____EXCLUSIVE  BY CLAIRE O’BRIEN___________________

First published on Latina Lista by Claire O’Brien at  

  At my school, the students created a gigantic number 43, each candle symbolizing a missing student, so that anybody from the sky — the UFOs, the airplanes, God, perhaps? —  could see and understand the sorrow that the Mexican students are dwelling with. Maybe now the people  will understand why it rains: even the sky is crying .”

Valerie Rodarte,  Mexican university student



A street of small adobe houses runs through a middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of a Mexican city. It looks peaceful enough at first glance.

But those who live there know better.

To residents who have gazed at the street over time, the signs of a neighborhood transformed by seven years of horrific violence are clear. A big iron gate blocks off the entrance, and curtains are drawn across every locked window. People walk directly from their front doors to their cars or to the bus stop. They don’t go out for strolls. They stand aside for certain of their neighbors and avert their eyes.

And there are no children in sight.




Inside one of the smallest houses, a girl who grew up playing tag on the street sits at a computer typing an email to an American journalist. Valerie Rodarte has just finished up another week of  a heavy college course load, but she won’t be joining her  classmates  for a night on the town – or a even a study group in the library.Neither will many other students at her university, especially girls.

In fact, until recently, Rodarte hadn’t been outdoors at night in six years
“Parents don’t let kids play outside anymore,” wrote Rodarte, “We were just about the last of those children,or maybe second to last. And even though I’m no longer a child, in general I try to follow my mother’s wishes as best I  can.She tends to get sick or unwell if we’re not all in a place she trusts, and that’s only home.”

Rodarte added that her mother has good reason for her fears:

“It’s dangerous,”she said.



At 22, Rodarte tends to view life before drug cartel violence as if through a telescope, from a great distance. There were no gates blocking the street ” back then “.  Until 2008, when former President Juan Calderon’s war on Mexico’s powerful drug cartels reached Valerie’s city, her street reflected her universe of childhood, family, and school.

Rodarte’s archaic description of childhood play as “merry” strikes an American ear as melancholy, as she recalls long games of hide and seek, tag, and just kicking a soccer ball around.

“It was safe and fun to play outside in those days.We played a tag variation called Police and Thieves, where we had our “prison” and sent all the bad guys in there,” Rodarte recalled. “If that seems ironic, I’ve heard that children today play that they are drug traffickers.”

She added that the neighborhood children had also been free to walk to the nearby little shops for treats,





“Almost everywhere in my street area there is a little shop or food stand run by families who need more income, as jobs are scarce nowadays in Mexico,” Rodarte said,” I remember how much we loved to buy candy, but potato chips were actually the most popular thing. They came with prizes and toys and that’s what made potato chips incredibly loved by children.”


V A L E R I E   W R I T E S:   A B O UT   8   Y E A R S  O L D

I can’t recall my exact age but I was still a child. It was Christmas. I  received new N64 games—Hey You, Pikachu!, is a vital mention—and I felt cozy at my home, surrounded by good smells, speaking English for the first time of my life, feeling protected, as in a cave in where pleasures abound and where I can finally feel fully protected. My mother’s not in this memory scene I am describing right now, but I know she’s near—that everybody’s near. I know that my family is near, that no one’s far, that I just need to raise my voice to be heard and stop being alone.




A G E   T W E N T Y – T W O

Violence made me see the worst part of humanity and turned me into a rather distrustful and insecure person; I no longer trust  people much, and I feel bad about a future where I can get shot if I raise my voice higher than I’m supposed to.

I still wonder if the world even cares about us. I mean, Mexico’s not a white country, and we’re not a First World country, so obviously our problems won’t be treated with media coverage like the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. And because our tragedies aren’t  good excuses for war (yet), we won’t be heard as much as we need to be. Thus, our politicians will keep mistreating us from the shadows – because of this impunity.

Most Mexicans think real life lies outside and what we produce is purely crap. People still gush and get excited when they discover that somebody else had a trip to somewhere outside Mexico or to the U.S. For me, it is sadder when Mexicans leave to any American city and forget their own culture.



When a Nightmare Moves In 

 The city knew what to expect when it became a battleground.

People were terrified before the terror began.

For two years a wave of brutal executions had swept the nation, as Mexico’s powerful drug cartels fought both one another and the corrupt government with which many had long-term relationships.The United States had helpfully trained the bloodiest of these as Special Forces, armed them to the teeth, and returned them to Mexico, where they promptly deserted.

After re-emerging as the notorious Zetas, the cartel cut a swath of blinding terror across the country, skinning people alive, beheading them with chainsaws, and hanging their headless bodies from overpasses.




” The violence didn’t hit us until 2008, but when it did, it hit hard and quickly.First came massacres of our police force,” reported Rodarte,”and next the doctors fled the city after narcos made public threats against them.”
With relatives escaped to America, and her father gone since childhood, Rodarte’s already small family became even smaller.They hunkered down together – Valerie, her mother and older sister – in the little house the two girls had always known.

Valerie was fifteen years old.


Rodarte described schools that shut themselves in and “turned their walls into literal prison walls, with the spiky wires on their tops to protect children from any unwanted intruder.”

