Rethinking Mexico after Bobby Salcedo’s death

On Thursday I began rethinking Mexico.

We learned that day that Bobby Salcedo, an assistant principal at El Monte High School and El Monte City School Board member was shot to death with five other men in the town of Gomez Palacio.

Mexican authorities tell us the men were casualties of the ongoing drug war. A war that in Gomez Palacio during 2009 claimed countless lives including that of the town’s police chief.

If the U.S. State Department’s warning issued in August against travel to Mexico clinically pointed out brutal drug violence has plagued that country, Salcedo’s assassination brought it home in a way that none of us in the San Gabriel Valley will soon forget.

Salcedo, 33, was a rising star in a community that lacks credible role models. He worked his way through school, he mentored kids and volunteered to help the less fortunate in South El Monte’s sister city – Gomez Palacio.

It was there he met his wife, Betzy. It was there Salcedo was abducted, shot to death and dumped in a ditch.

Why?

The answers aren’t clear. Some say it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever the answer, Salcedo is a casualty of a vendetta among rival gangs, local authorities and the federales, all fighting for control of something no one can control.

That is what Mexico has become. It is why so many Americans are afraid to travel there anymore. Forget about surfing at K19, having Ortega-style lobster at Puerto Nuevo, or sipping daiquiris at sunset at the Rosarito Beach Hotel.

It wasn’t always that way.

I think back to spring break 1980.

Bill Morrow from Whittier and I concocted a simple plan. We would drive from UCSD to a small fishing village south of Ensenada and hang out for the week.

Of course we needed a car, so we enlisted Gene Helsel, who had a sky blue Ford Fiesta with a tape player. We popped in Pink Floyd’s “Animals” and hit the road.

A late winter storm cleared in time for us to make the journey. Things were smooth until we hit Ensenada. From there we played a game counting the road signs that said “devastacion.”

The mostly dirt road had been washed out in parts by untamed creeks. Mud was everywhere, but the skies were blue and wildflowers were just beginning to bloom.

At more than one point we stopped as a flock of chickens crossed the road. We hit San Quintin at nightfall and stayed in a motel that had a restaurant and bar.

Even though we were teenagers, we drank tequila and beer and watched a group of fishermen down flaming shots of 151.

A few days later we returned home after a stop at Hussongs on Lopez Mateos in Ensenada where we listened to mariachis, bought panchos and counterfeit Marlboros and ate bean cones from a street vendor.

We didn’t even get sick.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed many trips south, I’ve viewed the sunset from a friend’s trailer in the hills above Ensenada, and eaten borrego while drinking sweet port on a vineyard farther east.

I’ve been to the barrios of Mexicali, factories in Tijuana and colonias outside Rosarito.

That was when Mexico was safe. It isn’t anymore.

When it exactly changed no one can say for sure. But after Bobby’s death it will never be the same.

Devastacion.

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  • Nancy

    Are you saying that Mexico isn’t safe because tourists may be killed in Mexico? According to this reasoning, then American isn’t safe either. How many tourists coming to America get mugged, hurt, or even killed? Or how about tourists coming from other states coming to California.

    Here’s a few I found in just 10 minutes of googling. I wonder how many more I can find in an hour.

    Tourist from Baton Rouge killed in San Francisco robbery. By The Associated Press. October 06, 2009,

    Puerto Rican Man Confesses to Murder of Pregnant American Tourist. By LILLIAM IRIZARRY SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Feb. 5, 2009

    Last moments of shot British tourist who stopped off in Amarillo ‘because he liked the Tony Christie song’By Mail Foreign Service
    Last updated at 1:20 AM on 09th November 2009

    I am sorry for the death of Mr. Salcedo. It is an awful thing.

  • John Galt

    Recalling old stories: yours is nicer than mine, in 1960 I took my cherry ’51 Mercury to Ricky’s upholstery shop in TJ for tuck & roll, great price / great work, went to pick it up, no battery in car ‘stolen’ but Ricky just happened to have one exactly like mine for $5.00, leaving town stopped by TJ cops another $20.00 for driving to slow, across border another $10.00 to U.S. Customs for tax on new tuck & roll. San Diego Sheriff Deputy lent me $10.00 for gas and said ” Boy!Don’t ever cross the border again” Viva Mexico

  • Jason

    Mexico is a shitty country. The only their people got going is their national pride. If so proud, why fight so hard to come here illegally and stay??? Leave already.

