A vacation of fear, loving in Mexico
After 25 hours on the road, the city of Gomez Palacio in the state of Durango flickers into view as we burn through the desert night on a military controlled highway in Mexico.
At this point, we are 1,600 miles away from San Pablo, Calif. - home.
The day before, 10 of us had piled into twin Ford Expeditions that were weighed down with enough suitcases to eclipse the trunk windows of both vehicles.
I spent two weeks over the winter break roaming a city dominated by the cartels in Northern Mexico.
It is an ugly city full of resilient people, innocent people who are demanding social and economic change.
Unfortunately, that process requires immense time and effort when the divide of wealth is so drastic and alcohol so bountiful.
This desert sprawl is host to the bloody conflict between El Chapo cartel and Los Zetas. These two entities are fighting to control drugs, weapons and human trafficking in the city.
Neighbors living together in a sea of hate are forced to band together to create a community of love beneath a turbulent surface.
The city is under martial law. The federal police replaced the corrupt Durango state police. They patrol the cramped streets of the city in large blue pickup trucks with soldiers sitting in rows along the truck bed. Each soldier is armed with automatic weapons and bulletproof vests over their deep blue fatigues.
I spent most of my first week in town lounging in my uncle's pool house, playing video games with my cousins and little brother and smoking spliffs to myself. After I had done that for multiple days, I became restless. I rarely drink at home and had entered a land where almost everyone did.
My uncle is a pediatrician for a hospital in downtown Gomez Palacio and owns a small doctor's office where he helps local families at a low cost. His mansion is more like a fortress. Jagged, broken glass bottles ran along the top of the 20-foot walls that surround the property. Stepping inside the house you were greeted by high brick ceilings and marble floors. I, at times, forgot I was in Mexico.
His was the nicest house in the entire neighborhood, but I didn't come to Mexico to see the inside of my uncle's mansion. I wanted to experience what it was like to be a normal person living a regular day in Mexico.
I met a woman named Liz at the second quinceÃ±era that I attended.
Our gazes met but we didnt speak until we danced together. After hours of danceing we went back to my uncle's fortress with all my cousins, who were set on finishing all the bottles they had started.
I told her I don't drink often. She empathized with me and invited me to hang out the next day.
We drove around talking about our lives for hours until the mountaintops cradled the sun as it was slowly forced downward by a darkening sky.
Once the sun is gone, the city changes.
Fewer and fewer people remain outside as the evening descends.
By 8 p.m. there were barely any people on the streets. They are inside, with their families.
What fear does to the people is create an unbreakable bond with those you find trustworthy - it creates a family.
Uniting these masses plagued by death and oppression will strike immeasurable fear into those in power.
Lorenzo Morotti is an associate editor of The Advocate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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