The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

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APRIL 2021 Issue
Books In Conversation

Alexandra Délano Alonso with Sandra Rozental

Poetics, Politics, and the Pandemic

Alexandra Délano Alonso
(Elefanta Editorial/Interstitial Press, 2021)

We had run into each other over a decade ago. I was crossing West Fourth street to catch my train after a graduate seminar at NYU. A friend introduced us. As we began talking about our academic projects first, and then our interests, and finally our many friends in common in both New York and Mexico City, it seemed difficult to believe that we had never met before.

Through the years, our conversation has continued to grow: from what remains in the wake of violence and dispossession, to the possibilities of healing Mexico's wounds as the country finds itself ravished by a war with no clear enemies. We have also become close friends, sharing our experiences of living in Mexico and in New York, of academia and activism, and more recently, of motherhood.

A few weeks ago, Alexandra called, asking if I would like to engage in a conversation about her most recent project: a poetry book inspired by her experience of the New York City lockdown as COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. I had initially suggested a list of writers, poets, artists, and editors that I thought might be a good fit. But she wrote back and insisted: “You see, this is such a personal project. It’s different from other things I have written. I would like to talk about it with someone who has been part of the journey.”

Brotes is certainly personal: fragments of text and snapshots in the midst of a moment of great individual and social uncertainty. Yet, unlike her other books that resulted from years of research, planning, writing, and rewriting, this book came into being unexpectedly. Although it is entirely made up of Alexandra’s gaze, her words, and the words of others she heard and recorded, Brotes is in fact the result of a complex web of collaboration. This is perhaps why it manages to capture this moment in history far beyond a single individual’s experience.

Written during the first months of quarantine in New York, Brotes was published in March 2021 by Elefanta Editorial/Interstitial Press. It is Alexandra’s first poetry book and also the inspiration for the short film Fragments (Fragmentos), co-directed with Daniela Alatorre Benard and premiered at the 2020 Morelia International Film Festival. The book and the film work in tandem as an archive, a record, an ethnography, a political statement, a survival strategy, and a search for breath, but also as a ritual providing the writer and her readers with a life force made present in striking images and text. The book offers a possibility for connection in a context marked by distance and isolation, and opens an opportunity to experience this moment collectively, sharing the intimacy and the vulnerability that Alexandra describes through her words and her looking upwards towards the sky and the trees in spring.

Sandra Rozental (Rail): Thinking about this book and its coming into being after seeing so much of it in fragments as you were posting the photos on your Instagram, I would like to ask you about timing. It’s amazing that you were writing and capturing this moment right at the beginning of its coming into being. “March 10” is the first line in the book, which is only two or three days before the official announcement that we were facing a global pandemic. You clearly had a gut feeling of the need to record this moment, to write about it and to reflect on it when the uncertainty was enormous, and the novelty and the fragility that this was exposing us all to was startling. At the time, many people began writing about this moment in different media, yet most of their texts are very alarmist and anxious. Your book, however, seems to have a certain luminosity because of its focus on renewal, renovation, and rebirth through this concept of Brotes (Buds)...

Alexandra Délano Alonso: I didn’t really know I was starting something when I started it. I didn't have an intention; it was rather a need, and I didn’t come into it thinking that my photographs or my notes were going to become more than that space I needed to breathe. March 10 was a few days before the lockdown started in New York. It was the last day that I went to the university. The next day was the last day my children went to school. We thought it would be a few weeks. It’s been a year now. I marked that day with a photograph, a date that later on I wouldn't forget, but I didn't know that then. All I knew that day was that I needed to sit with the silence, looking up at the sky, at the tree in my backyard and the afternoon light on a winter day. 

For a few days, all I could do was take these photos of the trees with a sense that there were absolutely no words to capture what I was feeling, and the only response was this openness in nature, this quietude, and this space that I needed to keep. At first I thought it would be a few days or weeks of marking the quarantine, and then suddenly it was months of daily photographs with no description, just an empty space, a date, speaking for themselves.

