Mexican Crime Diversity Celebrates Itself Online and Beyond

Here in the first world, internet technology has had huge effects on popular culture, with nifty music aps and do-it-yourself Youtubes opening up whole new areas of entertainment and creativity.

Backwater Mexico has been affected by the same advances, albeit in its own unique way. Mexicans already have a well developed fondness for criminal activities, expressed in music known as narcocorridos which romanticizes drug smuggling and its associated murder and torture.

Musicians can make a nice living warbling narco-ditties about gangsters — as long as they are careful and lucky. Sometimes a crooner offends a drug kingpin (often by praising a rival) who then plunks the musician, as has happened to well known performers like Valentin Elizalde and Chalino Sanchez. Glorifying a violent lifestyle has its down side.

In addition, criminals have created their own violent religion to reflect their values, in which they worship the patron saint of smuggling Jesus Malverde (pictured) and Saint Death (see my article Mexico Mainlines Malevolence).

These days, celebrating narco-diversity has been taken up by the criminals themselves, who post their own bloody Youtube videos. Doing so has the twofer advantage of intimidating their enemies and expressing pride in their work.

Unfortunately, Mexican kids residing here and in the dear homeland are marinated in this poison. Why should they finish the eighth grade when they can be a flashy killer? Permitting millions from a retrograde, crime-friendly culture to live in America is a long-term serious mistake.

Narco culture glamorizes violent lifestyle in Mexico and in Texas, KENS 5, San Antonio, February 20, 2011

Warring drug cartels fighting for turf in Mexico, especially near the border, seem to be winning a battle for the hearts and minds of many young people enticed by the power, money and flashy images that glamorize the narco lifestyle.

Songs that glorify drug lords, movies about their exploits and social networks, offer a seductive view of a violent lifestyle.

Narco corridos, or ballads, about the life and death legends of drug traffickers have existed as long as there have been smugglers. But the current rise of narco culture parallels the growth of powerful drug cartels.

Mexican Narco cinema, which enjoyed a heyday in the 70s still captures a wide audience on video with action-packed scenes featuring big trucks, big guns, and battling drug smugglers.

But these days the B movies have been replaced by real life crime scenes posted by traffickers and young hit men on YouTube. Some are set to music and showcase gruesome killings.

University of Texas at El Paso professor, Howard Campbell, calls it “a counterculture of criminality.” Campbell is an anthropologist and the author of ”Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez.”

Campbell explains, “This whole style of living, this counterculture of crime, has become actually seductive for hundreds of thousands of people in Mexico and especially the young.”

Narco culture has roots in lawless regions of Mexico and thrives in places where there are few economic or educational opportunities for young people. “And as they look and see this alternative society of people making a lot of money quickly through crime,” said Campbell, “and they see it’s also stylish because of the music and clothing and fancy trucks people drive.”

In addition to style, there is a spiritual aspect to narco culture and a growing devolution to folk saints like La Santa Muerte, Holy Death — who looks like a female Grim Reaper. Followers pray for protection for themselves or loved ones involved in the dangerous drug trade. The largest shrine is tucked away in the Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City, which is notorious for black market goods.

Drug smugglers have adopted Jesus Malverde, a Robin Hood-like figure popular with the poor as their patrol saint. There is even a Facebook page for Malverde with plenty of friends.

In person, followers pay homage to Malverde with serenades and other offerings at a shrine in Culican, Sinaloa. The Pacific coast state is the birthplace of Mexico’s major drug trafficking families. And just as those early families have grown into global cartels, narco culture has also spread, often along key smuggling routes that lead to the border and beyond.

“As a pastor of the Catholic church, for me it’s a big challenge how to deal with this situation,” said Father Antonio Urrutia, who works on both sides of the border in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

Drug cartels are locked in a bloody battle for lucrative smuggling routes in Juarez that have turned the border city into Mexico’s murder capital.

Father Urrutia says he sees youngsters in his parish influenced by the bloody power struggle. “Rather than lawyers, doctors or teachers, now they want to be drug traffickers, or hit men because of the money and power,” he explained.

Others turn to the drug trade out of desperation. The hit movie in Mexico ”El Infierno,” portrays this scenario in an epic satire. Benny Garcia, an immigrant deported from the U.S. after many years returns to find his small hometown overrun with drug traffickers. He is lured into the drug trade, too. The dark comedy by Mexican director, Luis Estrada, is based on painfully real situations. Audiences packed theaters when it premiered last fall.

The lure of narco culture does not stop at the border. Popular music videos from bands like Los Tucanes de Tijuana or Los Cadetes de Linares have fans in both countries.

Likewise, there are faithful followers of narco saints in the U.S.

In Laredo, figures Santa Muerte and Malverde figures lined the shelves of several small shops. None of the merchants wanted there stores identified. But one clerk said there was a wholesale distributor who stocked stores across Texas in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Whether celebrated secretly in the U.S. or openly in Mexico, narco culture has a growing influence on both sides of the border.