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Our Country is Called América: An Interview with Al Giordano, founder of NarcoNews.com

Al Giordano Jun 28, 2005

Inpired by the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and fed up with the complacency of New York’s waning Downtown scene, Al Giordano went south of the border with no money and a dream. Founding NarcoNews.com, a Latin America-based news service, and an attached School of Authentic Journalism that now has hundreds of alumni reporting throughout the “Narcosphere.”

What is America?

Our credo at Narco News is a quote from General Simón Bolívar – the George Washington of South America – who said “¡Nuestra patria se llama América!” (The name of our country is América!) América, singular. The América with an accent. Let’s start with an accent and work our way toward making our hemisphere a more dignified, and more fun, place to live. Every dance begins with a step.

Is the Southern border real?

Borders are false by their nature, meant to be crossed and broken. Northern Mexico along with Southern California-through-Texas has mutated into a kind of third country, a narco-state that nobody voted for, a militarized “free trade nightmare.” When a buddy of mine got picked up by immigration authorities in Kansas City and shipped back to Mexico, well, I realized that Missouri is the border too.

The border is also a state of mind, one that at least 30 million folks born in Mexico but living in the United States have broken out of.

Will there be a USA in a hundred years?

The current situation is terrible. You notice it more starkly when you live outside of those borders, as I do, and come back infrequently. You can see that people are more frightened, more psychotic, more miserable, while insisting at louder volume that they are happy. This is equally true of red-state folks and blue-state folks, of right-wingers and left-wingers. It’s a societal trend that goes across the board.

The American English language has four dominant verbs: to work, to buy, to sleep and to die. Hombre, everyone is on a friggin’ treadmill up there, except for a small minority leisure class, which tends to be on its own special kind of hamster-wheel of neuroses.

As of 2000, there were already 35 million Latinos in the United States. Twenty million of them were Mexicans, millions more from every other country in the hemisphere. The open question for me is: Do these immigrants become like those in the previous waves, eager to slam the door shut behind them? Or does the United States, by cultural osmosis, become a less uptight society, like Mexico?

Does Latin America have the same sense of “newness” that the North prides itself on?

At this moment that I am responding to your questions, the Zapatistas are huddled in the highlands and jungles of Chiapas consulting their indigenous bases. Subcomandante Marcos, in a communiqué, wrote: “Ever since that dawn of the beginning of ‘94, we have dedicated our struggle – first with fire and then with the word – our efforts, our life and our death, exclusively to the Indian peoples of Mexico for the recognition of their rights and their culture. It was natural – we Zapatistas are overwhelmingly indigenous. Mayan indigenous, to be more precise… Now we are consulting with our heart in order to see if we are going to say and do something else…”

Like Diego Rivera’s concept of great art, the Zapatista universality (indeed, their great revolutionary art to which we are all indebted) comes from having deep roots. They’ve always said they don’t want the world to live like Mayan indigenous, that they just demand the right to be as they are, and they want other people elsewhere to fight for the right to be as they are: different, and, poetically, that’s what makes us all the same. That’s an example of how the “universal” springs from the native, or the local.

There is a lot of motion and effervescence and cross-pollination, experimentation, trial and error, constant analysis, constant action, even hyper-action. And yes, you are part of it in North America, and you’ll all be happier and more hopeful (and more effective) when it dawns on radicals up there how your “New World” roots, your immigrant roots, make you part of Bolivar’s “country called América” too, even while your government behaves like the same colonial powers that Americans, north and south, cast off centuries ago.

Do you identify as an American, in the usual northern sense?

Yes, I’m a gringo. I can’t change that. But as a gringo I come from immigrant blood. And eight years ago I migrated South. I often get strange reactions when I say things like, “I don’t love my country anymore.” People react in one of two ways. Some say, “How can you not love your country?” It’s a foreign concept to many, to probably a majority. Others say, “How could you have ever loved it?”

I feel a great nostalgic love for the New York that once was, but that is no more, for the city of immigrants where I was born, for the concepts of liberty, justice, democracy, a free press, an open society without fear. Of course, now most folks are afraid. The fear is what killed my city and my country.

It’s that love for wild freedom and authentic democracy that led me to Latin America, where I find the desire is shared by most people, where people are willing to fight for it, and where I find I can share foxholes with people and movements where I know we will all be shooting in the same direction: toward the enemies of authoritarianism, simulation and domination.

Why does the political right capture the flag so well?

Because the left doesn’t contest them for it. Period. You’ve ceded it to those fuckers. United States radicals have to stop insisting on purity. At Zapatista gatherings, at every single one, they sing the friggin’ national anthem! And they also sing their own Zapatista hymn. You can do both.