the point of the film about the ceremonies and pageantry that surround living and dying on the US Mexico border.

The film, with short pieces of documentary combined with Calexico in concert, reveals the truth of the border. In the neighborhoods of Nogales and elsewhere, the drug kingpins are known, but the people are now too afraid of being killed to speak out and bring an end to the nightmare.

The lyrics of one song in this film reveal more of the truth: The drug kingpins give law enforcement the choice of violence or payoffs. Bowden points out that people are not even going to claim bodies anymore. Then, there is migration, and immigration.

But as one filmgoer pointed out tonight, the real story of immigration is not just about people from the south coming to the US in search of jobs. For instance, from Oaxaca, in southern Mexico where the filmgoer once lived, people have come to the US for generations to work, then returned home again. And they returned through the years back to the US to visit their families here. Well, until now, because the laws have halted this natural flow of life for migrant workers, of migration and visiting families.

Producer Dougles Biggers wasn't troubled by the backlash tonight, in fact he seemed to expect it. Biggers said Bowden probably wouldn't want filmgoers to agree with everything he said.

In Flor de Muertos, from the sounds of the young and old musicians “playing the border,” as a musical instrument, to the images of lightening, low riders and saguaros, there is the flavor of the border, the visual taste of this land that has become both an epic center and vortex.

Artist Salvador Duran describes the greater truth found in death, the spiritual truth that is alive and raw in this reality.

Still, there is another reality, the long lines of Border Patrol cars, and the border wall, that signify these times.

With dramatic footage from the All Souls Procession of thousands, to the tender remembrance of one four-year-old’s last days of dress up for the photos for the event, the film offers a window into the life and hope that comes from living and dying in the borderzone.

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