The process of writing came a few weeks after. One of my graduate students at The New School, Macushla Robinson, contacted me and asked me to write something for a book she was editing about the pandemic, Decameron (2020). Like you, I was overwhelmed with all the news and opinion pieces about the pandemic. But some of it was incredibly powerful: I remember particularly Arundhati Roy’s essay on the pandemic as a portal to imagine the world anew; Rebecca Solnit’s piece about what the pandemic can teach us about hope and rebuilding out of catastrophe; then later on Mary Louise Pratt’s on the politics of breath—who has access to ventilators and oxygen, who lives in fear of being strangled by the police, who can self-isolate at home and who can’t. 

My initial reaction was to say no to Macushla; I felt it was an impossible task to write, to put a sentence together. I had no energy, no space, no ability to express anything. But she opened a door by saying it could be a story, a set of images, a recipe, a poem. ... She described it as “a wild and wide-open brief.” So she planted a seed and gradually during my walks, I started to notice words that were echoing in my head, fragments of conversations that I kept coming back to in a meditative way, a repetition of words and phrases. I felt an unexpected urge, first to say them out loud into the empty streets, and then to keep them somewhere. There was this ungraspable grief that I didn’t know how to deal with, in the absence of spaces to hold friends who had lost a parent, or figure out how to care for loved ones who were sick. And saying it, repeating it, writing it, helped me.

Macushla’s deadline came around and I wrote to her proposing some photos for the book. I mentioned that I had been keeping these notes that maybe could work in some way alongside the photos, perhaps as titles for each, and I sent her a list of the fragments, without any structure. As a curator, an artist, an editor, with a beautiful, creative, sharp eye, she wrote back proposing a way of assembling the notes and putting them in conversation with the images, and that’s when it all really began to develop as you see it now. The way she laid it out and what she saw in it spurred something in me that made the writing feel real, and then I couldn’t stop. It was the place I needed to go to every day, to cry, to breathe, to mourn.

Rail: One of the things that really struck me as an anthropologist is the ethnographic quality of the writing and of the images. One really gets a sense of your surroundings, the density of city life happening around you, its slowing down and then coming quickly back into being through the ambulances, the sirens, and all of these soundscapes that you capture in the writing. Brotes might be considered a record and an archive, something that historians will someday be very fortunate to have to get a sense of what this moment felt like on the ground. At the same time, would you consider that writing has a ritual quality in and of itself? I'm thinking of this in this moment, in a time of cancelled rituals, when we can't go to wakes and to funerals, or participate in any kind of collective mourning except in such limited and constrained ways. The book seems to be an invitation for the reader to participate in a ritual act, reading your writing as a process allowing both you and us to survive this moment and all of its hardships. 

Délano Alonso: This process of walking and writing every day was my ritual, but then it became a ritual in a broader sense of community and connection when I started sharing the work with close friends and family. It became a space where we could somehow close the distance, cry, grieve, laugh, and find words or silences to describe how we were feeling. It was very unexpected and powerful to find a space for ritual and connection there. Even if we couldn’t hug, the images and the fragments made it possible to name certain feelings and moments that connected us. It is hard to imagine that we can ever replace what presence means in terms of ritual, just being together in a moment of celebration or mourning, looking at each other, crying, clapping, not necessarily needing words because presence is enough. And here, somehow, by sharing what I was documenting in the photographs and the fragments it felt possible to look deeply at each other, even if we couldn’t be together.

Rail: Your writing also touches on how we had to learn to use our bodies differently. I love the moment where you open a door with an elbow. We've had to learn how to do these new tasks that seem so mundane but, at the same time, have really transformed our being in the world. There is an instance that I found to be climatic in the book, when you describe an accident and how impossible it was to do the most simple of human acts, which is to help someone in need who is bleeding. To me that was a very powerful scene in the writing because it captures how we haven't just been transformed as bodies in space, but how our relationship to other bodies has been completely altered. Yet, it seems like through writing, you manage to create a connection with your reader. So when I think of this in terms of ritual, I also think of how it became a strategy for survival, this life force. You keep talking about breath and writing as a kind of breathing, and this is also what you allow readers to experience through your images and words...

