Tourniquet | Decolonizing Mind Process

Train to “El Norte”. Source Polo’s Bastards

“Development is a voyage with more shipwrecks than navigators”
Eduardo Galiano

It has just finished the 13th Arquine Congress held in Mexico city and we’re still thinking on some of the issues discussed there and the supposedly contradiction and inherent conflict when joining practices as diverse as Eyal Weiyzman and Zaha Hadid. And it seems that back in Mexico they are also still discussing on this. Matched with the Congress it was also held an architecture competition to provide a shelter for Central Americans migrants on their transit towards the U.S.A. According to the organizers “The purpose of these shelters is to bring shelter, human safety and sometimes medical and psychological attention, as these people, during their crossing must face several actions such as migrant trafficking, slavery, clandestine human trafficking, trafficking of drugs and other substances, amongst others; which are detrimental not only for the migrant in its transit, but also for the national development and public safety”.

The critical condition of migrant people is something we have discussed before and the idea that architecture should be politically engaged is an important matter for architects nowadays. The task of focus on the places between us, which in this case means thousands of people traveling into different realities generated by our economic and political relationships, reminds us Zizek thoughts, when he explains that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world by a climatic disaster or a cosmic collision than to imagine modest changes in Capitalism.” Mostly all of the people crossing the border and traveling on “La Bestia” are looking for better economical conditions, but during the travel they easily become the main focus of professional people-smugglers, increasing injury and fatality rates due to their clandestine entry.

From Arquine’s competition brief:

Mexico, is a key country when talking about displacements, not only due to its geographical position, but also for the diverse migration flows that occur in it, as it receives hundreds of people in a daily basis who pass through the country and take it as an exit or as a return path, or even for those who arrive there to stay.

Independently fron any ideological approach, it is interesting to think [and re-think] on Darrenn Ankarlo’s question: Why are 20 million people disregarding America’s sovereign borders and laws to come to this country?

The winning proposal, called “Estacion Migrante” claims to use existing railroad system infrastructure in Mexican territory. The team by Aparicio + Vazquez + Guerrero + Ríos + Tijhuis doesn’t focus on the building site proposed, but reclaim the use of existing and derelicted stations to provide migrants with basic human, sanitary and legal services; and even permit them to return to their homes.

“Estación Migrante”. Winner proposal Arquine Contest

This intelligent and simple proposal of transitional places poses interesting challenges and questions when imagining how to jump from design to practice: Who could manage and maintain such infrastructure? or, How to avoid the intromission of drug cartels in the shelter network? and so on. In fact, this is precisely one of the key lessons that can be extracted from the Arquine contest: Given that the drama of thousands of people migrating through Mexico persists, is it enough to just provide “band aids” to a perverse system?. François Roche states a good argument that can be claim to clarify this point:

Architecture today is shifting, or drifting, in the pure logic and strategy of shaping, where fabrication, expertise, efficiency, and computation have become substitutes for the logic of the raison d’etre. Like the car company producing cars, where a specific social organization has been created to manage production without diagnosing the structural and human alienation produced by that system, the discipline of architecture is going back to its own ghetto, constructing simultaneously an efficiency and legitimacy of knowledge from evaluation and expertise, which gather and target a high degree of professionalism . . . while raising the fences, the fortress wall of its “territory,” with loneliness and detachment and a kind of absurd arrogance.

We keep the basic idea: “to deal with the structural and human alienation produced by the system”

X-Ray of migrant people crossing the border on Mexico [1999]. Source: Wide Angle

In his Open Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galiano describes how natural resources have been exploited from colonial empires to modern United States and Europe causing poverty in the region. According to him “Mankind’s poverty is a consequence of the wealth of the Land”. If existing a new chapter of Galiano’s book we speculate on people as the most valuable resource that has been constantly dropping like blood from a wound, specially since the last decades of the last century.

Immigrants should decolonize their minds from the idea of material growth, wondering that the mental dream they are trying to achieve is nothing more than the very beginning of their problems.

Following the challenge posed by Arquine we imagined an artifact that could be used to avoid just using band aids. A sort of denouncing apparatus not to be physical constructed but to generate a legend to inoculate in the minds of Central American people, a sort of contemporary “llorona” that they can find in their route to the United States. This “llorona” won’t bring them to the hell, it will bring them back to real home. It will capture them and decolonize their minds from the distorted idea of material progress which is nothing more that the modern tale of capitalism.

Migrant people jumping to catch “la Bestia”. Source Arquine

The new legend talks about a Tourniquet that could help to stop this bleeding of human beings.


Tourniquet. For a higher resolution, click here.

When Maria Tecún [1] arrived to Tultitlan, “La Bestia” crashed with an strange apparatus. Some boxcars were trapped by “El Torniquete” and from that moment she started to went awake from her “american dream”. She was trapped inside boxcars during two days, but it was a life-span travel… The tourniquet squezzed her mind and at the end she realized that her innermost materialist desires were a chimera. She could clearly see that the hunger of her children starts in offices far away from her town. She found out the secret answer of why sometimes it’s easier for our youths to get a bullet than a piece of bread.  As she moved circularly through seven boxcars, her body was comforted and her mind gradually changed:

Boxcar 01. Welcome/reception: Basic needs: Food, shower, human empathy.

Boxcar 02. Poverty: Desperate people trying to leave abject poverty and destitution on their countries comes here seeking for opportunity and freedom. But by leaving their countries they’re maintaining the same system they’re trying to escape, they don’t realize that they’re feeding a machinery that works with people as another exchange value.

Boxcar 03. Violence: The criminalization of immigrants by local policies suddenly becomes a “way of life” for migrant people. Endemic violence driven by a desire of higher economical profits, where there are no limits creates this new environment that affects migrant people mental and emotionally. ¿Are Latin American violent people? Most of the weapons killing people in the region are fabricated in the North.

Boxcar 04. Maras/Gangs: Acts of violence are perpetrated by gangs against innocent people, property, or other gangs. Most of these gang members are illegal immigrants who find on the gang a new family.
A fact: Maras were originated in the US. That’s Fourth World at Pico Union.

Boxcar 05. Drugs: Contradictory policies on the so-called “drug-war” and the presence of drugs cartels in the borderlands, reinforced by the need of migrant people to make fast money, makes that the “travel” becomes part of the decaying social infrastructures related with drug suppliers and smugglers which operates in the area.

Boxcar 06. Work: The flow of labour has been encouraged by the local policies focused on illegal workers to avoid taxes, barring immigrants from receiving public services. This fact is accepted by the migrants, who need to work longer due to the debts incurred in their “travel”.

Boxcar 07. Future:
Scrushed and reseted, Maria Tecun’s head only wanted to go back to her real home. It was decolonized from capitalism idea of progress and money as the main object of her life. After completing the tourniquet cycle her boxcar was linked to a train going back home. She doesn’t “need” to work endlessly to earn little money to spend buying things. She decided to see her children grow, she decided to claim for respect, she decided to quit from feeling fear…

She decided to STOP OBEYING!

[1] According to Men of Maize by Miguel Angel Asturias, María Tecún left her house and her housband Goyo Yic. We think we have seen her, risking her life, while jumping on “La Bestia” to go to the North in the search of a future for her sons.

Going beyond the comfort of intellectual proposals we claim for a serious consideration of the task that courage people like Alejandro SolalindeJavier Sicilia, and some organizations are carrying in Mexico, pointing out on the devastating consequences of violence, drugs and weapons trade in the region.


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