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!).

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   

Back to the Past

teatro guiñol

The number of proposals for events that people have been bringing to La Colmena is by far larger than I expected it to be. We have had people asking about book readings, concerts, dance premiers, theatre shows, and even a fundraiser for an independent film production. And just as many or perhaps more proposals we keep receiving for other activities to host at the space: from theatre rehearsals to free medical and psychological orientation sessions.

Despite often feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that putting all these ideas into practice would mean, talking to people who are looking for a home for the projects make me feel like the space is in fact fulfilling (or trying to fulfill) an important role in the community. There are many creative projects incubating in the a city as big as Mexico City, but it seems like the opportunities they have to grow and make themselves known are more rare, or at least made difficult to access by fees not all can pay, links with the government not everyone wants to accept, or even bureaucracy traps no one wants to deal with.

We don’t have as much time and space to support as many of these proposals as we would like to, but we have had a fair number of them come true in these past couple months. The last weekend of July we had three different events–a colloquium on the Cuban revolution, a puppet show, and the first performance of a theatre group that has been rehearsing at La Colmena. Plus we had the workshops we have every week, including the “Talks for sustainable lifestyles” which this time was about water rockets!

Cohetes Colmena

But the weekend before was particularly moving. Many of our friends from Mexico who are part of La Colmena are very active in the slam poetry community of the city, and Fiesco, a good friend of this community, had been in the hospital until around the time we opened the space. Although he was much better when he got out of the hospital, the treatment he had to follow was very expensive, creating a big struggle for his family. The slam poetry community then decided to organize an event to help his raise money for the treatment. The performances of that night were particularly inspiring, and the entire evening we share a very positive atmosphere. But we were all extremely surprised and shocked when Fiesco himself showed up. Only the friend who drove him here knew he was coming,  because he couldn’t leave his house very often. With tears in his eyes, Fiesco told us how grateful he felt for being there with us, for having us be there with him, and for being able to walk again, read again, speak again.

Slam Colmena        Fiesco Colmena

Back to the Future

Septiembre Calendario Colmena

Before I go back to the past to make up for the past few weeks of not writing on this blog, here’s the September calendar of La Colmena, to take us to what seems like is going to be a very Zen and musical month.

And here is a the first flower that blossomed in our hydroponic strawberry plant, and which hopefully foretells lots of delicious berries for everyone.

Flor Colmena

(Something I meant to post a couple weeks ago but couldn’t finish and now it’s too late so I’m going to start a new post)

Bienvenidos

We are almost on the last week of July, which means that we’ve had to spend a fair amount of time figuring out our plans for August at La Colmena. The constant movement of people who live in the house, and the way we have been organizing and promoting our workshops and activities in a monthly basis all mean that we have had to create new calendars and even ideas for how to live and work together every month. Agost seems like is going to be a really fun, busy and hectic month. Three of us are leaving Mexico City to go back to the US, and that means having to say some difficult goodbyes, but we also have some friends coming in to live with us, and that means I’m crazy excited at the same time. We have needed some extra time at our Sunday meetings to work out details like, who will live in which room now? and who’ll lead the English workshop once Em and Chlo leave? But I believe that the continuous change that we see at La Colmena is a thing that has made us learn more about who we are and what we want to do while remaining willing to rethink the ways we do things here.

Colmena anuncio

Pizarrón

Encuadernación

Mariana

Portalester!

Our friend Java has been making lots of awesome art at La Colmena. He used some old posters and other recicled materials to create amazing collages and put them back at the places where the posters were originally found. He also wrapped an anafre and a couple bottles with some more of those old sonidero posters, and created a colorful sculpture that we put outside our door. The sculpture makes a lot of people stop to look at it and ask about what we do, and now people also stop to look at our supe cool bike rack!