Délano Alonso: That moment when I saw a woman bleeding from her leg and slowly walking towards the socially distant queue I was standing on outside the supermarket, and everything that that triggered, was definitely a turning point in my writing process. That was when I knew how much I needed a place to go to release all the fear, the pain. The “slow choreographies” that I refer to in that poem came from this sense of not knowing how to move with each other anymore, what is safe, what are the guidelines, and we’re not sure about how to move our bodies, how to respond to one another, and this was exacerbated in a critical situation like the one we were suddenly in. This made me profoundly aware of how our relationships to one another were changing, the heightened sense of protecting ourselves and protecting each other, as well as the sense of loss in not being able to do certain things anymore, against our own instincts, to touch each other, touch a stranger, hold their hand, sit next to them while waiting for the ambulance. To feel so far apart from each other and not know what to do or not to do, except just be there, 6 feet apart. Un metro y medio.

Rail: The book is part of Elefanta Editorial’s poetry collection, but at the same time, it seems to exceed the category. Poetry is a genre that clearly allowed you to experiment and do something like this, a very different style to your writing compared to the academic worlds that are your usual stomping grounds. Can you talk about how this genre opened up new possibilities for play with language or for experimentation? 

Délano Alonso: It was definitely an experiment and it continues to be. I've always seen my work as a conversation, it's grown out of conversations with many people, friends, family, students, colleagues, co-authors. And I always want to imagine it as a space for the dialogue to continue to expand and grow.  The difference here is that most of the space is silence and that's what poetry allows, to not have to fill it all ...

Rail: Or have to follow the page.

Délano Alonso: Yes. And in the silences, in the lack of punctuation is where many more opportunities, many more possibilities can be open for others to join in multiple, unexpected ways.

Even though I’ve written poetry before, I was not planning for this to be a poem. Like you said, it would be hard to fit it in a category, and I think that’s a result of how it came about. … The fact that writing in prose felt impossible and could not contain what I was feeling, what I didn’t even understand. 

I've never been able to write anything that I don’t feel deeply, even if academic writing might often limit bringing this out more explicitly. For me there's always the heart that drives it, and with Brotes, this is where the heart led to; it couldn't go anywhere else.

Rail: This allowed something very different than the kind of academic writing that you've done, not just in terms of the genre of writing but also your use of fragments; not just your own reflections and voices, but the voices of your children that are very prominent, and also phone calls, random street signs, a conversation you have with a stranger, a sign on the subway, the barbershop. You've incorporated so many different voices and genres into this that mimic the density of the city, capturing the soundscapes that are in Queens and in Mexico City. I would love to hear more about how you played with rhythm and language … 

Délano Alonso: It was surprising for me to realize that I had written most of it in English because my diaries, my poems, are in Spanish. I dream in Spanish! But it was clear there were things that I could only say in English and there were things that I could only say in Spanish, and I stopped thinking about translation or having to choose between one or the other. 

During the pandemic, I was teaching a course called Transnational Border Lab, with half of the students at The New School in New York and the other half in Mexico City, at Otros Dreams en Acción, an organization led by and for deported and returned migrants. And in the class there was always a fluidity between here and there, across English, Spanish, and Spanglish. And I realize more and more how being deeply immersed in this exploration and possibilities across borders—many borders, not just the territorial line, but also borders within the city, within the university, between academia and activism, in language— opened up a space for me to create in this way.

Rail: In this play, I noticed, for example, your use of letters to refer to people, the punctuation with numbers, the cases that are escalating in parallel in Mexico and in the US.

Délano Alonso: Part of my process of marking and grieving was writing down the names of friends or students or colleagues who had COVID-19. It was a way of holding them, and also a way in which the pandemic became real. We were so scared at the time, with all the unknowns, the fear of how sick one could get. At the same time, I was sensitive to how personal and private it was because at the beginning of the pandemic, and perhaps still now—

Rail:—There’s a stigma.

