The day after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Oaxaca in February 2018, the streets of Pilsen were quieter, more tense than usual for a winter day.
That’s how photojournalist Sebastián Hidalgo remembers the day, after seeing the pouring out of family members checking in on their relatives on the other side of the border using social media.
“Every feeling, every emotion that Mexicans in Mexico experience, we feel it here too,” Hidalgo said.
That’s the philosophy behind Lit & Luz, a literary festival put on by MAKE Literary Productions that brings writers and artists from Chicago and Mexico together to collaborate on demonstrations, panels and works of art presented in venues across Chicago in the fall. (In the winter, counterpart festival in Mexico City is presented.)
Now in its sixth year, Lit & Luz Chicago 2019 will take place Oct. 12-19 and center around the theme of “movement.” The artists and writers will experiment with storytelling around topics of migration, social movements and physical movements of the body and sound. On Oct. 13, keynote speaker Luis Alberto Urrea, author of 17 books including “The Devil’s Highway,” “Into the Beautiful North” and “The House of Broken Angels,” will introduce the festival.
Hidalgo’s work, featuring a new mural in Pilsen, will be featured with the poetry of Diana del Ángel, an author from Mexico City whose book “Procesos de la Noche” tells the story of the battle that Julio César Mondragón’s family had to go through to reveal the truth of his murder and torture. His case was an explicit reminder of the violence used in Iguala against the students of the Ayotzinapa teacher’s school that resulted in the disappearance of 43 students.
It’s been five years since that night, but Mexicans all over the world still grieve, protest and seek answers. That’s what del Ángel and Hidalgo want to show with their collaboration.
“It’s the idea of love as a kind of resistance, as a force for the fight for justice, against the pain, the sadness,” del Ángel said in Spanish. Her spoken-word piece will demonstrate the “collective love of the people who sympathize with Julio and his family.”
The literary festival brings together expression across borders but also across disciplines, including visual art, music and film.
Mexican filmmaker Dalia Huerta-Cano and Chicago-based writer Eula Biss are collaborating on a story that juxtaposes the dynamics of movement by choice and by force. Huerta-Cano was in Mexico when the earthquake two years ago shook her building and displaced everyone living there. Imagery of this experience will be presented in a video in accompaniment with text from Biss’ experience of the moves she made in her 20s.
The pieces fit together like a Lego, Huerta-Cano said, showing the ways in which movement can be “more dividing than uniting.”
And Israel Martinez, a Mexican experimental musician whose work often incorporates the use of sound, text, video and action will collaborate with Chicago poet Emily Jungmin Yoon to create an audio experience meant to question the idea of “movement” and migration through the literal movement of soundwaves.
“Sound is migration, it comes and goes, sometimes it’s absorbed, heard and interpreted,” Martinez said in Spanish. “And sometimes, it’s ignored.”
There will be more than two dozen participants and events throughout the weeklong festival for fans of Mexican art and literature to choose from. Sarah Dodson, co-founder of Lit & Luz, said the festival began when it became clear there was an audience eager for the intercultural exchange between the U.S. and Mexico through art. An issue of the MAKE literary magazine featuring work translated from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English brought together American and Mexican artists, and Lit & Luz was born.
But the exchange doesn’t come without its challenges. Just as an acclaimed playwright was denied entry to the U.S. late September when she was invited to bring her piece to the Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, Lit & Luz has similarly had to deal with their guests being prevented from entering.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, we plan knowing that things could change or nothing is a given,” Dodson said. “We want to be conscious and considerate of the emotional factors involved with coming to the US, having issues with visas.”
Last year, Mexico City-based poet Jimena Gonzales, a student, was denied a visa just before the festival, forcing her to perform her dialogue with Mexican-American poet Jose Olivares over Skype.
Miguel Jimenez, the community and literary arts coordinator for Lit & Luz Festival, said he remembers the dialogue as it was presented over Skype at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
“We kept losing internet connection, there were moments in the performance where her image would freeze and we had to call her again,” Jimenez said. “Some people thought it was on purpose and we were making a statement, but its just the reality of what happens where we have these borders where people are not allowed to have these exchanges.”
The ability to have the exchange between Mexican and American creators is worth the challenges for Jimenez.
“Especially in these times, to explore with Mexicans who live on both sides of the border what it means to be Mexican, and to do that through art, is really powerful,” Jimenez said.
Alexandra Arriaga is a local freelance writer.