See you soon = Nos vemos and Other Things We’ve Laerned at La Colmena

sólo bicis

Back in the Twin Cities, thinking about La Colmena is a very different process. Being an active participant of the day-to-day life at the house has become more difficult, as one would expect, but getting updates through our internet sites and hearing various perspectives on how things are going from talking to different people has been a new enlightening and inspiring exercise. I am still figuring out how to convey all what goes through my mind when I think of La Colmena, and I feel like I have talked about it so much that I’ve lost track of who I’ve told what. So instead of trying to make of this post a recap or final reflection, I will just write some of the things that being part of La Colmena has taught me.

Olga

Bailar=Dancing but also Bailar=Perform and challenge and explore gender roles.

What to do when the music and steps for a traditional dance form like danzón or bachata seem to be always paired up with very strict and limiting gender roles? We don’t really know yet. But we have tried dancing with whoever we feel like, adopting whichever roles we like, learning both “sides” of the dance, etc., and it has been quite fun!

Libros Colmena

Ahorita=Right now but actually Ahorita=In a bit

And indeed patience is essential when trying to work as a collective. It was hard not to be impatient when we were just getting started, particularly about wanting to have things–like chairs and books–that would make the space more welcoming and accommodating. However, waiting has paid off, and very quickly when I put it in perspective: Our library, which started with a couple books we brought from our houses, has now more than 5,000 books, thanks to a big donation by a Mexican professor, and the Colmena house is fully furnished, thanks to many other generous donations by friends and neighbors.

Cuaderno ColmenaBasura=Trash

And that’s just a fact, but I don’t even know how to begin to write about all the conversations we have had at La Colmena about basura and the huge problem it is for the city and basura and how composting it is awesome but omg we are getting invaded by flies and basura and we need it to make our chalkboard paint and to trade it for veggies and to turn it into musical instruments and basura and how we produce too much of it and how it adopts so many forms some physical some metaphorical some blocking our sewage some cluttering our minds, our media, our politics. But Java specially reminded me than before claiming that basura=art=things to sell=profit=whatever else, it is important to keep in mind that basura=trash, so that we can ask questions like why basura? basura where? basura for whom? next to whom? affecting whom?

And as we think about these questions, we can make amazing notebooks, like this one, made also by Java.

mascaras

Enseñar=Teach=Aprender=Learn

I guess this was already one of our starting premises, but it seems like words are more meaningful when they have been following us for a while, and we are still learning how to bring even closer these two sides of the equation.

Thanks a lot to everyone who has been part of this project; to the people who have been taking pictures, essential to spread the voice about what we do (In this post the photos were taken by Pilar Rodríguez, Yaqing Wen ’13, León Molet, Java, and Alizarin Menninga ’14 in that order); to those who came down to Mexico to work with us; to those in Mexico making of La Colmena their new home; to those supporting us from here and from all over the world (according to our blog and facebook stats at least!); to our awesome landlord for being so supportive (featured in the last picture, getting a mold of his face made for a mask!); to our neighbors for welcoming us to Portales Oriente; to the workshop facilitators for sharing their time and talent; and well to anyone and everyone who has been or will be part of this (we still have some 8 more months to go at least!).

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Adopting a Kitten, Adopting a Space

           SMELLYPONY!!  meli hoy meli ben

Rebecca Jackson and Chloe Chon, both MCST majors from my year decided to make a documentary about La Colmena, and we all thought that was an awesome idea. During the time they were here, Rebe and Chlo recorded some of the events and workshops we had, many interviews with people involved in the project, and some other fun things that happened in the house (like when we played cebollitas! For those of you who don’t know what cebollitas is, wait for the documentary to come out!). I liked seeing them record stuff at the house, because it made me reflect on what was happening at that moment and how we might think about it in the future. It seems like things at La Colmena change all the time, really fast.

But anyway, this post is about one of my favorite moments recording a clip for the documentary. It was Rebecca’s last Sunday in Mexico City, a couple hours before the Sunday meeting started, and we were, as we often are, hanging out in the kitchen. Java was broadcasting on Radio Colmena from his computer, and when he put on some music I asked him to tell me a bit about what made him join this collective.

Batuque Colmena

Java said he was at first intrigued by the idea of meeting people from abroad, and that what has kept him here is the atmosphere that was created when we all started working together. Java grew up in Ciudad Juárez, and he said that his image of citizens of the United States was shaped by the stories of racism and violence committed against Mexicans he heard all the time, living near the border. Coming to La Colmena was for him a way to explore these issues and to challenge prejudices.

I have slowly been realizing that having people from abroad come to Mexico City to join La Colmena has been central to the experience of everybody participating in the project. Among other things, it has confronted us with an important challenge, which Java mentioned: attempting to communicate not only through cultural differences, but also through linguistic barriers. Many of us spoke at least some of both English and Spanish, but there were others who only knew one of these languages. We dealt with this difficulty at the meetings by translating everything, an often tiring and time-consuming endeavor, but a very important one. In more informal situations, using physical language was useful too, and also quite fun and sometimes funny. I believe that having to learn another language is an exercise that makes us all more humble, and that seeing others try to learn from us can also make us more willing and excited to learn from them, and Java agreed with me on this point. He said that overcoming language barriers made him connect to people in La Colmena in different ways, and that he thinks we all have learned a lot–and not only about English and Spanish–from this process.

meli cine

As we had this conversation, Melipona climbed up to our bag of bags, and curled up to take a nap. She has become fluent in English and Spanish, and she has also had a chance to practice her French, Cantonese, Mandarin, and even a little Portuguese, Hebrew and Korean. Watching her sleep so peacefully and beautifully makes me automatically feel more at home. She was the first resident of the Colmena house, and we tell the story of how this happened in that same clip for the documentary, so I won’t go into it right now. I’ll just say that I’m happy this old house which remained empty (and maybe even haunted, but that’s another story!) for a long time has now been adopted by Melipona and her loving Colmena crew.

Luis kitchen   java kitchenmeli platicas meli java