Inhabiting Otherness in All Its Possibilities: The Mexicanx Initiative at Worldcon 76

by Iliana Vargas translated by Julia Rios

When I received a notification on Facebook letting me know that I had been tagged in a post where John Picacio was looking for Mexicans who were interested in science fiction, my heart skipped a beat. I went to the page the post linked to, and there was was all the information about the call for applicants to the Mexicanx Initiative. Picacio wanted to bring together 50 artists of Mexican origin who worked with science fiction, whether literary, graphic, visual, musical, or even fans, to participate in the 76th Worldcon in San Jose, California from August 16th to 20th.

The question was very simple: you only had to explain why you would like to attend this convention. With the best English I could, I described what I do, what I like to write, and what I would do if I could meet so many people who shared my fascination with SF. There were many applications before and after mine, so I didn’t think I would go on to the next stage. Days later, when I received an email from John explaining that he had been interested in my answer and that he wanted to know more about my work and what I would like to do at Worldcon if accepted, euphoria took hold of me. I asked my sister to help me with my English to answer that email, in which I proposed discussion topics and a workshop. Fortunately, that email was followed by several more, and I learned not only that I would be part of The Mexicanx Initiative, but of the entire organization process: the details, the complications, the effort involved in giving life to a convention of this magnitude, and above all, that Mexican work would have an assured space to be visible and shared with participants from other countries around the world.

Mexicanx Initiative participants walking as a group in San Jose (Copyright 2018 Richard Canfield)

However, months later, my excitement over the trip was dampened by shocks and setbacks. First, by the death of Manrico Montero, one of my closest and dearest friends, who had shared the joy of the news with me and advised me on what I could do while there, and even helped me to gauge how that experience would influence future projects. I know that, although his human eyes couldn’t see everything that I lived and learned, he accompanied me during this trip through his new cosmic body. Another issue that discouraged me a lot was the way Trump pushed his policy of zero tolerance on the border. The images of children in cages and separated from their parents hit me very hard. Many people told me that this was not new, that it had happened before, and that I was overreacting.

Fortunately, shortly after that, a project that Libia Brenda proposed during a Messenger chat began to crystallize: she would assemble a bilingual anthology to take a small sample of our stories to Worldcon. That made me regain my enthusiasm and focus, not only on finishing writing my notes for the talk in which I would participate, but on doing everything possible to make the book ready. Before I realized it, I was caught up in looking for a printing press and asking for quotes, until the big day came when Gabriela Damián and I went to collect our 200 beautiful copies of A larger reality. Speculative Fiction from the Bicultural Margins, which includes 14 stories and a comic. From that moment, something changed in my perception of the place that each of us occupies in the world, the importance of collaborative work, and the sense of belonging, not as a closed entity, but as a network that expands and feeds on and from collaboration, the achievement in creating something altogether from its "spiritual" conception to its material completion. "We did it" became our mantra from that afternoon forward, and I will never forget the emotion that Libia and I felt when we went through customs at the San Jose airport without any problem,. We got into the taxi that took us to the McEnery Convention Center, happy, repeating again and again, "We made it, we made it!"

I think that if someone asked me about the most significant moment of my life, I would definitely say that it was entering the convention center and seeing so many people with whom I immediately identified, making me feel that I was in a place where no one would judge me because of my strangeness, but would share it with me. Because that is what Worldcon is about: it is an ecosystem in which you don’t need to use the social masks you put on in order to function in the conventional world; it is simply a space that offers freedom, and everything necessary to express what you have built in your own individual imagination. It’s a party that lasts five days, where you can immerse yourself everything that has been dreamed up in literature, cinema, comics, sound exploration, visual and multimedia arts, to create your own underground community; a community with an atmosphere of respect, wonder and curiosity, constant anticipation for what you will find in the halls, what you will hear in each panel, what you will discover in the dealers room, what you will learn at the end of each day. It is amazing the amount of activities, talks, and topics that are addressed throughout each of these days from 10 in the morning to 6 in the evening (and even later, because of course we had to go to a steampunk dance, the masquerade, and a screening of short films), and above all, the attention and participation of the public, since the horizontal exchange of ideas and opinions between panelists and audience is what speeds up and gives vitality to each session (always full, sometimes even beyond the capacity of the room).

The Spanish language Mexicanx Initiative reading group: Alberto Chmal, Raquel Castro, Gerardo Horacio Porcayo, Mariana Palova, David Bowles, Smok, José Luis Zárate, and Iliana Vargas (Photo by Julia Rios)

For me personally, it was like attending a multidisciplinary seminar on the infinite elements, characteristics, registers and representations that integrate science fiction and the fantastic imagination, a seminar from which I took everything I could and I hope to see it reflected in my writing. This, and being able to feel part of a new family, are what I value most about my trip. The Mexicanx Initiative has definitely been the most endearing experience I have lived so far; not for the mere fact of going as a group to an unknown place, but for what we could show and share with so many people who were genuinely interested in what we do, in our creative vision, but also in our everyday lives and perceptions of the world. It was an encounter and a mutual discovery, an opportunity to open up, to give, and to receive what others offered with such affection and honesty that they really made you forget that you were far from home.

The opening ceremonies were overwhelming because John invited us on stage while emphasizing that our presence there was an act of protest against Trump's discriminatory policies towards immigrants, and he read a manifesto written by Lauren Snow exposing all of this. From that moment on, every time we introduced ourselves as members of The Mexicanx Initiative, it was implicit what that represented, and people asked what activities we were going to participate in so they could come listen to us.

Iliana Vargas at the Mexicanx Initiative Spanish language group reading (Photo by Julia Rios)

It was very exciting to read our stories, and especially exciting that even in the Spanish language reading session, we had an audience. It was also very nice to see that Worldcon’s attendees were interested in the talks about what is shown and hidden through the imagination, or about the world of Mexican horror writers, or the history of fantastic literature and science fiction in Mexico, or the ways mythology is incorporated in current fiction, or the idea of borders as a trigger for new identities in real life as well as in fiction and other artistic manifestations. And of course, the booths in the art show and the dealers room, and the talks where the visual art of The Mexicanx Initiative was present: there was always someone willing to show and explain what their work was about and to talk about their creative process. It seems to me that the common feeling was a kind of pride in awakening something more than simple curiosity about what we had to say in our own language, which in the end, was not so different from the public’s ideas if we take into account the Science Fiction factor as the least common denominator.

During that time, and even once everyone returned to their daily lives, John Picacio urged us to get closer to each other, find our affinities, our personal and creative abilities (even among the people we already knew) and be willing to continue building from the individual to the collective, which I appreciate, because in the end, breaking out of the closed and small way of doing things is what will lead us to the future, where we belong.

Hopefully this initiative will affect many more, not only abroad, but in our own countries; in the way of making ourselves visible to each other, of integrating what we consider alien even in our own communities, of setting aside the stereotype of small cliques and institutionalized power groups, and forging other networks through which we can exercise our creative visions to invade reality and transform it into what we really want and need.

A version of this essay appeared in Spanish in Vozed in September of 2018.

Pablo Defendini