Alfredo Corchado's book "Midnight in Mexico" is like a pinata. Wherever you crack it open, something good flies out.
A friend and former colleague at the Dallas Morning News, Corchado has penned a masterpiece. In these pages, you'll learn the history of drug trafficking in Mexico, get valuable insights from a reporter who covered four Mexican presidents, and explore the identity crisis of Mexican Americans who are Mexicans in the United States but Americans in Mexico.
There is even high drama. Corchado is so good at digging up inconvenient truths about Mexico's drug war which has led to more than 100,000 deaths in less than seven years there were fears he might wind up with, as he wrote, "a bullet in my head." Still, for me, the most important story in this book is the most personal one. "Midnight in Mexico" is primarily about a son's argument with his mother, who took him out of Mexico as a boy along with his siblings after one of his sisters died in a tragic accident. Before leaving her home country for the United States, his mother took her children to a spiritual cleansing, to wash off what she considered the evil essence of Mexico.
Corchado wasn't supposed to go back. His mother pleaded with him not to return. Yet, he did. And in our culture, when you disobey your mother, you're just asking for trouble. Now, as Mexico City bureau chief for the Morning News, Corchado has a front-row seat to a country that is remaking itself by the day in ways both good and bad.
I caught up with my old friend recently and asked him why he thinks people are clamoring for this book.
"There's almost a hunger or a thirst for Mexico," Corchado told me. "Either they want to connect for the first time or reconnect. You have a lot of people who haven't been back there in a while because of the headlines, and they want to dig into their roots. And then there's the Mexican Americans, who feel like Mexico was the land of their parents and they're curious." Speaking of Mexican Americans, I asked whether being one is an asset or a liability in covering Mexico.
"In the beginning, it was more of a liability," he said. "I blame the Mexicans, especially in the elite, privileged class. Once you start speaking Spanish, they still look at you as menos que ellos (less than them). But I also blame myself. I went to Mexico with American idealism but also a romanticized image of Mexico. Then bam, you hit a wall and realize: These people don't give a (expletive) about me. They don't want to admit that you did something good with your life, because they're afraid you'll rub their noses in it and say something like: 'My mom had to take me out of here for me to become someone.' But in recent years, being Mexican American has been an asset. That's a tribute to the Mexicans who are letting go of the nationalism. They're slowly accepting the fact that there are 35 million Americans of Mexican descent (in the United States)." Meanwhile, Corchado has also accepted something: the truth.
"When I first went to Mexico," he recalled, "I actually did promise my parents that I would not cover drug trafficking. You could lose your life trying to tell those stories. That's why, for the longest time, I didn't tell them what I was doing, because I didn't want to admit that maybe they were right and I was wrong. There was a reason why my mom felt like we needed to flee to the United States and had to find another place to live." With time comes perspective.
"A big part of the book is really this debate between mother and son, and who's right and who's wrong. It's only in the last few months that I've had long conversations with my mom and dad, and I'm disappointed to admit that they were right about Mexico."
So finally, I asked my friend, on the question of which country offered more opportunity for the Corchado family, who wins the argument mother or son? He responded without hesitation, "My mom wins hands down." Don't feel bad, amigo. The older we get, the more we realize that this is usually how it goes.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at email@example.com.