a family tragedy

Paloma Cruz

(Pre-written while in Mexico; posted safely from the US.)

For all that I’ve spoken and written about the overwhelming fear in Mexico (the part I visited) and my knowledge of the violence happening in the surrounding areas, for some strange reason I never really expected to be directly affected by it. As if I thought I could come down here, to the middle of a drug war (with an emphasis on the “war” part) and not be touched by the reality of it.

That’s not the case.

Let me preface this by saying that I know that I have members of my family who are less than reputable. We keep contact to a minimum, but family is family. We can’t choose them. My family is not me, and they are not representative of myself and my siblings.

Today we got a call that two uncles were tortured and killed in Tamaulipas (and I won’t name the exact place in this blog). Both were my father’s brothers. Both were estranged or semi-estranged from my branch of the family. Both are dead.

Reports are sketchy right now. There are lots of rumors and not enough facts.

One uncle, the youngest brother, I hadn’t seen in nearly 15 years. I knew which town he lived in (recently) but there had been no contact at all. And, because of the type of acrimonious relationship he’d had with us, I never missed him. But I’d never heard of him being involved in anything illegal, never been told that he’d started associating with that kind of activity. I don’t want to believe that that was the case. For some reason, it all still seems unreal.

The other uncle, the second to youngest of my Dad’s brothers, was my uncle twice over (he was also married to my mother’s sister). Yes, two brothers married two sisters. He and my aunt had four boys and a girl, children who are my closest relatives (DNA-wise). He had served time in an American prison for… something (I don’t remember what) and came to live in Mexico after being released. I had heard that he was actively involved with illegal activities, that he was making money by being an errand boy, or something low-key like that. In other words, not a solid citizen.

I remember my Dad helping out his youngest brother by putting up the money to start a business in Rio Grande, and the business failed. My father put a great amount of effort to try and help his youngest brother to find something that would suit him, something at which he’d be a success. But one failure followed another, followed another. Eventually, my uncle decided he didn’t need my father’s help (or got angry because my father refused to keep signing checks on failing ventures) and he just left and fell off the grid. He wouldn’t call or return phone calls. And he never visited my father, even in the eight years my father was in a nursing home with Parkinson’s disease. As I said, we were not close.

My other uncle, the one with the colorful background, was frequently in some sort of trouble. For the first twenty years of my life, the only grandkids on my Dad’s side of my family were my siblings and those cousins (with the close DNA). My Dad made sure they had enough money for rent and food and school, while their father was in prison or “away” somewhere or just plain not working. We all grew up in the same cities, the same towns, in the same schools, with the same relatives. And, while we should have had a similar childhood, we were worlds apart. They were raised to resent us (because we had more and wouldn’t share, my aunt would frequently tell anyone who would stop to listen) and we learned to resent them because any time we wanted something new my Dad would tell us we couldn’t have it because it would make our cousins feel bad (because they didn’t have anything).

But I should point out that it was my uncle, with the colorful background, who checked up on my grandmother (his mother-in-law) at least once a week to make sure she was OK. When my grandmother was ripped off by a cabinet-maker, it was my uncle who handled getting the authorities involved so my grandmother could eventually get a full refund. He was the one who made sure that a cousin of his who had appropriated some of my father’s things (shortly before my father died) gave us monetary restitution for the items in question. And, after my Dad died (actually, once my Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s), he never asked us for anything, never imposed, never brought trouble to our doors. He did that a lot when my Dad was alive and well, when my Dad could fix things or be the face and the voice for the family. And I give him credit for making sure that didn’t happen again once my Dad was unable to take care of things.

The stories being told about their deaths include that Mexican officials or members of a rival organization killed both uncles at one of their homes. We’re told that my aunt was there and wasn’t killed because her husband shielded her from bullets. Other stories say that she was locked in another room and spent the night listening to her husband and brother-in-law being tortured, then killed. We’re not certain what actually happened. What we do know is that both uncles are dead.

We’ve been trying to reach my cousins (none of whom live in Mexico) to find out the truth of what happened. So far we haven’t had any luck. We want to know what happened, how my aunt is, what happens next. We want to know if the family is safe.

My mother worries about going to visit her sister in a town where beheadings and shootouts are an everyday occurrence. And she worries about telling my sisters about the deaths because she doesn’t think it’s safe for them, and their families, to travel here for the funeral. She especially worries about my GI Joe brother, who would come in confrontation mode and, she thinks, talk himself into trouble via attitude.

I don’t disagree with her on any of this. And that’s saying something, as I sit in a place where I think it’s too dangerous for my siblings to visit. I know that my mother is very scared right now. I know that we probably won’t be going to the funeral (reprisals against family members are common, even if they aren’t involved in… whatever). And I know that two men I’ve known my entire life are dead, and all my father’s siblings are now dead. And, no matter what my relationship with them, I mourn their passing and feel rage at the way they died.

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Author: Paloma Cruz

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3 thoughts on “a family tragedy”

  1. I sympathize with you. It breaks my heart that I can’t visit my family in Monterrey and Cerralvo. I have two cousins that have been kidnapped by the Zetas and no one knows what has happened to them in almost 3 months now. My family is very close, so it pains us all. We use to go to Mexico to relax and it is just devasting that it has been ruined. My children have been robbed of all the joys I experienced there as a child.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I agree that my nieces and nephews won’t have the same experiences in Mexico that I did. My sisters won’t take the chance to take them there and I don’t blame them.

      Since I got back to the US, i’ve heard a lot of stories about what’s going on down there. I’m very glad I’m here now, but afraid of the inevitable trip back.

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