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Mario Santiago Papasquiaro - Poet, Terrorist, Icon

Words:

Edd Norval
February 21, 2020

Mario Santiago Papasquiaro is the pen name of José Alfredo Zendejas Pineda, a Mexico City poet whose influence on the character of the word in Mexico cannot be overlooked. Many writers and thinkers are branded 'dangerous', but few are able to own the epithet like Santiago - a martyr from unrestrained creative expression.

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Santiago's facial expressions were often stern, a restricted growl hung over him, a restless and relentless part of his demeanour mirroring his outlook and approach to the value of the word in a Mexican society so damaged by violence, inequality and corruption. Rather than fighting it with romance, he became its most prominent documentarian.


His growth was stunted and he walked with a stick at times, like Ian Dury's polio which, rather than diminishing his presence, gave him an imposing aura, something off-kilter and alluring. Santiago's entire being seemed to embody the anti-everything ethos he espoused as purely as the Beats who came before in the United States.


Born in 1953 amd coming of age during years of great political upheavel, viscerally culminating in 1968's Tlatelolco Massacre, where armed forces opened fire on protestors demonstrating against the 1968 Mexican Olympics, killing hundreds of students and bystanders in a heavy-handed display of government might - Santiago knew the severity of Mexican life.

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Cultural fallout from the massacre went both ways. Mexico's official state apparatus closed ranks, becoming increasingly conservative, especially pertaining to expression of the population and its arts. As a result of their pull, the people pushed, seeking out increasingly adventurous ways to display creativity. In 1974, when Santiago began his foray into the world of poetry and the written word, his influences were as far away from his immediate reality as could be, revering surrealism and avant-garde writing forms. Soon, others would tread the path he cropped.


Those who knew the writer during his most active days remember a difficult personality, somebody that has taken all of the anger of his peers and people unto himself, declaring a sort of martial law over his own feelings and emotions, but rather than keeping them captive, he expresses those feelings the moment they are allowed to go free with such a ferocious wrath that he shook the literary establishmnt - the one he so despised - to its very core.


Often tackling issues that were relateable, eschewing the established norms of Mexican poetry and writing his words in an urban context - for the drunks, pimps, hookers and mad men of the street to find comfort and solace in - he too was a walking piece of art. His words were lyrical displays, but so too were his actions.

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Drinking heavily since his mid-teens, Santiago steamrolled through life headfirst, making enemies at every turn, becoming a terrorist to the Mexican literary establishment using methods that were non-violent only in that they left no traces of blood. The weight of his words were a dull bludgeon that, up until his death at the age of 44 were repeatedly smashed into the faces of the state-sanction prose that dominated his homeland.


Santiago's death was a result of the way he lived. Found dead after being hit by a car, Santiago was under the influence of alcohol, a unfortunate result of impaired senses. This incident sent ripples through the Mexican literary establishment and would martyr him for future generations choosing to pick up the revolutionary spirit of his Infrarealist movemnt.


The 'Infras', of whom Santiago was the most outspoken proponent, gained a lot of its fame through the inclusion of Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, whose renowned novel The Savage Detectives immortalised Santiago as one of the protagonists, Ulises Lima, who was heavily based on the Mexican and whose persona in the book contributed greatly to his own personal mythology.

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His poetic movement was self-described as consisting of "[r]adical vagabonds, fugitives from the bourgeois university". Breaking away from the university is an important point in this statement. Its context situates the Infras as part of both Mexico's literary history but also across many different countries who boast similar reactionary movements.


In the years following the aforementioned massacre of Santiago's youth, the Mexican state, headed by the PRI's Luis Echeverría Álvarez, had felt they'd lost meaningful contact with the youth of the nation, particularly in the arts, and sought to suture the wounds by granting scholarships led by universities and public institutions.


Those finding positions in the scholarships were seen as toeing the state's line, creating works that are acceptible and, to the Infras, lacking in any authenticity or sincerity. It was these people who would become their most important enemy.

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Responding to the government's initiative, the Infras began to sabotage events, interrupting important speakers, smashing glasses and starting fights, all to be heard saying 'we're the real truth, these people are selling you fiction masquerading as fact'.


Truly being an Infra meant living what you dared put down on the page. It was, according to them, that the person and their work must be "one single thing" with the aim "to the blow the lid off the brains of official culture."


Although largely forgotten about in the subsequent years after its de-facto leader's death, the Infrarealists have maintained an enduring appeal, becoming increasingly popular again, surfacing in literary and in rap/hip-hop culture as a voice willing to stand against a machine. Santiago, the eccentric wanderer whose poems exist mainly as fragments on any scraps he could find, is a folkloric figure who too exists in fragments of truth and fiction in the Mexican literary psyche, a spectre whose powerful words burned themselves into their minds, never to be weakened, never to be erased.

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