Tessa Allen & I were matched up to be roommates in Chiapas. At first glance I didn’t think we would have anything in common. She’s much younger, seemed like an easy going fun type of American girl who would end up with the “cool group” that I would never be participate in (and would not really want to). Indeed, all of my prejudices about summer camp vibes and Tessa were quickly pretty destroyed. Tessa was grew up in California, lived in Portland and now attends NYU for her MA. She is also a Viking descendent.
Tessa quickly tamed me and bossed me around a bit in all the ways I need. In part because I grew pretty dependent on her —How do you light a fire Tessa?; What’s the weather going to be like today Tessa?; Which readings do we have for tomorrow Tessa?; Can you make my hair look pretty like yours Tessa?; Does this look seductive yet not obvious Tessa?—
Tessa insisted she is not photogenic but I disagree! Look at that big smile! Huge! We had a lot of laughs, usually at my expense. I loved taking photos of her but did not take enough.
Over time we became pretty close & I love how we called each other “roomies”. I’m not sure she was into it, but whatever, if you’re reading this Tessa: “best roomie ever”. Our late night roomie chats would last hours and were sometimes quite intense about beauty, acceptance, identity and what that means for women. I am so grateful to have been able to create a safe space with Tessa in which we were able to be candid about a topic that is so difficult.
The Grecian statue pose.
Tessa holds her beautiful ever changing hair style. I wish we got a photo together on the afternoon after the Monsanto accion when Tessa made me a crown braid and we both dressed up in semi-long black dresses and wore each other’s sunglasses.
Is there anything better than taking a photo of someone eating? Nope!
Once after dropping off our laundry at a nearby hotel we walked into a shop and wanted to buy two bananas. The lady asked for four pesos and we walked out because we got so used to the lives of 1 peso bananas at the organic market/eatery Toyol Witz. I had so many bananas and bottles of Coca Cola as lunch.
Tessa attempting to hide from my constant camera gaze while she eats again. This time I brought a crew to Spartacus, the best tacos in San Cristobal, and some of the best tacos I’ve had anywhere.
Tessa, like a boss, with Dasha as we document Viki, one of the FOMMA actors, making homemade tortillas in her attic.
Eating at Toyol Witz again with Amy. Tessa said fuck it to clothes and wore green fabric as couture. You see why she’s the most awesome roomie ever? Yeah, yeah!
She is also the best dancer, ever …
… and wears awesome outfits.
With camera. Always creeping.
This was our penultimate day and we stood around watching an intense performance by Ana Correa from the Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani. It was during this performance that I realized the Spanish language knows pain so well. I need to learn Spanish to move through all the pain that constitutes me & to attempt to understand a world in a language that will never belong to me. Although the realization was probably also heightened by Niko’s translation (this is a reminder that I need to make a post about the Chiapas experience through the tenacious and generous interpretations of the various Spanish speakers).
On one of the last days after seeing Doris’s intense installation/vigil for the Chiapas femicide victims (some as young as two hours and as young as 70 years old), everything started to unravel. The constant emotional trauma smashing us with no room to breathe manifested inside and out in many of us. I came up to Tessa standing alone and then it all came out and I felt such a privilege that she was able to be open with me. She cried. I stood stoic and asked questions and listened. I channeled Joan Didion minus the elegance and eloquence. Our experience went on and on and continued at the dark low-ceiling art space for Brittney and Stella’s performance and then standing against a wall full of Mezcal and cigarettes I also cried.
Tessa noticed, like always, that something was wrong” “C’mon! I’m your roommate, even though it’s been a few weeks I can always tell your shifts in mood now.”
“Do you think others are able to tell?”
“I’m not sure, but it’s obvious to me. Do you want to go outside?”
Claustrophobic, I reply in the negative.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I don’t hesitate because it is so easy to run away, it is so easy to go outside and dodge the truck smashing into you but I have a choice and I hold my body up to let it keep at me. I push my white shawl covered back against the wall until as much of my scoliosis spine rolls into it and stand still. Everything is coming at me, all of my life comes at me. I am thankful for Tessa, for her standing still with me. It is because of that, later, during Brittney’s performance, I recognize an emotion so dark and so painful that it undoes all of me and all of what I have thought about myself and my way of being in relation to lovers and friends. I am thankful that Tessa was there, in all the ways.
At 4am on our last day I hurried back to our room to pack up everything I had accumulated on the trip, including seven shawls, and in the dark while we waited for our bus to Tuxtla Airport, I made Tessa hold our “Chamula” cabin key as the last photo together —hands in hands.