An Open Letter from an Artist to a Mexican Crime Cartel Boss

Globalization has gone wrong in Mexico.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña

The bodies of some of the 72 migrants shot on August 25, at an abandoned warehouse in San Fernando, Tamaulipas state. The Zetas drug gang has been blamed for the atrocity. (Photo by: photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Señor,

Do you ever feel sorry and secretly cry? Do you sometimes look at yourself in the mirror and feel embarrassed or angry?

Lord of the heavens and the beaches, the highways and the trailers:

1. I have never met you and I truly hope I never do. I am one of the hundreds of thousands of post-national Mexicans whose umbilical cord to my homeland has been severed by you. I don’t look forward to my decreasing visits to Mexico. I have lost my country of origin to violence and fear – to the violence you helped create and the fear you continue to perpetrate.

2. I haven’t had the opportunity to cry for Mexico. I haven’t had the time to cry for the 30,000 documented cases” of people killed by organized crime in the past three years – Mexicans killed by other Mexicans like you, not to mention the thousands more who have simply vanished in the Arizona desert, lost in the bi-national sex trade or buried in some mass grave.

It all happened so fast. The delusional war declared by President Felipe Calderón against your kind, your internal cartel wars” fought for control of strategic territories. Then there were the wholesale kidnappings and levantones (kidnappings without negotiation in which the victims are tortured and killed); your assassinations (including the now-infamous beheadings and mutilations); followed by the bombings and assaults on police stations, penitentiaries, restaurants and nightclubs; and the abominable massacres that resemble those by the Colombian and Central American death squads of the past.

3. I speak from first-hand experience. My family and friends have been touched by your violence. One of my closest cousins was stabbed 22 times by a sicario (hired assassin) who spent less than two months in jail for his crime. My 88-year-old mother has been robbed twice at gunpoint. And people I knew were killed in crossfire, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – meaning anywhere, anytime. This didn’t happen in Baghdad or Kandahar. It took place in Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Juaŕez, Veracruz, Morelia and many other cities I learned to love traveling in my ex-country as a young man. 

4. What exactly went wrong? And who is to blame for this madness? President Calderón, for forcing us all into a war we were not prepared to win? The likes of you who carry out the violence? The politicians, military men and policemen who protect you? The U.S. drug consumers and distributors who create the demand? The gringo mercenaries who sell you the high-tech weapons? The global media that sensationalizes your cruelty and perpetuates your fear campaign? Everyone seems to play a major role.

When you have no job, access to education or decent housing for your loved ones, it is much easier to join organized crime than to remain unemployed or sub-employed, working against all odds for almost nothing. On the day of his apprehension, a young hit man told a journalist: Hey culero [coward]! What’s the pinche [fucking] difference between dying from starvation or dying from a bullet in your heart?”
This is not hard to understand: It’s globalization gone wrong – the story of a dysfunctional nation-state on the verge of losing control against the backdrop of a transnational pop culture that has swept our historical memory and humanity, ripping apart the already ruptured social fabric and turning our youth into consumers of extreme desires and seekers of instant success.

All this has made it easier for people like you to exist.

5. Your exhibitionist cruelty sows fear. In the map of organized crime that now comprises more than half of Mexico’s territory, the civilian population wakes up everyday to fear. The gruesome images that document and (indirectly) perpetrate this fear appear daily in the front pages of the newspapers and comprise half of the national newscasts. Some of your legendary revenge” YouTube videos became more popular than those showcasing beheadings by al Qaeda. Your sadism is carefully staged, but for whom are you performing?

6. Your empire of violence does not stop at the border. The young gang members who work for you in Mexico are connected to other gangs on this side of the border. These gangs are comprised of post-national teen Mexicans and Salvadorans, norteños, sureños and Mara salvatruchos, who also kill each other while fighting for the drugs you help to smuggle and the prestige you fight to secure. I know many Mexican parents in the United States who have lost their sons and daughters to the very same violence you have helped to instigate while collaborating with crime cartels from other countries. 

When those who survive the eternal gang warfare in our Latino barrios get deported, they rejoin your ranks back home. In this vicious circle, they will lose everything: their relatives and friends, their identity and, eventually, their lives. All that remains are some hip hop songs and indie documentaries chronicling their short lives.

7. The main news reported about Mexico here in the United States concerns cartel violence. When Anglo-Americans who have no emotional relationship to Mexico watch this news on TV, they understandably get scared of Mexicans and Mexico. Their fear inevitably fuels the current anti-Mexican hysteria and eventually translates into irrational anti-immigration laws, making it harder for all of us here in the United States to be treated as equals. Why do you choose to contribute to the worsening of the conditions of the U.S. Latino community and the empowerment of a new xenophobic U.S. far-right?

8. I’ve got more questions for you. Do you ever feel sorry and secretly cry? Do you sometimes look at yourself in the mirror and feel embarrassed or angry? Do you really believe that Jesus Malverde, St. Judas Tadeo and the Holy Death are protecting you? Are you willing to pay the huge price of putting your relatives and friends at risk for a relatively short life of power, sex and glamour? Do the movies and soap operas that you inspire make the daily risks worthwhile? Don’t you ever wonder if creating a truce with other cartels might actually be beneficial to you and to the whole country? Am I naïve for asking these questions?

9. All I have is my art and my words to talk back and speak up. Half of the artistic projects and writings I am currently involved in have one central subject matter: the culture of violence on both sides of the border. It occupies a big part of my art. I wish it didn’t. I wish I could go back to making art and writing about other matters with humor and joy. Unfortunately, for the moment, my sadness and my outrage won’t allow it. I truly wish I could go back to Mexico one day and live in my old neighborhood in peace.

10. I am not alone.

-Guillermo Gómez-Peña
Orphan of two nation-states

Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a performance artist, writer and MacArthur fellow, is artistic director of San Francisco-based Pocha Nostra, a multidisciplinary arts organization for artists exploring issues of globalization, immigration, intercultural identity, border culture, the politics of language and new technologies.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue