The power of a group united…..

As I walked up to the pedestrian border crossing between El Paso Texas and Juarez Mexico alone yesterday morning  I couldn’t help but contemplate my sanity.

It’s a long and lonely walk over the Rio Grande and not knowing what I’m about to face on the other side makes it even more lonely. Juarez Mexico is now crowned the most dangerous place on earth.

I wanted to be there for the final day of Javier Sicilia’s 7 day Peace March, Sicilia is a famous poet and journalist in Mexico and his son was murdered last March by the drug cartels. He was an innocent victim; in the wrong place at the wrong time, like so many others. I managed to connect and contact the right people, got myself a media pass and booked my flights to El Paso and was promised by the rally organizers and a local journalist they would take good care of me. And so they did.

I was late arriving in El Paso and missed my ride over the border with other members of the media, so I had no choice but to walk. I’ve crossed a lot of borders in my life, but this one has got to be the scariest one yet. You can literally feel and hear the tension and all eyes are on you as you are completely exposed walking across this desolate bridge.I knew after getting across I had quite a hike to the rally but I was not getting in a cab in Juarez Mexico, alone with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment wrapped around my neck. While waiting in line to get my passport stamped and slightly starting to panic, I met a lovely woman who asked what I was doing in Juarez by myself. I told her I was covering Javier Sicilia’s Peace March but I was late. She immediately called over one of her employees and instructed him to drive me to the gate of the University where the Press conference was being held. Now reflecting back over the day’s events, this wasn’t the only time that I was in the right place at the right time.

From there I met another great person, Geraldo, or Jerry as he calls himself. We sat and chatted all afternoon, he lives in Juarez with his wife and son, who is the same age as my daughter and listening to his stories and his concerns and his hope for his city, really touched me. It’s a scary place, there’s no doubt about it, but I saw first hand, how life must go on. They don’t have a choice. The people of Juarez certainly live differently than us. They always have to look over their shoulder, they rarely go out after dark, they hear automatic gun fire randomly throughout the day, they can’t go to a bank machine or get into a cab without fear – but life goes on.

My new friend made sure I had a ride to the peace march held downtown at a monument so I wouldn’t have to take a cab or worse walk. We arrived at 5 o’clock at the downtown bridge to welcome hundreds of people who marched across the border from El Paso to show solidarity and support and once the bell on the truck that led the march began to ring in honor of those who have died, the most exciting peace march took over the main streets of Juarez.

I’ve seen Javier’s marches on youtube and on the news and in newspapers, but to be there was a life altering moment for me. You hear about the violence, you read about it, you feel for the people who suffer, but yesterday I got to touch it. I was witness first hand how evil can penetrate people’s souls. I heard of unspeakable things happening to someone’s son, daughter, dad or brother. It was shocking what these people have endured.

Over 5 thousand people showed up for this rally and I heard story after story of loved ones lost. One woman has lost all of her 4 children to the violence in Mexico. There are over a million people in the city of Juarez and I heard from a local yesterday that the newspaper once reported that every single citizen living in Juarez knows someone who has been murdered. Another newspaper headline read “How many people have you had to delete from  your Facebook friends list?” -because they have been murdered. How gut wrenching and disturbing is that?

It’s hard for us to fathom such loss. I could feel how overwhelmed and desperate the people of Juarez are, but there was a blanket of peace that covered the city yesterday that let in a small glimmer of hope. No one heard gun fire, no one was afraid to hold up their signs saying No More Blood! We’ve had enough! Give us back our Mexico! Stop the Violence! They were proud to take a stand and awestruck at a chance to see their new hero in the flesh, Javier Sicilia.

It was well after dark when the rally ended and I was getting a little nervous as the bridge was quite far from where I was and I thought to myself, well you’ve made it this far…now what?  But then… Jerry and his wife Karla appear and offered to not only drive me to the bridge, but they got out and walked me all the way across to U.S. customs. Those are the “real” people of Mexico. And as I passed through a stunned woman customs officer who was amazed that I went to Juarez alone, she said…..”You are a brave woman” , I smiled politely and said “Thank you, but not as brave as those people living over there.”

9 thoughts on “The power of a group united…..

  1. Renee says:

    Goosebumps, that’s what I had reading this Kim. What an experience, what a wonderful thing you’ve done, representing us here in Canada; showing our support as best as we can. I cannot wait to hear more in your own words.

  2. Brenda says:

    Some tense moments,glad you are home safe. So appreciative of living in Canada. Mexico is such a beautiful country I hope it wil be safe again to visit for those of us less resourceful and it seems lucky (this trip any way) as you. A life altering trip!

  3. Robert Petersen says:

    I lived in Mexico from 1996 to 2007, worked for NGOs trying to help addicts and other victims of our War on Drugs. I have seen the dead moments after their murder, shootouts in the streets and managed to get shot myself. I came home to work for Obama as I sincerely believed we had a potential leader who could bring us CHANGE we could believe in. I’ll be the first to admit we are way ahead of where we would have been with Mccain&Palin but I AM DISAPPOINTED with President Obama on this and several other issues. I will be returning to the Third World after 2014 and sincerely hope by then we may have, by some miracle, managed to get a handle on the violence. We have very nearly waited too long, but if we could legalize cannabis now, we would be reducing Cartel’s income by nearly 70% minimum. If we wait much longer they will have completed their complete takeover of the mexican economy. Let them get that done and watch the price of Mexican Oil go through the roof ! The next largest source of income is human smuggling (this is how I got shot!) and that problem could be solved with Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The part that is getting missed in this story about the violence is that the vast majority of the deaths occurring now are young low-level flunkies and many, many young women are forced into prostitution until they are “worn out” and murdered. Many also are forced to undergo kitchen table abortions because pregnancy reduces their earnings, they prohibit birth control because pregnant girls have larger breasts, Damn, I drive myself to tears remembering some things I have seen and heard. There is another Holocaust brewing on our Border-will we stand up now or wait till they come for US?

    1. ktiessen says:

      Thank you for your comments, I am so sorry for what you have gone through and I certainly agree with you on the state of Mexico. We need to deal one day at a time. I am aware of the issues of prostitution and human smuggling but do not have any direct experience or stories from those affected by those issues to write about .I am just beginning my documentary research and those issues are certainly on the table for discussion. I would love to talk to you more in depth and maybe you would be willing to give me an interview for my future work, or help find someone willing to talk about openly.
      You are bang on when you say time is running out so we must continue to work together and force government and media to shed light on this tragedy in a way that paves the way to change. I also agree with the legalization of cannabis and believe it’s the only way today to start to make a difference.
      Please email me at ktiessen@sympatico.ca, I would love to chat with you and find out more about your story and where you are and what we can do together to encourage change. I believe whole heartedly that the time is now, if we wait Mexico will go up in flames and there will be nothing left but ashes.

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