For the last year, I’ve been doing research for my new novel, tentatively called “La Rumorosa”.Part of the book is set in Mexico and I’ve spent a lot of time on both sides of the border interviewing people and listening to their stories. I’ve scouted the mountainous route that my character is going to take on her illegal journey to California. I’ve read everything I can find about migrant issues, contemporary life in Mexico (especially women’s issues), drug trade and human trafficking. I start each morning with an assortment of Mexican blogs that focus on cartel activity throughout Mexico.Every single day I see pictures of decapitated and mutilated bodies, bloody video-threats sent from one drug cartel to another, and I try and understand how a character like mine would cope with such insanity.

Recently I went with my friend John Carlos Frey to visit the shelters in Tijuana and Ensenada.We talked with migrants who were traveling north.Many of the people we met had already been deported at least once. Most had suffered and were in some sort of trouble.

Anna was born in Mexico City.She was one of 12 children, eight of them girls.Like her sisters, Anna was forced by her mother to start working as a prostitute when she was four years old.I’m not sure if the boys were prostitutes, Anna didn’t say.She worked steadily all through her childhood.At 13 she found herself pregnant.Her mother insisted she have an abortion as the pregnancy interfered with business and anyway, they didn’t need another baby.Little Anna, who was uneducated and had spent her life isolated in sex slavery, looked her mother in the eye and told her that she would not abort her baby under any circumstance.The mother insisted but Anna was adamant that she would protect her child.And so at thirteen she found herself out on the streets with absolutely no idea of how to support herself.One of her regular customers, a young man, heard about the situation and asked her to marry him.He said he would act as the baby’s father—perhaps he even was the father.Together they would make a life.

Anna had a baby boy.She and her husband lived outside of Mexico City.After a couple of years they had another child but with four mouths to fed and they found it extremely difficult to make ends meet.So the husband went north looking for a better life and found work in Santa Maria, California.Once he settled, he sent for his little family.

Anna crossed the border illegally with two small children; the baby was still nursing. She acknowledged that she was molested during her journey but she didn’t dwell on that detail.She and the children joined her husband in Santa Maria and together they built their lives.They enrolled the kids in school and had two more children.They both found jobs and Anna was able to put herself through beauty school.She and her husband saved their money and she planned to open her own salon.

That baby that her mother insisted she abort is 22 years old today.He has gone through school, has a job and is leading a productive life.There are two younger children who are American citizens and still in school.

One afternoon on her way home, Anna got pulled over for a broken taillight.When it was discovered she was in the States illegally, she was taken to jail and then deported the next morning.She was not allowed to call her family nor contact a lawyer.She was taken to Tijuana and dropped.Because she was deported, she will not be able to apply for a legal visa for twenty years.If she wants to rejoin her husband and family, her only option is to cross into the States illegally.

By the time we spoke to her in Tijuana, Anna had done the research and found that it would cost her $5000 to get back to Santa Maria.We asked if she was aware of the dangers.80% of the women who cross illegally are raped.Some say that it is simply part of the price of admission.People die of exposure every single day; many are robbed, some are murdered.Anna knew.Nothing was going to stop her from being with her family.I have never seen such determination and strength.

The thing that struck me most about Anna, about all of the migrants with whom I spoke, was the strength of spirit and the absolute lack of self-pity.All the people I talked to had been victimized in one way or another.Anna had been grossly victimized almost from birth.But Anna was not a victim.Anna was one of the strongest women I have ever had the privilege to meet.There is no doubt in my mind that she will make it back to Santa Maria.Nothing is going to stop her.It is possible that she’s already home.I hope so.

And so I come back from my trip and sit at my desk and wonder, how the hell am I going to do justice to people like Anna?How do I capture her integrity and grace?Do I even deserve to write a story such as hers?Can my character Violeta Sanchez be worthy?These questions make me very sleepy.I’ve been napping a lot.Is there anybody out there who would like to step up and finish this novel for me?

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KATIE ARNOLDI has published three novels. The first, Chemical Pink, was a national bestseller. Her second novel The Wentworths was a Los Angeles Times bestseller as was her most recent book, Point Dume, which was published in May 2010 and released in paperback on 4-20 2011. Katie was the 1992 Southern California Bodybuilding Champion. She was also a competitive longboard surfer, an enthusiastic backcountry survivalist, fanatic scuba diver and a constant traveler. She has an extensive knife collection and is currently writing another novel.

