Beautiful beaches, mouth-watering dishes, and let’s not forget its friendly people and tequila. Despite Mexico’s astounding scenery, it is also tainted by the gruesome drug war that continues to haunt its streets. The Mexican drug war has been an unceasing battle since December 11, 2006 when Mexico’s former president, Felipe Calderón, took it upon himself to destroy over 2,000 marijuana field and seizing dozens of weapons. President Felipe Calderón was well aware that restoring order in Mexico would be “a long battle that will take years, require a lot of effort and economic resources, and probably even, as I’ve said before, human sacrifice of Mexican lives” (Noel 2016). Truly President Calderón’s comments surely proved itself to be a future telling prophecy in Mexico. The Mexican drug war resulted in the death of over 160,000 people, and have left over 1000 children orphans. Over 17,000 people were murdered in the first 10 months of 2016, and 10 Mexican cities battle for spots among the world’s 50 deadliest countries, due to killings in Mexico becoming more public and gruesome (Noel 2016). Unfortunately, the sight of dead bodies hanging from Mexico’s bridges have become very familiar, since they are used to promote hierarchy between cartels.
The rise of the drug war has impacted the development of the country as well as it’s people. Mauricio Hernandez, a Mexican citizen, grew up in Mexico during the peak of the drug war. Here is his story.
Tell me about yourself.
“Well what can I say? I am a Mexican guy, [who is] 22 years old turning 23. I moved to Canada almost 3 years ago. I started college here because, my family and I decided that studying in Mexico was not the best choice for me. So I took the chance, and now I’m here! I’ve been studying Engineering for 2 years.”
How do you like that?
“So far it’s been stressful, you know, engineering. But it’s fine, I like challenges. So far so good.”
What was growing up in Mexico like before the drug war?
“Before the drug war, there was a lot of corruption and violence. Especially a lot of problems with the USA. There were more drugs that usual, more than we have today. There was no control, or sanctions to say “hey this is wrong”. Most of the movement [of drugs] happened at the border between Mexico and the US. There was more gang violence in Mexico City than cartels. As a kid you don’t pay attention to those things, but you do hear about it on the news or even when parents chat. Back then, we weren’t really worried about security. It was more about an economic crisis because we had bigger problems than drugs and stuff. I remember as a Kid, US$1 was 20 pesos. That’s actually a lot. It was a difficult time economically. I still witnessed gang violence and stuff, but it did become noticeable once the drug war began.”
How did Mexico change after the commencement of the drug war and how old were you?
“Streets became unsafe, [and] there was more violence. You could see the violence, not just on the news but with your own eyes. I was 11 years old, I had just came from Spain. I actually felt the city was a bit different. [There were] lots of changes. People were more careful, especially when going out on the streets. Obviously it became more dangerous. If you watched the news it was like shootings here, people being decapitated there, and body parts found somewhere else. I know it sounds wrong but you become insensitive. My parents were always saying stuff like “if you’re going out, you better be careful”. They wanted to know where I was and to keep my phone [close by], and let them know if I’m moving somewhere else and who I’m hanging out with. You know, mostly precautions since people are always watching you in the streets. They are looking for the guy who is distracted, or playing on their phone. I’ve been approached before. The typical excuse is to ask you for the time, then force you to pull out your phone to determine if you have money or not. Once you take it out, they’d pull out a gun or knife.”
Obviously just coming from Spain, which has a different environment, how did you process the events in Mexico?
“Well, it’s both funny and concerning at the same time. I would joke with my friends at how bad the situation was. You take it as a joke, when it’s actually a serious thing. I didn’t really see it as shocking since it became part of the city.”
Is there a specific memory that stands out to you?
“I was in high school at the time, going back to my place. I took the bus and at an intersection there was a crime scene. There were just bodies scattered on the floor, covered in some black tarp. Everything was covered in blood. I actually saw some [bullet] caps on the floor and cars with bullet holes in them, and it was like ‘yea, someone actually got shot’. Of course there are other experiences, but that was the most exposed I was. I know that people find body parts, [or] bodies hanging from bridges.”
Do you think that experience impacted you in any way?
“In some way it made me more cautious. Because sometimes I would be distracted when hanging out [with friends]. It made me aware of how lucky I am to be actually here in another country. I know a lot of people who die everyday due to drugs or gang violence. Or even people just getting robbed, some thieves are insensitive. They take your stuff, then kill you.”
To see violence regularly at such a young age, would you say there was a normalization of drug violence within the Mexican society?
“I guess in some way yes. Maybe that’s why when people watch the news in Canada, and hear stories about stabbings they seem shocked. But to me it’s like “oh that’s little news”. When you grow up with news about assaults and murder on a daily basis, it becomes part of your everyday routine. In some way you become insensitive. Violence becomes part of culture. So to imagine Mexico without violence is unrealistic.”
I know you’re going to Mexico soon, and apparently murder and homicide is currently at its peak. Are you anxious about going back?
“I don’t think I feel anxious, but deep inside me I do feel that sensation of alertness. I know where I’m going, and I know which places to avoid. But even after all the violence and corruption I am excited because at the end of the day, its home. It’s where I was born, and where my family lives. One thing Mexican schools do is teach kids patriotism and how to be proud to be Mexican and to love its history and culture. To cite the Mexican movie, Rudo y Cursi, that described the city as; “a monster isn’t it? But even the ugliest monster has its charm.”.
Do you see a better future for Mexico?
“I see a tough future for Mexico. We just had presidential elections, and the guy that got elected is nowhere near qualified to be president. I can only hope for a better future.”
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