On Saturday June 30th 2018, on the brink of Mexico’s Presidential Elections, Quiero un Presidente—Mexican poet Luis Felipe Fabre’s free translation and adaptation of Zoe Leonard’s 1992 I Want a President—was read collectively at Hemiciclo a Juárez in Mexico City. The following day a nation beset by chronic class segregation, violence, and corruption, would be voting for a new president and congress. For most of the 20th century, democracy in Mexico has been widely viewed as a perfect tyranny, where even though elections occur every six years, the PRI—the dominant ruling party in power almost exclusively since our Revolution in 1910—has used voter suppression and worse to oppress the majority. According to Animal Politico over forty-two percent of Mexicans still live below the poverty line.1
Gathered at the Hemiciclo a Juárez in Mexico City, a day before the election, Mexico’s political identity was in crescendo, our pulse quickened, fueled by disillusionment and unchecked government corruption. Standing in the burning sun, a group of forty people all held a print-out and read out loud Fabre’s powerful version of a perennial lament and call to arms: Quiero a una machorra de presidente.
The poem’s demands for inclusion, sounding at times impossible and then brutally honest were uttered, mumbled, read, and misread aloud in a collective gathering; the chorus of voices seemed to open a space detached from the dogmatic campaign and political propaganda of Mexico’s competing groups and intractable social stratification. Opening an inclusive space for diversity and empathy, the poem framed the bodies and collective consciousness of Mexico’s streets, where a new future gestated and slowly expanded.
Free adapted version of I Want a President (1992), Zoe Leonard by Luis Felipe Fabre. Edited by ALIAS. Project by Ruta del CASTOR.
The collective reading of Quiero un Presidente, timed not only with the presidential elections in Mexico, but also with the International LGBTQ anniversary parade, was the first project by Ruta del CASTOR, a public art initiative conceived by young Mexican curators Sofía Casarín and Andrea de la Torre Suárez whose idea “emerged from our commitment and interest in the intersections between art and politics, the role of the artist as civic agent, and the dialogue of art in public space.” Casarín and De la Torre Suárez recognized that there is a lack of institutionalized platforms devoted to supporting public art in Mexico and they “wanted to provide a platform for wider audiences to engage in.” In the context of the election and the burgenonig intersection of art and activism taking place in Mexico today, Ruta del CASTOR hopes to commission and produce public art projects that “respond to different situations, communities, and social landscapes of the country.”
Quiero un Presidente was read over and over in a series of moderated groups, allowing different interpretations of the poem to be shaped by the collective voices of the participants. In addition, bikes with bullhorns were dispersed throughout the city by Bicicletas A.C. Initially a small group of mostly people from the art world, the crowd soon expanded, as people walking past the event joined in and the International LGBTQ rally’s passionate celebration arrived. The feminist art and activism collective Invasorix also joined, wearing cut-out masks of Zoe Leonard’s face, alluding with humor to the Guerrilla Girls and the group Anonymous, as well as honoring the vision of such an important artist.
In Mexico’s political and social climate, with 29,168 homicides reported by authorities in 2017,2 and at least 200,000 since 2007,3 Quiero un Presidente was adapted and reconfigured by Fabre to acknowledge the devastating facts on the ground. Fabre added context to call out not only homophobia and misogyny, but the oppression of specific socio-political situations in Mexico,
Quiero a una madre que haya pasado días y días buscando a su hijo en una fosa clandestina bajo el sol ardiente, a la madre que pintó de rosa la cruz de su hija, quiero de presidente a los padres de los desaparecidos que no quiso recibir el presidente . . . Quiero a una mujer indígena de presidenta.
(I want the mother that has been days and days looking for her son under the burning sun in a clandestine graveyard, the mother who painted the cross of her daughter in pink, I want for president the parents of the disappeared students that the president didn’t even want to receive . . . I want an indigenous woman for president.)
These sentences, added by Fabre, specifically address some of the most disturbing aspects of Mexico’s dysfunction: feminicides and the students who disappeared. Fabre also refers to figures such as María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, also known as Marichuy, an indigenous Nahua healer and human rights activist who competed as an independent presidential candidate. Through her brave advocacy, Marichuy represented the struggles, resistance, and cosmological perception of indigenous groups from Mexico along with The National Indigenous Congress (CNI). She became the most visible indigenous candidate in Mexico’s history, and although she didn’t compete in the final round of voting, her example triggered a profound sense of promise.
The last reading at Hemiciclo a Juárez was moderated by Alexandra Rodríguez, a long-time trans activist working on behalf of the LGBTQ community and for migrant rights. Rodríguez read with conviction and power, embellishing the poem with her own demands, her own lived experiences and dreams. To an emboldened and hopeful audience, the words of Quiero un Presidente took on new meaning becoming a singular part of the ongoing movement for justice and equal rights in Mexico.
- Author's name redacted, June 1, 27, 2018, “Compra y coacción del voto: CDMX encabeza las denuncias ciudadanas; el PRI tiene más a nivel nacional.” Animal Politico. https://www.animalpolitico.com/2018/06/compra-coaccion-voto-cdmx/
- Eli Meixler, January 22, 2018, “With Over 29,000 Homicides, 2017 Was Mexico’s Most Violent Year on Record,” Time. http://time.com/5111972/mexico-murder-rate-record-2017/
- Reuters Staff, May 5, 2018, “Nine male bodies discovered in violent southwestern Mexican state,” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-violence/nine-male-bodies-discovered-in-violent-southwestern-mexican-state-idUSKBN1I60U1