14 responses to “Mexico, Mexico, Mexico”

  1. […] The Nervous Breakdown thenervousbreakdown.com/karnoldi/2011/02/mexico-mexico-mexico/ – view page – cached What do you do when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?, What do you do when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? […]

  2. Jessica Blau says:

    Oh you can ABSOLUTELY write this story and you should! You’ve proven yourself by going over there, CARING about them, researching it, talking to them, learning their stories. I’m completely hooked just from this post and I can’t wait to see the book that comes out of this. It is PAINFUL to hear stories like these but it’s important to hear them, important that we all understand exactly WHO we’re talking about when we’re talking about illegal immigrants.

    • Katie Arnoldi says:

      Thank you Jessica. That’s the thing, the WHO. These are real people with unreal stories. It’s a crazy time in Mexico. I really appreciate your support.

  3. Wow Katie, I feel like I’m hearing from a kindred spirit. I spent the past few years (up until last August) working on a long novel about Salvadoran immigrants travelling to the States, only to be told it was too dark.

    A science fiction novel about people walking for weeks through a ravaged landscape–fending off thieves and rapists, only to hold their families together–can win the Pulitzer Prize. Yet nobody wants to read about the fact that it happens every single day…

    • Katie Arnoldi says:

      Damn! You are so exactly right, Tyler. Great point about The Road. I hope you haven’t given up on your novel. I would really like to read it. It’s such an important subject. I’ve spent sometime in El Salvador and I love that complicated country. Thanks for you comments.

  4. Jude says:

    This is a story that must be told. It’s unbelievable that they can deport Anna in such a cold and brutal way. And it’s only through stories such as Anna’s, that it is bought to our attention. I’m sure you will honour her integrity and grace by writing her story. Let Violetta breathe!

    • Katie Arnoldi says:

      I agree with you completely Jude. I think the border issues, immigration and cartel violence needs to be personalized for people to really pay attention. I have heard so many heartbreaking stories like Anna’s. And it makes such a difference to talk with people who have suffered so horribly and yet maintained such dignity and strength. This book is definitely changing my life. Thanks for your kind words.

  5. What a harrowing and haunting tale of the injustices in the world. Right here you have done what you need to do in your novel: putting faces and stories to the broader phrase: Illegal immigrants. Don’t question yourself, don’t let anything stop you…. write, write it all down.

    • Katie Arnoldi says:

      Thank you Robin. I need and appreciate the vote of confidence. Putting a face on the story is exactly what needs to happen.

  6. dwoz says:

    The very same people who will fight tooth and nail to keep “Anna” out, are the exact same people who quietly work very hard to make sure that they can move their MONEY anywhere in the world, across any border, with no restrictions.

    Arbitrage profit on foreign funds is fleeting and momentary, but arbitrage profit on LABOR is entrenched, codified in law, and the basis for a staggering amount of wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

    Only when people can move as freely as money can, will we have even a slight possibility of peace.

    • Katie Arnoldi says:

      Really well put, David–as usual. So much of this problem comes down to money. The hypocrisy of our policies towards labor and finance is ridiculous and it’s people like Anna who pay the price.

  7. Matt says:

    To join the chorus: yes, this is a story that absolutely must be told.

    Our border law is all kinds of screwy, and the new measures put into place post-9/11 haven’t helped one single bit. The process for legally getting into the U.S. from Latin America is such a massive snarl of red tape that it actively encourages illegal activity…and of course, the coyotes who provide the illegal services prey on the people who need them. Our border policy is creating/enabling these crimes, not preventing them

    Until we create & enact new, more humane border policy, we remain morally if not legally culpable for these crimes.

    • Katie Arnoldi says:

      One thing that hasn’t really been talked about much is how the cartels have completely taken over human trafficking. All those coyotes, who now call themselves “guides”, work for the drug cartels. I have a film maker friend who was in Altar last summer for about three weeks. He hired a coyote, through the cartel, and came across the desert into Arizona. It was a grueling experience and he filmed the whole thing. He said that the entire operation is highly organized with numbered vans and cartel-run check points and lookouts on both sides of the border. In the old days you would hire an individual to lead you across. Now you hire an organization. There is so much money in moving people that it’s become another big business all fueled by our ridiculous and hypocritical border policies.

      Thanks for speaking up Matt. I appreciate your comments.

  8. finger scan says:

    I must say thank you very much and looking forward to seeing your article soon.

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