Tag: mugging

Who’s Who in Mexico

Here in Mexico, you can pretty much tell who’s who just by looking at them. There are those who would scoff at such a claim. But I will tell you why I take this position and how it helps me survive.

There is still less cultural homogenization here than in the North, I would say; and the economic and class distinctions are clearer. For example, I can pretty much tell by looking who is an abañil (mason), who is a working ayudante (mason’s helper), an active estudiante (student), a shopkeeper and a shopkeeper’s helper, a citizen performing a tramite (a bureaucratic chore), or a tourist. In short, I believe I can make a pretty good calculation as to who someone is by evidence of the activity they are performing, whether they are carrying a tool, a backpack or some other object; and this narrows things down considerably–to the people who require more scrutiny. Alas, this works in reverse as well, when people look at me.

There is the anomaly, as well. For example, when the Pope visited recently, several tall athletic-looking Clark Kents–too neatly dressed, but not like businessmen or officials, and light skinned (which does not disqualify them as Mexicans)–strolled around in the main plaza, as if they were simply a few more tourists, with clean triangularly shaped backpacks just the right for a Koch submachine gun. They were the type that senses when you’re looking at them with a little too much curiosity, even at a distance–in which case their eyes meet yours.

I supopse they were either the Swiss Guards (Vatican) here to protect the Pope, or the Mexican Secret Service (the Estado Mayor Presidencial) here to protect President of Mexico, who was going to be in town to meet with the Pope and, like him, would be driving through the narrow streets that lend themselves so well to ambush.

There are other people who stand out because they do not look like locals. I am talking about burly rough looking men who do too much watching, who don’t seem to know where to stand, and who study people as they go by–including me–and whom no one ever greets. They also notice if your eyes are on them. They are rare, but in this age of organized crime (drug cartels and their killers) and disorganized crime (extortionists and muggers) one pays attention and one asks oneself: What are these fellows doing here in my peaceful little plaza where I buy fresh fruit juice and gorditas (thick tortillas filled with delicious things) and where I slip into my favorite student café–where everyone knows me–to write.

I weave through the callejones (alleys) of my little colonial city. I climb the 203 stairs to my house. I descend again to the old city center five minutes below. I take different routes, different callejones and stairs, depending what I decide is probably the most secure route for that day. It is a sad but very real thing and probably the way the majority live in this world of increasing scarcity. All the while I watch for young men around fifteen or sixteen (the range is more like from twelve to thirty) who may recognize me as prey, as target of opportunity.

A short while ago, we drove the hour and twenty minutes to San Miguel de Allende to pick up mail and do some shopping. After washing down one and one half brownies at Via Orgánica with a cappuccino descafeinado, I walked over to the Artesanias lane running along the creek east from calle Hildago. I bought a couple of simple colored glass bead bracelets, one for my granddaughter, and one for her mother. Then I bought black bead rings for my two daughters-in-law for an upcoming family reunion in Wisconsin.

When I had concluded this last transaction, I noticed three young men, fifteen to sixteen, walking toward me, coming from the direction I had come, moving with the familiar gangbanger strut, throwing one shoulder forward, then the other. They did not meet my gaze as they passed, though I was studying them.

I went to another booth to peruse more bead rings. Turning my head and looking right, I could see that the three boys had stopped and sat down on either side of the alley, just where the shops ended. Their attention was on me in a poorly disguised manner. They fit the mugger category even more obviously than the young man who assaulted my love and me close to our garden gate some months back.

I smelled trouble. I asked the shop lady whether the boys were known to be dangerous. She gave me a hostile, disinterested look. She did not bother to lean her head out to see whom I was talking about. Why, I don’t know. There could be several explanations, none of them too encouraging–for example, all three of them were her sons.

I placed my hand on my pepper spray. I picked out the young man sitting on the ground on the left. I had already identified him as leader. He was looking up at me as I approached. I held my pepper spray in my right hand, the palm pointing backwards, the front of my hand hiding the weapon. I switched the safety position to the spray position.

