Editor’s Note: This piece comes on the one-year anniversary of the major earthquake that struck Mexico on September 19th, 2017. It reflects on the fundamental role of solidarity in the earthquake response, and specifically the myriad and subtle forms that this solidarity took. The original in Spanish was published by the autonomous media collective, Subversiones, and can be found here.
Por: Alexis Jiménez
There are no heroes after a catastrophe. As such, there should be no honors, much less armed forces. The earthquakes of September 7th and 19th of last year showed us that solidarity is necessary, and that the celebration of some people’s work over others’ moves contrary to what was achieved working shoulder to shoulder.
During times of misfortune, volunteer work can’t be gaged on a scale. For some, fear made them react instantly. For others, it took them time to assimilate, and thus, to mobilize and act. To bring medicine or a shovel, to serve food, confirm information, attend to the injured, etc., does not imply the same physical or mental exhaustion, but everything is part of a mechanism that helped save lives, provide food, shelter and security to those in need at that moment.
The first to arrive go unnoticed, not only after an earthquake but daily. They were youth in the majority, that opted to use bicycles as their means of transportation. They were there within minutes of the earthquake, helping to remove the rubble, hours before the army.
Small businesses, restaurants, hardware stores, corner stores, and pharmacies gave away the few useful things that they had to attend to the emergency: shovels, water, buckets, masks, bandages, food, their assistance, their few or many strengths, their hopes.
Construction workers, those who know daily the hammering of concrete, the raising of beams and the movement of rubble, opened up more spaces and walls, and moved more concrete and steel beams than the little or nonexistent machinery of the state, who is supposed to attend to cases of disaster.
In a sea of confusion, social networks provided information, not all definite. There were also a lot of rumors generated by fear. There were eyes and hands that worked to verify and share information that the traditional means of communication did not even have time to know. The diffusion of the necessities at each disaster zone circulated in a tweet or a group of whatsapp before any notice from the government.
There were others who, fearful, managed to lend a helping hand, give a hug to a person who had lost their home, stop the crying of someone who hadn’t heard from a family member, provide words of encouragement or simply the donation of money.
At the same time, there were those, due to their professionalism, training and experience, who knew what to do in cases like this: doctors, diggers, nurses, rescuers, specialists in engineering or even animals.
The Mexican state seeks to turn a catastrophe into a Greek style tragedy, where its institutions—principally the armed forces—are seen as the heroes of a history that still has yet to be written. On the other side, there are victims, people without houses and without roofs. But the solidarity continues, more or less organized, to demonstrate that it’s not about heroes, but about people in solidarity.