September 19, 2008

Crime Tarnishes Mexico’s Image

Mexico — the land of the the legendary mariachi, world-famous tequila and awe-inspiring pyramids — is battling a new image that has been crafted recently by drug-traffickers who have left 3,148 people dead this year and kidnappers whose contempt for human life drew thousands and thousands of people to the streets demanding a stop to the violence.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has tried to address the problem by dispatching 40,000 federal troops and 5,000 federal police officers into the streets.

Last Friday, police discovered the bodies of 24 men who had been gagged, bound and shot. Police believe the execution-style slayings were the latest in a conflict between rival drug gangs.

Calderón is not backing down.

“In this war, there can be no truce because we will rescue, one by one, the towns, cities and public spaces in power of the criminals,” he said last week, “and return them to our children, citizens, mothers, grandparents ....”

Mexico’s tarnished image was on the minds of area residents who celebrated Mexican Independence Day in Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and other Valley cities.

In general, they showed concern that the violence has overshadowed the beauty that Mexico has to offer.

Ortensia Castellanos, a 52-year-old janitorial worker in Sacramento, said Mexico has long been known for its tranquillity, “but today it is difficult to see it like it is.” She is originally from Los Mochis, Sinaloa.

“The authorities have been responsible for this violence because, even inside government, there are drug traffickers who even get protection,” said Castellano.

Luz María Casal, a 38-year-old immigrant from Guadalajara, Jalisco, has lived in Sacramento for three years. She is worried about the violence.

“It’s very sad to see what is happening in Mexico,” said Casal. “It’s something that hasn’t been seen before.”

She believes the government needs to take stronger action “because not doing so will make the situation worse, and with that the economy and social peace would be affected.”

Celia Cárdenas, a 67-year-old Stockton homemaker, is originally from Tijuana. She is afraid to travel back to Mexico.

“Mexico is very dangerous today,” said Cárdenas. “I’m very sad because our country is falling in violence and the government is allowing people to get away with so much abuse against the women, drugs and murder.”

Cárdenas remembers spending vacation time in Mexico City not long ago.

“The hotel owner told us not to go outside wearing jewelry, and that we had to leave in groups of four or five because it was very dangerous,” said Cárdenas. “We went to a restaurant and they told us the same.”

Cárdenas believes the government should be more active “and control all of that.”

She wishes Mexico was more peaceful “like before, when we could walk anywhere.”

Eddie Gutiérrez is a vocalist with the Fresno-based Spanish-language rock group La Jefa. He acknowledges the country’s violent image, and blames it on the criminal activities associated with the drug trade.

“I believe that whether it is Mexico, Colombia or some other South American country, there is violence,” said Gutiérrez after performing at Fresno’s Fulton Mall celebration last Saturday. “Unfortunately, our country, Mexico, in the last few years has suffered a lot of kidnappings, and has had a lot of shootings by hitmen fighting for territory with the motive of drugs or money.

“It is a very sad situation, but we, through rock music, are trying to get people to forget about it,” said Gutiérrez, who is originally from Mexico City but has lived in the United States since he was 8.

The music, said the 34-year-old Gutiérrez, is an effort to “put a more positive note on what is happening throughout the world.”

Gutiérrez said people should realize that “Mexico is a very lovely place. México isn’t just Tijuana, or Rosarito, or Tamaulipas. I invite you to visit Mexico City, Veracruz, Cancún, not what you see on the border.”

The answer to Mexico’s tarnished image, said Gutiérrez, is “unity.”

“We should support one another, have no envy or jealousy,” he said.

Ceres farmworker Amalia Jiménez, 55, said México’s violence is one reason she moved to the United States last year.

“Every day you would hear about the murders and the kidnappings, and it was very worrisome,” said Jiménez, whose hometown is Morelia, Michoacán. “It’s very sad that although Mexico is very big and beautiful, today people are saying it is not a safe place to visit. It makes me very sad that México today has that negative image.”

The situation didn’t happen overnight, she said, which is why she is angered that not much has been done.

“If the government had done something, I wouldn’t have come here and I wouldn’t have left my land. I love my Morelia and all of its surroundings. But, no way, I prefer the security that the United States offers us. I don’t think the (Mexican) government will find a solution. I have no faith in them.”

People should get to know Mexico, said Jiménez, where “its people are humble and dedicate themselves to move their family forward even if they have to work seven days a week, 24 hours. That is what we Mexicans are.”

Perfecto Monroy, a 25-year-old Stockton laborer originally from Guanajuato, immigrated 10 years ago. He has first-hand knowledge of his homeland’s violence. His mother was robbed at gunpoint when her family stopped at a gas station during a recent visit to their hometown.

“Everything is bad over there. There is no order,” said Monroy, who visits his parents annually.

“Recently, people don’t go because of the problems there are on the road of assaults and all that. They should put more security on the roads.”

Gabriel Gutiérrez, 45, migrated to Stockton 18 years ago with his wife. The janitor rarely goes back “because the violence is very high.”

His solution would be for a complete overhaul of the government.

“The corruption is with the politicians, starting with the president and going to the lowest person,” said Gutiérrez, who is originally from Mexico, D.F.

Selene Barceló, who was born in Mexico City and whose family is from Tabasco, does not refer to México as a violent country. She is the interim consul at the Mexican Consulate in Fresno.

The Mexican government, she said, is working to protect its citizens.

“Well the president is working with providing security for these people. Recently he issued a new policy to procure security in the country. The president is working to clean this image,” said Barceló. “The president is doing what has to be done. And we are working on providing the proper information so the tourist can come to Mexico because it is very much enjoyable. I think that México is still a welcoming country no matter what.”

Stockton resident Jaime Serrano, 28, was born in Los Ángeles but frequently visits family in Michoacán.

“There’s the good Mexico and then there’s the other part of it,” said Serrano, who works in pest control.

“My image (of Mexico) is that of a place where a lot of our parents came from. Mexico is more of a getaway type place from my perspective. The corruption is kind of a whole different story. It has to do with people being money-driven down there.”

He would like, however, to “have a vacation without the thought behind your head about kidnappings.”

Sandra Villareal, a 42-year-old housewife in Modesto, is saddened by Mexico’s image “because not all Mexico is like that.”

“The majority of its people are workers who work honestly to get ahead,” said Villareal, who is originally from La Piedad, Michoacán. “It looks like the drug traffickers are taking over the media because they are putting more attention on them than in printing the beautiful and positive things Mexico has.”

Villareal has lived in the U.S. for 14 years.

Rosendo Aguilar, a 28-year-old mechanic in Modesto who is originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco, said it is sad that “the narcos and kidnappers have half of Mexico at the end of their nerves and the government does not do enough to control them.”

If México gets help from other countries to battle the criminals, Aguilar is all for it.

José Antonio Romero, a Ceres farmworker, who migrated four years ago from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, said México has so much more to offer than the violence splashed on the news.

“I’m in agreement that there is a lot of violence and there are many kidnappings,” said Romero, 37, “but it all happens in the big cities like Mexico City. But not all Mexico is like that. It’s ugly that they say Mexico is pure violence.”

Reprinted from Vida En El Valle

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