This August I was flown down to El Paso Texas, then driven over the border into Ciudad Juarez. I had been communicating with “Pancho” and “Oliver” of 656 for over two years. I had been introduced to their work by Samax at Ghetto Manga and immediately hit up the crew when I was still art directing Come Bien Books to collaborate. We spoke over the phone and through email, but it was nice to finally meet in person. 656 main crew consists of Francisco, Oliver, Laura, and Marcos. There is another cat who’s in the crew but I didn’t get a chance to meet him. Below you can see some covers from their incredible stories!
I was picked up from the airport by The US consulate in Ciudad Jaurez who sponsored my trip. Big shout out to the US Consulate, because if it wasn't for them I wouldn't have been able to meet such amazing folks.The homie Juan Pablo “JP” came to get me and immediately took me to see a place I was super excited about, Cinco Puntos Press! Located in El Paso, this is one of the premier publishers of bilingual books and it is one of the first publishers I sent my art to. Dope people, great store, truly an honor. Next I got a new sense of what it was like to be in a foreign country for the first time in a long time. We went to a taqueria in Juarez and I realized I had a lot to learn about how things work in Mexico. First, pesos. I’m told that 11 pesos equals a dollar or something like that. Anyway, when I paid for my tacos they told me I could pay in dollars…What??For reals? Too easy, its going to take more practice to learn pesos. I think it's also very fucked up that the US is the only country using miles or gallons when in Mexico and so many other parts of the world they use kilometers and liters. I think small things like this are to cut us off from the rest of the world. Anyways, here you see some photos of the stop on the workshop schedule.
SOMOS Frontera/El Paso Times.
In addition to the large attendance, I was asked to answer questions with the occasional camera interview of the local Television media.
I was happy to do this, albeit a bit nervous. But, this event was not about me. It was about giving the kids who attended another perspective on how art is used. Ciudad Juarez has been ravaged by Narco violence and the murder of thousands of women near the maquiladoras (factories) run by US and Mexican companies. In the last 5 years the amount of homicides has risen from 300, to 500, to 750, to more than a thousand. The reporters kept asking me why I came there and the kids thanked me for visiting they’re city. It wasn’t until I started doing some more reading about the death toll that I realized something like 1000 people had already been murdered in the city. Check out these articles 1 and 2 . 656 are part of the solution though, defying the negativity that seems to be the only thing people hear about Juarez, to talk about something else. Art.
That night Juan Pablo, Oliver and Marcos of 656 took me to a local Mexican reataurant after arguing about which place they should take me to so I wouldn’t get sick, bored, or dissatisfied with the food. Went back to the hotel and rested, watching novelas and Harry Potter en television. Here is the crew in front of Muref.
Day Two Conference in the University TECNOLOGICO DE MONTERREY campus Cd. Juarez. This was a heavily guarded university that was farther out of the central city. They told me it was the nicer part of town. It was a beautiful building that I spoke in. There I got to meet Laura Ramirez a university instructor and the one behind a local library called Ma’Juana. The class was very cool, small in comparison to the previous day. With the kids I did a powerpoint presentation talking about me, how I started in art, my influences, and my crew. It was cool to look back as I spoke about memories and homies and it was cool for these kids because they spoke English as well as Spanish. So they got to practice their English skills with me. I did a very brief workshop with them about mural sketch design where I talked about messaging, legibility, and audience of a mural. It was fun and the folks who could stay for the entire thing were very laid back.
To see more photos from this workshop go to Communidad fronteriza
After that Pancho, a young Graf Writer named Bash, and Laura took me to eat Argentinian food. Ahhh, superrrrRico! Over lunch I listened closely as they spoke about the university, the work they do, the city, and how they get by. I also learned a lot of slang words. Mexicanos in Juarez remind me of hustlers or players in Oakland. They speak rapidly, but very smoothly. Words like “nekte” which means “connection” or “hook it up” were hard to miss. “La Bronca” which is like the obstacle, the problem, or the barrier. Chavo, which is more common, like a “dude” or a “boy”. Chingon, more difficult to explain. “Fucking”, “fucking cool”, ??? Heard that word a lot along with “Guey”, which means fool or the Bay Area equivalent to “blood”. There were others like “Frio como nariz”, “Estas Pedo”, and “No Mames Guey” , which means don’t suck or stop trippin fool!
