Aquí no pasa nada: Digital Migrant Walks and Hometown Yearning on Youtube

January 5, 2023
By: Alhelí Harvey

The home-made youtube videos created by migrants from the northern state of Nuevo León, Mexico force us to consider how thinking about the border as a political line or contested geographic area is itself another border. German emigree and modernist architect Mathias Goeritz’ spoke of  “emotional architecture.” Here, in a border state, there are thousands of users uploading videos laden with it. The sheer numbers of videos speak to a level of digital monumentality; the content of a “spiritual” effect. As a form of commentary, commemoration, and contemplation on their pueblos, these videos are both artifacts of the built environment, nostalgic ephemera, and border doings/undoings via digital format. They’re small homes, pieced together with slide-show and favorite tracks: a brick and mortar of feeling.  What can these videos tell us about the quotidian processes of nostalgia and space making? What do they reveal about a landscape that is often torn—by states, industry, migration?  How might we read these practices as political evaluations of life in flux?

If the horizon line is in a certain key, with three stanzas that influence the spatial logic of the people from these borderlands, the videos demonstrate that the landscape is built as much by a sonic field as a geographic one.

Video Cue: Canción mixteca

Qué lejos estoy del suelo donde he nacido!

Inmensa nostalgia invade mi pensamiento

Al verme tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento

Quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento

¡Oh Tierra del Sol! Suspiro por verte

Ahora que lejos yo vivo sin luz, sin amor

Y al verme tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento

Quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento

¡Oh Tierra del Sol! Suspiro por verte

Ahora que lejos yo vivo sin luz, sin amor

Al verme tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento

Quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento

Jose Lopez Alvarez was  in Mexico city, homesick for Oaxaca in 1912 as he wrote the lyrics to what has become a popular anthem of a particularly mexican nostalgia. Since then the song has played out in countless forms. It is used to highlight Cruzita’s love-sickness  in “Alla en el Rancho Grande” (1936/1949),  a film credited by film  and cultural historians as the first of Mexico’s cinematic golden age.  Cruzita’s innocence and tenderness are attributes that are highlighted through Lilia del Valle’s soft aural melodrama in her rendition of the song.

It’s the same song that inspires the “Cantores de mi pueblo en el exilio” to sing in unison.  Since 2018,  their version has been taken down from youtube, which makes me wonder  what happened to the band. Digital records prove themselves to also be ephemeral in this way, with videos taken down without warning and unable to be found again, another layer of loss along the migrant’s path. The heartbreak seems to be the same: a pervasive sense of nostalgia brought on by distance from one’s home. Distance  becomes the vehicle of loss that inspires a desire to die– not by a heroic blade, or a bottle, nor age– but by emotion (“sentimiento”).

I’m thinking of these videos as migrants themselves: thrown into cybernetic space, they carry small pieces of their “home.” Put alongside others, they interact and bring into relief a  geographic order of towns that few people other than their inhabitants know anything about. The bulk of what I know about these towns is actually what I do not immediately know. But there existence tells me that the user who made it has a few resources at their disposal paired with a need to see their hometown. In seeing these familiar streets and hearing songs about loss viewers are able to digitally transport themselves back home. Just as the videos take the viewer on a street-level tour of the town’s main streets, plazas and churches, this itinerary takes a tour starting in the near northern border of Nuevo León, traveling down to Monterrey, then beyond the capital to the pueblo of Linares and up again into the north eastern portion of the state.


Between birds and a footstep, at the end of a selfie stick that holds up the smartphone used to record the video is Youtube user devany la de monterrey. She is in the center of the frame, the self-proclaimed digital walking tour guide of Anáhuac, a municipality that recorded a population of 18,480 almost a decade ago according to a cursory google search.  Her introduction betrays her username as she lilts the following:  “Les presento a mi pueblo, Anahua- York.”  

When I first saw her video of  Anáhuac, it was late February of 2018 and she already had 19,325 views. As of today (April 19, 2018) she boasts 25, 485. While it is ambiguous at best to speculate about the extent of devany’s geographic migration, a few things from her channel are clear: she is trans, and has logged this extensively. She has clearly left her pueblo to go someplace else where she feels she can make a living (Monterrey? New York? Both?). Her quotidian activities make up a large part of her personal landscape. As she walks through the street, she is surrounded by family. She lets the viewer know she is with her siblings, nieces and nephews. With each step comes a dispensing of advised caution for the children whose laughter dominates the aural tenor of the video (even when out of view) and then a repeated, reassuring description of life in  Anáhua-York: “Aquí, nada pasa. Nada, nada, nada pasa.” ( Here, nothing happens. Nothing, nothing, nothing happens.)

 But clearly, something does. With an easy stride, devany shows the “emblematic” church, and in passing a medical facility across the street from the lord’s house, a crack: “here they kill you for less than 50 pesos.” Everything is cool, she reassures us. There’s an enthusiasm in mentioning that girls dance rumberas as she walks toward the plaza. Once there, she lays out the social dance she witnessed as a child playing out in the plaza: the girls came, they dances, found boyfriends from ranchos, got married, had “pollitos” (little chicks) of their own. There’s a quaintness to her description, a fondness that signals a certain fairy-tale-like nostalgia of a time that she remembers as being free from the changes she  characterizes as the “nada” that takes place instead. 

The “nada” registers the first order of impact on cities and migrants: loss of neighbors, friends, family. The many amateur youtube videos made by users (who we can presume to be Mexican migrants to the US) that map their hometowns (pueblos) remind us of their daily routines and places they deem important. It is safe to say that this is an entire genre of youtube video. As digital artifacts, they speak to the volume of displacement  of people out of necessity, further detail migrational flows, and speak to a DIY digital treatment for nostalgia. You can go to Mexican markets like Plaza Mexico in LA  and find DVDs of these amateur pueblo videos.The videos show a side of migration that goes beyond configurations of migrants and labor. Further, the amount of traffic and activity these videos receive speaks to an engagement with this ephemera that goes beyond a novelty obsession. They tell us about who these migrants might be, their spatial logic, and how the built environment– the literal landscape– is changing. Some of these videos are mini-films, and some are so mundane that what draws the viewer in is the slow-tv quality of it all; the idea that someone could just be happy with a drive through empty streets and look out the window is enough to sustain a feeling of belonging. 

Alhelí Harvey

Alhelí Harvey is a PhD candidate in Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at UT Austin where she researches and teaches about Latinx cultural landscapes, U.S. Latinx and Mexican art and architecture, and literary urbanism. Her dissertation looks at the role of tourism and other industries in shaping the built environment in what is today New Mexico. Her writing about built and imagined worlds can be found at Ramparts and Intervenxions


Back to all posts

Write for Not From Here

Become IEHS Digital Publication contributor. Submit your article!