So Much Bigger Than a Tweet

journalist green on thornA friend of mine invited my wife and I over to her home for some wine and conversation with a group of Mexican journalists. The reporters were in town for some workshops on how to avoid being murdered while they did their job. I don’t know of any crazier or more interesting people than Mexican journalists, and we were delighted by the invitation.

Being a reporter is one of the most dangerous legal occupations on the other side of the Texas/Mexico border. This is particularly true if the reporter is covering criminal activities, and especially if an investigation leads the journalist to look at the relationship between organized crime and elected officials. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that more than 100 journalists were murdered or disappeared in Mexico since 2000. Rarely are those murders solved.

This group of journalists was true to form. A mix of veteran reporters and rookies, they were high-energy, engaging people. And of course they wanted to hear what we thought of the changes to American politics since the election.

Mostly, they did not want to talk about themselves, or the risks they faced. I pointedly asked a 24 year old what her parents thought of her career choice. She said, “Well they weren’t that excited about it at first, but then they saw that this was my passion and now they are still nervous, but I think that they understand.”

The most interesting person at the gathering was not a reporter, but the police officer that the group had hired as a security consultant. This big, redheaded man from Mexico City was the first Mexican police officer I had ever had the opportunity to have a conversation with. He had made a career out of challenging the corruption endemic to most of Mexico’s police forces and government entities. I asked him if he had ever gotten threats. He said, “Oh indeed. I published a book basically laying out the corruption amongst the highest ranks of the federal police and had to go into hiding for a year and a half.” I asked him how he knew when it was safe to leave his hiding place. “There was an election and a change of administration. But the new ones were no different than the other ones, so I had to go back into exile. That’s the nature of things now, and that is why I take these kinds of jobs, to be able to earn a little money to support my other project…where some buddies and I go out into the rural areas of Mexico and offer to train (for free) their police officers…they really have no resources, and it is our way to push back against the corruption.”

He ate a flauta and took a long drink from his beer. “You know, the only way things are going to change is for us to attack the corruption on every front. We have to train good police, we need to give citizens reasons to believe that Mexico can be a good place; we need reporters to tell the stories.”

It was a good party filled with good people. No one in the room was going to get rich doing the work that they had decided to do. More likely, some of them would be killed. But, in these times and in this place, this reporting work seems to have become even more important than in the recent past. These correspondents were not interested in simply tracking down stories of corruption, but like the best reporters, they were on the lookout for the connections, for the relationships, for the social threads that have created the tapestry of our lives at this moment in history.

For those of us who live alongside this southern border, this social tapestry is of one piece—the fate of Mexican border communities and Texas border communities are deeply woven together. The plots to create more border walls and to deploy more federal agents to “seal the border” display a disturbing, willful ignorance of this common reality that we share. Any news stories that layout the fantastical, wrong-headed nature of that project are important, now more than ever.

As we took our leave from the party, we ran into one of the reporters outside the house. He was leaning on my car, typing away on his phone. “So sorry, I was editing a story for tomorrow’s paper. We have to keep getting the word out,” he said, as he busily tapped away on the phone’s screen.

Now there is a man in love with his work, I thought, as we drove away. And then I hoped, I prayed, actually, that the policeman’s lessons would somehow help keep him and the others safe.