I have tried to think how to describe the look on his face–a mixture of defiance, disdain and rage. Young sniffers of glue, paint thinner and Magic Marker™ are not subtle. He more than gave himself away. His glowering intensified as I approached. He made no move to get up. I glowered back at him and held his gaze. Why I continued between their Scylla and Charybdis, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps because there is little clear thinking going on while being male and running on a mixture of adrenalin, testosterone, and fear. I had no plan.

When you’re stalked, there really is no direction that seems safer than another. I continued into the empty part of the alley. It extended about eighty feet and then became stairs. I had no idea what was at the top of the stairs nor whether there would be people and safety at the top. There was only one shop in that otherwise remote section of the alley. I made for the shop. I could see in my peripheral vision they were not right behind me. Nothing in the shop interested me, and I came back out. They had started my way. I think they had expected me to continue toward the stairs. I walked back toward them instead. I still had the pepper spray in the spray (fire) position, so all I would have to do was point and depress the lever.

I think they had timed their move to catch me on the stairs, which was the very same maneuver the mugger used some time ago when we were assaulted at knife point (the incident is described in “The Knives of Mexico” at http://www.sterlingbennett.com) close to our own garden gate. On stairs, I think they know, it is harder for the prey to defend or run.

They passed about eight feet away–all three looking straight ahead as if I had somehow disappeared. I swung my head to see if they were turning around. I decided they were not going to reach me before I got back to the shops. I kept on, looking back obliquely. I did not see them.

When you are being hunted, you consider all possible variations of the original danger, and I wondered whether they were running through a side passage so they could appear in front of me at some point along my retreat. I reached the end of the alley and climbed a short flight of stairs and was now beside a busy intersection. I turned frequently to see if they were following. They were not. Perhaps they had decided to seek an easier mark. A friend asked, did I not feel some measure of guilt that the boys had given up on me and gone to look for some other more unwary prey.

It is not pleasant being stalked. It is my second time while living in Mexico. The first stalkers were two low level thugs in Guadalajara–the dominant one with a scar across one eye–who followed us into a Starbucks. Our joint undiscussed reaction had been to walk right up to Scarface, put our noses about a foot from his and stare him in his bad eye with an unspoken, angry and defiant look of “We’re on to you.”

In that moment, my love had said, “There’s a bus outside” and in classic Guy Noir style we shot through Starbuck’s entrance door and ran down the steps and up to the bus—at least thirty years old, if not fifty—which was waiting at a red light. We banged on the dilapidated door, the driver opened it, and the blessed rattletrap hurled us ten blocks down into the center of the city and close to our hotel. To safety.

I imagine the percentage of muggers in my small city is very small. It is not as if I am the only potential target. Most of those mugged are Mexicans, and most of these, students. But this is the world I live in. Poor, disaffected youth self-medicate themselves—because of dysfunctional families and the lack of opportunities. The glue, paint thinner, and Magic Marker™ make them aggressive and crazy. Under the right circumstances, I will be an occasional victim—unless I can tell who’s who and take the appropriate evasive action. It is nothing personal. As my beloved older brother would say, “It is what it is.”

Muggers and Smoochers

We have begun a conspiracy. We are plotting strategies for neutralizing the muggers in the alleys of my small colonial Mexican city. I will not mention the name of the city. Enterprising young Mexicans respond to challenges, and I think I have already issued one at the beginning of this screed.

I prefer to call this a manifesto. Unite, citizens of the city! You have nothing to lose but your wallets!

