Napolitano as Secretary of DHS and the UC student opposition

Janet Napolitano became governor of Arizona on January of 2003. During her office she opposed the Bush Administration’s plan to create a 600 mile fence along the border region. After her appointment as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHL) in 2009,  she authorized the addition of more fence miles around the border while increasing the number of agents patrolling the border.

Napolitano also enhanced the heavily criticized component 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which increases the cooperation of local law enforcement agencies with DHL to capture undocumented immigrants. With training, funding and supervision from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), police departments can carry similar functions to those of ICE.

During the Bush administration the budget for 287(g) was $15 million. In 2013 the budget had more than quadrupled to $68 million. Critics such as the Detention Watch Network–a coalition of organizations that advocates for immigrant’s rights–point out that  through this partnership undocumented immigrants will be reluctant to report any crimes, which will increase criminality in immigrant communities. Additionally, local police departments will spend resources and time on deporting undocumented immigrants rather than tackling criminal acts. Furthermore, critics point out that 287(g) has allowed police departments to carry out racial profiling.

For instance, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is notorious for his participation in the 287(g) program. Under his command, the authorities of Maricopa County allegedly racially profiled Latinos, violating constitutional rights of citizens. U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow found Sheriff Arpaio guilty of violating constitutional rights and racially profiling.

 Apprehention of Mexicans 2009

The chart above illustrates the apprehensions carried out by ICE and Border Patrol targeting ethnic/national Mexicans (which were detained for violations of civil or criminal laws, or for “reasonable” suspicion). In the years ranging from 2009 and 2011, more than three-fourths of apprehensions carried out targeted ethnic/national Mexicans.

Apprehention of Mexicans 2010

Apprehention of Mexicans 2011

In targeted Latino communities, those found to be “illegal” are “removed” from the country. Janet Napolitano compromised to target those undocumented criminals who pose a threat to society. However, less than half of those deported did not have any criminal convictions. Furthermore, most of the deported “criminal” immigrants committed petty crimes, such as DUI’s and misdemeanors. The New York Times reported than in 2009 only 5.6 percent of deported immigrants have committed violent crimes. This is less than the 46,486 undocumented parents who were forced to abandon their children in the U.S. after being deported in 2011, which was 12 percent of the deported immigrants for that year.

Furthermore, the United States Government Accountability Office submitted an assessment of ICE’s and local authorities’ use of program 287(g), stating that they would “process individuals for minor crimes, such as speeding, contrary to the objective of the program.”

Deportations 2001-2012

Those who are deported end up in correctional centers, jails, and prisons run by private corporations that have been known to run under unregulated and precarious conditions for the detainees. In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted a written statement to the House Committee on the Judiciary in which the ACLU condemns the inadequate medical, hygienic, and safety regulations in detention centers and the lack of rape preventative measures.

On November 4th Napolitano sent a letter to all UC students “to express (her) gratitude for the warm reception and insightful instruction (she) received.” However, throughout the UC system there was an active opposition movement expressed towards her appointment. Protests spurred on the eve of her campus visits.

At UC Irvine, about 75 students protested Napolitano’s appointment. In UC Davis about 50 students rallied for their demands. In UC Santa Cruz 30 students protested outside her meeting with undocumented students. UC Berkeley students chased her and demanded her resignation. Around 40 UCLA students awaited a rally for her arrival to demand the democratization of the UC system. Additionally, UCSD and UCI student governments moved a vote of no confidence on Napolitano.

A day earlier, on November 3rd, students from the UC campuses gathered in UC Santa Barbara to create a UC-wide coordinated body against the appointment of Napolitano. The event was attended by 31 students, 3 teacher’s assistants and a worker. The meeting was planned in secrecy; one student asked for everyone to take the battery off their cell phones to prevent any spying from external agencies.