Later that night I also went with Pancho and his son to see Transformers 3 en Espanol. I wanted to see some independent flicks like “Amorres Perros or “Y la LLuvia Tambien” but my folks explained to me that theaters that showed them were no longer common in Juarez. Many businesses and people had picked up and left the city. That night my weakness for frosty drinks got the best of me. I forgot about the water in the icey I drank and got my stomach “fuuuuuucked up!!” It was rough night!Day Three
Next day after resting in my old school hotel in the middle of the hood and hoping my stomach would recuperate, I had another workshop at "Companeros" with a group of teenaged comic writers and illustrators. Before this I got to walk around the hood next to "Companeros" that does literacy work, and data gathering about drug use by young folks in the city. A cool place with very laid back staff. That afternoon 656 asked me to talk about how I’ve fundraised with my crew and how I saw self promotion/ or self marketing, which was really fun to talk about. I Began by showing examples of my work and by doing a new workshop Ive been working on for a year now called “Sequential Storytelling”. It involves elements of Film, Children’s books, Graphic Novels, and Comics.
The youth there were mostly writers so it was a challenge to make it relevant to them as a visual artist. Talking about funds and promotion I delved into websites, blogs, social media, the law of attraction (which I’ve been studying), and sites like IndieGogo or Kickstarter. But, I have a lot to learn, because it isnt so easy to throw a party there with all the violence. And not everyone has access to a video camera or editing equipment to make a fundraising video. In the end, I stressed the importance of letting everyone around you know about what it is that you do creatively.
After that I got the chance to have lunch with some other folks. A young comic creator named Rexito Marana was with us, his work is definitely worth checking out. But after eating at a local joint called VIP’s (like the Mexican version of Ihop) my stomach got to me. It wasn’t a pretty site. Had to crash because I was super sick. Did my best to rest that night so I wouldn’t miss the next day’s workshops with the babies!
After that I got to meet some of Laura’s family and some more cool folks from the neighborhood. Everyone I must say without a doubt was beautiful, humble, generous, hilarious, creative, and loving. I am eternally grateful for my short stay among the 656 Crew and their extended familia. They left me with some copies of their comics, a few independent Mexican and Spanish films, and even some books for my son. I missed them as soon as I got to the airport. I headed out with Laura dn Juan Pablo to do some shopping in El Paso just because I still had a bit of time and I enjoyed kicking it with them. JP even gave me a Julieta Venegas CD! I love me some Julieta (Tijuana, MX)!
And that was my trip. Despite what the media says about Juarez, what i've heard about the Femicide, Maquiladoras, or Narco Violence I found the folks I met to be super tough and ready to change the world. If you know any artists out there who are doing their best to create beautiful art, serve their community some how, and are not afraid of learning a few new words let me know. I will pass them to the 656 crew. Likewise, if you are in the US and you want to support this group, hit them up! Buy their books! Tell any young brown creative writers or aspiring comic artists that they CAN do it. This crew is proof of that, and they’re on their way to New York’s Comic Con this October (check this link to see how "Diverse" the event is and you'll see why I ask for you to support their stories). Go visit their table, give them a pound and a hug for me. Love yall my Ciudad Juarez Family! Thank you to Pancho, Oliver, Marcos, JP, Laura Ramirez, 656, The US Consulate, Muref, Companeros, Ma'Juana, all the young students and artists I met (never give up! follow your dream, and change it all), and all the media that covered the workshops. Si olvido su nombre, perdon. Yo estaba enamorado con todo que estaba pasando en frente de mis ojos! -Rob/Tres
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Here are some screen shots of some of the press the workshops got while I was there.