Photos of Teñido por técnicas de reserva, Yoga para Niños, Language Exchange, and all our other spaces and workshops are now also in our photoblog http://lacolmenadf.tumblr.com/, thanks to Yaqing Wen ❤

Arte JavaImagenImagenImagen

Imagen

Imagen

-Mariana

Librero=Bookshelf and Other Things We’ve Learned at La Colmena

Colmena teñido 2

 

The forniture donation we got a few days ago has made a huge difference to the Casa Colmena, or at least it seems that way to me. The tiny bookshelf we had before was overflowing with books so much that it was difficult to even try to organize them. Once we got the new bookshelf, big, red, and shiny, it seemed like our library started really growing. We have started to create a catalogue of the books we have, and to arrange them in sections: There are lots of History and Latin American Studies Books, lots of poetry books because we have quite a few poet friends, and now lots of children’s books because I brought in all my childhood books.

Finally having a table and chairs inspired us to rearrange the space to have more definite purposes for the different rooms in the house. One of the rooms (the one with the wooden floor thanks to my friend Antares’ floor donation) is now totally clear for the things that need more space, like Yoga and theatre rehearsals. The smaller room has become the library/reading space, and we have been holding there the English and Spanish learning group. The textiles dyeing class used the little backyard today to dye and let dry some awesome shirts, scarfs, and socks; and Java can always be found in between the kitchen and the garage, making some delicious food or creating a masterpiece with recycled materials.

The first month here was really busy, and for me personally, quite stressful and difficult. Signing the contract for the house and getting the support of some family friends to be able to do so felt like a big, scary thing. I was not sure how to assume a role of organizer while trying to set up a horizontal structure, and I often felt overwhelmed, scared, and unsure of where things were going and whether I was or would enjoy them. I could see the good things that this project was bringing though, I could feel that people were happy to be sharing this, and I felt incredibly lucky to have around so many people that I love and admire. So I guess it was like seeing all these great things but not really being able to enjoy them because of the pressure I felt, but in the past few days, this has started to change, and I feel like I’m finally having a little bit of time to see what we are doing and stop to enjoy it. Hana and Onyinye had to leave at the end of June, and it was really sad to have to say goodbye so soon to two amazing friends and people who were here for such a crucial time at La Colmena, putting in so much work and figuring out with us how to live, create, and learn together. But right then Yaqing and Emily arrived and brought to the house a refreshing outlook and new and exciting ideas that are making La Colmena acquire that feeling of permanent change that I assumed it would have and that will, I hope, keep it always open and in movement.

Today I had a staffing shift at La Colmena with my sister (we have a staffing schedule to make sure there’s always someone greeting people who come by, introducing the project before every workshop, taking care of some small chores, etc.) and we got to help out with some awesome things that happened. Five children came to the batuque workshop, a space for playing percussions that had always been attended only by adults but that was open to anyone who wanted to come. There’s no need to say that the workshop was a little more chaotic than it usually is, but the parents of these children left really happy about the space and said they will come back tomorrow for the Taller de Reflexión para Padres y Madres de Familia, a space for parents to reflect on parenting issues and strategies. All the children left with a book they borrowed from our little library.

Neighbor Luis came to the English and Spanish space and read some poetry with Java, Emily, Chloe, and Roxana. Some of us went to play basketball at the courts that are under the bridge a block away from the house, and on the way there, they found an abandoned fridge, the one thing we really needed!

Melipona got a new necklace that Rebecca made for her, and she also got milk and kitten food that my mom brought her, so she ran and played in the backyard and around the house. Tomorrow I’m going early in the morning to pick up another furniture donation before my staffing shift, so I should go to bed now, but coming soon from La Colmena… a radio show, a documentary, a fotoblog, a zine, a comedy troupe, and mucho mucho más, we hope.

-Mariana

Beginning July at La Colmena

July has already been super exciting! The Queermese was a success, we had a great Bachata and Merengue night, saw the beginnning of the textiles dyeing workshop, and someone donated a bookshelf, two tables, a lot of chairs, and a bed to the space.
We have an awesome program for July, and more and more neighbors are coming by to chat with us, take workshops and bring proposals.
And Melipona, the Colmena’s queen bee-cat, whom we rescued the day we got the keys for the house, is looking so much bigger and super healthy!