“I saw my first dead body not long after that.It was lying in the front of the gate in my schoolyard. Since then, I’ve seen so much.” she reported. “My mother no longer wanted us outside, unless it was for an important thing. And if we ever want to hang out with friends, we must be back at a certain hour. So you could say we build a routine that feels like a kind of prison”.

 Shootout Drill

The violence slammed into Rodarte’s family with the first robbery of the bank that employs her mother:

“She tends to be the target of most robbers who assault her bank.  Trust me, it’s terrible when your mother returns, all soaked in tears after surviving yet another robbery – and to know that this will repeat sometime again later. So I tend to live the worst of the city through my mother.”

Rodarte believes that her life has shown her the dark side of human nature:

“All this violence made me discover who were drug traffickers, who weren’t and who were actual people of trust. So you could say I met the dark side of people,” she relected.” I saw how low and cruel can somebody can become, and it made me realize how sometimes civilization tends to be an erroneous concept. I wasted what was supposed to be the prime of my youth because of this imprisoning routine I became used to.”



Over the past year and a half, Valerie has slowly been adding carefully planned activities to her life – nighttime as well as daily. She doesn’t remain out after dark often, nor stay out late, and she’s intensely aware of friends’ reports of being robbed on the street.

But Valerie wants to live.

“In the end, I don’t think you can keep kids away from each other,”she writes in a tone that sounds almost, well, merry.

Rodarte also had to expand her sphere of daytime activities in order to accomodate the academic requirements of her degree program. She’s breathing bigger these days. Not big. Bigger.

The danger is no less for Valerie and her generation than it was before.

They are just standing into the wind.


They know that most of Mexico’s people don’t live in adobe houses – however small – with running water and heat, food, clothing, and school.

They live in houses like this one.

But Valerie Rodarte hasn’t forgotten her people. She comes from a generation that can’t forget



V A L E R I E   W R I T E S

I turned on the laptop, the name Ferguson — FERGUSON, in caps — popped onto the screen. And this time I knew the world was burning, slowly and painfully. This time I saw that the world is truly flying away, burning, losing itself into the universe, prepared to crash itself into a bigger wall of nightmares. I read the news. I read the anger. I read the poison that was boiling so much for the people of the north. And even though the fabulous world of the Internet offered me a video to understand the judicial side of the Ferguson incident, I declined. I didn’t want to know the hypocritical side, for I knew the social side, which is, frankly, far more important and powerful than the former.

Only then I felt so much smaller, as I used to blame the United States for all of our problems, and then I realized that we’re all just victims from the same monster. Then I saw that we’re not small, but rather little water drops, as those hidden inside of popcorn, slowly heating ourselves in order to explode and, finally, occupy the space we deserved from the beginning and without the lies from the Big Ones.

 I realized that a new culture came, and it was the pop culture, not to be confused with the “popular culture” term, but rather with the new mindset that the world’s getting now that we’re finally meeting the real cause of our problems. A culture that has said “Enough!” and it’s ready to burst and destroy all the injustices of which we’re all victims with just one loud “Pop!” explosion…

I just now wonder how much heat we need so we can finally go “POP!”

When will the pop come…


NOTE: None of the photos used in this article are specifically associated with Valerie Rodarte. They do not  identify her location in any way, but have been approved by her as representative of her experience. The photos all come from Google Images and are unrestricted.


  1. I just wanted people to know that Valerie has begun answering some of these comments.I don’t know how many she’ll answer but I hope you’ll check to see what she has to say.
    Thank-you Valerie!
    And thanks to all who wrote and read XOXOXO


  2. Reblogged this on johannisthinking and commented:
    It is sad and painful to read…but we cannot bury our heads in the sand and act like it does not exist. Despite the horrific story, may we have the courage to live on, like the young woman, Valerie. We have to be willing to speak up and use our limited power to vote so that racism, injustice, and murder of people, comes to a stop. As individuals, we must lift up our courage and we have to live in HOPE and PROMISE. Hope that the violence will stop. Promise for life for others and the children of the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the reblog, Johann.
      And thank-you for touching my heart.

      You know, I don’t think we should dismiss as paranoia our sense that everything has gotten harder,spinning beyond our control and leaving us strangely..immobilized:

      Everything HAS gotten harder.
      A lot harder – and specifically because powerful interests planned it that way. So if conspiracy means planning in secret what can’t pass muster in daylight, then conspiracy seems like an accurate word.
      The steadily escalating evidence of an all-out Western seizure of global resources cant be ignored.So it’s constantly hammered home instead as “defending democracy”,AKA a shameless lie. No wonder we’re all feeling kind of nuts.
      To name it genocide only seems unbelievable to us. But viewed from the rubble of Gaza, the ancient cities of Mexico, the corpses of Liberia, the streets of Ferguson, the tortureous nightmare of Libya, genocide is not a theory. Not at all.
      Genocide is simply what the world looks like from there. It stares people in the eye every day.
      I think we CAN do something. We can organize to resist our government
      Wisconsin sounds like a great place to start. Jesus, I didn’t know it was so bad. I’m sorry. Such a great labor state..it should be crawling with reporters.

