Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna

An Open Letter From a Post-National Artist to a Mexican Crime Cartel Boss

I had this nightmare last night: I dreamt that one day I woke up and turned on the TV: Mexico had been entirely taken over by the crime cartels and the US, by the Tea Party. There was no place for me to go. I packed up a bunch of props and costumes and moved to Antarctica.
—From my performance diary

Señor XXX,
Lord of the heavens and the beaches, the highways and the trailers

1. I have never met you face to face and I truly hope I never do. Despite the fact you don’t know me, your actions affect my daily existence in profound ways. 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 increasingly less frequent visits to Mexico, because people like you have made it a terrifying place, a war zone. I have lost my country of origin to violence and fear; to the violence you helped create and the fear you continue to perpetrate.

Photo: Credit.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna

2. I haven’t had the opportunity to cry for Mexico. I haven’t had the time to cry for the 40,000 ‘documented cases’ of people killed by organized crime in the past 3 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 Calderon against your kind; your internal ‘cartel wars’ fighting for the control of strategic territories, and the ‘collateral’ civilian casualties. Then there were the wholesale kidnappings and ‘levantones’, your exemplary assassinations (including the now world-known beheadings and mutilations) followed by the bombings and assaults to police stations, penitentiaries, restaurants and nightclubs, and the abominable massacres of migrants and teenagers that resemble those by the Colombian and Central American Death Squads of the past.

It is happening so fast, relentlessly… In less than a decade, Mexico became one of the most violent countries on earth, with monthly murder statistics higher than those of the Iraq and the Afghan wars. We are now the country with the largest number of murdered journalists and students. Violence is now our master narrative, daily headline and cultural landscape. Violence is now the main reason why Mexicans migrate to the US.

3. Unfortunately 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 2 months in jail for his crime. My 88 year-old mother has been robbed twice at gunpoint. Other relatives and friends of mine have been kidnapped, beaten and robbed by cops on your payroll, pseudo-cops and teen gangsters. And people I knew were killed in crossfire, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, meaning anywhere, anytime. And this didn’t happen in Bagdad or Kandahar. It took place in Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Juarez, Veracruz, Morelia, and many other cities I learned to love while traveling in my ex-country as a young man. Today, these places are all part of the international “travel alert websites” that contribute to the destruction of Mexico’s tourism.

Photo: Credit.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna

4. I haven’t been able to fully grasp much less digest what exactly went wrong. Who is to blame for this madness? President Calderon 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 US 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 perpetrates your fear campaign? Everyone seems to play a major role in this 3D movie that has real consequences.

I do understand the problem of inequality and poverty; the immense, ever growing distance between poor and rich and why, when faced with a future of joblessness and despair, people are left with two equally dramatic options: to migrate north to a country that hates them or to join you and work for you, to aspire to be like you. When you have no job, access to education and decent housing for your loved ones, it seems 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 culeros! What’s the 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 trans-national pop culture that has swept our historical memory and humanity, tearing down even more the already ruptured social fabric and turning the youth into consumers of extreme desires and seekers of instant success.

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

5. There is also the fear generated by your exhibitionist cruelty. In the map of organized crime that now comprises more than half of Mexico’s territory, the civilian population wakes up everyday to fear; fear of being kidnapped or having a relative kidnapped; fear of going out and becoming a victim of random violence; fear of being robbed, raped, mutilated, disappeared. 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. The most explicit images can be found in the popular “narco blogs.” 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?

Photo: Credit.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna

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 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 US who have lost their sons and daughters to the very same violence you have helped to instigate collaborating with crime cartels from other countries. I have attended several funerals. And when those who survive the eternal gang warfare in our US Latino barrios get deported they simply rejoin your ranks back home. In this vicious circle, they will loose everything: their relatives and friends, their tattooed identity and eventually, their lives. All that remains are some hip-hop songs and indie documentaries chronicling their death dance.

7. You should know that the main news that is reported here in the US about Mexico concerns crime cartel violence. Understandably when the Anglo Americans who have no emotional relationship to Mexico watch these news-clips on TV, they get scared of Mexicans. And their fear inevitably fuels the current anti-Mexican hysteria and eventually translates into irrational anti-immigration laws (such as Arizona’s’ infamous SB-1070 and HB-2281 laws) making it harder for all of us here in the US to be treated as equals. In the eyes of a racist, a migrant worker, a drug smuggler and a potential terrorist become indistinguishable. In the eyes of a racist, we are all criminals.

Since you probably have several relatives and friends in the US, I’m sure you think about these matters. But then, I wonder- what purpose does it serve you to know that you are contributing tremendously to the worsening of conditions for the US Latino communities at large and to the empowerment a new xenophobic US far-right?

Photo: Credit.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and James Luna

8. Today as I re-write this letter, 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 with yourself? Aren’t you afraid for the lives of your loved ones? Do you really think that Malverde, Judas Tadeo and La Santa Muerte (the Holy Death) are protecting you well? Are you willing to pay the huge price of putting your relatives and friends at risk for a relatively short life of unrestricted power, sex and glamour? Do the movies, soap operas and corridos that you inspire make the daily risks worthwhile? Don’t you ever wonder that 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. For the moment 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 and 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.

10. I truly wish I could go back to Mexico one day and live in my old neighborhood in peace… I am not alone.

Orphan of Two Nation-States

Guillermo Gómez-Peña is a performance artist/writer and the director of the transnational arts collective La Pocha Nostra. He was born in Mexico City and moved to the US in 1978. Since then he has been exploring cross-cultural issues with the use of performance, multilingual poetry, journalism, video, radio, and installation art.

*I wish to thank Elaine Peña, Gretchen Coombs, Anastasia Herold, and Emma Tramposch for helping me to edit the original manuscript.


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