My friend Jorge lost his laptop two nights ago. He is only now entering the post-traumatic stress zone. He cannot stop talking about the attack. Jorge is the barista and beer-ista at my favorite coffee house, the Café Acropolis. He heads home every night at about 12:30 am. That is when the twenty-year old highwaymen come out—alley boys, here. These two ruffians had a knife and a screwdriver–the latter, possibly sharpened on a grinder. They took his laptop and five hundred pesos in tips. He cannot replace that kind of loss. He asked me to consult with a local intellectual friend and café-ratón like me. That’s a cafe mouse, a regular client, who hangs out drinking strong cappuccinos, reading La Jornada, and writing fiction—or some other questionable material.

Perhaps I am the perfect consultant–being someone who pursues fiction, i.e. things made up. For that is exactly what we need here, where the police are not respected, are underpaid, untrained, and ineffective in combatting street crime.

Here are my suggestions. We find an attractive 30-year old woman who is fearless and very strong to walk up Jorge’s alley, carrying a laptop under her arm, at 00:30 in the morning. Military time seems appropriate here. Before hand, we position people along her path, couples that are locked in public embraces which they believe make them invisible to the public. These embraces have always provided an outlet for the hot temper of the young man or young woman, or both. But when it comes to recruiting smoochers, for the operation I have in mind, it is not always easy to find authentic couples that are already thick into the politics and clutching of new love. And so some of the smoochers have to be actors who do not necessarily know each other.

At their feet, there will be two plastic bags of cheap commercial Mexican eggs with their thin shells and pale yokes. The kissing, or pretending-to-kiss couples—the latter may experience some embarrassment—will have to smooch with one eye on the bait’s progress up the alley.

In order not to spook the young assailants, the clutchers and smoochers–real and pretend, both groups in the moment less than spontaneous–will have to fill the doorways and corners and not appear to show any concern for the public they are shutting out.

This will relieve the young highway robbers, who are circulating on motor scooters and underpowered motorcycles, looking for marks to hit. These víctimas would include students with laptops returning from study groups in friends’ apartments, theater and concert goers who have had a post-theater drink and aren’t paying attention, and anyone returning home after a very late dinner.

One lone thirty-year old is the perfect target, and when the lads park their scooter ahead of her and approach with the knife and screwdriver, she blows on her silver whistle in continuous short blasts. The smoochers pick up their bags of fragile eggs–a bag for each smoocher–and run toward the whistle blasts. As the teams–say, four of them–approach, they take out their eggs and begin throwing them at the assailants. Tomatoes are good, too. They throw hard and continuously. The bait woman keeps on blowing her whistle, flushing the neighbors out of their homes and confusing the robbers. A fifth pair–smoochers or non-smoochers–rush to the scooter and lock a chain through the front wheel so that it cannot turn.

The muggers find the scooter won’t save them, as planned. They run from the continuous barrage of eggs. The throwers stop throwing. The lovely bait-woman is also covered with egg. She has wrapped her laptop in plastic before hand. She goes home to shower, escorted by one of the four smoocher teams, having done her citizen’s duty. The fifth team leaves on the motor scooter. The muggers have left the key in place for a quick getaway. Some of the real smoochers discontinue their relationship from the stress of the operation.Some of the acting smoochers and clutchers form lasting relationships, from the stress of the operation.

The muggers never find their scooter again. Team number five has delivered it to the Municipio Público, the city police headquarters. The assailants give up attacks in the city’s alleys, even though they still have the knife and possibly sharpened screwdriver—because everywhere they look there are young, embracing Mexican couples, every night at 00:30.

I asked Jorge what he thought. He said he liked the plan and wondered when we could begin.

The Knives of Mexico

He comes up behind us, taking the steps two at a time. No one does that here. There are some 350 steps to the top of the canyon. 203 to our house. You take your time. You are climbing a mountain. As he leaps past, I said, “Mucha energía!” Something like, Boy do you have energy. He said nothing.