Délano Alonso: Yes. So I scratched out the full name and started using just initials. And perhaps that may allow this process of mourning to go beyond the personal experience, to connect with others because those initials can represent a different name to each person who reads it.

Rail: It’s so difficult to acknowledge individual loss and also represent the magnitude of the deaths. I thought about this with the recent New York Times cover that marks 500,000 deaths, which was very powerful but also criticized because it's transforming these very individual lives and losses into just numbers on a page. I really liked that you used the initials, but not just in marking the deaths, you do it throughout the book: you do it to yourself, using your initials in the preface. And then, also in your dedication to F and M. So there's a treatment of individuals in that way that seems contrary to reduction. It’s across the board, and a very delicate, caring strategy. It precisely makes the experiences you write about something that is more universal. And it is also something that marks the rhythm of the text. These initials somehow keep the punctuation. And there is something very powerful in that. 

Délano Alonso: Even if Brotes has a very different starting point, I can’t separate it from questions I’ve been exploring for a long time about the politics of memory and mourning. I've worked with my co-author Ben Nienass on the 9/11 Memorial, and on migrant deaths across the US-Mexico border, and we’re now working on the issue of disappearances and memorials in the context of violence in Mexico. And we’ve often discussed this question of numbers and the need to show the magnitude, the significance of an event through numbers, and at the same time, the importance of marking individual lives, and what these processes of identification, naming, recognizing, memorializing reveal about what lives are valued, what is invisible, what is excluded. At the border we’ve seen the rows and rows of gravestones and marks with “John Does” and “Jane Does” and “Unknowns” in remote areas of cemeteries, where identification processes of migrants who have died crossing the border become almost impossible, where families have no way of knowing what happened, no body, no remains, no place to mourn. So identifying, naming, and recognizing individual lives is part of the process of seeking justice, reparations, and rebuilding communities through a recognition of what happened and the structural violence that led to such a loss. “What we allow. / The limits of discomfort. / What we let go. / Who dies. / Linked fates.” This poem speaks to this, here considering specifically the disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among Black and Latino communities in the US and of low income communities in Mexico, revealing the inequalities that always put them at greater risk. So here we have a conversation between the daily count and the individual cases marked with the initials, and this is what made the magnitude of the pandemic real for me, for many of us, knowing that that number that was updated daily was not an abstract figure, it represented someone we knew, someone who was sick, someone who had just died. 

Rail: Going back to this idea of experiment, the academic world we’re both in is quite constraining in the kinds of products it requires us to publish. I love that you have always pushed those boundaries in every single one of your projects, but with Brotes you were also able to experiment with images, and even further through your collaboration with Daniela Alatorre in the short film Fragments based on the book. I know this isn't the first time that you’ve done this, and it’s not the first time that you’ve collaborated with Daniela, since you worked together on an art installation with postcards a few years ago responding to state violence and enforced disappearances in Mexico.

Délano Alonso: Ah, yes, Por Eso Propongo

Rail: So you've really pushed the boundaries of the genres that you're comfortable in and that you've taken your expertise and your academic sensibility and research towards. But perhaps you can comment on how in Brotes you were able to experiment with images, using photographs to capture these trees, these skyscapes. I love that these are city trees, a counterintuitive way of depicting the city as a space of nature. The text also follows a very clear chronology that's marked, not just by dates and the escalating numbers of cases and deaths, but also the images that go back and forth between blooming flowers and dry branches and buds, the mostly blue skies that contrast with the dire circumstances going on in your surroundings. I wonder how you thought about this in terms of having a narrative arc in the images that is very different to the text and almost disorienting.

