Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Children of Mexico's Drug War: Generation Bang Bang

Monday, February 21, 2011 |


It was past midnight on January 22 and Victor, an 11 year old child from Monterrey, was asleep in his room. He can not remember what or even if he was dreaming, but he does remember, the exact moment he awoke.

"My brother woke me up shouting: 'Shoot out, they're shooting,' said Victor.

The family took shelter in a bathroom while outside, a few blocks from their house in the neighborhood of Cumbres, a Rapid Response Team composed of State, Federal, and military forces exchanged gunfire with unidentified gunmen.

"I was very scared, like I could not move from fear, and when the bullets began to sound louder and closer, my heart began pounding very hard."

Victor, who is in fifth grade, said that he was so scared he wanted to vomit.

Victor and his brother Emiliano also witnessed the the explosion of a grenade that injured three teenagers at a park in front of their home the next morning. They and thousands of children and youngsters in Mexico belong to a generation that is undergoing an unexpected transformation.

These are the children who are suffering the collateral damage of violence. They are witnessing a war that affects each and every one of their families, directly or indirectly.

Those who know the level of violence seen by these children, as they seek cover from gunfire and grenades and watch fearfully as gunmen rip people from their homes and vehicles, would not hesitate to recognize these children and adolescents as the Bang Bang Generation.

The name Bang Bang Generation, was given by Francisco Benavides, a reader of El Norte, as a way to refer to those under the age of 20 who are growing up in a society terrorized by violence.

"The Bang Bang Generation experience and suffer, directly or indirectly, the extreme and bloody violence unleashed in our country by the battle between drug gangs and federal Government armed forces.

It is a violence, that since 2006, has continued to dramatically increase, day by day: the amount and types of drug related events, as well as the types and numbers of victims and causalities", said Benavides.

War Child International, a network of independent organizations working around the world to help children affected by war, warns that children are the first victims of armed conflict, always the most vulnerable and innocent.

The psychological wounds, he says, could mark them for life, damaging the generations that will one day have to rebuild their devastated countries.

For the priest Leonel Narváez Gómez, who in 2006 received the Honorable Mention Prize for Education for Peace, awarded by UNESCO, these generations have a different formation than those that grew in peaceful environments.

Children coming from low income families will be especially susceptible.

"All those families who deny the lure and do not get involved with drug trade, those who maintain strong values, but continue living in poverty, are forced to suffer immensely," says director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Colombia.

"For many of these people, the resentment, rage and social dissatisfaction continues to grow, to a point where it eventually explodes into violence."

Narvaez Gomez says it is dangerous for the new generations to acquire the "narco mentality."

The narco mentality is to think of getting as much as you can as quickly as possible, by any means necessary."

Beatriz Prieto, psychotherapist, says that the most affected, by what is happening, are teenagers.

"They have already, before this started, been permitted to have a social life outside of the family."

The forced adaptations are clear in 13 year old Maria, who like her friend, Alexa, has lost all privileges for parties and get-togethers for fear violence and shootings.

The issue of anger and despair regarding these new rules is a popular conversation between Maria and Alexa, so much so, they wrote a letter questioning why neither the drug traffickers, police and government think about the children.

"They don't even consider us, maybe because they had a peaceful adolescence. Now we want the same, we want safe streets. We want to go out without seeing masked men carrying weapons.

What do we do now? We aren't allowed to go out, the weekend get togethers are over, if Facebook didn't exist, what would we do? It's the only thing we have left, they only way we can communicate.

If you would just put yourself in our shoes, and feel what it is like to be a teenager now. We have little faith that these words will make a complete change, but we do have hope that you will respect our place so we can go through our adolescence, even if it is during an uncontrolled war, with happiness."

Emiliano, Victor's brother, ran to wake his younger brother when he heard the first shots fired on January 22. He feared for his life.

"It bothers me that I am not allowed go out by myself or at night, and we always have to be very attentive, listening for gunshots, watching for kidnappers. We must always be careful.

It's tiring to always be so attentive, I would really like to just relax a little." says the 13 year old.

The fear, says psychotherapist, is causing adults to teach their young children and teens a new sense of protective community.

"While we can not control what happens outside, we must begin to build the common acceptance of not going out, stay home, learn to how to stay safe, and parents need to be more open to having their teens at home and giving them some privacy.

This is a generation that has to learn, at an early age, to protect themselves and create safe, protective environments amongst themselves, says the psychologist, they must create a sense of 'I'll take care, you take care of me', be more intelligent, more cautious, raise the level of consciousness, and understand: we can no longer walk in the street as our parents did. "

When the grandmother of Tadeo, age 5, asked if he played outside at school during recess, the child answered without hesitation:

"No, the teacher didn't let us out because of all the insecurity".

As has happened with children from other countries at war or those who have had to live in situations of extreme violence, the generations that grow up without the security of peace, learn not only to appreciate it, but to look for it.

That is what happened in the 90's to Ksenija Pavlovic, a Serbian girl, now a woman, exiled in the United States. Although she did not experience the bombings and explosions, they were forced to flee, hide and live in homes of other people during clashes between Croats and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

I was only 14 back then, and I did not realize how dangerous the situation was. What I learned is that most people take war and violence as something that happens to someone else in a distant country and another time in history, " she says via email.

