Day 4: A bit of hope follows years of fear in Reynosa, Mexico
The woman peeking out from the windowless, cinderblock-and-wood house in Reynosa recognizes me right away.
The last time I was knocking on her door in this city across from McAllen, Texas, an all-out war between rival drug cartels and the Mexican military was exploding in the border region of Tamaulipas state: bodies left hanging from bridges, severed heads dumped in the streets and regular shootouts with civilian casualties. It was precisely the kind of hellish violence that supporters of a border wall and tighter U.S. immigration enforcement say they want to keep from spilling into the United States.
The day we met, cartel thugs had blocked the highway near the woman’s home with hijacked buses and trucks. She talked about how she forbade her children from leaving home except to go to school. She had even stopped going to church to pray for things to get better. “With the crime, we can’t do anything,” she said back then. “We have a lot of fear of a stray bullet.”
I never forgot that brief conversation, so tense and fearful that the woman wouldn’t even tell me her name. And I often wondered what happened to her.
This time she opens the door with a big smile and finally gives me her name: Jesus Esteban Cruz, a man’s name, which has caused no shortage of headaches during her 58 years. Esteban says that on that day in 2010 she had been as worried about me as I was about her. She had practically pushed me out the door, concerned that the cartel coming for me.
The tired, worried eyes I remember are now lively, and it’s clear things are going better. Reynosa is still dangerous. Locals say the army is aggressively pursuing the local cartel capo in nightly operations. But Esteban says the gang has not threatened or extorted her, and if anything these days is keeping the neighborhood in order. Meanwhile she alters uniforms for soldiers at a nearby base on her little sewing machine.
Esteban introduces me to her 20-year-old daughter, Paula. Before, she wouldn’t let Paula go to her grocery-bagging job because the violence was so bad, even though they desperately needed money. Paula is now a young woman with an accounting degree who starts college in June with a major in engineering. She’s also working nights at a maquiladora. Esteban’s younger son Javier, 18, is finishing high school and wants to study psychology so he can help people dealing with trauma.
Paula says she’s going to write a book someday about her single mother who moved to Reynosa and raised three kids who stayed out of trouble despite the turmoil that swirled around them. Ideally she would like to study in the United States, but she’s upset by President Donald Trump’s policies and his pressure on companies to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, seeing that as a direct threat to her opportunities in Mexico.
“I don’t understand why he would take the assembly plants there,” Paula says.
Her mother adds: “I don’t have anything against this man. But ... I ask, why is he so angry at us?”