The main goals were to not recognize Napolitano as the UC president and to advocate for the democratization of the UC system. Debbie Tuarte, a second year UCSC undocumented student shared with the group her experience of when she meet with Napolitano on October 30th. She said that students met with Napolitano in hopes of working things out, but the “cold” and “expressionless” way she treated the students deteriorated discussions. She highlighted the occasion in which a student at the meeting asked her to guarantee that she will disburse money for undocumented students, and Napolitano responded by sardonically saying that she did not have her checkbook at her hand. At one point in the meeting Tuarte walked out of the meeting, saying that she will not take money from an “oppressor.” She joined the protest outside the meeting and read the following statement:


The place to be is not here in this room with you. The place to look is not to you. The place to look is to ourselves. We are powerful…I will not ask for support from my oppressor. I will not waste my voice on someone who has already forced me to waste so much of my life living in fear. I will not give up my freedom for the change in your pocket. And because of that I decide to not waste my voice here.


Ruben Barrera, a Sociology major, who participated in the protest outside the meeting said that “people came out crying with their heads down” and since then there has not been open communication between the undocumented student organizations at UCSC.

Napolitano has no previous educational experience. The regents alleged that they chose Napolitano for her ability to handle complex public systems. However, doubts are raised. When critics highlight her incapacity to prevent human rights abuses against undocumented immigrants, her active promotion of racial profiling and her violation of constitutional rights stand when changing offices.

But at the end, the fundamental question that UCLA students opposed to Napolitano raised was: Who chose Napolitano? Not students, faculty or workers.

The decision was made by the regents who are also not elected by the general UC population.

If UC students, workers and faculty had no participation in the election of the president, and if this president has no background in education, and if this president has much opposition, why did she take the position? As head of DHS she was paid around $200,000 a year. Now, as president of the UC system she will be paid $570,000 per year, $8,916 a year for car expenses, $142,500 for one-time housing relocation cost, and the UC will pay a monthly rent of $9,950 for her.  A very compelling argument is that she is in for the money, but that may be too simplistic. Is it?


Graphs compiled by Juan Torres


Offering More than Support

Writing a story about a housekeeper, I believed that I was writing about an invisible person who is normally ignored. For Bennie Herrera, her life was intertwined with her employers, “La manera como soy, posiblemente me tienen confianza, mas que cualquier housekeeper.”

Bennie came because of her employer Amelia. Bennie worked for Amelia, in Peru, by taking care of her three children, and then sold clothes at Amelia’s boutique. One day Amelia asked Bennie to come to the US with her and she accepted. She came to the United States from Lima, Peru when she was 20 years old.

When Bennie got to the US with Amelia and her family, the pleasant working environment changed. Amelia’s friends saw how well she treated Bennie and soon people started advising her to change. Amelia began to say that she would steal and she would not let Bennie leave the house.

Photo by Maria Revalcaba. Bennie Herrera at her El Monte home.

With the help of her neighbors, Bennie was able to leave Amelia’s employment to begin her path toward working in convalescent homes and cleaning homes. At one of the convalescent homes, she was introduced to Barney Industrial Company.

Barney Industrial Company gave her two houses to clean. She was 25 years old when she began to train to clean houses. John, one of the managers, taught her how to run her own business of cleaning houses. She then put an ad in a Pasadena newspaper to find homes.

People started to call Bennie, and she was now self-employed, setting her own prices, making more money, and having a flexible schedule. “Me relajo. Puedo cantar, puedo hablar con Dios, puedo pensar,” she said. It is more than a job; it allows time for herself.

From 1996 to 2001, Bennie went through a divorce, which took up a lot of her time and money. Her ex-husband tried to provoke her employers to fire her and even told the judge that she worked too much and did not have time for their kids. The judge made her choose between her business and her kids. She chose her kids.

Despite her ex-husband’s efforts, there were three households who remained by Bennie and these are the three that have meant the most to Bennie; that of Mrs. Rives, Judi, and Dr. Lavine. “Estas tres no creyeron en el,” says Bennie.

They all called her on the first day that her ad ran in the newspaper and they are the ones who have continued to be by Bennie’s side. “Con el cariño de ellos, no me he sentido sola,” said Bennie.