Délano Alonso: Even though I live in an area of Queens where there are few parks and I wasn't going too far from home during my walks because we were in lockdown, I started walking differently around my neighborhood and observing the trees more closely, even the ones I know so well. And of course, in the photos you don’t see the cables that were all around them or the roofs of houses and buildings, but it was calming and revealing to keep looking up, to look at the sky through the branches and feel this openness when we were so constrained, confined, and here was life continuing, the trees bursting into flower. We didn’t know, we still don’t know what’s next. They knew what was next.

Rail: I thought that this was such an incredible testament of something so difficult to describe, because of the fragility and the uncertainty and the anxiety, but at the same time there is incredible luminosity in the images. There are other things in the text too, but the images are very central in providing a sense of hope for renewal, for rebirth, for breath.

Délano Alonso: We’ve all experienced in different ways the intensification of the inside, be it our life at home or our inner life, our silence, time passing with fewer distractions from the outside. And this has magnified our experience of these aspects of our lives, their contradictions, their need for balance. And here is this image of a flower budding against the sound of sirens that would not stop, and then the ambulance is parked in front of your neighbor’s house, and it is all existing in the same moment, fear and hope, pain and love, loss and play. My children insisting on wanting to play with me, asking me questions that demanded an immediate answer, and at the same time getting a call to say someone has died, and you can’t stop it, it all exists together. And the routines, the breaks, the commute to work, that buffer these tensions and the pulls in different directions aren’t there anymore. The conversation between the text and the photos reflects this in a way. Once I started seeing text and image working together, I couldn’t separate them. They are a poem together.

Rail: The photos really echo this need for air that the text is calling for.

Délano Alonso: It was also an exciting process to figure out how the images also had their own rhythms by trying out different layouts, different conversations between two or more photos, and the possibility of assembling and reassembling them in different ways, just as I did with the text. And here I have to thank Macushla for her vision, and also Camilo Godoy, an amazing artist (and also a former student!), who helped me get closer to the vision that is now the design in the book.

Rail: I have been so thankful over these months to see your trees as a daily gift. I know it’s going to happen on my Instagram feed at some point during the day. One of the things that I miss most about life in New York are the seasons and the way you would know that things were changing, and that there was a kind of repetition and renovation happening. Looking at the trees in Mexico City we don't have those changing seasons, or at least not marked in that way, so I've very much enjoyed that.

Délano Alonso: Many collaborations that have come out of Brotes are because of these images. The book cover has one of my photos next to a painting by my friend Marco Saavedra on the folds. And it was the result of a conversation that we started because of the photos I posted. Our correspondence grew throughout the pandemic and it absolutely influenced my process, but it also led to him creating a piece inspired by the images. Similarly, when Daniela proposed making the film, the initial ideas were based on the aesthetic of these photos, but over time it grew and expanded into something different, with her own sensitivity, her own imagery in Mexico, but similarly informed by this way of looking out and looking within. I’ve also been working with a musician, Shahzad Ismaily, who has created music in response to the work. All these conversations have unexpectedly become beautiful processes of co-creation, generating new forms and new ways of assembling the project.

Rail: I think that a lot of people are responding to it, because it has this kind of universal quality, but also because of the kinds of connections that you allow with the reader and their experiences.

Délano Alonso: I feel very free in the sense that it’s easy to let it go and let it become whatever the other person feels comes out of it for them. It’s a gift to see the project continue in these ways, to feel that it is generative and it is a space for deepening relationships with people I love and want to create with, to form new connections, and open possibilities for experimenting further.

Rail: Finally, I wanted to ask you about how the book relates to a long career that you've had in activism and in politics. Your work as an academic, as a researcher, as a writer, and also as an artist and now a filmmaker, a photographer, and poet is always marked by a clear political stance and activist orientation. For Brotes, your politics come out very specifically in your use of language. You write bilingually and you go back and forth between Spanish and English, code switching almost in the way that you would in conversation. At the same time, there are certain things that are very clearly in English and other things that are very clearly in Spanish. But you really seem to want to build a transnational space through your use of language that I thought was very exciting because it doesn't feel like a border, but somehow a space where both ends meet. I think that has characterized a lot of the work that you've done in other projects in terms of thinking about migration, about the layered histories that bind Mexico and the United States, and now, these two cities that you inhabit. 

