Saturday, July 9, 2011

And Lot lifted up his eyes...

As a remedy (or perhaps an irritant) for my homesickness, I started reading Cormac McCarthy's perfectly crafted novel, Cities of the Plain. As a Texan currently confined to speaking only in Russian, it's refreshing to read McCarthy's quintessentially Texan dialogues and smile at his characters' use of unexpected similes, the kind of things I hear while sitting in my grandmother's living room. But, it's also a bit frightening. The violence and corruption of McCarthy's Western, set near the Texas-Mexico border in the 1950's, could easily be events taking place today. Just this evening, I read a New York Times article about more than 20 people shot dead in Monterrey. Alejandro Poire, Mexico's national security spokesman, hardly broke the surface of this issue when he commented that this "violence is the product of this criminal rivalry, characterized by mistrust, vengeance, the intent to control all illegal activities of a community and profit not just from that activity but also the possible control of drug shipments to the United States" (quoted from NYT article). What Mr. Poire would be wise to admit is that this violence is the product of much more than just criminal rivalry. In Cities of the Plain, McCarthy describes the 16-year-old prostitute, Magdalena, who was "sold at the age of thirteen to settle a gambling debt" (139), ran away from her pimp first to a convent which gladly returned her for a little cash and then to the police who, after raping her, sold her back to the pimp. The point of referencing this is not to shock the reader with the horrors of human trafficking, but to point out that corruption is not simply the result of "criminal rivalry," but of an entire society. It is not just the pimp that keeps Magdalena in her horrific situation; it is the Mexican society that for a little cash gladly winks at the horror, but equally important, it is also the society across the border that helps pay for the corruption. When we look at Mexico and think how we need to improve border security, perhaps we should instead look inwards. The violence that wastes Mexico right now is not just the product of Mexican corruption, it is also the product of "upstanding" Americans who succumb to this corruption by paying bribes when they are obliged to work or travel to Mexico. It is also the product of all of us who simply think of the violence across the border as "their problem." It is our problem as well, and we have helped perpetuate it by our complacence.

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