The Risks of Saturday Night Introductions

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2 mins read

By Laura Andrea de Alba

It’s around eight o’clock in the evening. I’m at a student party and as people arrive at the dorm, the time for small talk and introductions begins. The “Where are you from?” question comes up eventually, not long after I pronounce a word in English or reveal a hint of an accent. “I’m from Mexico”, is the answer. I think most non-Europeans who have been in a similar situation can relate to the slight anxiety and expectations that follow their answer. “Oh! I’ve watched Narcos!” is the enthusiastic answer. I always have a hard time letting out a polite smile, and try to steer the conversation in a different direction as quickly as possible.

No, I haven’t watched Narcos, and I don’t need to. When I was eleven, my cousin from Monterrey, Mexico’s third largest city, told me with a casual tone that people in his neighbourhood tweeted the locations of shootings so others could avoid them. Before I turned fifteen, I overheard my mother more than once talking about treating stray bullet wounds on two or three-year-olds in her shifts at the hospital. The first time you hear them is shocking and outrageous; the second one is unsettling; the third one is simply sad, but it is nothing new. There is nothing you can do, so you lower your head, or look around and start talking about something else, jumping to the next topic in the breakfast agenda.

Photography: Laura Andrea de Alba

All Mexicans grow up surrounded by violent headlines in the media. They read about how the war on drugs has given us the most dangerous cities in the world, turned journalism and activism into the deadliest professions in Latin America, and how cartel-linked corruption weakens governance not just in Mexico but in most Latin American countries. Maybe this is why the romanticisation of the drug cartel lifestyle and the hero-like representations of capos make me uneasy, to say the least.

The hardest thing, though, is that drug usage has many different aspects to it, and there is an overrepresentation of minorities and marginalised groups who are criminalised and further marginalised due to drug-related offences also in Western countries. Paradoxically, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has seen an increase in the consumption of party drugs in Europe, and terms like “socially integrated drug use” are being coined. It is increasingly common to listen to stand-up comedians, TV shows, and peers casually talk about drugs. Academics like Measham in the UK have been talking about normalisation theory since the early 2000s. They found that people think that drug users harm no one but themselves, and while this might be true in a world where drug trade is legal, I wonder why the popular discourse has failed or refused to connect the dots and make the addition of two plus two equals four. Where along the way did the human rights dimension in the sourcing of illegal party drugs get lost?

While it’s very easy, and not entirely mistaken, to direct anger towards a specific population of reactionary and privileged youth who see nothing wrong with their occasional substance usage, I believe the true responsibility lies, as usual, with the governments of nations with imperialist agendas. They have chosen a security discourse around drug dealing to justify postcolonial and interventionist practices in the same way they have been using the war on terror. 

The clearest example is the ‘War on Drugs’ in Colombia since the 1970s, when President Nixon declared the use of drugs as a public enemy and sent military troops, which complexified internal issues, and increased violence levels in the country. More recently, the declaration of Mexican cartels as a ‘terrorist threat’ gives the United States troops permission to cross their southern border whenever they deem necessary. Because with harsher policies and increased control of the population to allegedly keep drug cartels in check, there is barely any space left in the debate for anything else, not even human rights.

By: Laura Andrea de Alba
Photographies provided by the author

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