Brenda Garcia, 17, Mexico

Reclaim Tijuana: Put an end to drug-related violence

Growing up in Tijuana, I often heard stories of the time when it was considered the Mexican Promised Land. This frontier city on the Mexico-United States border offered hope to settlers from other parts of the country, like my grandparents, who sought a better standard of living. As it grew, Tijuana turned into one of the most prosperous cities in Mexico. I was told that school attendance and employment rates soared, people felt safe and tourists from the United States would crowd the main shopping street, Avenida Revolución, on weekends.

As I grew up and started reading local newspapers, I realized that bad things were happening. Over the last few years, a wave of violent crime related to drug trafficking has hit Tijuana as well as other Mexican cities. Kidnapping, torture, murder, persecution, threats, military intervention, innocent lives destroyed – all in the place I call home. Tijuana today is one of the most dangerous places in the country. This has ruined the tourism industry and caused a dramatic loss of jobs.

In the last year, we have seen some progress: Key drug cartel leaders have been arrested and the drug trade’s influence has diminished. However, with the cartels’ activities disrupted, violence has increased and may get worse before it gets better. Confronted with the global economic downturn, and upsurge in violence, some Mexicans have migrated to the United States. While many residents are terrified and avoid leaving their homes, others say it is an issue between gangsters and does not concern them. Yet how can we look the other way when we learn of shootings in hospitals or outside kindergartens?

There is a difference between apathy and ignorance. I was ignorant. I thought Tijuana was a peaceful city and that the media’s stories were exaggerations. However, once you learn that your neighbour has been shot or that a close friend has lost his father, you stop and think: How can we end this?

Many residents feel that Tijuana’s lack of adequate law enforcement has allowed violence to grow.

Consequently, the community has lost faith in its representatives. This makes people – both young and old – feel helpless and discourages them from being active citizens. The drug trafficking trade has the power to silence people. In my opinion, young people in Tijuana no longer expect change; they have lost hope. It is hard for citizens to trust authority when they hear that part of the police force has been involved in the drug trafficking.

People get used to violence; they end up accepting it. I hear teenagers and parents say that violence in Tijuana is ‘normal’. When they hear about a new murder, they say “that is not news.” The drug trade even transforms dreams. Some teenage boys are fascinated by the illusion of glamour it offers and call themselves mangueras, which means aspiring gangsters. They say their dream is to become a drug dealer so that they have money to attract women and buy cars. What happened to people like my grandparents, who wanted a better, safer life for their children?

I know that we often blame the government when things go wrong, but we must do more than complain or throw up our hands. We need honest law enforcement officials and a responsive criminal justice system. In order to move forward, we need to restore public confidence and hope in the local community. It is time to reclaim the city of Tijuana.

Brenda Garcia grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. She is a university student and speaks Spanish, English, Italian and some Portuguese. She plans to major in international security and conflict resolution.

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