Two weeks ago, a man from El Monte was kidnapped from a bar and shot in the head while on vacation in Mexico. He was one of six men taken from that bar and killed that night. His was one of hundreds of murders that year alone in the state of Durango, which has a population of only 1.5 million. Some 10 million people live in Los Angeles County.
Bobby Salcedo’s case broke the news story template though – he was an American, a school board member well-loved in his community, just 33 years old. He was visiting his wife’s family, who hail from Gomez Palacio.
In the newspaper articles, he is described not so much as a murder victim, which would imply some intimacy between him and his killers. He is simply: “a victim of Mexican violence.”
As Americans, we like explanations. Could he have been involved with the drug wars? Were the people he went out with involved in narco-trafficking? In the absence of any evidence that there was any reason he should have died that night, the conclusion was simply: wrong place, wrong time. Those who had to pin blame even had the audacity to blame Bobby Salcedo himself for ever having gone to Durango, or even the country of Mexico.
At his memorial, many asked us to honor his memory by being better people and serving our communities, “so he wouldn’t have died in vain.” We begged the authorities to intervene and give us all justice, just this once.
But I don’t think his real killer will ever be caught, nor do most Mexican-Americans on this side of the border. In Mexico, there is no longer an expectation of justice, other than the divine kind. Even karma seems more reliable than the Mexican justice system.
When I heard about Bobby Salcedo’s murder, I was shocked, saddened, angry, but I believed it. That an innocent man could be shot for no reason in northern Mexico was something I could believe.
I met Bobby Salcedo for the first time about a week before his death at a tamalada in El Monte. I didn’t know him, but I knew people who knew him, and his murder was simultaneously surreal and familiar. Narco violence. Kidnappings. Arbitrary killings. We’ve heard that story. We’ve stopped really hearing it anymore. Bobby Salcedo’s death reminds us that the drug war isn’t something that happened in the 1990s. People live and die by it every day.
Take a moment of silence for the thousands and next time you hear about tragedy in another country, pretend for a second that you have family there.