      The one true thing I do know for sure is that we need one another absolutely. Yet, we are dropping people by the wayside instead of picking our compadres up.

      Be strong, sister!

      Let us share local resistance ideas,


      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think it is the most important thing: to keep going despite the adversities. In fact, if we don’t resist the storm, how will we be able to reach the peace? Sooner or later, this must end, and it will be because of the people that can resist, like the parents of the missing 43 students and the Autodefensas. I cheer up myself sometimes, telling myself that this is just a test, a huge exam for all of Mexico and the world, and the ones who can withstand these crude questions I keep asking myself, might reach the end.
      It’s just a matter of holding on and doing our best to reach the end of the desert.

      All my prayers to you!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. It was painful to read…what words can be said when one reads of the terror this child and so many have lived in our neighbor to the South. Horrifically sad and tragic. These days it is so difficult to hear of the tragedies, murders,and needless killings across this world. The violence seems to be escalating in our own country and too many people are burying their heads into the sand. Claire, I try not to believe the so-called “conspiracy theories”—-however, with the movement of masses of people towards violence–individuals within the police forces (i.e. the recent murder of Walter Scott in S.C.) holding no restraint in their confrontation with the individuals they run into—-Racism is so strong in this country and I am so ashamed of us that we still live deep in those attitudes—sometimes, I feel that those who control the wealth, set up these attitudes and condone the terror with their silence. Just as I read in your article, where the USA provided the weapons and training for these “death squads.” Personally, I believe that if the war on drugs wanted to be won, it would have been.
    Claire, I do not think you would enjoy a Wisconsin lake anymore. Wisconsin is being destroyed by our Governor on many levels: Education was the first big slam–destruction of the teacher unions (having been a teacher, I can tell you many personal stories of how the educational system is being destroyed…and having spent many years teaching and speaking about the Jewish Holocaust…what is happening in the USA now, and particularly, Wisconsin, echoes of Nazism), then Badgercare for the elderly and those living below $25,000, was nearly eliminated, with many losing healthcare coverage, then his stealth movement to undermine and make choices deciding the health of women, with new laws set in place; now the Voter ID is established–disenfranchising many from the possibility of voting. He is also making movement to privatize the park system and Wisconsin Lakes …and RIGHT to Work (meaning no worker rights) Legislation was passed…I would say a few more than HALF of Wisconsinites follow his lead. I see them being passive and uninvolved–because it is NOT touching them personally…well, not today…what about tomorrow? Just two days ago, the Commission who overseas public lands was forbidden to use the words “climate change”–why is our freedom of speech being eroded? (http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/wisconsin-also-stifles-climate-change-talk)…..
    And, yet, we have to continue to live…and like Valerie, live despite what is going on around us…I just cannot imagine the pain and sorrow of so many people having lost their sons in such a treacherous and violent way. To carry that each day, and try to LIVE …it is courageous for Valerie to take even one step outside that horror.
    And what can I do? What can we do? I do not know the answer…I just try to keep on living each day with hope and promise…but it is difficult to do. I am 65 and I wish I had the strength and know how to organize a protest march on Congress. I am wondering where are the young today? Where are the protesters? Where is the VOICE? You are ONE VOICE—and I am glad you have the courage to make yourself heard!
    Thank you for writing Valerie’s story, Claire.


  4. How horrid. I have heard of what’s been happening there, I was like yeah? Now after your posting of Valerie’s story it really really hit me hard. I’m just sick to my stomach. I had no idea!
    Geez. Now I am feeling frustrated as to why isn’t anything being done to help the people? Why isn’t USA helping them? Oh god! Thank you for opening my eyes.
    Funny you was saying something about the flock of geese. I just saw one flying in V formation through my window as I was sitting reading your post! They flew from the south and I think they’ll be stopping by at the Big lake not too far from where I am.
    Again thank you for this Valerie’s story.


    1. Hi, Thumbup!
      Yeah, we don’t even believe that this came to happen to us. We’re as surprised as you, but again, Mexico has been living some kind of inner war ever since many centuries ago. Many people still wonder here who are we and all that stuff, so all the lack of companionship and all the madness somehow roots back to our very remote past.
      The only thing we have now is to pray hard for this to end soon; because that’s the sole thing I am positive about: nothing lasts forever.


      Liked by 2 people

  5. Brilliant expose, Claire. The narco culture in Mexico has clearly developed with the knowledge and implicit support of the US government. Many US inner cities are engulfed in similar narco cultures, though not as extreme. It’s the inevitable price of living in a society where a few hundred sociopaths are obscenely wealthy and the rest are wretchedly poor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, right? The saddest thing is that we have gotten used to this kind of situations; we no longer feel strange or anything. We’re assimilating violence, whereas we should be startled, willing to fight it back…
      I pray this situation can also get solved in the US!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “I saw how low and cruel can somebody can become, and it made me realize how sometimes civilization tends to be an erroneous concept.”
    ~And we humans like to think of ourselves as greater than the other species that populate our planet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope this story can help other people understand what’s going on around here. And to be frank, turns out that I might be the luckiest of them all. Other people around here are getting the worst of it.


      Liked by 1 person

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