I like to make comments to the youths in our callejones, our alleys. If he had stopped and turned toward me, I would have thought of offering him my hand–to make it personal and cordial and, from my side, respectful. Because there would be so much to overcome: my fifty more years than his; my white skin, his brown; my social class, it is unlikely his parents drive a seven-year old Honda CVR’s, or any car at all; my income–a fairly guaranteed pension and social security–and his Mexican minimum wage, at maybe three dollars an hour. I don’t even think it through that far. He is clearly not from here, because here no one climbs the stairs that way.

Our neighbor Manuel is just ahead of us, on the second flight of steep stairs. He carries two tall, narrow cardboard boxes with breathing holes. Each box holds two gallos de pelea, fighting cocks–one in the upper chamber, one below. He is eighty year old, his wife is dead, the gallos de pelea give his life meaning. He believes in fighting generally. He carries a kitchen knife in his pocket. It has a crude wooden handle and a rusty six-inch blade. He shows it to us a week later.

The young man with all the energy turns right at the head of the stairs, goes a spell, then stops and yells down to someone on the road below us–an opening between two tunnels. We chats for a moment longer with Manuel. The cocks have won two fights, and lost two fights. I know what losing means. The tied on, long, razor-like spurs inevitably kill one bird or the other. I have seen this happen, and it does not take long. Maybe thirty seconds. I am a smart ass, and say he could always eat the ones that lost. He does not understand my dubious humor and instead says something like, well, that’s the way it is with fighting cocks.

Maybe it is then that someone yells down to the road below us.

We say good night and turn left, trudging up a slant, turn right, and begin the last hundred steps. We have eaten with friends in the plaza Baratillo. I am in the grips of a cold, and wanted to leave Miguel’s restaurant early. Our friends walk slowly. I said I needed to go on ahead and get home and into bed. I am dragging up the stairs, half way up the last hundred, my wife a few steps ahead of me.

He comes up behind us, taking the steps two at a time. No one does that here. As he passes, for the second time I say, “Mucha energía,” boy do you have a lot of energy! And this time, as if to be more sociable, he turns a few steps above us and presents a knife, close in against his belly so others will not see it. Pointed at us.

My wife Elizabeth is a social creature and prepares to greet him, to engage with local youth, perhaps from our very own barrio–young people we try to warn away from sniffing glue, paint thinner, and magic marker.

As she chats with him amicably, I say–referring to his knife, “Eso no es una buena idea,” I don’t think that’s a very good idea.

And then, to Elizabeth, I say, “He has a knife.”

I have since tried to remember the young man’s first instructions. Now I realize, he may never have given any. My wife follows Buddhist principles and is already telling the young man to calm down.

“Here! Here’s some money,” she says.

She fishes a two-hundred peso note out of the Michoacán cloth purse that hangs around her neck. He stabs the air in front of him and says, “Más!” More!

“Take it easy, take it easy,” she says, and, like an efficient, compliant mother, plucks out a final twenty-peso note. Roughly another 1.67 dollars.

He gestures with the knife toward me, but addresses her. Clearly, with white skin, I do not understand Spanish, maybe not even the situation.

“Ahorita él!” Now him!

I have lived in Mexico for thirteen years. I have spent a lot of time hiding my money from people who might want to see what’s in my little, dirty, woven purse with two Aztec cats on each side. We are a few steps from our friend and housekeeper Lilia’s door, a crude adobe structure that butts up against our lower garden wall. That wall robs her of winter sun. The flat stones that hold down her buckled, laminated tin roof probably come from our property. We are her sole income. We would trust Lilia with our lives. It never occurs to us to call out to her.

A kind of tunnel thinking has set in. I am not aware of my surroundings. Not even of Lilia’s low, black, steel door, which once belonged to a structure we torn down on our property. I am focused on what is in my purse. I have been to the bank. I am about to hand over the 4,000 pesos or, roughly, $300.

Elizabeth, who tends to dominate social encounters sometimes, is ordering me to stop being a fool and hand over my money. My world has shrunk in on me. Elizabeth is speaking on behalf of young man with the knife.

