It has long been the mantra of Tapatios and honorary Tapatios that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in Guadalajara. To headlines about decapitated heads in bags, or lynched bodies on overpasses, or highways blocked by burning buses, the intoned response was always that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in Guadalajara. With it we would reassure ourselves, we would reassure each other, we would reassure people in other places; this sort of thing just doesn’t happen here.
But it did happen, from time to time. Only it wasn’t in everyone’s face. Living with another foreigner and without a TV, I heard only occasional whispers of the violence seething away somewhere far below us.
Then suddenly, at the beginning of 2011, it was in everyone’s face. The sort of thing that happens in Juárez, in Tamaulipas, in Monterrey, in Acapulco, in Michoacán, or really anywhere but here, was happening in Guadalajara.
News of all this came to us at weird and inopportune moments, and could throw a melancholy cowl over any event or mood. There had been bodies found. There had been a grenade thrown at a house. There had been bloqueos – cars hijacked and set alight on major highways. There had been a grenade thrown into a club. There had been a shooting at Burger King.
With every new headline, the boundaries around the safe places shrunk a little further. I’d gather information, try to re-delineate the safe places, to make sure that I was still within them. Every new outbreak shattered my previous idea of where was safe and where was not.
I’ve tried to tell myself that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the historic centre, or on narrow streets, or around the artsy Chapultepec area, or in small cafes and bars. Always this attempt to distance myself from the perpetrators. I go to places like this, they go to places like that. Whatever would preserve the illusion of safety.
None of it really works though. For now I try to think of this apartment as a safe space. Eventually I might have to accept that the few shadowy spaces within my head are the only safe places left.
I haven’t witnessed any of the violence. Its only direct impact on me was a traffic jam after the Burger King shooting. Even so, even though I’m about as far removed from the violence as anyone, and even though I have little more than a one-year work contract invested in Guadalajara, I still feel a big lump in my throat. It’s not a fear-for-my-life kind of lump; it’s a deep, visceral dread caused by the presence of violence. Maybe more of a lump in the gut than in the throat. An intestinal, anti-violence lump.
I can’t really begin to imagine what other people are feeling. Some still repeat the mantra, now powerless, now in past tense: this sort of thing never used to happen in Guadalajara. I feel both lucky and guilty to be able to leave at any time. Most people don’t have that luxury. While I am wondering when I will leave, they are wondering how long they will have to endure all this.
And with no other real option, life in Guadalajara goes on. No one seems to have much faith in the government. No one really seems to think that the violence will just blow over. Still, life goes on. I suppose it has to. Guadalajara has flourished since I arrived here. It continues to do so, even if it has lost something, even if the violence is now firmly in everyone’s face.
I was planning to leave even before this sort of thing started to happen in Guadalajara. The violence hasn’t changed my mind, but it has made me think hard about what I want to do with my time left here. I want to celebrate this city. I want to take its picture and I want to write about it. I always would have described Guadalajara as big, brash, and kind of tacky. Now for the first time I’d call it delicate, and sad, and maybe even pretty.