Meet Lilly. Born Berenice Liliana Cavazos Modotti, most of her friends call her Lilly. I have only known her for a couple months (we have a mutual acquaintance), but already I can tell that we have much in common. hope we can become friends.
Lilly has an interesting background that I wanted to share with you, Loyal Reader. Web Editor for Milenio, one of Mexico’s leading daily newspapers, she likes her job and her life in Mexico City. It is a steady gig and a predictable life.
But it wasn’t always like that. In coming to work for Milenio – Mexico DF, Lilly left behind a career in Monterrey that was arguably more glamorous, and definitely more dangerous.
After hearing the Cliff’s Notes version of her background, I decided to ask Lilly if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed for GringoPotpourri. I don’t always know where to take this blog, directionally-speaking, but I want to add a bit more substance to the site’s archive of posts besides the various photo guessing contests, destination reviews, etc. Turns out, Lilly was game for being interviewed.
We met at a Starbucks in the Centro Histórico. It was late in the afternoon on a Sunday. The Centro Histórico can be a mob scene on weekends, as most of its myriad museums feature free admission every Sunday. That said, a hard rain sent most people packing, and of those that remained, many made a beeline for the nearest coffee shop. Lilly and I were lucky to get a seat.
Hot beverages were on me – a venti vanilla latte for her and a hot cocoa for me (I had already had three coffees that day). We sat upstairs and I took notes. For two people with different native languages, we got on quite well and I filled an entire notebook with barely-legible quotes and background info. Below are highlights – in no particular order – from our conversation.
GRINGO: I understand you work for Milenio, here in DF. What is your job there?
LILLY: Web Editor. I don’t gather the news, I simply report it [online].
G: I thought you were a journalist in the traditional sense. Isn’t that what you did up north?
L: Yes, I was a journalist for the local Milenio TV affiliate. I was assigned to the nota rota [trans: dreadnought], the crime reporting division, mostly covering murders in Nuevo León State.
G: Before we talk about how that led to your decision to move, tell me a bit more about yourself. Where did you grow up, go to school, that sort of stuff.
L: I grew up in Nuevo León and spent most of my life in Monterrey, the capital. I studied Psychology in university.
G: Where was that?
L: Universidad Regiomontana, in Monterrey.
G: How did you break into journalism then? Seems a far cry from psychology.
L: I eventually realized that I actually liked sociology more than psychology, even though it was not what I studied. Journalism entered my life between high school and university, when I studied TV Production for awhile.
G: Let’s get down to it. When we first met, you told me you had to leave Monterrey because as a journalist whose job duties often included the coverage of murders related to the drug war, you were receiving threats. Is that correct?
L: More or less. I didn’t receive threats personally, but I knew people who were killed and decided it was time to resign.
G: When was this?
L: In July 2011. I decided to move to the DF, where I had a small circle of friends and figured I could get a new job. It was for adventure, for work, and for security.
G: So even though you were never a victim of violence personally, you felt it was time to move?
L: Exactly. Nothing bad ever happened to me, but I feared it was going to happen. I’m very paranoid.
G: If it’s okay, I’d like to know more about the people you knew who were killed. How did they die? <pause> Are you comfortable talking about this?
L: It’s okay. I knew a journalist from Torreon [in Coahuila State, west of Nuevo León] who was shot and killed in his own house, in front of his wife and children. Also, a colleague of mine from Monterrey has been missing – along with his cameraman – since 2007, when the security situation really changed for the worse. I’m sure they’re dead.
G: Jesus. Was there a single, particular incident that prompted you to move?
L: This happened last year: Two journalists leave a murder scene and are on their way to the newspaper offices. They apparently are followed, and as they stop for lunch they are abducted at gunpoint. Their abductors have automatic weapons. They are beaten up and released, one day later.
G: I’m glad they weren’t killed. Why do you, personally, believe journalists are being targeted? Aren’t they just doing their job?
L: I believe that bad people abduct journalists to put pressure on the government to back off.
G: What is the body count up to? I have heard numbers in the range of 60,000.
L: Higher than that. Over 60,000, and that list doesn’t count the missing people; only the murders.
G: Why so many? Surely those aren’t just cops and cartel members getting killed?
L: It’s not. There are many innocent victims. People caught in the crossfire or just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
G: What do you mean, “In the wrong place at the wrong time?”
L: Let me give you an example. Look up “Otilio Cantú.” That’s the name of both the victim and the case. He was a normal man who worked as a delivery driver. He was getting into his car at five in the morning. The military confused him for a suspect and shot him more than 20 times. Why didn’t they just shoot the tires of his car? He was just a citizen!
Lilly is getting emotional, so we pause for a moment. I ask her if she wants to stop, but she insists on continuing.
G: Do you have any personal opinions about the drug war?
L: It’s a stupid war, because the people suffer mucho. They say, “The ways justify the means.” But that’s not true. You can never justify the loss of even a single life.
G: I agree. But now that Mexico has a new president [Enrique Peña Nieto], do you think things will get better?
L: Honestly, the problem is worse now than in 2006 when this first began. The cartels are angrier at the government.
G: Do you think Peña Nieto will continue Calderón’s drug war?
L: It’s just six month since his term began, so it’s un poco tiempo [trans: a bit early] to form an opinion.
G: Let’s get back to your story. It seems you traded one big city for another – Monterrey for DF. Do you feel safer now, so far from the action?
L: Yes. It’s not healthy to be afraid all the time. Since moving here, I feel better.
G: Safer, or just better?
L: Both. In 2006 and up to 2010, I was in the eye of the hurricane. I was in the center. I saw dead bodies. Today, it’s different. I am more tranquila.
G: When we first met, you said that you are “making the best” of living here, but that you miss Monterrey. Why is that?
L: I think we call it “melancholy syndrome.” We have a word for people from Monterrey. They are a proud people, and we call them “regia.” I feel a strong identity to Monterrey because I miss it. I miss the harsh accent. I don’t want to change my accent because I like it, and I feel more regia now than at other times.
G: Besides the accent, how do the two cities differ?
L: Monterrey and DF are very different. Here, in the DF, I walk more. I have more time for myself. I read, write, and paint.
G: I have never heard anyone say they felt less busy while living in Mexico City than in whichever city they came from originally.
L: My life in Monterrey was very fast-paced. All my friends say that here in the DF, people live “more fast.” But for me, that’s not true.
G: Why not?
L: Because I’m no longer running around all the time, chasing stories. Today, I simply post stories that were chased by other people. I’m not covering so many miles to report the news.
G: So what’s next for you? Do you think you’ll stay in Mexico City for awhile, or at least until things become safer up north?
L: I want to stay in DF a couple years’ more, but for other reasons. School, my boyfriend, friends. In six months I hope to take the exam that will give me my journalistic title. Mi Licenciatura en Periodismo.
G: And after that? Will you become a reporter once again?
L: No se [trans: don’t know]. I hope to study for a Master’s degree in Sociology.
G: Down here or back in Nuevo León?
L: I don’t know. I’m very happy here, but I miss Monterrey. This is just a pause in my life.