“Give him your money!” she says, in with a tone, as if I’m holding up the fellow, or considering something stupid.

I am used to various kinds of social pressure from Elizabeth, and I have my methods of coping. But now, in the dim light of the alley stairs, I am using my seconds to separate my two credit cards, my Mexican driver’s licence, and my INSEN card (which gives me half-price tickets for ETN’s first class buses, the University Cine Club, and The Symphony) from my paper money. I am even trying to separate out my ATM receipts–an old habit, so people don’t know how much money I handle.

I extract my folded wad of money. He takes the 4,000 pesos–a windfall for him–with his left hand. With his right hand–the knife hand–he grabs for my four dirty Aztec cats. I pull the cats back out of his grip.

“Esto, no!” Not this! I say.

He is already moving down the steps. His knife sweeps by me but does not touch me. Elizabeth, guided by her Buddhist principles, wants to help and calls after him “Córrale, córrale!” Run, run! To help him with his escape.

I start after him, but realize at the same time how idiotic my going after him is. I do not leap up stairs two at a time. I am not a Samurai at the peak of my career. When I get to the base of our last hundred stairs, there is no sign of him. And the post-traumatic syndrome sets in.

I am numb. In the hot period, April and May, when we begin these last hundred stairs, we meet a stream of cool air coming down from the mountain. The alley is quiet and narrow. We know our neighbors on either side. We are always glad to be close to our house. Now, it is a place which is no longer safe.

Elizabeth climbs the few steps remaining to Lilia’s door. The whole event has taken something like thirty seconds. More, if you include my unwise pursuit and Elizabeth’s knocking. Lilia opens her black, hand-me-down steel door, steps forward, and listens to my wife’s report. She wants all the details. She shows no fear. At times, she is our cross-cultural mother, who explains Mexico to us. She is also a sort of block captain of our barrio, possibly still a PRIista, Partido Revolutionario Institucional, the party that ruled Mexico for seventy-one years, some say as a mixture of mafia and dictatorship.

Elizabeth tells her what had happened. She listens, reassures us, is calm. I tell her I won’t report the incident to the police, because everyone knows they won’t do anything. She agrees. That’s the way Mexico is. On the other hand, if someone breaks into your house, terrorizes you with a gun, and robs you, they will come and investigate.

But not a mugging–where the mugger has slipped away into the population, untraceable, except by recognition. Elizabeth claims she studied his face, but also that he looked like any number of young Mexicans. I think we wore a white baseball cap. I know the precise dimensions of his knife. A three-inch blade, two and a half inches wide. The kind used to skin deer–except that there are almost no deer left in hungry Mexico.

Elizabeth discounts the knife as small. I tell her, it was big enough to gut one or both of us.

We are afraid. We wonder whether he will return, thinking we are rich, because I was carrying 4,000 pesos, and that there must be more money in our house. That night, we lock ourselves in our bedroom. It is not like the U.S. where you can call the police and they will be there in five or ten minutes.

We spread the word among friends–ex-patriots and Mexicans. The city is a walking city. A day later, we run into Manuel of the gallos de pelea, the fighting cocks neighbor. He shows us his kitchen knife, tucked in his pants. He says he will use it if any one assaults him. No one will assault him, because he clearly doesn’t have a lot of money. Maybe a young Mexican can take one look at him and know the old guy will have a kitchen knife, and it isn’t worth tangling with him.

I find my old pepper spray. It’s expiration date is four years ago. I carry it anyway. Elizabeth disapproves. We both know that you’re not supposed to use it when the assailant has a knife or a gun. We talk with everyone–neighbors, strangers in our barrio, friends. We are compulsive. We can’t stop telling people. After a while, I no longer know whom I’ve told.

We begin the victims’ re-appraisal. I have been trained all my life to meet violence with violence. Sometimes, while driving, the impulse to return aggression starts to come out, and Elizabeth scolds me. Still, I wonder whether I should have stuck out my foot when he passed me, racing down the steps. If he had fallen hard, I could have jumped on his head with both feet and my full weight.

