Through a series of interviews with participants and rescue activity witnesses, alongside analyses of journalistic texts, images, and their circulation, I will trace the recent history and transformation of the raised fists gesture and the context in which it arose. I will also explore the implications of orchestrating silence in emergency circumstances for those who embodied and deployed the signal themselves, its efficiency, advantages, and limitations. In a natural disaster, our ears and bodies work as technologies that both create noise and track vital information arising into audibility within partial, relative silence. New listening practices arise within these precarious acoustic territories, and by exploring their nature we can also understand, conceptualize, and perhaps improve silencing and listening practices as part of emergency protocols.

There is a current need in sound studies to explore and theorize new ways to think about acoustic territories and trauma, listening, affect, and bodily experience and, as Brandon LaBelle mentions in Sonic Agency, to extend “sound studies toward the urgencies of contemporary life” (LaBelle 2018: xx). As J. Martin Daughtry points out in Listening to War, it is necessary to explore, conceptualize, and create frameworks for understanding the processes “through which a listener becomes a listener” (Daughtry 2015: 122). Recent research has reflected on these subjects mostly in relation to war, detention, and other forms of imposed auditory practices, but not much has been said in the case of disasters, where natural and cultural sound entangle in new, complex ways and where the political takes a secondary place, at least on the surface. 

This research was highly informed by my personal experience as a resident of Mexico City who was living outside of my home country at the time of the earthquake; informal conversations with close family, friends, colleges, neighbors, and acquaintances who I began contacting in the minutes following the seismic activity, first with the urgency of discovering if they were okay and the need to participate from afar, then with the struggle to understand the events that immediately followed; and, much later, with the attempt to turn this struggle for understanding into written reflections and academic research. Beyond the affective relations that I have with my interviewees, I also share with all of them the practice of writing. After living an event of shared emergency and trauma, writing and narrating have become tools for us to reconstruct events, to remember, and, as some of my interviewees have expressed, to hold on to the subsequent changes that arose and to the possibility of transforming relations, community, ideas of togetherness, and political engagement in our urban space, as ways of listening. The long excerpts of interviews in this paper are relevant as direct testimonials from untrained, volunteer civilians, who were part of the activities in different rescuing areas and enacted the fists up gesture. 

Fists Up: Orchestrating Silence in Mexico City’s Post-Earthquake Rescuing Activities 

Elisa Corona Aguilar

Earthquake: Before and After 


On 19 September 2017, an earthquake hit Mexico City, causing the collapse of more than fifty buildings and damaging many others. As the usual urban noise intensified with the general chaos inside the city, the areas around the collapsed buildings and their vicinities were also filled with a new, unusual loudness, generated by urgent rescuing activities in the search to find survivors trapped under the ruins. Amidst the loudness there was also silence, a momentary silence summoned up again and again through a signal improvised by those involved in the search: fists raised up in the air became the generalized call for silence, a way to communicate both attention and pause in the activity around a specific place where there were sounds of life among the ruins.