"I think people do not appreciate many things until they are taken from them."

Andrés Bolaños Werren, professor of the UDEM Department of Education and Academic Director of Formus, says there may be groups of children who will grow up with extreme fear of violence and think that it is the normal way to act.

"But a good part of society will take this and use it to their advantage, an opportunity to further improve and value peace and security, relations with others and renew family unity."

There are families forming book clubs, sharing game nights, visiting, and reuniting.

The world and history have taught us that the personalities that have transformed the world have come from difficult times, maybe it is human nature, man's will to not just survive, but to overcome, move forward, thrive, and succeed, regardless of the circumstances. Although it will not be easy, there is great potential to become like those from our past." says Bolaños Werren.

Although they may not realize it, Maria, Alexa, Victor, Emiliano, and Tadeo are doing just that. They are taking the hand that has been dealt to them, and moving forward, regardless of circumstance.

Only time will tell the true effects Mexico's drug war will have on the Bang Bang Generation.

Grupo Reforma

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8 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

Damn that picture says a thousand words...poor little kid. So cute too.

Anonymous said...

Aww that little toddler, should not be seeing these things. I have two year old, and seing this picture and thinking about my child makes me feel so sad that children are exposed to so muc bad stuff.

I grew up in matamoros, and I never realized the extent of disregard for others that kids in my socioeconomic level grow up with when they are pretty much left to fend for themselves. I left matamoros at age 11, and by then I was desensetized about "bad" things going on back then, that I didn't think anything of it when while crossing a guy showed up and threatened us with a machete saying we had to pay up before going forth. It was not even nearly as bad as it is now. The worse thing I remember happening, was The Satanicos sacrificing people to the devil for a successful drug trafficking transaction. my brother said the worse they would do when they picked you up (te levantaban) was a beating.

The good thing is that, here in the USA I learned to be conscious of others. They used to be kind to us back in the early '90s, so I was able to be saved from growing up scarred by things I was indirectly affected by while growing up in matamoros.

I guess my point is if there is an early intervention for children who suffer the shocks of the environment they live in, they too can be prevented from being scarred and disensitized forever.

Sorry for the long comment.

ajulio said...

cute lil' kid. very sad picture.

@ ovemex

another good article. watching that photo just tears me up inside. poor lil' kid. he's being forced to grow up too fast. but in mexico, the government does'nt even give a shit about their children.

i just pray to GOD that this lil' guy does'nt become a future narco himself.

Anonymous said...

This is the lost generation of Mexico. Their future certainly isn't bright.

Anonymous said...

Its true. What about the young ones? My cousin recently has gone missing in Valle Hermoso along with 4 of her friends, all girls. They were going home with theyre boyfriends when, according to the bfs, a black suv pulled up and ordered the girls into the vehicle. The boys we're buttex with the gun for trying to stop them, one of the boys was on crutches as well. They took them and we havent seen her since. She's my age, 21. The boys say it was Zetas but no one knows for sure. I grew up in Valle Hermoso. I'm distraught. I know there isn't a chance that well see her alive again...... but we pray everyday for a chance that maybe we will. Its been about 3 weeks. I have to look online at narco news to see if maybe there something were she's been found.... or if any bodies have been found. No, they don't think about the young ones. At all. My condolences to everyone and anyone who's lost someone in this idiotic drug war. God be with us all, for through him, all things are possible. Prima, I miss you.

Anonymous said...

A whole lot more el Ponchis and el Cris in the making. Desensitize them at a young age, feed them drugs, take them from their families and they'll act out your every order. It's happened time and time again in africa. Mexican child soldiers are looking more like a real possibility.

Layla2 said...

"The forced adaptations are clear in 13 year old Maria, who like her friend, Alexa, has lost all privileges for parties and get-togethers for fear violence and shootings.

The issue of anger and despair regarding these new rules is a popular conversation between Maria and Alexa..."

I think the position these kids are being put in--loss of freedom and privileges they once had for a social life--through no fault of their own, is what hurts the teens the most.

This sense of isolation is very hard on those who crave being social with their friends. As a teacher of middle-school aged kids, I know firsthand that social life is more important to them than anything.

One thing that could help them is the parents of school age friends getting to know one another well enough to let them get together for sleep-overs or any kind of social time. If you can't go to the movies, have a movie night at home. Have at least one member of each family present if it makes you feel safer for the kids.

In other words, help them to whatever extent you can, have a social life. It won't be the same as before, but it will give them some measure of freedom.

Maybe the Maria's and Alexa's will feel like their parents did something to "respect our place so we can go through our adolescence, even if it is during an uncontrolled war, with happiness."

Anonymous said...

Anon@February 22, 2011 11:19
I totally agree, and this is despicable and sad.poor children.

Anon@February 22, 2011 10:04- I am sorry to hear about your family member and her friends...I will pray for their safe return. It's not naive to do so, I really hope they're found and the culprits are made visible to the public...

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