Robert Andrew Powell went to live in Juarez, Mexico as a writer and journalist some of the initial interest and attraction to the city was its extreme violence. There were around 10 murders per day in the city of Juarez at the time Powell went to move their between 2009-2010. However, the large-scale cartel warfare and rampant corruption of the city are not the primary focus of Powell’s book, they instead serve merely as the backdrop. The national football/soccer team of the Indio’s are a source of great interest to him.
Some of the key themes of the book are identity – explored through Marco, a player for the Indios born the US but is of Mexican decent. How sports both distracts from the horrors of daily violence and inspires a community around a project that strives for good and not destructive aims. The story of the avid fans known at the beginning of the book as El Kartel who witness every up and down (it is mostly downs) of the club as it struggles to remain in the top tier of the Mexican Primera – where relegation means losing not only key funding but also the eye of the media whose only other reason for covering News on Juarez is down to the cartel and the murders. The themes of religion and geopolitics and of course linked by the tumultuous season of football by the Indios.
The very presence of the Indios provides professional career opportunities – and economic growth and generates income for families in Juarez. The day the Indios were promoted in 2009 thousands of residents of Juarez flooded the streets in jubilation at the result, which was itself defying cartel orders to stay inside as there was at that very moment a drug war between rival kingpins. In the year of 2008 there were over 1,600 murders in Jaurez alone. The drug war between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartel erupted in around 2007 when the city was given its nickname as the “murder city of the world”.
Unfortunately, the team was hardly draped in glory during their first season in the Primera; they suffered a drought of wins – racking up a string of 29 consecutive campaign defeats, in the year of 2010. This bad run officially made them officially the worst team in the history of the division. The next year the team was officially dissolved and Juarez was left without a football team for over a year. Nevertheless a new team was bore out of the ashes of the Indios the UACJ, which won the Liguilla de Copa Clausura for the first time in 2014.
Due to such high corruption levels and also such a power cartel presence Powel said that murder was “effectively legal” as the police are either directly bribed or paid to not investigate or be stained in certain places or simply the fear the consequence of actually arresting those responsible. The way Powell writes certainly captures the fear and the level of horror we as the readers feel when reading his ghastly accounts. It is truly staggering what people will tolerate, or rather have the ability to tolerate. From a western perspective myself, and a western European one at that, which is far less used to the idea of gun violence being a realistic possibility, unfortunately unlike most Americans, it is very hard to understand why people stay in Juarez. Perhaps this is my brain speaking from a privileged position where I instinctively assume that people have the stability and the ability to simply move. To find somewhere, anywhere else to live and find a new job somewhere else.
That’s what I constantly thought when I was reading, “I just couldn’t tolerate it” I thought to myself as Powell recounts being at a bar where days later there was a mass shooting or running a 10k race where literally one day ago the cartel had dressed a dead body up as a police man and planted a car bomb next to him to kill police and first responders. It is amazing how people can become so desensitized to violence and find ways to justify it to themselves in order to keep on living. Throughout the book as Powell speaks to, and gets to know more citizens of Jaurez, inhabitants always say that, Jaurez isn’t that bad, as long as you don’t hang around the wrong people you will be fine. The idea that people have to go to work and then shut themselves away in their homes doesn’t sound to me like much of a live. Hence why the Indios provide so much cathartic relief. Humans need some way to decompress or something else to direct their attention to opposed to the bare essentials of life. That is what the team means to a city which has to battle with the reputation of one of the most dangerous cities on earth.
The team represents more than just a football team it’s a civic vitamin to the city. A metaphorical canary in the tunnel. If there is the ability for the team to survive the city itself has hope for a better, brighter less violent future.