“Mexico Unmasked” (Writers & Company)

2 May

Since mid-April, Eleanor Wachtel has been hosting a series of interviews with Mexican writers on her weekly show, Writers & Company on CBC Radio 1: “Much of what we know about our NAFTA partner is cloaked in stereotype. This four-part special series on Writers & Company cuts through those clichéd images and looks at Mexico through the eyes of its writers and filmmakers; at how history informs the present and politics penetrates daily life.” Interviewees include(d) journalist/author Elena Poniatowska (13 April), journalist Juan Villoro and “Crack” writer Jorge Volpi (20 April), historian/novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II (27 April), and this week novelist Carmen Boullosa and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (4 May).

I don’t listen to W&C regularly but I appreciate it when I do. From what I know, Wachtel was one of the first feminists on air in Canadian radio and pretty senior in the CBC hierarchy from her years of experience (I remember listening to her in the car with my mom since ever). Poniatowska’s interview was the only one I’ve caught from this series so far, but they’re archived in RealAudio here and here. She speaks about “the Night of Tlatelolco” (La noche de Tlatelolco), as she titled her 1971 work, for which she is most famous. On 2 October 1968, thousands of students and other protesters demanding legal reform for freedom of expression were massacred at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, Tlatelolco, Mexico City. I don’t know it well myself, so I’d rather recommend the interview with Poniotowska for better details. Alfonso Cuarón has a film in pre-production, México ’68, to be penned by award-winning screenwriter Vicente Leñero, which will deal with this event. Mexico 68 also refers to ongoing student movement which itself had a number of ideological considerations.

Fandom for the director and the “Mexican scene” aside, I’ll probably be listening to that interview again, and maybe getting my hands on a translation of her book. It seems relevant, considering the upcoming Beijing Olympics, and the hopes the IOC had for requiring of the PRC better human rights standards, especially in the realm of free speech. I took a class on New Korean Cinema this past semester – one of our assigned films was Chilsu and Mansu (1988) produced on the cusp of ’88 Soeul Olympics. It deals with a number of things going on in the 80s in Korea both tangibly and psychologically (that sometimes we forget about because they’re so economically advanced with their shnazzy mobile phones) among which human rights and the student movement were a big deal. It’d be too much to say to talk more about it now, but the film is special because it marked a major step forward for freedom of expression (especially political criticism) in the South Korea. And it’s relevant here, I think, because the decision to hold the Olympics in any given country, and the costs (financial and otherwise) required are so massive – maybe especially in these countries called emerging markets (after all, they only matter for their market-relevance of course /sarcasm) – and now I’m wondering again about BJ, China. I was there last summer… and it felt weird somehow, standing in a square that’s barely a square (in the traditional sense), but really…

These are such happenin’ times…

For additional information on the interviewees:

From the official W&C site:

“In part one of our series, Eleanor Wachtel speaks with Elena Poniatowksa. She is truly Mexico’s literary ‘superstar,’ respected and admired for her commitment to social causes as well as her highly original body of work. Her landmark novel, Here’s to You, Jesusa!, features the voice of a poor Mexican washerwoman who became a lasting inspiration to Poniatowska. Later works of ‘testimonial literature,’ chronicle key traumas in recent history, including Massacre in Mexico (about the government-ordered slaughter of students in 1968). Poniatowska lives in Mexico City.

“Many of Poniatowska’s books, including The Skin of the Sky and Here’s to You, Jesusa! are available in English translation, most from the University of New Mexico Press.”


“This week, more in the special series, ‘Mexico Unmasked’: a lively and illuminating panel with two of the country’s most provocative writers, Juan Villoro and Jorge Volpi. Juan Villoro’s journalism, published internationally, covers a wide range of subjects, including rock, sports, cinema, literature and travel. He’s published dozens of books – novels, essays, short stories, children’s books, and journalism.

“Jorge Volpi became one of the founders of the “Crack” movement in Mexican literature – an ironic response to the Latin American literary “Boom” of the 1960s, with its insistence on magic realism. Like Juan Villoro, he’s written many prize-winning novels. His most recent one to be published in English is In Search of Klingsor.

“In Search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi is published in English by Simon & Schuster.”


“Journalist, historian and novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II was born in 1949 in Gijon, Spain, into a politically active family who fled Franco’s regime for Mexico in 1958. He is best known for his series of philosophical crime novels, featuring his detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne, described as “Mexico’s contemporary hero of the oppressed.” One of Taibo’s most recent detective novels, The Uncomfortable Dead, was written in collaboration with the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.”


“Our series concludes with the charming, passionate novelist, Carmen Bullosa. And, Eleanor Wachtel speaks with the award-winning, innovative Guillermo Arriaga, writer of the movies, 21 Grams and Babel.

“Guillermo Arriaga’s films, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel are available on DVD.

“Carmen Boullosa’s novels, Leaving Tobasco, They’re Cows, We’re Pigs and Cleopatra Dismounts are published in paperback by Grove Press.”

Images and photos from Wikipedia.


2 Responses to ““Mexico Unmasked” (Writers & Company)”

  1. pricebl 28 August 2009 at 258 PM #

    Are these interviews still available online? I’d love to hear them.

    • jess 3 September 2009 at 1240 PM #

      I’m pretty sure they should be. Unfortunately, the CBC archives certain interviews only in the Real format so they can only be streamed but not downloaded. Check the links?


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