For the past five years, she has been Mrs. Rives’ personal caregiver. She is the one person Bennie works with everyday, while Bennie balances cleaning houses four days a week and working at convalescent homes the other three days of the week.

Their close relationship grew when Bennie was there to console Mrs. Rives for the death of her two sons and, later, the death of her husband. She would be the person Mrs. Rives could cry to, while also making sure Mrs. Rives did not forget to eat. Bennie remembers them crying together and holding each other to get through each death. Mrs. Rives’ daughter, Nancy, has even told Bennie that it is because of her that Mrs. Rives is still alive.

Just as Bennie was there to console Mrs. Rives, Mrs. Rives and her other employers were by Bennie’s side when she broke her wrist last year.

Judi stood by Bennie throughout her whole divorce and would try to take care of Bennie as much as she could. She gave Bennie furniture, plates, clothes, and other necessities. Bennie remembers that Judi called her when she went to the market just to ask if there was anything Bennie needed. “Ella fue una persona especial, se preocupaba de mi ropa, se preocupaba de mis niños, y se preocupaba si tenia comida en la casa,” said Bennie.

At one point Judi moved to Palm Springs. Bennie drove the distance to continue to work for Judi. While Bennie no longer cleans Judi’s home, they still have a very close relationship. In just talking about Judi, Bennie is reminded that she needs to call her to catch up.

In Dr. Lavine’s household, Bennie transitioned from housekeeper to caregiver. Bennie would arrive at the house, and instead of cleaning as soon as she got there, Dr. Lavine invited Bennie to sit down and have breakfast with the family.

Dr. Lavine would even make Bennie lunch by buying Bennie’s favorite things like turkey, tuna, muffins, Diet Seven-Up, and bananas. Bennie remembers Dr. Lavine, “¿Que patrona da eso? Ella se preocupaba que yo desayunara y que yo lonchara. Y cuando no me hizía comida, me daba diez dolares y me decia, ‘you promise honey that you’ll stop and get lunch.’” Bennie took care of Dr. Lavine until the day she passed away.

Just as many people might believe there is disconnect between the employer and the employee, Bennie realizes that her relationships have been special. “No las veo como extrañas personas.” Her relationships tell a different story than just the one of an employee working for a paycheck.

“Mas que todo me miran como familia y no me tratan como housekeeper o como una empleada.”

Letter from Grupo Folklórico de UCLA

 In an effort for all to be aware that there was a successful Chicano/Latino population on university campuses in the 1960s, Folklórico groups began to form. It was also a way for them to have a part of home, culture and traditions, away from home. The first of these groups started here at UCLA.

Professor Emilio Pulido-Huizar, the founder of the great Jaliscience folklorico group at Universidad de Guadalajara, established Grupo Folklórico de UCLA in 1966. Since then, the group has grown and flourished to consist of UCLA students, alumni, grad students, and community members beyond just Chicano/Latino students. The purpose of this group is primarily one of promoting and educating the UCLA community and the greater Los Angeles area about Mexican traditions and culture.
This is done through music and dance. Each individual dance represents a region of Mexico and tells a story of its people, animals, daily life, and rituals as it is accompanied by the regional music. The members of the group don’t dance just for the sake of dancing; it is for the sake of cultural art.

Today, Grupo Folklórico extends out to the Los Angeles youth in order to promote higher education among minorities and show them that our raza is still present even at the most prestigious universities, encouraging them to strive to better themselves as well. Starting this academic school year, the group has a membership of over 50 students, community members, and graduate students. The largest membership it has ever had since its inception. Our motto is: “No experience necessary.”

