It has always been said that the Mexico-US border is dusty and dirty. Ugly. I know because I grew up in the northeast. A hundred kilometers from the Gulf of Mexico, from which the bloodiest drug cartel in the country got its name, el Cártel del Golfo. This land that dozes on the edges of the Rio Grande and goes to sleep with Texas when the lights go out. It is a harsh land. If the Spaniards didn’t stop in Tamaulipas for more than the necessary rituals, it wasn’t just because of its 100-degree heat in the shade, but also because of the ferocity of the native tribes. The most notorious ones were called comecrudos, “raw-eaters.” The colonizers who stayed behind proved just as tough. It would have to be there where, in November 2008, the government carried out the largest weapons confiscation in Mexican history: there were half a million cartridges, almost 300 long-barrel and 127 short-barrel weapons, more than 150 grenades, fourteen anti-armor rifles, a cache of gold-plated pistols, a rocket launcher, and several thousand dollars, among other tools of the trade of those who believe themselves immortal.
In the late ’90s, when I moved to the city of Monterrey, people made jokes about my origins: surely my father carried a gun, surely I was coarse and crude—I was from a border town. In turn I was certain that Monterrey, that industrial metropolis where I went to pursue my studies, was perfectly safe. Nothing would scare me away from there. In 2002, when things started to change, when there too the executions and the gunfights began, the complacent Monterreyans were content to distance themselves: “It’s still not like it is on the border. There they kill people every few minutes.” I remember my anger at hearing a judicial official declaring to the press, after a notorious shooting in a luxury shopping mall, that if they still had no information about those responsible it was because the crime was doubtless done by outsiders, people from other states. Where I come from, in other words. That stuff doesn’t happen around here, the citizens of Monterrey insisted, unwilling to wake up.