  • NP

    Nancy- there is an inherent risk of traveling anywhere, no doubt about that. But the issue at hand is international travel; nations have an interest in their own citizens’ well-being. The US does a fairly decent job of protecting its citizens abroad, but, suprisingly and rather appallingly, they can’t do much in Mexico, despite obviously being adjacent to it. The US government should hold the Mexican government more accountable to ensure foreigners’ well-being as well as reinforcing the fight against the cartels in Mexico, intervening if need be it. The lawlessness is unacceptable, I recall the story of the Minnesota couple who got carjacked, and another story I saw of a family who also got carjacked and beaten.

    In other words, I say, take our resources from the Middle East to help intervene at something that pertains more directly to the American people if the needs require it. A nation maybe strong by spreading its ideology and innovation around, but is internally weak if it can’t ensure its citizens’ safety.

    Needless to say, Mr. Salcedo’s death comes as an intense shock to me. I am still in disbelief, wanting this to be a big practical joke, for this to not be real. In his time at Mountain View High School as a vice principal, he was extremely well-liked. He is one of the reasons why I want to be an educator; he was dedicated, he was passionate, and he, for sure, had character.

    Some people may say that he should have known better than to visit Mexico during such a turbulent time. Possibly, he did, but it was out of love for his wife and dedication to family that he decided to travel to Gomez Palacio.

    Everybody misses you, Mr. Salcedo.

  • bill

    yes, this article is perfect – this is the truth. its about time somebody had the guts to write such a column. i’m tired of non-latino americans pressuring other americans to go down there or risk social stigma – its not safe anymore since the 90s.

  • Diaz, Omar F.

    In a world where the only common denominator is greed, a tragedy such as the aforementioned still finds a way to be shocking. Americans have always exploited Mexico for exactly what it was. Now that what it is, is bigger and uglier than ever we must not re-think Mexico, we must re-think what America is. The war war that rages on is not fueled by the economics of Mexico. The problem is right here at home.

  • rk

    One person is murder, twenty people is serial killing, but 8,000 murders in one year is genocide; the systemic killing of those who don’t agree with your ideology. Where is America now? We invaded Iraq with less, and cartel killings are not just limited to Mexico. Read the news. The violence is spilling over our border daily. This stuff makes me sick.

  • SGV resident

    Hey Frank:
    You got a problem? Did you get a ticket in El Monte that put your panties in a bunch? It seems that every chance you get, you go on the attack of El Monte. A couple of months ago, you were raging about a racial problem in El Monte. We didn’t hear a word from you when it was proved to be false. We never hear anything from you about racial problems in Monrovia or Duarte. I think Valinda, Baldwin Park, and La Puente have just as many problems (if not more) than El Monte, when it comes to gang violence. Does good old Frankie say anything about that? Now in this story you have to include the line “Salcedo, 33, was a rising star in a community that lacks credible role models.” That’s a pretty sleazy, snide remark.

    Readers of the Tribune, if you want fair news reporting, don’t count on it from Frank Girardot. It is pretty obvious that he’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of a 2×6.

  • resident

    To SGV resident:

    You are so right about FRANK of SGV Tribune.Unfortunately, he is a insignificant reporter who has a beef with El Monte. As for lack of role models in El Monte (his words) what does he know? He cannot even be a credible reporter, even TMZ reporters do more research on their stories than this lazy idiot.

  • John1

    I don’t understand last two negative comments re; F.Girardot, I have never met the man but do know for a fact if it was not for him there would not be a crime section “CrimeSceneBlog” or forum for readers like us in the SGVN. Often times I disagree with F.G. on his view points and comments but since the SGVN On-Line is FREE and I took time to fire up computer I can overlook a few typos and read different opinions without getting stressed out. Editor opinions have always been the backbone of the American press and in this computer age if you have a beef with the writer just tap ‘Delete’, no charge, FREE. Just don’t get all snotty when other readers don’t agree with you.