What do actor Matthew McConaughey and a Sinaloan beauty queen have in common?
They both recently got in a fix south of the border.
In the case of McConaughey, who likes to sprinkle his prose with the phrase “just keep living,” there is a happy ending. The actor writes in his blog that he and a friend went on a road trip and their car broke down somewhere in the middle of the desert in southern Baja California. He thanks an 82-year-old local woman called “Matty” who helped them out. Read more on McConaughey’s blog here.
The story of how Laura Elena Zuniga Huizar, “Our Beauty Sinaloa 2008,” was caught with a stash of firearms and thousands of dollars seems straight out of a Hollywood movie. Zuniga, from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, was detained along with seven men (the exact number seems to vary in news reports) at a military checkpoint in Guadalajara, according to this story in Vanguardia that also has a picture of her.
Zuniga’s reported explanation: They were going to go shopping in Bolivia and Colombia.
**UPDATED INFORMATION on Zuniga’s arrest in this Associated Press story. Los Angeles Times reporter Tracy Wilkinson also writes about Sinaloa’s drug trafficking connections in this story published Dec. 28: “In Sinaloa, the drug trade has infiltrated ‘every corner of life.’ **
YouTube video of Laura Elena Zuniga Huizar – the woman in the yellow dress – from NoroesteTV
I’ve been reading Alma Guillermoprieto’s stories about Latin America ever since college when I came across an article she wrote for The New Yorker about Mexico’s trash dump communities. Her literary tapestries combine historical context with human stories to explain the region’s current events.
In the Nov. 10 issue of The New Yorker, Guillermoprieto writes about Mexico’s narcocultura. The story focuses mostly on the state of Sinaloa, which is said to have been the birthplace of Mexico’s drug trade. It starts with a description of the controversial “Navajas” art exhibit that was intended to get people to confront the excesses of drug violence by jolting them from their crime-dazed stupor. (Read more about “Navajas” in this previous blog posting). It ends with a visit to Mexico City and an explanation of the Santa Muerte robed skeleton figure that has been adopted by drug traffickers. In between, she writes about recent developments in the drug trade that have led to an upswing in violence.
The challenge with writing about any huge subject matter like the drug trade is that there is too much to write about. So you either omit a lot or you dole the information out in chapter-like portions like Guillermoprieto has been able to do over her extensive career. Guillermoprieto is well-versed in another aspect of narco culture that escaped mention in this recent story: Odes to drug traffickers, or narco corridos. In recent years, attacks on members of narco corrido groups have raised questions of whether art is imitating life or vice versa. Meanwhile, I would love to read a story from Guillermoprieto – or any other journalist up for the challenge – that blends the topics of food and drug trafficking by tracing the popularity and proliferation of Sinaloan seafood restaurants. Drug-related shootings and arrests have been associated with several of these food places in Tijuana.
Image via Wikipedia and approved for public use by Not_Home
You won’t find a lot of publicity in Tijuana about the controversial art exhibit, Navajas, in which ostrich parts, images of executions, and dangling dollar bills represent the victims and conspirators of drug trafficking activities and other violent acts. The exhibit, by Rosa Maria Robles, is running through Oct. 3 at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California.
“What I’m trying to do with Navajas isn’t to create a scandal, nor to provoke just to provoke,” she told the Tijuana weekly Zeta recently. Instead, she said, it’s to “shake up the public…because the violence is growing so terribly.” (read a story here about the most recent outbreak in Mexico’s interior.)
Robles got into a lot of heat last year when she held the original Navajas exhibit in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where she is from. She included blankets that had presumably been used to wrap up and dump victims, a practice that has become so common in border cities like Tijuana that a word was created to describe the body finds: encobijados. Robles’ blood-stained blankets were confiscated by law enforcement authorities, who wanted to know how she got them (she later replaced them with blankets decorated with her own blood). In her interview with the Tijuana weekly Zeta, Robles said she was hoping to get the original blankets back on loan for the exhibit’s future showing in Mexico City.
I get the feeling that Tijuana is understandably sensitive about airing topics like this and scaring off tourists, so I find it somewhat amazing that Navajas (which means ‘knives’ or ‘razors’ in English) is even here. As someone who has written extensively about border crime and violence (and lived in Tijuana safely for two years), I wanted to see the exhibit for myself. I learned later that it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. If you read Spanish, you can see a copy of the Zeta article here, which includes some pictures.
Screenshot from Rosa Maria Robles’ website
The first time I went to a Sinaloan seafood restaurant in Tijuana, I was a little nervous. Based on their reputation, I was prepared for ear-splitting live music and perhaps a gunshot or two.
The state of Sinaloa is considered to be the craddle of Mexican drug trafficking, and I’ve occasionally heard Baja California law enforcement officials bemoan the “Sinaloan factor.” Never mind that Sinaloans here comprise the majority of migrants* from other Mexican states so they are also bound to be your in-laws, neighbors and fruit vendors.
Sinaloan associations have tried to get the public to see the more positive side of their contributions, namely their food, but it’s been a tough sell. I finally went to Negro Durazo** for the first time a few years ago and found the food to be scrumptious: fish and seafood battered in cheese and unbelievably rich sauces.
This weekend, The New York Times ran a story about how ongoing drug-related violence is affecting people’s lives in large and small ways, and it quotes an unnamed source as saying he’s avoiding Sinaloan restaurants lately for their fair-or-not association with gangster clientele. I know a few people who have avoided Sinaloan food places their entire lives, which is an unfortunate reaction to the convergence of reality and perception.
If you want to try Sinaloan food in Tijuana without the ambience, there’s a mini-branch of Negro Durazo at the Zona Rio mall food court, just a few minutes from the San Ysidro Border on Paseo de Los Heroes, There’s also a Negro Durazo north of the border, in Chula Vista.
* A study on Baja California migration says 16.6 percent of the state’s residents come from Sinaloa.
**I once tried to get someone at Negro Durazo to explain to me the origin of the nickname, but no one seemed to have an answer. Perhaps the most famous “Negro Durazo” was Arturo Durazo, a controversial Mexican police chief from more than two decades ago, who amassed an illicit fortune.