Obama Isn't Afraid of Mexico

05/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Teresa Puente Teresa Puente teaches at Columbia College Chicago and is the editor of Latina Voices

Mexico is in the news. There are reports of decapitations, shoot outs and that the drug war is pushing the country towards total chaos.

It was enough to make some American college students cancel their Spring Break trips to Cancun. They just had to get their suntans in Palm Springs this year or go to a tanning booth.

But hold on. There's one American who wasn't afraid to visit our southern neighbor. Our own President Barack Obama was recently in Mexico City.

Granted, he had Secret Service protection.

The truth is Americans shouldn't be afraid to go to Mexico.

I was just there for two weeks earlier this year. I didn't see any drug lords, drug deals or danger. My safety was never in question.

I spent time in Puerto Vallarta, the small beach town of Sayulita and in Mexico's second largest city, Guadalajara.

I felt safer walking around that city late at night than I do riding the "L" at night in my hometown of Chicago.

I also was a reverse migrant, an American who moved to Mexico from fall 2002 to summer 2006.

In all that time I was never robbed, drugged or conned. I was almost robbed once in the Mexico City neighborhood called Tepito. But I knew it was a dangerous neighborhood and I went there to research a story. Luckily, I escaped harm.

Of course there are places in Mexico that I would avoid. But there are places in the United States that I would avoid, too.

We have mass shootings in the United States all too often. This month there were 13 people shot at the community center for immigrants in Binghamton, N.Y. Last month a man in Alabama killed 10 people. And there was the man dressed as Santa Claus who killed eight people in Los Angeles in December.

European tourists aren't afraid to visit the United States. We don't see the world media branding our entire country as violent.

It's not. These are isolated incidents.

And the drug violence in Mexico also is isolated to certain areas.

I've even traveled alone in some of the areas where there have been reports of violence including Tijuana, Michoacan, Sinaloa and Guerrero. Even in the so called "dangerous" places I never encountered any problems.

Sure there have been innocent victims of random violence. But this also is the same as regular people who get caught in a drive-by shooting in the United States.

I've found more hospitality in Mexico than just about any country I've visited. I've met perfect strangers who wound up inviting me to their home for dinner. On a bumpy bus ride the woman sitting next to me offered me some anti-nausea medicine. And when lost I've had people walk with me to help me find my destination.

I don't know the Mexico that I've seen lately on the cable networks and in newspapers. And I've travelled to 26 of that country's 31 states and the capital region with more than 22 million people.

I'm not denying the reality of the drug war and the seriousness of the problem for Mexico and the United States. It's fueled by poverty and corruption in Mexico and by greed and vice in the United States. It's a problem that both governments need to solve together.

The American people also have to take responsibility for their appetite for drugs.
And the Mexican people and institutions shouldn't allow themselves to be corrupted by drug money.

Unless you plan to vacation with narcotraffickers, I see no reason why Americans should avoid venturing south of the border.

Teresa Puente is the editor and publisher of Latina Voices and teaches journalism at Columbia College Chicago.