But then the scenario gets complicated. He fights back or I’ve injured him, or not injured him enough, and I have to do something violent all over again. It is hard to imagine these scenes, with Elizabeth’s Buddhist principles hanging in the air. We must have empathy, she says, but I know she is traumatized, too. Uncharacteristically, she snaps at a male friend who tells her glibly, “You folded.”

The next day, I go, anyway, to the Administrativo Publico, Police Headquarters. I sit patiently until it’s my turn. I take a chair in front of a woman at a steel desk, who sits in front of a computer. She brings up a form letter and begins filling specifics: my name, age, address, description of the assailant, and whether I knew him. She asks about the weapon, the details of what happened. I sign my name in a few places. I get up, put on my small backpack, and–knowing this has concluded the Police’s role–ask how I can defend myself.

She says I can apply to carry a weapon.

“You mean a pistol?” I ask.

She nods.

I thank her.

Of course, everyone knows only the military and the police can carry weapons in Mexico. I have lived in the country long enough to accept contradictions and wrong information. I wonder how much energy to invest in the possibility that what she has told me is true. As someone huffed later, applying for a weapons permit doesn’t mean the application will be accepted. So, yes, it is true you can apply.

I go on-line to Amazon and look up self-defense weapons. I remember there are telescopic truncheons made of steel, which can be flip out into a two-foot club. I try to imagine myself getting past the deer skinning knife and delivering potentially lethal blows against the young man’s head.

I tell Elizabeth about my internet investigations. She mentions the young man may have been desperate to buy more drugs, or medicine for a sick relative. He was very nervous, she reminds me, looking around, gesturing with his gutting knife, speeding up the transfer of money, leaving quickly, to ensure his safe retreat. I also realize the authorities would not be happy with me, if I killed or gravely injured a young Mexican who had simply needed money. Ninety-five percent of Mexicans need money.

Besides, I am not a Samurai at the peak of his career.

We return home one afternoon. There is a narrow ledge on the graffitied, orange, steel door that leads to our garden– thirty steps up from Lilia’s black, hand-me-down steel door. I see a large scorpion on the ledge, facing us. It’s always an exciting discovery, and a happy one, to see the scorpion first, before you put your hand on it.

I play a game. I say, “Look,” without being more specific.

Elizabeth sees it immediately. She says wow. I take my longest key and touch its left claw. There is no reaction. I flick it off the door. It falls to the pavement. There is no movement. It also has no stinger, in fact, no tail at all. It didn’t get up on the ledge by itself. Someone put it there, so that it faced us, as if it were a totem or message.

I think immediately of the young man. Dianne mentions that Lilia has said that the neighbor just below her believes in and practices witchcraft. Whoever did it, I find it menacing. It has never happened before. Ever, in thirteen years. I do not know what it is supposed to mean that the scorpion has had it stinger cut off, along with the rest of it tail.

I have flashbacks. I imagine myself grabbing a good-sized rock–they were lying close by–and throwing it after him as he runs down the steps. It either hurts him, or he comes back. The hit would have to crush his skull–a bad outcome for me, as well as for him. Also un-Buddhist.

I delete the scenario. I have heard you can buy pepper spray in town. I go to the Punk store that sells them. They are back ordered. Maybe. I see I can buy a knife very much like the one the young man used. It is too easy to lose a knife fight. With a twenty-five year old who moves quicker than I do. A slash across the eye or the jugular, I calculate, is not worth it–for $300.

I talk to my closest Mexican friend. We examine the reasons for muggings. The fathers have disappeared in the North (to the U.S.), looking for work. Or, with bottle in hand, just disappeared. The assailants live with their mothers. They are embarrassed to have their mothers buying their clothes. They have failed at school, for various reasons. They have no future in Mexico. Their country suffers from a lack of social responsibility, among its political and religious leaders. The problem is systemic. There are no easy answers.