Colmena bachata Colmena Melipona

Colmena PrintsColmena textilesColmena textiles 2JULIO BIG PDF-page-001

 

Mariana

[with pictures by Java, and Emily Murphy (from Mac!). July’s poster design by Alizarin Menninga (from Mac!) and typography by Nat Rabell. Featuring Rebecca Jackson (from Mac!) teaching Alizarin, Luis, Inti Chomsky (from Mac!), Angel, Pacheco, Java and I some dance moves; Roxana showing how to dye textiles, and Emily and Rebecca helping her cut the fabric; Kaila Chan (from Mac!) at the Queermese next to the prints from Ruthan Godollei’s Printmaking 1 class; and the adorable Melipona saying hi to you all.

Food not Bombs, Yoga for Children, and a small flood at La Colmena

Colmena Junio colmena no bombas first day at la colmena

The workshops, activities, spaces, and meetings at La Colmena have continued and they keep growing like the mint plants on our windows!

The space has felt a lot more busy this week, more neighbors have stopped by to ask about what we do, and some have come with their children to some of the workshops. Most people show interest in the language exchanges, and in the yoga for children class. We don’t have internet at the house, so it is not that easy to catch up with the blogging, which is just one small part of all the online activity we are also doing to coordinate and advertise our spaces and events.

We are having a Colmena meeting every sunday to talk about new proposals (for workshops, events, ways of living together, etc.) and about other things like “how did we get here?” “how do we define ourselves as a collective?” and they have often been a little long but, at least for me, very nurturing. To one of these meetings came Pako, who does Food not Bombs events in D.F. He collects food that gets thrown away at local markets because is a little too ripe, or unpopular, or weirdly shaped, then makes a big, vegan, delicious meal, and takes it to a group that might need it. Last week, for example, he brought food to “nuestras hijas de regreso a casa,” an organization of family and friends of the victims of feminicides in Juárez, who were here in D.F. on a protest. The problem is that often he doesn’t have a kitchen to cook those meals, but we do! That’s how we decided that we should collaborate. He can teach us how to collect the stuff from the market, and we can help him cook in our kitchen.

This is the rainy season and so we have had rain almost every night. I like the rain because is never too cold, and because that means we get water on our super water collection system and our plants, but the other day we got so much rain that the whole backyard flooded! Luckily though the water didn’t go into the house, and our landlord was really nice and took care of that soon enough. Cleaning and drying the backyard became also a bonding experience for all the colmeneros, except for me, cause I was sick that day and couldn’t stay for the after party.

Next weekend is gay pride in D.F. and I really wanted to organize an event to reflect on some issues that don’t get much attention during this celebration. I wanted to talk about the queer community and the things there are to aspire to beyond marriage equality or our ability to identify ourselves in ads, and about the concept of queerness itself, which is still pretty new here in Mexico. So I suggested to have a fundraising event at La Colmena where we could have fun and celebrate but also offer a different outlook to this celebration, a space in which to explore gender, sexual identity, and so on. People here got excited about it and so it is happening this friday! We are having a “Queermese” which is a word play on Kermese, a type of fundraising party elementary schools make with games, a marriage booth, food, etc.

Gotta run for the language exchange!

Mariana

First week of activities at La Colmena

Before things catch up with us and we run out to make more glasses and flower pots out of recycled glass bottles, or to build a compost bin on the roof, or to learn how to install a rain water collection system, here are a few pictures of what has been going on at La Colmena since I last posted on this blog. We have had already two meditation sessions with our very own Alizarin Menninga from Macalester, three language exchange groups with Hana Masri, also from Mac, a cine-club Thursday with Iván, a friend from here who has been working-and having fun-with us a bunch, and an amazing book binding workshop with two facilitators from D.F. More pictures to come, and soon also a post about all the official and unofficial discussions we have been constantly having about the wider context and meaning of what we are doing and experiencing through this newborn community-experiment.ImagenImagenImagenImagenImagen