Editor’s note: This article is the first part of a series, “Migration, Trade and Brutality: A Journey through Mexico and Central America”, written by David Schmidt regarding his travels in Summer 2012. The goal of this series is to educate and inform readers about the reasons why immigrants come to our country so that we can better understand and relate to them.
I smiled at him.
“No, I’m serious, David. Be careful. Mexico isn’t safe. Trust me, I know.”
This is a friend who has spent a total of one weekend of his life in the Republic of Mexico, in a resort hotel in Puerto Vallarta.
* * * *
As I was on my way to the Tijuana International Airport, the taxi driver asked where I was headed. “Mexico City?” he said, incredulous. “Man, you better watch your back there. Mexico City is a dangerous place. Lots of crime.”
* * * *
I had coffee with a friend in Mexico City. When she heard I was headed to Oaxaca, southern Mexico, she told me a few anecdotes from friends who ran into some trouble. “Don’t travel at night, and be on your guard,” she warned me. “Oaxaca isn’t safe like Mexico City.”
* * * *
Once I reached Chiapas, at the southern tip of Mexico, multiple locals warned me about crossing the border into Guatemala. “Things are really violent in Guatemala,” they told me. “Don’t go out at night, don’t talk to anybody, stick to the tourist areas. And don’t even think about going into Guatemala City, the capitol. That country is very dangerous.”
* * * *
I’m leaving for Nicaragua tomorrow (at the time that this was written). The bus will cross through El Salvador. Some Guatemalan friends have told me, “El Salvador is dangerous. Be careful, David.”
* * * *
I can only imagine that this pattern would continue, ad infinitum, if I were to continue traveling southward. Nicaraguans would warn me about Costa Rica, Costa Ricans would warn me about Panama, and so on and so forth, until I reached the tip of Patagonia, where the Chilean locals would warn me:
“Don’t even think about crossing over into Antarctica. The penguins will rob you and stab you.”
* * * *
I recently traveled through southern Mexico and Central America. I went for a few reasons—translating work, language research, cultural preservation projects, touching bases with some Fair Trade contacts, following up on some alternative coffee trade efforts, researching some writing projects and book ideas.
And simply because I had never been to Central America and figured 2012 was as good a time as any to go.
At every step along the way, however, I kept running into common themes.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, at the southern tip of Mexico, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the same issues kept coming up.
Desires to migrate. Perception of migrants. Perceptions of the opportunities that migration will bring. Hopes dashed when migration fails to meet these expectations.
The reality of violence—of brutality, murder, torture.
And the illusion of violence—the myth of extreme violence as a foreign phenomenon. The perception of other places, other regions, other nations, “The Other”, as inherently violent, as extraordinarily violent.
Passing the buck on violence—blaming it on “The Other”, rather than seeing our own connection to the violence that others face as part of their daily reality.
The interconnectedness of our region. The jobs, money, economies that link us all. The unfair trade policies that push people to migrate.
The connection of violence and migration to trade policies, past and present.
The blogs that follow are a series of discussions of these travels, at each stop along the way.
I invite you to join me on the journey.
* * * *
Before leaving, I watched Oliver Stone’s film “Savages” in a movie theatre in Tijuana, northern Mexico. The film portrays violence and brutality as a uniquely Mexican phenomenon—the gringo heroes of the movie are pained by torture and kidnapping, drawn into such “savagery” by their conflict with Mexican narcos. [See here for my full move review]
As my friends and I left the movie theatre, one of them warned me, “Be careful in Mexico City, David. It’s dangerous down there.”
David Schmidt is a freelance writer and multi-lingual translator in San Diego, CA. He is a proponent of immigrants’ rights and fair trade, and works with worker-owned coops in Mexico to help them develop alternative, fair sources of income. He is also a volunteer with World Relief Garden Grove serving all of Southern California. He can be contacted at [email protected] .
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