DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Midnight in Mexico: Death, Despair, and Hope

Corchado reads from his book
Can a broken promise lead to a personal death threat? Well, for journalist/author Alfredo Corchado it not only could, it did.

When Corchado first started covering Mexico in 1994 for the Dallas Morning News he promised his mother he wouldn't report on the Mexican drug trafficking and its deadly cartels, which have been blamed for more than 100,000 deaths and disappearances in cities, towns, and villages south of the border.

But as bad financial conditions began to reduce the Texas newspaper's Mexican staff, Corchado found himself unable to fulfill his promise. He had to cover the drug industry. But he kept that news from his family. "For the longest time, I didn't tell my parents what I was doing. I didn't want them to worry," Corchado says.

However, the cover-up unraveled abruptly in July of 2007. Corchado remembers exactly what he was doing when the call came that would change his life. He was preparing for a dinner celebration and watching people outside his apartment. A light rain was falling. The Eagles hit "Hotel California" was playing in the background.

His cell phone vibrated. It was bound to be work, Corchado thought. He answered the call. "And that was the last time I felt completely safe in Mexico," he says.

On the other end of the call was a high-placed American source well-known to Corachdo. "They (a cartel) plan to kill an American journalist within 24 hours," the always-reliable source said. "You are one of them. Stop pissing them off." The journalist says his first thoughts were to rush to hide in the bathroom or in the nearest closet.  "Had I been betrayed?" he wondered. He then figured he could "get to them and tell them this isn't personal. This is just journalism". Finally, he decided to leave the country and take a residency year at Harvard University. While there, he came up with the idea for his first book titled Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter's Journey Through a Country's Descent into Darkness.

Corchado appeared at the National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress last Sunday to talk about the book and the future of Mexico.

While Cochardo writes about the drug problems and his death threat, the book is much more. "It's really an argument between a mother and her son," he said, with Corchado having more faith in Mexico's future than his mother who was born there.

It is also an account of a struggle for identity, Corchado, who was born in America, admits. "It is written by someone who feels hopelessly American in Mexico and hopelessly Mexican in America," he said.

Then there is the universal theme that has been explored since Homer's epic The Odyssey - the search for home.

And finally, the book is "a poem to the tragedy and beauty of my homeland," Corchado maintains. The title refers to the idea that no matter how dark it is at midnight, there is always hope for a brighter morning. "Day by day, you see the best of Mexicans. You see their resilience," Corchado said.

Corchado firmly believes that it will be the women who will save their country. As proof, he cites the example of a group of mothers who used tragedy to bring promise. In one town, cartel gunmen burst on to the grounds of a wrong home, massacring all the teenagers who were having a party there. After the burials and with hearts broken, the mothers of the town banded together to create an American-style football program. "They were going to try to build a community with the blood of their own children," Corchado said. "They were going to use the football league to get kids away from the reach of the cartels". And, so far at least, they have been succeeding. With rag-tag equipment and a quarterback who had been shot 3 times, the town's team has been able to compete at a championship level.

"Stories like this is what gives people hope. You see people go through the lowest moments of their lives and then go on," said Corchado, who told the crowd that by using common sense and the power of his U.S. passport he will also go on reporting on a Mexico he has grown to love.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
This report on a first-time author concludes our 5-part series on the National Book Festival. We hope our series captured some of the flare and flavor of the annual 2-day event. But of course, with more than 100 authors attending there is so much we couldn't see and report on. If you are a book lover, you really should try to make the festival next September. If you do, stop me and say hi. I'll  be the one with a notebook beaming that, as an avid reader, I get to write about such a great event.

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