In the summer months leading up to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz lost control of order as student activism spread like wildfire. In ’68 (first published in 1991), Paco Ignacio Taibo relives not only his part in the marches, university strikes, and action brigades named for famous ’60s personalities (including Marilyn Monroe), but the peculiar regrets and absurdities of his youth. He’s an “apron-wearing wuss” for failing to sufficiently appreciate the pleasures of Tecate with lime and tequila; he can remember the exactly 42 minutes it took a friend to fall in love with 11 girls, as well as the gut-wrenching fear of watching his miniskirted friend traipse through a crowd of police goons: “After twenty years, the only thing that works is memory.”
Taibo never turns traitor to his own—he neither ignores the movement’s limitations nor downplays its lasting power that “a hundred times placed in our mouths the words, ‘No! And fuck it!’ ” ’68 balances the adrenaline rush of students’ minor victories—their communalism and bravado—with outrage at the brutal response of the Mexican government. Plainclothesmen are planted in crowds to incite riots, nightsticks hidden in rolls of newspaper, and bazookas fired at a college doorway.
Looming over the book is the specter of the Tlatelolco massacre, a student rally at which government soldiers opened fire without warning, killing hundreds, whose bodies disappeared that night, and imprisoning thousands of others. That day the reality of the question came home: Who had died for you? ’68 is not a history—it never tries to be—but a scattered memory of Mexico City’s part in a movement that stretched from Prague to Paris to New York. It may have taken two decades to write ’68, but Taibo couldn’t be more timely in his testimony to the real power of protest.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 29, 2004