As I sit under the protective glare of Our Lady of San Juan, I am reminded of my privilege. Today was to be my third trip into the colonias of Reynosa and Rio Bravo, Mexico. Five minutes before we left Ed, my mentor in this journey, got a call from one of his promotoras. There was trouble brewing.
Ed was told that the streets of the colonias have been closed. Large trucks and trailers have been parked blocking the entrances denying anyone access into or out of these shack lined streets. The Narcos were at work. When streets are closed there is violence. The trucks are put in place to block the army from interrupting their work.
Prior to this, our experiences have been guided by adventure and good fortune. We’ve traversed new colonias formed by an organized land takeover looking for a couple who is expecting a baby. We’ve seen our car, steeping with steam from the front hood, decide to stop working in the heart of a colonia. We’ve not been harassed at all by the border patrol. All along the way people have cared for us and welcomed us into their modest homes. They go the extra mile to get us seats. They provide us portions of their limited supply of filtered water. They share their pain of being taken advantage of and abused at work.
You see all of these people work in Maquilladoras which are large factories of transnational corporations. These are companies that put production over people. The profit margin is the God they worship and they are strict monotheists. Nothing keeps these companies from the worship of their one God and these maquiladoras are the temples which these global capitalists prey in.
Continually these companies violate Mexican labor because they know the workers don’t know their rights and don’t have the money to pursue action even if they know their rights. But that is where these companies fall short and Ed’s work, and the work of the promotoras, begin. They are empowering the women of the maquiladoras to organize and exercise their rights. Mexican labor law is very progressive but it has to be demanded from these companies in a way that doesn’t get the workers blackballed.
So, on the one hand the people of the colonias are fighting for their lives in their work environment. On the other hand these people are fighting for their lives at home. Forget the environmental disaster that the colonias are, these people have to deal with the Narco trafficers. The drug war. Today was a slap in the face, reminding me of the dangers of the colonias. The dangers of poverty. The dangers of exploitation. And I have the ability to avoid it.
What continually haunts me, however, is the common thread between both of these killers–consumption. Our consumption. We, living in the wealthy west, have to have things, consume things, and do it cheaply. Whether it’s a $300 flat screen television or $40 bag of weed, we are a driving force in the corruption and disembodiment of millions of people. We drive the demand.
I pray for the people of Reynosa today. And I pray for us.