Our biggest struggle as a group, however, has been finding a space to dance. Every Tuesday and Thursday, folklórico members, without fail, dance to the beat of different regional songs at the McClure stage. The stage has served as a practice space for many years, but even this open space does not meet the need of such a large membership. The concrete does not allow for members to truly reach their full potential due to the risk of knee injuries. Using special dance shoes, similar to tap shoes, these zapatillas and botines have metal nails at the toe and heel of the bottom of the shoe. Concrete does not absorb the shock of a foot stomp as a wooden floor would. Aside from that, the lack of mirrors, which allow for one to witness his or her progress, are unavailable to us.  The exception is the occasional Saturday practices when we book a room in the John Wooden Center, but even there we may not use our shoes because they may scratch the floors. Yet, once every other week does not suffice, even for the best dancers. We are currently hoping that the university provides us with a space to practice with mirrors, seeing that the majority of members are UCLA students, whose needs should be met in order to achieve their greatest potential.

Even with these constraints, the love for dance and show must go on. Grupo Folklórico de UCLA’s primary goal is to perform at our annual Royce Hall performance, which takes place the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (this year, landing on May 27th at 7pm). Keeping true to our mission, we provide this educational and cultural show to UCLA and the greater Los Angeles community at a world-renowned theater free of charge.

Yet ironically, this becomes harder with budget cuts as things begin to cost more. Although we are a student group, the cost to put on the show this year has come to be about $18,000, which the student-run group simply does not have at hand.  Some funding is provided from the school, but not enough. As a non-profit organization, we fundraise and reach out to the community in hope of being sponsored in order to continue these wonderful traditions. We make as much an effort as possible, through performing on campus, by outreaching to youth and by being a home away from home for many members. Despite the obstacles we must overcome, we strive to keep this 45-year-old tradition and organization alive.

Like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter!

Look at previous La Gente coverage of Grupo Folklórico de UCLA:

Watch the video as Grupo Folklórico de UCLA prepares for its Dia de los Muertos show!

Here’s a photo essay from the Dia de los Muertos performance!

Here’s an article about the organization’s growth as a student group!



Letter from the Editor

From the Fall 2011 Issue of La Gente Newsmagazine

Throughout my time at La Gente, I have seen the staff change from year to year, providing a variety of perspectives as well as showcasing common concerns of the Latina/o student community.

Finding opportunity through education is a theme that the writers explore in their stories. Opportunity is in between limitations and choice, between societal and legal expectations and the individual.

Behind the sentiment that everyone deserves an education despite legal status or class, writers address how this will come to be on the legislative and human level, whether via the California Dream Act or the Occupy Movement.

The feature focuses on a UCLA student with Temporary Protected Status, a gray area not quite in the shadows like that experienced by the undocumented students but neither on a path to a bright future as privileged by American citizens.

Other pieces talk about the most visible pillars of cultura: language and religion. These bring to mind questions like what defines cultura as the Latina/o community becomes more rooted in the United States.

These questions come up because of our transnational connections.  This includes the drug war in Mexico as it endangers families and the upcoming World Cup as it inspires ambivalent emotions in Brazilians.

However, we still appreciate and seek out these connections by attending UCLA’s Central American film festival and by continuing to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

In light of the LA Xicano exhibitions, Chicano art has been closely intersected with the history and aesthetic of the newsmagazine. For this issue, artists Armando Silva and Jose Loza have contributed art, adding to the print quality of the newsmagazine, hopefully encouraging you, the reader, to keep it.

We hope that our stories inspire you to seek out a forum of action, be it a poetry, art, or protest.

Thank you for picking up this quarter’s issue of La Gente.


Bringing Central American culture to life through film

Ana Ruth Castillo, Los Angeles based artist with roots from Guatemala, contributed this artwork to the festival. Inspired to reflect culture and ancestry, the beauty of the natural world, and the sacred feminine, she paints on walls and canvas to share and connect. A college graduate from UC Santa Cruz, she dedicates her life and career to working with youth.

UCLA’s Latin American Institute held the Central America and Reel Politik film festival at the Main Conference Room in the Charles E. Young Research Library from Wednesday October 19 to Friday October 21.

Attracting over three hundred people throughout its run, the festival featured work from rising artists that showcased a region that is typically understudied.

The Reel Politik film festival was organized by Gloria Chacon, a fellow at the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The term Reel Politik refers to the German term Realpolitik, referring to politics that is based on power and sometimes of coercion. The term highlights the effort to shed light on the political, eocnomic, and social issues of Central America through film.

