Monday, February 9, 2009
Al Capone and Monterrey
I am in Mexico today. In the city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. I used to live here for a while, in the late 1990s. It was a great three years that I was here so often it felt more like home than Houston. I used to get excited as I was driving into the city, when I saw the famed "Cerro de la Silla" -- Saddleback Mountain. I think being here changed my life. I think that any Mexican American who is truly curious about themselves should live in Mexico for a while. There is no experience that compares.
This time I didn't come for research or for fun. The patriarch of the family I lived with is gravely ill. I needed to come see him while he could still talk to me.
For a few years after I completed my research I used to come every few months. Then the trips were not as often. I started a new project. I had family obligations.
A few days ago I received the phone call that Abuelito was gravely ill (that is what my daughter calls him. She was in high school while we stayed at his house).
I couldn't think straight after I heard he was doing so badly. Sunday I took the earliest Continental flight. I no longer drive the car here. The 10 hours is just getting too hard. As I was packing I realized that when an academic does her research she initiates life long relationships. You don't spend so much time with a family and then say bye-bye when your book is published. Even so, the book wasn't about the family per se. It was about Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and the stories the family used to tell me.
One of the reasons I had not been here in years was crime. The family lived in another apartment the last time I was here in 2007. A policeman was murdered a few blocks away a few weeks after I left. Now that I am here, I read the newspaper and find article after article about Mexico's violence. This is not the moment for me to analyze why there are so many killings. I just wish there was something that could be done.
From what my friends tell me, it sounds like Chicago during the years of Al Capone. There are protection rackets, accusations of high level government involvement and the ongoing (and true) accusation that U.S. drug consumers are feeding this frenzy.
You can say the Zetas and other narco groups are real monsters, and it is true that much of what they do is horrible. But I can't believe they are individuals that have always been so unfeeling. There are too many to imagine this whole world was so murderous. I believe much of this is related to the dire economic conditions in Mexico. There is not much many people can to do survive. Since so many can no longer go to the U.S., they have to stay here and find another way. It is unfortunate the solution has been so bloody.