To travel or not to travel: Mexico


Tourist hotspot or danger zone?

On March 16 an e-mail from the Dean of Students, Robert J. Naples, appeared in my inbox. The e-mail issued a warning about traveling to Mexico due to the recent drug-related violence in the border cities such as Tijuana, Nogales, and Ciudad Juarez. The Dean’s warning appeared to be more than a mere suggestion – it implicitly discouraged students from traveling to Mexico. I knew the university wanted to ensure that students had enough information about what was happening south of the border before embarking on any Mexican adventures, however, the e-mail relied on fear-mongering to exacerbate our feelings of suspicion and doubt regarding the safety of Mexico.

The media coverage of Mexico tends to focus solely on the high crime rates and sensationalized news, while the beauty of Mexico falls to the wayside. The statistical crime rates and televised news should be taken into consideration when planning a vacation, but they must not deter us from visiting a beautiful country that has much more to offer than what the media depicts.

The constant coverage of heinous crimes against tourists, reportedly the result of drug cartels, intensifies the trepidation of traveling to Mexico. The U.S. Department of State reports that in Mexico, “kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues to occur at alarming rates.  So-called express kidnappings, i.e., attempts to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, have occurred in almost all of Mexico’s large cities and appear to target not only the wealthy but also the middle class.” Interestingly, with 64 murders per 100,000 people, New Orleans holds the title of the most murderous city in the United States, according to the FBI.

With all this information, should one reconsider his/her travel itinerary? After graduation I’m planning to visit Guadalajara for the first time. As a future Mexican tourist, I don’t want to feel like a potential target for an array of crimes; I want to enjoy what Guadalajara has to offer. Instead of fearing the risk of kidnapping, I want to appreciate Guadalajara’s Metropolitan Cathedral, instead of worrying about the drug cartels I want to enjoy Guadalajara’s numerous public parks and squares, such as the Rotonda de los hombres Ilustres (Rotunda of Illustrious Men), and instead of spending yet another summer in L.A., I want to visit the Cabañas Cultural Institute which features several works by the renowned Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco. These are only a few of the perks Mexico has to offer. Unfortunately, they become overshadowed by the fear-mongering of the media and our own lack of understanding of what lies beyond the crime statistics.

The Value of Education: Crisis in the Budget

José races down the courtyard between Royce Hall and Powell Library as he hurries to meet me. As he runs, all he can think is that in two days he will be taking his first midterm at UCLA. The quarter has been bittersweet for the AB 540 freshman. Although attending his dream school, he finds himself in a world of financial insecurity.

Like thousands across California, he knows that the UC Regents meeting on Nov. 18-19 will impact his future. If the Regents raise fees yet again, this time by 32%, his dream of becoming a doctor will prove more difficult.

Both UC President Mark Yudof and Chancellor Block stated that the decline in state funds is a major factor in fee increases. “The State has become an unreliable partner through chronic underinvestment,” said Yudof in an October letter to students and parents.

José grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. “My mom worked three jobs and still wasn’t making enough…she came to the U.S. to work.” Economic problems pushed José’s family to move often. To escape gang violence in his low-income neighborhood, José worked any job he could and opted to pursue a higher education. “I always tried to make the best of it and seek the resources. Whatever I could do,” José said.

Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) president, Cinthia Flores, is committed to raising awareness about the issue. “We have been organizing an educational campaign in partnership with the External Vice President’s office,” she said in an interview with La Gente. Partnering with Block, USAC reinstated Night Powell, a 24-hour library service.

2009 has been a year of unemployment in which Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama gave billions to financial goliaths such as AIG instead of the ailing American people. California’s Governator chose to close the state’s massive budget deficit by slashing $637 million from education, according to Yudof.

Californians have come to terms with the grim economic reality. But let us reflect for a moment; a democratic society should provide its members quality education as an unalienable right rather than a privilege.

What is democracy, but an institution founded “for the people and by the people”? The future of any democratic society depends on the quality of education by which individuals can develop an appreciation of the democratic principles that make America so great and actively engage with the promises of democracy. While we question how the proposed fee increases and cuts in services affect UCLA’s 34,000 students, we must question the California’s values as it continues to undermine and marginalize quality over costs.

José doesn’t have the luxury of contemplating the principles of democracy. He has to take his midterm while crunching numbers to figure out how he can afford another quarter. “Honestly this is all new to me, I am the first in my family to go to college. It’s a privilege, but I am sometimes frightened because I don’t know exactly what to do, having that feeling of constant uncertainty and financial insecurity,” José said.

Nortec Collective: Revitalizing Musical Art

By Violeta Lerma

Since La Gente newsmagazine printed a review of Nortec Collective’s “Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3” in spring of 2006, the group has entered into new territory receiving the 2009 Grammy nominations for Best Alternative Album and Best Recording Package. The five-member group has since become four and has has opted to split their act into smaller collaborations instead of performing together. Here is a quick recap.

Nortec, the musical style, blends electronic beats with the rhythms of Mexican norteño, banda, and tambora music. The name is a combination of norte, referring to northern Mexico (not norteño, as commonly thought) and techno. Nortec music exploded onto the Tijuana underground music scene in 1999 after Ramón Amezcua, under the stage name Bostich, digitally processed a sampler of drum, tuba, and accordion recordings to produce the dance hit “Polris.”

Fellow music producers creating more tracks that Bostich, Fussible (Pepe Mogt) and producer Melo Ruiz compiled into “The Nor-tec Sampler.” Thus Nortec Collective was born. However, there is more to Nortec Collective than innovative music; at its heart is the spirit of collaboration. “With the Collective, we invited a bunch musicians and artists to collaborate,” Mogt said in an interview with “We created Nortec to be part of an aesthetic, not only the music, but graphic design, as well.”

Colectivo Visual (Visual Collective), a group of designers and video performances artists, take care of the visuals of Nortec’s live shows as a compliment to the music. The resulting aesthetic is an amalgamation of graphic design, animation, short films, creative lighting and of course, Nortec music.

Undoubtedly, Nortec Collective’s productions require elaborate technology. “Nortec has always been creating music based on the technologies available,” Bostich said in an interview with La Gente. They use technology such as the Tenori-on, a handheld interface that programs musical notes into LED switches,a fruitful decision, for in 2008, they received yet another Grammy nomination for the album “Tijuana Sound Machine by Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich and Fussible” (Nacional Records).

While electronic beats are standard for each song, Nortec Collective “essentially will always be an instrumental Norteño-Electronic collaboration, ” Bostich said to La Gente. “If we were to mix in Mariachi, for example, our music would seem fake. Although our music will always be electronic, we will continue to use live instruments to bring about the Tijuana soundtrack that has been our lives.”

Previously printed Winter 2009