On March 30th 2009, the town council of San Cristóbal de Las Casas established new anti-graffiti measures: a 20,000 peso fine for being caught in the act, a 5,000 peso reward for people who turn in graffiti artists, and the prohibition of sales of aerosol to minors. In response to these repressive measures, the Initiative for Identity and Inclusion, A.C. and Melel-Xojobal A.C. convened a forum on Friday June 5th to not only talk about graffiti but also about the rights of youths and the ways in which these are being limited by the interest San Cristóbal has in satisfying the tourism sector.
The tragic death of Victor Penagos Estrada, a sixteen-year old who was killed on May 27th by a hotel guard who saw him painting graffiti on the hotel wall pulled people to this event: over 150 people came to the event to share there thoughts and outrage.
The “graffiti writers” (as they call themselves) presented themselves as a cultural, political, and artistic movement that offers an alternative form of expression to that of an “intolerant society, authoritarian, and exclusive”. The speakers talked about the history of the movement, re-appropriation of public space in the face of the “esthetic of power” and the hegemony of money; its festivals, and its objective to generate thought vis-à-vis questions painted on walls in the city. The subversive character of these practices was debated along with legal and illegal graffiti. Moreover, the speakers reflected on the counter-productive effect that is produce when the authorities designate space for their art in order to better control them. This the graffiti artists called “the hypocrisy of authority”.
The forum was quite interactive and the voices of many young people were heard. Some spoke on the ineffectiveness of Council’s measures: “I am not afraid of a 20,000 peso fine!” Others expressed their indignation at the death of their peer: “Does a wall count more than a life?”, and a deep sense of exclusion: “What do we have to do to not be repressed? Watch t.v. 8 hours a day? Vote for the PAN?” Many of the youth who spoke had prepared notes and demonstrated a political astuteness that goes against the often maligned image of youth as vagabonds passing the time by making trouble: “Young people who think are a threat a system like the one in which we live.” Other concerned citizens and parents of youths also spoke out: “I stand with these young people who want to express themselves. I also stand with those who will criticize me for this because I know I will learn a lot from them. I have learned a lot from my son.”
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