What about the police? I ask.

They are poorly trained and underpaid, says my friend. The city has few roads and countless alleys through which people move. It is impossible to guard all the allies. Foot patrols would help, but there are not enough police. There is not enough money to hire and train them. There is a lack of vision, as well, as to what trained would look like. The problem is a local one, because the town to the east of us has a highly trained police force. Many wealthy foreigners live there. They may have insisted on training.

I have hopes for the lad that attacked us. He seems like an enterprising alpha type of male, who might lead a different life under other circumstances. Perhaps a banker, or a hedge fund manager. Eventually, he will meet someone who will pay him a great deal of money to deliver drugs, collect debts, or hurt someone badly in the trade. And if that happens, eventually someone will decide to tie his hands behind him, have him lie down, and put a bullet in the back of his head. And so, in fact, I do not see a lot of hope.

For the time being, it seems like everyone in Mexico has a knife–the young man, Manuel, even the gallos de pelea. But not the scorpion on our garden door.

I learn that a French friend and two of her companions were mugged by three teenagers. At least one of them had a knife, too. Though she thought it was made of plastic. He supposedly jabbed at their eyes with it. The French women resisted. The boys beat them, took their money and cell phones. She was disgusted. They went to the police. The police said, “You came to the police because you lost 300 pesos?”

I try to create perspective, like, who are all the muggers in the equation? Which of us foreigners, in the past, has mugged Mexico, and indirectly the young men who are mugging us? There are the usual suspects. Like Hernan Cortéz, the French, English, Spanish, and Americans. Bank-backed American and Canadian mining operations, which take the subterranean wealth, which, according to the Mexican Constitution supposedly belongs to all the people.

There are internal colonialists, as well. The monopolists, powerful lazy bureaucrats, and politicians who give themselves pensions for life, flourish a general lack of social responsibility and an attitude of chingar your others before they would unto you.

I include the International Monetary Fund (the IMF), as well. Their words: we will bail you out, make further loans for the moneys your elite have already stolen, if you take out your economist knives, cut social services, and let our corporations in to feed on the wealth. I include the Government’s use of public savings (FOBAPROA) to pay off the national debt incurred by white collar robbers at the highest levels.

Then there is NAFTA, designed to defeat Mexican protectionism, offer no safety to union organizers–and bring in Monsanto corn, against which Mexican campesinos can not compete. They abandon their milpas, corn plots, and retreat to the cities, where there is no work. The campesinos were the guardians of the fields and the land, which have been the well-spring of and inspiration for Mexican art, food, and culture.

This is the pattern of colonial extraction, both internal and foreign–a constant mugging which weakens youth’s chance of getting an education and finding a job. 60% of the population lives in poverty. There are no jobs. Education for the masses is poor. The strong and bright flee north. The border gets tighter and tighter. There is nowhere to go. So why not pick off a few foreigners, and extract the cash they get with their debit cards? Except that they also rob Mexicans–students, merchants. Tourists from South America. All this, while the wealthy, beautiful Mexicans send their children to Harvard.

Where does it stand now? I still carry the pepper spray which went out of date in 2008. I leave my credit and debit card at home, hidden. I carry only enough cash for my errands. I still look for predators, hawks watching, their glance lingering too long, showing too much interest. I still look at each young man I pass to see if it’s him.

The Pope is coming, and I am shifting my attention to him. He may be coming to support the Christian Right here, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), maybe to stir up the old Cristero War of 1926, low intensity, with the wink “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live King Christ! Offering religion as youth’s opiate–mugging for God.

Huge crowds are expected. I suppose my young man is preparing. He waits for night, in the alleys, with his scorpion knife, and nervous eyes. Maybe with two buddies. And the last thing there are thinking about is how their society has long since had its knives out for them–and has long since cut off their stingers.