My cousin carries two wallets at all times. One has his belongings -- driver's license, credit cards, etc. The other simply holds a $20 bill and is strictly for if and when he gets robbed. His sister, Reyna, who by the way made my life miserable as a child (Reyna means Queen in English and she certainly lived up to her name), would rather suck it up if she's sick than go to go a clinic filled with armed federal soldiers. They may or may not be the enemy, she says.
And if for some reason either of them see a car speed up directly next to them, they know exactly what to do -- slow down or get shot.
This is they life my cousins and the 1.5 million other residents of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, live every day.
Well, at least during daytime, because when night falls the once busy streets of the largest city in the largest state of Mexico are empty.
After a year of beheadings and hanging corpses over grade schools and newspaper offices, more than 1600 murdered people later, they've figured it out.
The merciless killings have gone beyond what started as a territorial war between drug cartels.
The brutal killings (brutal in the sense that people are beheaded and left in busy streets rolled in carpets while their heads appear in different places) have blended their way in between the crackdown on cartels by the government; on police by the government; on police by the cartels; and on cartels by police. Or something like that.
It goes in circles, really, and nobody knows where or how it stops. But, it's happening, and it's happening in a city a mere 15-minute drive from anywhere in El Paso and an even shorter walk over a much-traveled bridge. Granted, Juarez hasn't been a particularly safe place in a long time (anyone remember the 400 or so murdered women left in the desert?). But the gravity of the situation is beyond what most of us understand. Hundreds of murdered police officers, dealers, innocent bystanders, kidnapping victims… you name it.
The city is literally lawless.
Still, my cousins try to live their lives as normally as possible. They keep a sense of humor and crack jokes about the situation, even though behind the laugh a slight tremor fills their voices. The truth is, up until I saw my cousins my concern (those who know me would call it an obsession) over Juarez and the rest of Mexico hardly regarded them. I hadn't seen them in years and they honestly just weren't at the forefront of my mind.
But when I sat there and heard my cousins tell it like it is first hand, on Christmas, a day after bitching about the shitty economy and work, it really hit hard.
It reminded me of everything I'm so blessed to have and how lucky I am that most of my family made the trek to the other side of the bridge. And I remembered why I rant to anyone who will listen about Mexico, and who Felipe Calderon is, and Juarez, and how many people were murdered in drug-related violence in Mexico in 2008 (5,376, double the amount last year, according to Mexico's attorney general).
There’s a reason why I don’t shut up about it and why it’s constantly on my mind. These are not just my people. They are our neighbors. They are humans. They need help. I know there’s a million other conflicts in the world, and I get it if you don’t care.
But if you could get anything from this corny confession I can’t believe I’m actually posting on Facebook, I hope it’s the knowledge that there is a real war happening just south of us.
If you don’t think you’re directly affected by it, you’re wrong.
If you wanna learn more, the LA Times has really good coverage, Surprisingly, so does the El Paso Times, so read it.
Death, Death,and more Death
There is plenty of death and destruction to go around. Cuidad Juarez Mexico is no exception. Saw this on Facebook, written by Astrid Galvan (2009), please read it: