This post is part 1 of 2 in a story about Interrupted Passage: Mexico City, a project of Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick. Read part 2 here.
Julio and I are in Mexico City on invitation by the Museo Tamayo to present a Mexico-based edition of our Interrupted Passage project. The air is thin, the weather is dramatic, traffic is fun insane, gringa tacos addicting, Argentinian food inspiring, the people so charming and generous and I am lucky to have Julio- I don’t understand what’s happening half the time. Let me tell you what this is about.
Interrupted Passage is a food-based art project that examines Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a military commander and politician of California in the 1800’s, and his of handling of the Bear Flag Revolt, a turning point in history that lead to the transfer of California from Mexico to the United States.
Vallejo was a cosmopolitan and visionary who was part of a collection of Californians that established their rule through smooth, bloodless politics. Vallejo’s rule was fair, even-tempered and due to this, he was warmly called the Lion of the North. His rule was considered a mix of ‘fact and future’ and Vallejo saw most political views of Californians and Mexicans as out-dated and misinformed, and he administered progressively, for example he had an open immigration policy with the United States. Some of the Californians, even Vallejo’s Nephew, did allow themselves to get drawn into conflict, yet Vallejo remained neutral and even. Vallejo looked past all the conflicts and watched the larger picture. He attempted to address the potential future by regularly making requests to the supreme government of Mexico, which were almost always ignored.
On June 14, 1846, revolting against Mexican rule, a team of Americans showed up to Vallejo’s house to arrest him and bring him, his brother and others prisoner to the Central Valley. The unsophisticated Americans were looking for any reason to go on a pillaging, killing spree and Vallejo, rather than running or fighting, offered hospitality with food and drink, disarming their aggression. This simple approach combined with smooth negotiation during his last eight hours of power in California avoided mass bloodshed. This story of negotiation is the core of the Interrupted Passage project.
Something else interesting happened the day after the signing over of power, eating and drinking. On their way to the Central Valley, the aggressors, with Vallejo in capture, stopped for rest. Under cover of the night, Vallejo’s men gave him the opportunity for a rescue and an end to the aggression. For the time leading up to this point, Vallejo saw the U.S. as the future, not just the lessor of only bad options between the U.S., England and France, but he desired a union of California and the U.S. on equal terms. He declined a rescue, knowing that this transfer had to happen for the greater good of California and he was brought the Central Valley and placed in prison, starting another phase of his life. Currently, Vallejo is respected for these important choices and we honor him for his vision and wisdom.
For this dinner in Mexico, we imagine with an alternate history: when Vallejo is given the opportunity for rescue, he thinks about how crass and dangerous the Americans have behaved, and his growing emotions about the peril of his carefully crafted California civilization. He then realizes that the relationship of the U.S. and California wasn’t going to be of equal brothers like he had envisioned, but of master and subordinate.
History is then forked, Vallejo gives the nod, and his men deftly slaughter the Americans with swords, drawing the firm line in which the new history is based on from here out. We now ask, what are the possible outcomes of this new history? Would California became its own republic? Would Mexico sell California to England, in order to repay debt? Would the US officially invade California?
An inquiry to these questions can be found within our dinner.
The dinner next Monday, June 28, and we had a lot to do, we had to track down ingredients and finalize and print the menus, but first we had to find where, who and how.
For meat, fruit and vegetables, we went to La Central in Mexico City. We had no idea what we were getting into as we caravanned across town, but Edible Geography has a post that puts it in perspective. The shear size of this beehive of a market is breath-taking, the hallways seem endless, the roofs extend beyond the horizon. The shops carry anything and everything stacked vertically. The shopkeepers call out for your attention and offer samples from fresh cut fruit. The worker bees of La Central are these guys with hand-trucks that move all the product around, for both the shops and the patrons. These transporters zip around you full speed, and communication is done with whistles and bird-like calls that say “Coming behind you on the right!”. Each dock is connected by steep bridges in which the transporters in teamwork make the climb and then a controlled decent, which if you are not paying attention, will end in disaster as they will plow you over.
Later in the afternoon, we finally found an old-school, family run printer in a small space down an open alley. They agreed to the fast turnaround even though they hand-press each menu- these menus are going to be perfect in their imperfectness.