She organized the festival in part “to really showcase the vibrant culture and different points of views and people trying to tell their story. Or trying to recuperate the story of their past.” She wanted to take part in the slow but growing study of Central America.

“To educate, to showcase, and to inspire,” Chacon said, explaining her hopes of using the festival as a way to inspire students to begin telling their own story through film.

The festival took around one year to organize, and it fell solely on the shoulders of Chacon with one student aid for help.

A few years back, the Icaro Film Festival in Guatemala impacted her by showing documentaries and films produced in Central America.

Chacon set out to collect a film archive for the UCLA library. However, the difficulty in obtaining films not easily available to the public meant each director had to be contacted directly. Her established contacts allowed her to bring attention to the event throughout the planning stage, resulting in full support by the administration.

The Central American community fully embraced the festival. At the film festival, many local consulates participated with Beliz and Guatemalan representatives providing small discourse on their respective country.

For Chacon, the involvement of the local community allowed the possibility of many to connect with others. Understanding people’s history is a necessary step in pushing diversity, especially on a college campus, she says.

At the event itself, the education of the countries was on full display. Books were sold to further touch upon the issues raised in the films. Students from diverse backgrounds participated in the Q&A. Different films provided insights into current social problems, and the effects past events currently have in society.

Although this was the first year the festival was held, Chacon hopes to do it again, but with some modifications. She would like to include short films by students and give awards to the best documentary, feature, and student films shown at the festival.

Regardless, this year the UCLA library gained a rich variety of films to provide commentary on Central America, a region that is currently growing among the fields of study. This gives the school an opportunity to become one of the emerging locations that are aiding the growth of Central American scholars. These films will become resources for all those students and community members that wish to focus on the region.

Every film showed, and many more, will be available for regular checkout at the Charles E. Young Research Library.

Losing the Mother Tongue

“You don’t speak Spanish?! But you’re Mexican!”

Too often, many second-generation Latinos are confronted with this question, to which they reply, “Yeah, I know…”

They think, “How could I forget? What happened?” But the reality is that many of them don’t know why they don’t speak it.

Spanish language loss among second-generation Latinos, those with immigrant parents, has been widely studied. Research and Statistics show that “98 percent of second-generation respondents [reported] fluency in English and 88 percent [indicated] a preference for English over their mother tongue.”

What leads to this preference?

“I was born and raised here, so to me [Spanish] was more of a second language. The more English I learned, the less Spanish I spoke. Today, I feel, it’s more common to find Latinos in similar situations,” said Andres Berumen, a senior at Eisenhower High School born to Mexican parents.

His answer is not far from what most would guess is the reason for the lack of Spanish retention in the US: we assimilate to the English language because it is all around us. The environment that surrounds us dictates the language we speak, right? Yes.

The US has been referred to as a graveyard for foreign languages. The process of losing the mother tongue was found to be most rapid here in the US when compared to that loss in other countries. Interestingly enough, this loss was less rapid among Spanish-speaking Latinos.

Among Latino groups, there is also some disparity. Mexican-Americans were found to retain their mother language the best, but were reciprocally the worst at English proficiency over time when compared to Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, Nicaraguans, Central and South Americans.

So what factors lead us to lose the language of our culture?

“If I would have balanced them out somehow instead of choosing one [English] over the other [Spanish], that would have made a difference,” Berumen reflects. However, research has proven otherwise.

Maintaining Spanish proficiency is most directly correlated with the language that is modeled by the parents in the household, not one’s own individual preference or what they feel about the language. The home environment and the language used by parents and close relatives have been found to have the greatest effect on this retention.

According to a report out of Harvard University by Van C. Tran, Spanish is spoken at home with parents more so than others in and outside of home. Second-generation Latinos lose the language because of a lack of practice outside the home.

It had also been found that in communities where there is a majority of Spanish-only speaking people push the second generation to use the language, which allows for retention rate.

