Growing Up In The World's Deadliest City
Thanks to a truce in the drug wars, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, for the first time in years, no longer has the world’s highest murder rate. But for a generation that grew up around constant violence, the fight for normalcy is just beginning.
One morning, we stop for burritos, washing them down with Mexican Coke, still made with cane sugar. We buy a copy of El PM, a daily tabloid nicknamed the Carnicería (meat market), a sort of collective memory of the drug war. "!Macabarón!" the front page announces, a play on the words "macabre" and "cabrón," Spanish for "bastard." Twenty bodies were pulled out of a clandestine mass grave, or narcofosa, the day before. The likelihood that their killers will be found and prosecuted is slim — 97% of murders go unsolved in Juárez. A photo of the bodies and the pit takes up two-thirds of the front page. A blonde in her bra and panties fills the remaining space.There is both nihilism and hope in the normalcy of routine. Of pattern. Even in spite of the economic climate, there is hope in going to school. There may not be hope in reading the newspaper, a daily affirmation of the cheapness of life, but as long as you can learn, can change, then perhaps there is hope.Sandra Lechuga Granados, 22, lives a block away from school. It's her first year at CECyT 14 — and her first back after years out of school. It hasn't been easy returning at her age; most of her classmates are 16 or 17. Her home is furnished modestly: a large sofa, a TV and satellite box, polished concrete floors. A toy gun rests on the counter beside a pumpkin and a water cooler, a Bible sits open to the Psalms, King David's cries out to God. It's another bright day in the late fall, and the desert is chilly, as is the house. Spending time away from her 1-year-old son Ulysses Matteo has been trying."Before I'd started school, we'd never been separated," Sandra says. "I went a whole week without seeing him." Today he tumbles around the house with a runny nose, making growling noises.Two months ago, Sandra "saw a kid get killed," she says softly. "The bullets were close. I didn't want to go anywhere." It underscored a point made years earlier: On Jan. 30, 2010, some 20 gunmen secured a block in Villas de Salvarcar. They walked into a birthday party and killed 15 people, one of whom was her husband's cousin. The victims were mostly student athletes. (The massacre would force the state to acknowledge the violence and prompt Calderón to start Todos Somos Juárez.) Sandra knows violence can touch her, yet she continues to attend classes, having her husband drive her the short distance to school. She isn't blind to the state's failures. "People know who the criminals are here," she says. "When they report it, nothing's done."School is nominally free in Mexico; however, there are inscription or registration fees. CECyT 14 is considered one of the cheaper schools. Sandra and her brother split the fee of 950 pesos, or some $75, every six months. Uniforms are extra.As we talk, Sandra pulls out her tests — an experiment in recycling, the pages colored with pencil crayon. These are the things within her control. "I'd like to go to university and I'd like to study medicine," she says. By March, looking after her son will force her to drop out of school. She plans to return in August.