Délano Alonso: I find this writing liberating because what you have here is an opening, not a conclusion. And even though it’s different from my academic writing, I do not separate the personal and the political in any aspect of my life, and this piece is also grappling with the same questions and issues that drive my impulse to learn and to act: inequality, exclusion, violence, precarity, borders, memory, love, death, solidarity, issues that have become even more exacerbated during the pandemic.

Rail: You do have very explicit references to who is an essential worker who is non essential, notes on deportations, on abolition. These are constant themes throughout the book.

Délano Alonso: Yes, and also the idea of mutuality and linked fates, and the fact that the one's life is tied to another's, another person who you don't know, and you don’t need to know to understand that your well-being depends on the well-being of all, and how that solidarity needs to be at the center of everything we do now to protect each other, and from here onwards. “How we become / part of / each other” is a line in the book that speaks to this. Those are the positions I have always had in my life and in my work, but here they are expressed beyond the register of academic concepts. And perhaps the fact that it is expressed through poetry may allow others to enter these conversations, and to enter them in a different way. That is something I strive to do in my work, to open up the space, to move beyond the circle of those who speak the same language, who share similar views. I’ve always been in between worlds and it’s not easy; in many ways you don’t fully belong here or there, but in between is also where the possibilities emerge, where new conversations can be had, where new worlds can be made.

And of course the fact that I write in English and Spanish, and use both languages at the same time, does mean taking a position, and building on the work of many others—here I think, for example, about undocumented youth in the US and deported/returned youth in Mexico whose poetry and art in English, Spanish, and Spanglish has inspired me for many years—who show how this coming together of languages, of registers can create something new.

Rail: Your politics on the US side are very clear. The question of immigration is key, you also have this reference to George Floyd in the middle of the text, and the politics of breath being so incredibly fraught right now in the US in the context of policing and state violence. Yet, your references to the Mexican political landscape are more implicit. Mexico is a place where there is universal and public healthcare, but the figures, particularly statistics, have been so fraught in terms of their political uses in COVID times. So I wanted to ask you about the political weight of those numbers in Mexico.

Délano Alonso: Listening to and reading the news in both countries and being part of conversations on both sides, one of the things that struck me is how differently the numbers were being reported and the categories that were created around the numbers.  

Rail: Yes, in the US you have cases and deaths and then in Mexico there are so many different categories related to COVID.

Délano Alonso: There’s an opacity, a lack of transparency, that makes it impossible to fully grasp what this all means. Of course we’ll never truly know how many people had COVID or died from it, and these numbers have been challenged, especially in Mexico. And putting the numbers in one place versus another, side by side, makes some of the politics behind the numbers more explicit.

Rail: You juxtapose these two systems of data making and translating. … It shows a way of obscuring what is happening, what is invisible in a context of a country that has been criticized worldwide for its lack of contact tracing and testing.

Délano Alonso: Yes, and we also saw how overwhelmed the health system in Mexico was and continues to be unable to respond in so many ways. I lived it closely because my brother works in a public hospital in Mexico and he was giving us updates from the ground, and it was distressing. At the same time I live in the area that was initially most affected in New York. At one point Queens was referred to as “the epicenter of the epicenter.” The system was completely overwhelmed, so there was a period of time where there was really no distinction for me between what was happening in Mexico City and in Queens, there were no ventilators here or there, no oxygen here or there, ambulances refusing to take patients here and there. But when I say, “digo no hay camas, pero no hay nada, no hay tregua,” I am also thinking of a broader context in Mexico, where we have lived through so many years of violence, and the loss, the devastation, it’s relentless.

