Ay Chihuahua!—Land of my Roots

The increase in violence over the last three years in Mexico has filled headlines and newscasts throughout the world. More than 15,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon declared all out war against some of the most entrenched drug lords in the world. Mexico is now one of the leading countries in the number of murdered journalists. Kidnappings are at an all time high. Millions of dollars and thousands of federal troops have amassed on border towns and key drug-producing states.  However, like most efforts of this kind, it has only resulted in more violence, extension of drug gangs and even greater drug use, especially in the United States, the world’s largest illicit drug market. This week I’m visiting Chihuahua City—where my mother was born—and Ciudad Juarez, where my family lived when I was born in El Paso, Texas. They are the principal cities in the Mexican state considered the most violent: Chihuahua.  I love this land. I love these people.  So it saddens me to see so much pain and lack of options that many of the people have had to deal with in these extremely difficult economic, social, and violent times. Yet, there are solutions. There are ways to go. There can be a new imagination, with new ideas, tactics, and adequate personal and social change to meet these challenges. That is one of my goals on this trip as a recipient of a US Speaker and Specialist Grant of the US Bureau of International Information Programs. There are in my view many common realities that people in Los Angeles and people in Chihuahua face. One of them is violence. Although the level of violence in LA is far less than that of Ciudad Juarez, the LA area has around 700 gangs, of which 500 are Chicano/Mexican/Central American gangs. From 1980 to 2000, some 15,000 young people died in gang violence in LA. While this violence has gone done tremendously over the past ten years, with suppression policies (more police and more prisons) we also see the squeezing of poor communities and the spread of LA gangs throughout the US, Mexico, and Central America. Yet there are also key differences.  I hope to bring some experience, awareness, and knowledge of the forty years I’ve had working with the most marginalized, poor, and neglected US communities, in particular those in Chicago and Los Angeles. But I’m also aware that there are already wonderful and active people, programs, and ideas in Chihuahua. And that whatever I say has to be re-imagined and re-tooled for the particulars that my brothers and sisters in Chihuahua have to work with. Yesterday, I spoke to around sixty middle school and high school students—they were respectful, engaged, and had great questions. I also did radio, TV and print interviews. And I was able to hold a major discussion at Casa Chihuahua, a museum/cultural space in the heart of the Chihuahua City, with around 150 people—including youth, activists, and governmental leaders. It was a truly inspiring experience. I’ll try to posts more details of this trip that will include more school visits, including colleges, more media interviews, more community gatherings, poetry events, and a couple of prisons, culminating in Ciudad Juarez. We’ll address immediate and vital issues that I believe together—across borders, barriers and economic/political limitations—can help create authentic and whole communities from the broken pieces of community we see today. c/s

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