The same Harvard report stated that “first-generation immigrants learned some English but preferred the use of their mother tongue; the second generation developed a preference for English but continued to use the minority language at home; and the third generation spoke only English,” showcasing the eventual loss of the Spanish language in later generations of Latinos in the US.

If it weren’t for the continuing influx of immigrant peoples across US borders that replenish the Spanish speaking environments for later generations of Latinos, this mother tongue would dissipate that much quicker.

Looking Back to a New Peru

I remember those days when I thought my life as an eight year old was normal. It only took to look back a few years later to see I was living inside a bubble of terrorism in Peru.

I never understood why my mother would put tape on the windows that formed an “x,” blackouts that made us decorate the house with candles, or why our block was a meeting point for security guards with enormous guns.

In 1985 President Alan Garcia campaigned for hope, yet Peru fell into economic turmoil during his presidency.  Garcia left the country with hyperinflation and Peruvian citizens were not able to afford anything since the currency was not worth anything.  This economic crisis led to the emergence of The Shining Path, a terrorist group with a communist ideology that bombed electrical towers to provoke major blackouts in the city to inflict terror in the citizens.

A once overpopulated city with cars and traffic, restaurants, movie theatres and other forms of entertainment became a ghost town.

Peru was becoming a country with no hope and the violence was getting to close to our family for us to stay there, but my roots never left my foundation.

As a young woman living in the US, I became fascinated by Peruvian politics.  The news I read indicated the steady rise of the Peruvian economy.  I began to realize why my windows were taped as a child.  After ten years and roots too deep I decided it was time to go back to Peru and see the changes with my own eyes.

The day I got on the plane, I felt anxious.  I did not want to relive those moments in my childhood, but I had to go back to my roots and to the place that I once called my home.

I arrived at the Jorge Chavez Airport and felt I never left LA.  The only thing that reminded me I was in Lima were the pictures of Macchu Picchu.  The streets of Lima were illuminated and people were walking happily on the streets and there was no evident presence of security guards like before.

The changes didn’t come easily. Yet, without a doubt, it is easy to see the positive change in Peru in contrast to the depressing record of the 1990’s.

The perseverance of the people helped the economy flourish.  Business owners go out to the streets to sell what their land or hands provide.  Lima, the capital of Peru changed to invite tourists from all over the world.  This changed what Lima used to look like into a modern city.  Foreign owned restaurants run the weekend life and modern infrastructure make tourists feel home.  Still, Peruvian traditions still fight to live and attract tourists.

Despite all the positive changes, poverty is still an issue; “ceros” or hills are covered with “barrios jovenes” or slums in which people live inhumanly.  Several feeding stations have opened so children can at least get one meal a day.  Most walls are painted with political campaign slogans that only make the streets more unclean rather than give hope to the poor.

Similar to our ancestors, the Incas, the Spanish were able to take their land but not their culture.  Peru’s economic growth is modernizing the country, yet Peruvians will not permit our culture to disintegrate.  This can be the reason why my roots never let me go and will make me continue to come back to the Land of The Sun.

World Cup Burdens Brazilians

Brazil, the home of the football lovers, is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014. This “miracle”, as many Brazilians call it, hasn’t happened since 1950, and many soccer fans are excited for it. I feel honored that my home country is able to host the most important international sports event. I am excited to go back to Brazil, in 2014, especially to visit my hometown, São Paulo, where the opening of the World Cup will be held.

Morumbi, a soccer stadium, was where the opening game of the World Cup was supposed to be held at and I only lived fifteen minutes away from it. The only memory I have with Morumbi is from when my dad took me to my first soccer match with him when I was eight years old. Unfortunately because of São Paulo’s financial situation, Morumbi is not able to hold the opening game of the World Cup because of the lack of renovation funds. The FIFA federation decided to move the opening game from Morumbi to the “Corinthians New Stadium” where less money is needed to bring the stadium to safe conditions. Guilherme Macedo Silva, says that “the ‘Corinthians new stadium’ renovation is undergoing a lot of construction, and at a very fast pace. It will probably be the most modern stadium, and hopefully the most beautiful one in the country. A lot of other stadiums are going through constructions too, but the pressure on aesthetics remains on the Corinthians stadium.”

