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Mexican Journalist Hopes His Reporting Can 'Bridge The Gap'


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

As we continue our focus on international news this hour, we go to Mexico. We have often turned to Alfredo Corchado to keep us up-to-date on our southern neighbor. He's lived and worked in Mexico for some 20 years now. He is the bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News and author of the memoir Midnight in Mexico. Recently though, he's been spending time at the Guatemala-Mexico border following the journey of would-be immigrants. He joins us now from Mexico.

Welcome back, thank you so much for joining us.

ALFREDO CORCHADO: Pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: Tell us about the recent trip that you took. What led you to it and what did you find there?

CORCHADO: Well, I've been traveling for the last five days from the Guatemala-Mexico border, following the journey of the train known as The Beast. And this is the train that many of the poorest Central Americans use to come across the Mexican landscape atop the train - to cling - I mean, a harrowing, harrowing trip for people. And obviously, these days it's even more dangerous because you have so many children. Mexico had said that they were going to double up its efforts to - to stop people from getting on the train. And at least in the places I went to, it's working. I mean, there were not trains leaving which meant more of these migrant shelters are packed. People are stuck. So less people are getting to the border - to the Texas border. The real pressure is now on the Mexican-Guatemalan border and throughout these communities along the railroad.

MARTIN: You know, this is an enormous story, I think, on both sides of the border right now. But what are some of the other big stories that you've covered over the years?

CORCHADO: You know, I came to Mexico 20 years ago thinking I wanted to cover the democratic opening of the country. And I had covered this - I mean, I started covering this back in the 1980s when states like Chihuahua were out there trying to claim the homeland. They were trying to make democracy a reality. The first part of my career was covering those stories and suddenly obviously, the more Mexico leaked its opening, the more there was a power vacuum. And then the drug cartels came in and kind of took over big regions of the country. So I think for the last 10 years the big story for me has been covering the drug cartels, not as a police story, not as a Narco story, but as a - to kind of showcase how communities were not ready for this opening of democracy. And suddenly you have the mayor's office, you have police departments, you have entire (unintelligible) that fell to organized crime. And the result you know, more than 100,000 people either killed or disappearing over seven years.

MARTIN: I'm not sure people understand how dangerous it can be to be a journalist in Mexico. Why do you stay at it?

CORCHADO: First of all, Mexico is one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism. More than 70 of my colleagues have been killed - the total number when you put in the disappearance, really is probably over 100. I want to believe even though I'm Mexican-born; I was born in Mexico - I left when I was at the age of six - as a kid I always wanted to come back to Mexico. I mean, I always felt that my life had been interrupted and I wanted to come back and connect with my culture, connect with my language. But I think, you know, my biggest advantage is that I came back as an American citizen. I think having that U.S. passport has meant having, perhaps, the freedom that my colleagues in Mexico don't have. Being able to have protection, being able to call my editor and say, listen, things are kind of crazy; I need to get back to the U.S.

Having that flexibility, having those options, I think have kept me rather safe even though I did receive some threats, and one of them actually forced me out of the country back in 2008. It's something that just kind of sticks with you. But it's also, it's this whole childhood dream of one day coming back, being able to tell those stories, and also being able to sort of bridge the gap between the American audience and the Mexicans. You know, serve as a bridge between two countries, if you will.

MARTIN: Is there a story that you really hope will stick with people, particularly I would have to say, in your American audience?

CORCHADO: I think the story that will always stick with me, and a story that moved me so much was the birthday massacre. This is January 2010, when young kids, teens, were celebrating a birthday, many of them athletes. Their parents had said, listen, celebrate right across the street so we can keep an eye on you. And drug cartel hitmen with the wrong information, they got the wrong party, come in and they shoot the place - I mean they hit 30 people, 15 of them were teens. Many of them were killed, I mean, 15 were killed. Three or four of them were members of a football team. And that story really marked me because I think it was at a time when I had decided I wanted to cover something else. I wanted to maybe cover arts in Dallas or cover the Dallas Cowboys; but just get out of this story. I mean, think it was - it was overtaking me. And that was the saddest story I'd ever covered.

I mean, I always think of that day when it was cloudy, it was about to rain. I kept thinking, oh, my god, I hope it rains. I hope it rains - because you couldn't hold back the tears. And then the rain started and I looked around and I think we - all my colleagues - I think we all started crying because of the magnitude of the story. But it was in those very sad, hopeless moment that I began to see also the best of Mexicans. I began to see how Mexicans decided, we can maybe leave for the United States, maybe seek political asylum. But we're staying, and we're staying to try to build community - maybe not change the entire city of (unintelligible) Juarez, but at least change their neighborhoods. And any time I have doubts about Mexico, you know, where Mexico is going I still to this day, drop by in that neighborhood and I talk to neighbors and I - it just kind of, it reminds you why you're journalist. And it reminds you why - you know, of the importance of telling stories. Certainly for me it's become my own, I guess crossing, or my own turning point.

MARTIN: Alfredo Corchado is Mexico bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. He's author of the memoir "Midnight In Mexico." We reached him at his office there.

Alfredo Corchado, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you so much for your contributions to the program throughout. We hope you'll stay in touch.

CORCHADO: Michel, I have loved talking to you and I look forward to staying in touch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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