Rail: To take this question of politics a bit further, for me, one of the most political aspects of this book is the way that it also positions the politics of motherhood in the context of COVID. I certainly don't want to minimize the toll that the situation is taking on women, particularly on mothers of young children. But, as a mother of young children myself, I was really moved by the role that your children play in this book. They are not only your main interlocutors, but also little philosophical sages; these incredible mirrors that show us a different reality. And at the same time that you are clearly writing yourself as a caretaker in the context of this situation, under very dire and hard circumstances, your children are also taking care of you and also showing you, creating new hope and new possibilities through their both wise and innocent gazes. You reveal how you are learning these incredible things through them.

Délano Alonso: In the same breath I say I’m exhausted and immensely grateful to have this opportunity to experience all of this with them and through them. I've always been very aware of what their questions hold for me as openings of all kinds. Since they started speaking, I treat their questions as a gift for me to pause and rethink aspects about myself, about the world we live in, to reimagine the answers, and to create more questions together. Motherhood has certainly informed all my work these past 10 years. But the fact that their voices are at the center here is a reflection of the way in which we’ve lived this past year, with all the aspects of our daily lives intersecting all the time, and it felt natural and necessary to express that. I love how you put it in this way, that it’s not only about me caring for them but how they also take care of me. And that relationship of care has deepened and expanded as a result of the pandemic.

Rail: One of their voices says in the book, “Mamá, take your protein pills and put your helmet on.”

Délano Alonso: [Laughs] Yes, sometimes it comes in the most unexpected forms, these moments where they notice things, they quote a song, they have a realization, they really need to see and hear your response. 

And we are mothers, but it’s not the one thing that defines us, and I wanted to express that, to mark the experience of motherhood during the pandemic but not just that. It is always in conversation with all that we are as women, as working mothers, as scholars and teachers, as sisters and daughters and aunts, as partners, and as individuals, all of it at the same time. 

Rail: I think it's difficult, especially in these other academic realms where we very seldom speak about being mothers, where motherhood is so often looked down upon or even punished. You know, faculty meetings at 6pm … I'm in a moment of my life where I'm deeply sensitive to that. I remember very clearly when my children were born, you told me: “Take a notebook and write down the things that they say.” I listened and, as my daughter started to speak, I do it almost every day. I just sit down and write one sentence that she said and it's always fantastic, it's an absolute jewel to have this record of how they see the world.

Délano Alonso: One of the unique things about the pandemic, the quarantine, is how it has also opened our world to our children. They get to see us in the many facets of our lives, not just after school, after work. Here my two children have lived very closely the experience of me writing this, listening to me talk through the edits with others, seeing their words on paper, recording their voices for the film, giving their opinion throughout.

This process of mutual recognition is something that I deeply care about and it shapes the way I live. Being present for one another and responding to one another, letting them know that I listen to their questions and I see them in this way.

Rail: And that you take them seriously.

Délano Alonso: Yes, and perhaps that also makes them realize how significant this moment is and how important it is to listen to it. Escucha. That word sits there on its own in one of the poems and hopefully echoes. 

This takes me back to the idea that this book is not just about what I have to say, what my experience was; it's a space where the voices of many are saying something collectively. How we respond to this moment, with these questions, with these uncertainties, but also with the certainties. Because amidst the ungraspable, there is also a clarity about what is essential, what is fundamental. And it can be the wind on the trees, it can be looking up at the sky, it can be the way we listen, it can be the breath we now take in a very different way. Inhala.

ONLINE | Brotes: Book Launch and Performance, Friday, April 23, 2021, 7:00PM to 8:30PM (EDT)

Fragments screenings:

FICUNAM International Film Festival March 25-27, 2021.

Facebook live conversation with the co-directors, March 26, 2021, 7pm CST.

Memory Studies Conference, The New School, April 22, 2021, 1:30pm EST


Sandra Rozental

Sandra Rozental is an anthropologist based in Mexico City, where she is an Associate Professor in the Humanities at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Cuajimalpa. She has collaborated with artists and filmmakers, exploring different genres and media to bring her research on museums, collections, history, memory, and heritage to new audiences. She co-directed the feature film The Absent Stone with Jesse Lerner (2013).


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APRIL 2021

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