Mazatlan is a coastal city on the Mexican mainland. In the afternoon, where they aren't stopped by high rises or cancelled by ever expanding parking lots and pavement, sea breezes cool the city. At least in the winter. If it gets too hot, however, you can always hail one of the city's famous "pulmonias," "pneumonia cars," so called because they are doorless and windowless converted, canopied VW bugs. Most are tricked out with superb sound systems and all sorts of detailing on the dash and steering wheel. You can bomb through town, the wind in your hair, listening to the whatever music most pleases your driver, swerving around corners, hanging on so that you (and your luggage) aren't tossed from the side.
Here we drive along a mural painted by school children, past a tortilla factory and through several neighbourhoods enroute to the Tufesa bus station. Our driver, Mario, is a return economic exile from the US. He worked for many years in California, but now all of the jobs have dried up, so he's back, cobbling together a living as he can, like everyone else clambering into the middle class in Mexico. It's a heroic but not hopeless effort, unhelped by US and Canadian "security" measures, which figure Mexico and Mexicans as unreliable and dangerous.
But let's mention this: assault rifles are not legally bought and sold in Mexico, and the personal ownership and use of firearms is more highly regulated and more generally frowned upon than it is just north of the Rio Grande. Indeed, many Mexicans complain that lax US gun regulation has led to a flood of weapons across the border from the US into Mexico. Recently, activists in the infamous Ciudad Juarez (called "Murder City" by reporter Chuck Bowden) have posted a giant billboard, built of letters made from crushed firearms that reads "NO MORE WEAPONS!" According to reporter Claire Shaeffer-Duffy, a study released in March 2013 by the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego and the Brazil-based Igarapé Institute "estimates that upward to a quarter million weapons purchased in the U.S. are smuggled into Mexico annually."
Of course, the profitable trade in illegal weapons isn't the only thing contributing to violence in Mexico: poverty, corruption, extortion, the distortions created by the US appetite for and war on drugs, not to mention the ongoing failures of a largely inoperative investigative and legal system each contribute to the overall picture.
Still, it wasn't lost on us that the latest US mass killing, a rampage in Santa Barbara, happened during the twenty hours we were on the bus from Mazatlan to Phoenix. In fact, according to salon.com, there's a mass shooting in the US every five days, and by one count, also in the US, there were 11, 419 gun deaths in 2013. Is Mexico significantly more dangerous than the US? Really?
Let's be clear, and keep our eyes open. Mexico is certainly not without serious problems--the ever larger scope of the drug cartels and the lack of a working justice system are particularly notable--but to pretend that it's somehow especially rough, while the US isn't, or that we "other" North Americans aren't co-contributors to "Mexican violence" is just a big old lie.
You can also read my account of Chuck Bowden's terribly sad and sobering Murder City here: http://visiblepoetry.blogspot.ca/2011/05/reading-lists-of-dead-poetry-and-social.html