Grenade Stories from Mexico

"War is Trauma" by Jesse Purcell

A shrapnel landed in between her teeth, partially damaging her face and forming a pool of blood on the floor. She tried to stop the blood with her hands, while the other nine people who also received multiple shrapnel wounds crawled in an attempt to escape from the madness. Nobody knew what to do.

Minutes before the attack, my father was leaning on a vending machine as he usually does when he visits the public ministry. Although an onomatopoeia would help describe the sound that followed, it would not really transmit the cracking noise that aggravated my father’s hearing impairment.

“I’ve never heard something like that, the ‘pum’, the screams, the hysteria…I felt as if we were in another place, in another planet. It was like what I would think would be called war,” my father said, unable to move his hands fast enough to resemble the actual velocity of the explosion.

They were crawling toward the washroom as my dad tried to orient them. They embraced their children and cover them with their chest, while their gaze was lost. As a security advisor, he thought he was prepared to deal with a grenade attack, but the manual never prepared him to deal with those empty eyes.

“They were gone. They were crawling, some with children in their arms, but their gaze was absent,” my father told me. “It was like a war zone.”

Few days before my dad’s experience, my sister and mom were having dinner with some family friends when they saw people running outside without direction and heard the screams of despair. They saw the fire, the smoke, the engulfing paranoia that follows such belligerent images. In less than three seconds, all the people in the restaurant were lying face down on the floor.

“It was shocking to see the patrol on fire, and all these police officers and soldiers gathered in one single space,” my mom said. “It was like a war zone.”

Describing Mexico’s richest city as a war zone would’ve been unimaginable for many people who have visited or live in the once-tranquil northern city of Monterrey. Yet now as Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues with the crackdown on the so-called organized crime, my hometown is becoming the epicenter of a “War on Drugs” that is eradicating many things but its real object.

August 25, however, confirmed that a war is taking place and my hometown is the battlefield. I was waiting for my flight back home at Mexico City’s airport when I saw the image of a big plume of black smoke on T.V. For a second, I thought it was a news report on Libya or Iraq, but after looking closer my eyes read: Attack on casino in Monterrey. At that time, only 8 people had been found dead. By the time my plane landed in the industrial city, more than 40 people had been confirmed dead.

My dad, who was waiting for me to give me a ride home, asked me how was my trip to Ecuador, and before I even attempted to answer, he interrupted me. “They attacked the casino, the one’s that is near your sister’s house. Did you hear about it? More than 40 people are dead,” he said. I told him that I heard about it at the airport where dozens of people waiting for their flights were looking at the images shocked, denying that the live footage was being broadcasted from somewhere in their country.

The following day, I woke up feeling immensely sad as if a relative had died. The government had officially confirmed 52 deaths, many of them old ladies, but we all deeply knew that the real number was never going to see the light. I was feeling devastated, not only because dozens of innocent lives were stole, but because the little hope we had left was gone. It was official: my city didn’t feel like home, anymore.

Now, the days have passed, and such incident is not yet completely buried in our collective memory. We are more than ever tired of the never ending violence and mad at the ever corrupt government. Tweets and Facebook updates continue to burst, condemning the country’s situation and demanding peace. I wonder, however, if Calderón will ever be able to see (phone interruption)…

I just received a phone call from President Calderón, saying that our nation is showing signs of prosperity. The recording, I believe, is part of the government’s expensive campaign to promote its strategy against organized crime and prove that it is producing results.

More than 40,000 people have died in this purposeless war, invading our graveyards with thousands of tombstones that surged from injustice, indifference, corruption and inequality. They are civilians, police officers, military troops, journalists and criminals. Most importantly, they are all Mexicans who died amidst our cowardice and abominable silence.

The growing indifference towards the social and economic inequality that marginalizes people to the point of desperation, which has now pushed many young people to join the ranks of drug cartels, needs to be acknowledge. The situation we are living as a country is not recent or surprising, it has been forming throughout the years while the middle and upper classes denied, and even lived off, the needs of the 52 million people living in poverty.

Regardless of the social class, we are all living in fear now. The question is, how many more grenades need to blow up before the Mexican society explodes in uproar?