While hosting the World Cup is a very exciting thing for Brazilians, not all of them are pleased with the constructions. “The problem right now is that constructions are very superficial, and a lot of public money is going to waste,” says Guilherme.

“Superficial” construction isn’t the only problem. Another unsatisfied Brazilian, Fernando Bicudo, says that Brazil needs to “improve subways, bus and airport systems and also create hotels for tourists…the national image of Brazil is in the hands of the government and I feel like too much money is being taken from citizens in order to accomplish this. We have our own financial worries too.”

Although hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup is a blessing and an honor for Brazil, there is a lot of local and international pressure on the government to ensure that Brazil’s image is not blemished. I feel somewhat of a “free-loader” compared to my childhood friends, since I am not experiencing raised taxes and prices in everything, yet I will still get to enjoy the experience of the World Cup when I go back for the first time since I immigrated in 2004.

Narco Refugees

Illustration by Sam Temblador.

The Vasquez family is on the run. It is not from the endemic poverty, lack of job opportunities, or deficits in government aid, which have historically driven Mexicans across the border. They are running from war.

Mounting violence induced by Mexico’s drug war has displaced 230,000 Mexicans thus far, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

After gaining political asylum and fleeing to the US, Jose Vasquez contacted my father who agreed to shelter him and his family who are my distant relatives.

I had begun to hear pieces of their harrowing story from various family members. They were shaken from their ordeal and understandably in no condition to disclose their story in an interview.

The Mexican drug war hardly crossed my mind before then. It only existed in the snippets of media stories I heard from time to time. Meeting Jose Vasquez and his family last month brought the reality of the drug war much closer to home.

Back in Mexico, the Vasquez family owned a small business and three cars. Jose Vasquez worked as a mechanic, while Maria Vasquez ran the local neighborhood grocery store. The children enjoyed comfortable lives.

They were living the “Mexican Dream,” but in an American graveyard. As the body count rose, their comfortable lives shattered, leaving behind shards of their once happy lives for the wind to scatter across the border.

Jose received a call from police asking him to identify a corpse, that of his brother Martin, which had been discovered at a crime scene. Martin had been involved in the drug trade, fueling speculation that cartel assassins murdered him.

According to the Guardian, the Mexican government has placed the death toll for drug-war related violence at just over 34,612. There seems to be no end in sight.

Martin was survived by his wife who had given birth sometime after his funeral. She was then under the care of Jose’s other brother Joel. Sometime after Martin’s wife had given birth, the assassins arrived and finished the job: murdering Joel, the young wife, and her newborn baby.

Drug trafficking and cartel warfare have shaped the destinies of Mexico’s “Ninis” generation, the wasted youth que “ni estudian, ni trabajan,” who neither study nor work, according to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. From the age of 11 years old, they make their living as sentries, traffickers, and hired guns for the warring cartels, as reported by International Business Times.

The rising tide of violence and corruption has even managed to pollute the dwindling reservoirs of justice and morality within the police force. According to the L.A. Times, 3,200 Mexican federal police officers have been investigated and fired for links to drug cartels.

Distraught over the massacre of his relatives, Jose yelled at the officer, asking him when the violence would end. The officer retorted that it would end when none of his family members were left. Profoundly aware of this rampant corruption, Jose promptly took his family to Tijuana to ask the American Embassy for political asylum.

In 2008, only 13 percent of Mexican political asylum requests were granted according to Paul R. Kan of the Strategic Studies Institute. Fortunately for Jose, the family was granted 6 months of asylum, time which he hopes to use to secure his family’s residency and safety.

After staying in my family’s home for a couple of days, the Vasquez family left for Chicago where they will have their residency hearing, and where they may finally begin rebuilding their lives.

How many images, how many sensations, how many unspoken horrors have resurfaced in their memories since then?

*The names mentioned herein, of the family and its individual members, have been changed in order to respect their privacy and maintain their safety.