When I walk around the neighboring towns of San Gabriel and Jiquilpan, Jalisco, I can’t help but be struck by the peacefulness of the area. The towns have a combined total of just over 6000 residents, fewer than my college campus. People greet each other in the street and stop to talk. The towns are surrounded by remarkably green hills (particularly now – at the tail end of rainy season) and a small amount of flatland – used for agriculture. As one return migrant put it, “aquí disfrutas todo el panorama, el paisaje, la naturaleza, el aire, lo respiras diferente.” (Here you enjoy the whole panorama, the countryside, nature, the air, you breathe differently). The area seems to emit tranquility.
At least during the day and to the casual observer. The reality is different.
Because, as one return migrant mentioned, when he came back 2 years ago “llegué a encontrar el pueblo diferente” (I arrived to find that the town was different) because of a new group of strangers. These strangers are drug traffickers, who as of 3 years ago use the countryside for their own purposes. That is, to cultivate marijuana and traffic drugs. For all practical purposes, the road that goes west from town is closed during the night, because that is when they control the area to move merchandise.
In the past three years, a number of youth have “disappeared,” that is, in some way kidnapped or killed by the drug traffickers. The majority were in some way caught up with narcos, but not always through a direct connection. For example, a hardworking youth married a girl from Michoacán whose family had some conflict with the cartel. To settle scores, he was disappeared. No wonder some of the migrants I have interviewed have mentioned the police and security in the US as important factors that make them want to return there.
That is also why after 9pm, there is hardly a soul to be seen in the streets. Quietness can be too easily mistaken as peace, when in reality it is actually a blanket of unease or fear.
Many government policies, both in Mexico and the US, pursue an appearance of peace – a quietness – that successfully hides an undercurrent of violence and injustice.
That is true not just of policy issues but also of personal lives. As my friend from San Gabriel pointed out to me, the narcos are not the only forces of violence that contradict the apparent peace. Within homes, domestic violence, alcoholism and other issues are prevalent and known but little is done to address those problems.
This hidden violence is not unique to San Gabriel and Jiquilpan. In our own lives, as long as all appears to be going well, as long as the beautiful scenery and fresh air transmit tranquility, we proceed without addressing deeper issues and underlying insecurity. True peace requires a God and a people concerned with much more than apparent tranquility.