From the Permian Basin to the Sound of Campeche

*

Oil boom. Farewell, boom.

The Permian basin has abruptly sinkholed a large chunk of caky earth in Wink, Texas. Gooey gold,

gooey eyes. It was in 1980, says the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG), when the basin, a large

thick grueso depósito de rocas—langbeinite, sylvite, halite, potash—had to finish some unfinished

business.

Last year the sheriff of Winkler County warned of two winking sinkholes expanding. If you come

here, I’ll arrest you. I don’t want to be here myself. Wink Sink #2 is killing it, trespassing the roads,

breaking the asphalt, stopping oil tanks, making the calicheros kalichear la zona, and angering the

sheriff who doesn’t want the curiosos to wonder if the hole can take you to China, Campeche or the

Bakken plateau of North Dakota.

Someone at the Bureau murmured in a paper that those sinkholes occurred because of some

extractions in the 30s.

Texastelegram1:

barren land rocks sedimentary basin piled anthracite depleted air salted water injected completed

action let decision makers know, wink wink.

Texastelegram2:

most prolific oil producing area in america. increase from 850,000 barrels per day (2007) to

1,350,000 (2013). best formations 4ever (justkidding oilisnot4ever): Spraberry, Wolfcamp, Bone

Spring, Glorieta, Yeso, and Delaware. highly productive. better than Gulf of Mexico. Full stop.

*

So far, the user elundetakergearsofwar has posted two videos on youtube, one titled “El Chupa se

cae” in which a dark-skinned Campeche boy is lightly pushed by an adult and falls

precipitosamente onto the ground, and starts rolling down the street. The palimphested asphalt

disintegrates into a hole of pixels as the boy seems to be unrolled from a large tongue of warm air: a

digital hole devoid of meaning until a boy falls inside for a second.

The other video “The Sad Life in the Oil Rigs of the Sound of Campeche, México” appears to be a

romantic one. It’s a show-and-tell of life and work. A set of texts such as always smile you never

know who is going to fall in love with your smile or live life fully because you are not coming out of

life alive, fill in the gaps between photographs. Apparent platitudes, these lines insinuate a story that

nobody can decipher, except that group of workers photographed in the blueness of the Gulf of

Mexico. Images of orange-overalled workers, men and women, eating, sitting, talking, posing.

Many love stories evolve and implode in the already dangerous Pemex oil rigs.

Workers can spend more than 20 days in the plateauforms.

¡Saludos a toda la banda plataformera de los akales, jupiter, safe regency, litoral, cantarell y

barcos!

The dormitories in the oil rig have six or seven beds, sometimes a bathroom, but usually the

workers have to walk a narrow corridor to get to one. At night, a warm body quickly jumps from the

top bed: a slight noise in the middle of the ocean, a tap, a small tepid wave of sound. An innocuous

wave: a woman’s body waking up above the Gulf of Mexico to pee, while a drill extracts thousands

of black liquid years from the ground.

A solitary wave has sent a message to his peers about not falling asleep while working, because it

can cost you the job, about not trusting the bosses, not falling for power and money, and a word of

caution about falling crazy in love with the guy or woman next to you.

*

i called José Gómez, inhabitant of Mexico City, to ask him about his days at the mineral. His father

and the entire family worked as miners in Tequila, Jalisco. He used to joke about playing with big

pieces of gold and silver the size of his head, the patrones trusted him so much, the little slave. He

was a black black, he said once, the only visible shining thing in his body the pieces of metal that he

tossed around outside the mine. He didn’t want to get sick as the others so he left for the capital. i

wanted to ask him more about that time, but he is 100 years old, and the only thing he could tell me

over the phone was that he remembered when i gave him dólares for his birthday—or dolores, as he

would joke. It is very hard not to see him as a repository of stories, as the result of so many policies

and historical circumstances, and it is very easy to forget his deeply machista view of the world.

*

How does an oil rig speak to the ocean? In the language of money, production, accumulation,

desire, in the language of capitalism and technology. It writes in the air with fire and spits on the

working and living bodies around it.

Is a machine a non-human entity or rather a human appendix for expanding his, not her, power? A

transducer, a translator of many fantasies.

Science is political, and science is corporate. Companies can sue countries.

A text may or may not do anything.

*

There’s a cumbia of the petrolero, in fact two. One is sung by children at schools, mainly in

Campeche, and tells the official and heroic story of the oil expropriation of 1938. Lázaro Cárdenas,

the president at that time, managed to kick out foreign companies from Mexico, and the oro negro

came back to the hands of the Mexican people, at that point the majority of whom lived and worked

in rural communities. In the social imaginary that moment represents a twofold retrofantasy: a

president stood up to foreign interests and Mexicans became the true “owners” of their economic

wealth.

They say that in order to be able to work for Pemex, the state owned company (almost not), you

need to have connections or you need to be the daughter or son of some high mando.

The other cumbia is more a laborcumbia. It talks about the everyday life of oil rig workers, orange

and red overalled workers, on a platform, in la sonda de Campeche. The theme’s music video was

actually shot by the workers themselves on the oil rig. It is a song about a hard and felt relationship

with a machine: an enormous structure of metal and salt.

 


Lorena Gómez Mostajo (Mexico City) is an editor, writer, and photographer. She studied at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently, she founded Taller Salón, an independent publishing and printing house that serves the Tijuana-San Diego community.

On autotranslation: The tongue touches the paladar, the teeth, the lips; air comes out: a clasp, a noise, a sound that exists since childhood that gets twisted into a new one. When the tongue travels to perform the sounds of English, it traverses a field of random memories and images. For example, an English teacher in elementary school that gave candy away if the class pronounced “tree” and “three” well; the songs that, as kids, we pretended to understand and sing in a deformed English; hundreds of films; the political candidate who insisted that the future of success was learning “inglés y computación”; the security officers at airports and at the San Ysidro border; technology and its endless iterations; the promise that by way of speaking the “new esperanto,” one will be more connected to the advanced world.

I am enchanted by accents. By that sonorous declaration of having or having had another life somewhere else. The same way, when I write in English, the history of my intimacy with Spanish, created also by writing in it, gets to be transformed, revisited, altered. I twist my thoughts, the same way I twist my tongue, to find the rhythms that can have echoes in both languages.

 

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