"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reality Check on this Dia de los Muertos

October 26:
"At least 2 people were killed on Monday in Juarez. Yesterday, the murder toll was at least 6--four men were killed, dismembered and decapitated and their body parts scattered around the city... In addition, a municipal policeman was killed and a man running a quesadilla shot were also victims of homicide. Diario reported the death toll as of Sunday at 113, so it is now at least 121, not counting the deaths reported today.
There have been several shocking incidents. A 5 yr old boy was injured in an attack that killed his father while the man was sleeping in his house... A pregnant woman is killed, the fetus taken from her body and then she is burned alive... A teenage boy confesses to murdering his sick parents to relieve them of their suffering..."

October 24:
"Here's my best effort at a summary of the people murdered since Friday  
October 14:One murder on October 14  
October 15 and 16: no murders, but 3 bodies found in the Valle de Juarez 
October 17: 4 murders  
October 18: Another day without a homicide  
October 19: 5 homicides  
October 20: 4 people assassinated  
October 21: 5 people murdered  
October 22: 3 executed  
October 23: 9 people killed, one decapitated...
According to my tally, the total for the month of October is now about 109, an average of about 5 people per day this month. For the year, 1,709--an average of 5.7 people per day, and since January 2008, the total number of people killed in Juarez is at least 9,708..."

Even living on the border, it is easy to forget just how many lives are being lost just across the border. Stories of shoot-outs and kidnappings still shock me, but the stats are often just numbers. Daily I receive emails from a research librarian at NMSU on her mass email list called the "frontera list"--compiled of translations and summaries of the day's headlines of the border violence. Recently they have included summaries such as those listed above.

It's not until I hear a personal story of suffering that it hits me again. I couldn't imagine working in some of the places my roommates work in--especially the one who often tells us of the stories her clients share--witnessing extreme decapitation of loved ones, fearing the risk of being killed if they don't receive asylum in the states, experiencing being trafficked...things that I could never imagine having the strength to listen to. It takes a level of de-sensitization, she explains to us, to be able to go to work everyday...or else she would just get swept up in the intense emotions and not be able to serve the clients who bring these stories.

I've heard stories of our after-school kids who have witnessed shoot-outs, been in the presence of loved ones dying, had relatives commit suicide, had parents murdered... The stories horrify me. But like my roommate, if I were to dwell on those stories, we would make no progress. But in no way do we forget the stories or the loved ones...

At this time of the year, the Mexican population is celebrating el Dia de los Muertos--the Day of the Dead. A day during which we take time to remember and honor those who have passed. On the border, it's obviously more than just lighting candles, preparing flowers, and eating special bread...it's also a reminder of the horrific circumstances surrounding how loved ones have died. How painful it must be for someone who has lost a friend, a brother, a parent, or a child to violence that is attributed to political corruption, situations of poverty, and many more avoidable consequences due to the actions taken in response to drug trade issues.

"The combination of a failed immigration system in the U.S. and unaccountable violence in Mexico has shown itself to be a deadly one for migrants. There has been a surge in the last two years of immigrants in the U.S. being deported to Mexico -- often with terrible consequences. Not only are they separated from their families, but many are killed in Mexico due to the corruption and the Mexican government's failure to provide institutional protection from violence." (Border Network for Human Rights Dia de los Muertos event page)

An excellent story that connects a personal story of a rather wealthy Mexican to the larger issues of the border: http://www.texasobserver.org/cover-story/no-safe-place

"Confronted with knowledge of dozens of apparently random disasters each day, what can a human heart do but slam its doors? No mortal can grieve that much. We didn't evolve to cope with tragedy on a global scale. Our defense is to pretend there's no thread of event that connects us, and that those lives are somehow not precious and real like our own. It's a practical strategy, to some ends, but the loss of empathy is also the loss of humanity, and that's no small tradeoff." (High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver)

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