Sunday, August 15, 2010


One of the most pervasive perceptions of Mexico, and Mexico City in particular, is that it is a chronically unsafe place. This is partially the legacy of an especially sensational mid-decade wave of kidnappings-for-ransom and robberies, combined with the city's persistent reputation for inevitable petty crime. In the past several years, the capital has remained largely sheltered from the rampant drug-trafficking-related violence elsewhere in the country. Pockets of immense poverty located next to relative wealth, the city's tremendous anonymity, and the strength of underworld networks in peripheral areas mean that Mexico City will never be totally secure, yet neither is it as viciously unsafe as often portrayed. Many of the city's neighborhoods are no more dangerous than comparable cities in the U.S., though the fear - if not the reality - of crime is far more insistent here.

As I walked home from the National Archive last Thursday, two rail-thin young men cornered me against a parked car and rather aggressively extended their hands. "Give us a peso," they said. When I protested that I had none, they persisted, playing on fears of urban insecurity: "look, g├╝ero, we're asking, because it's better than taking your belongings."

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