It’s strange, how far away everything can be. Mexico seems smaller than it has any right to—it’s a large country, and not an easy one to travel over the longer distances. The roads and the highways are what do it, I think. They don’t branch and flower and whorl like in the States. They point singly and unerringly towards where they’re going. Through their simplicity they impart this false closeness. In a very real sense, Querétaro is just down the road, as is San Luis Potosí, and, with one turn, Mexico City.
So it’s always odd, off-putting, when in Jalpan our distance, our backwater position, and our parochial society come back into focus. People here have smartphones and the Internet, Hollister clothes and fair knockoffs of designer everything. It makes them seem like they’re in touch with the world, but it’s just pretend, and if it has any substance, any real connection, it’s directed northward to the States, not down and into the center of this Republic.
I’m told that the rest of Mexico is exploding. As best we know, they massacred some kids in Guerrero weeks ago, disappeared and then murdered and burned forty-three ‘activist’ students in the kind of collaboration between police, local government, and narcotraficantes that can define Mexican life in the further rural stretches. Killings like this are more commonplace than we could fathom or anyone would like to admit, but something about this one—how blatantly the police took part, how crude and incautious it was—something about it has touched a very raw nerve.
Humans are desperate for stability and routine, and maybe when you live in a country like this, you have to find a way for yourself to take quotidian end of life in stride. You can push it to one side as long as you can pretend that for the most part it’s criminals getting killed and for the most part it’s not the authorities doing the killing. But in Guerrero, the cops and the mayor and the governor broke the rules and let the light shine into a place we’d tacitly agreed was better off in darkness.
Thousands are marching in the Zócalo, marching in Guerrero, ’re even marching in the streets of Querétaro, always a conservative holdout. The national universities are bringing themselves to bear, stopping classes while a patchwork of government offices shut their doors in sympathy. The New Yorker stringer in the Federal District thinks that we’re on the brink of a color revolution. Here in Jalpan, though, it’s calm. Tranquilo. It’s the word they always use to talk about the region, and it’s a point of pride. “La sierra y los serranos,” I hear over and over again, “they are very humble, and the life is muy tranquilo.”
The local branch of the state university put up some posters on the gazebo in the town center. They’re white pasteboard with a few words of magic marker each. Things like this always seem to appear without having been put up and they come down the same way. I don’t know if the students had been advised that the posters would be allowed as long as they made no show of force, but the effect is the same. Ghost posters for ghost causes and no-one around to care.
I’m sure the jalpenses are happy about the absent protestors, delighted with their ability to hold themselves apart and aloof from whatever has the chilangos and the rest of this country up in arms. Tranquilo. But it’s a false distance, an undeserved snobbery towards the more violent parts of the Republic. Rumor has it that the narcos put their families in Querétaro, and it’s only an unofficial truce that keeps the guns out of the state. But even that might be breaking down or fraying around the edges. Not six months ago, a group of men murdered the chief of police in a town up in the hills, and the people from around there will tell any hitchhiker that the Zetas have been trying to cross the mountains from San Luis for more than a year.
We’re happy to pretend that it’s not our problem out here, but that’s no neutral position. The failure to strike, to protest, to speak out or make opposition known in even the smallest of ways is tacit support for the status quo, for the corruption and the collaboration and the killings that we can’t even sweep under the rug anymore. The choice is between speaking out preemptively or waiting for our turn at grief. And it grieves me that jalpenses are choosing the latter.