‘A desperate cry for an answer’


I want to write about what happened to my family.

On July 24, 2007, my brother, Celso Katzuo Enriquez Nishikawa, was kidnapped. He was 35 years old, father to a 4-year-old girl, and had a family who loved him. He was an honest, hardworking and caring man. He studied electronic engineering in Mexicali and had his own subassembly business. He was a black belt in aikido. He enjoyed motorcycling. He never hurt anyone.

When they told me he had been kidnapped, I felt like the ground was taken out from under my feet. Over the next nine months and seven days, my life, and that of my family, were changed completely.

This is how I remember it:

At first the terror paralyzes you, then it wears you out little by little; you lose your sense of safety, of calm, of normalcy. You keep thinking: Is he hot? Is he cold? Is he hungry? Is he eating? Is he able to bathe? Are insects biting him? Is he tied up? Do they hit him? Do they torture him? Does he have clothes? Is he wearing the same clothes all the time? When are they going to let him go?


And then the phone calls, ordering us to get impossible amounts of money, and pressuring us to keep the kidnapping a secret by threatening to kill my brother.

I still hear how my mom screamed every time the phone rang, see the paleness in my father’s face. The kidnapper, with an obvious norteno accent, insulting, pressuring and ordering us. Sometimes he sounded drunk or high, sometimes he just seemed bored while he would tell us, without any guilt, the atrocities that he was thinking of doing to my brother. We wanted to hear my brother’s voice, to know if he was OK, but when they would put him on, it was only for us to hear how much they hurt him.

Then Nov. 9 came. The payment day. It looked like the kidnappers had accepted the amount of money we were able to obtain, all of our savings, the money from the things we were able to sell, the loans from our family and friends. We followed their instructions meticulously. My father’s godson, whom we love and trust completely, made the payment.

We spent that night awake, thinking that Celso would be back at any moment, but he didn’t come back. The next day the kidnappers told us that the money wasn’t enough; they wanted more, and they put Celso on the phone so we would know he was alive. A few days before Christmas, we made the second payment. They didn’t put Celso on the phone, but they answered a question that only he could answer -- the precious “proof of life.”

We spent the night awake. The next day we waited. My cousins kept guard day and night waiting for Celso to arrive. If the phone rang, if the doorbell rang, we were all on alert. Christmas passed, New Year’s Eve, and no word.

Every one of us cried of fear on our own. I would cry where no one would see me. My parents, holding each other. The house was never left empty in those six weeks. We never missed the news, all versions, every day, all the newspapers. We asked in morgues, hospitals, Red Cross. Every night, at 8 p.m., family and friends would pray for my brother, wherever we were.


After six weeks of silence, the phone calls began again, less frequent than before but less aggressive. They would say things like: “We call your son ‘el Chino.’ He’s really cool”; “He’s very depressed, hurry so you can take him home!” But every time, my dad would ask for proof of life, and they refused.

When they called May 1, they asked for a third payment. They said that it would basically be an exchange. That the guy making the payment should get out of the car and stand in the darkest and most desolate part of the Chapultepec California neighborhood, and when he was there, they would get Celso on the phone.

My dad said he would do whatever they asked, but first he wanted to talk to his son. The phone calls continued, insisting that they wanted the car with the money where they had asked. Every time my dad said, “The car is here, the money is ready. I just want to know that my son is alive, and then my godson will be wherever you want in a minute.”

But every single time they said no. And then the threats began. “Hold your daughter because it’s the last time you will see her”; “If you don’t take the money where I told you, I will kill off your family and I’ll let you live so you’ll suffer.”

We knew what had happened. People who know about these things had explained it to us: “If they don’t give you proof that he’s alive, it means that they have killed the victim.”

That day we had seen two big cars (later we found out it was three) driving around our house. After that night’s last phone call, we turned the lights off and waited.


After a few moments, we heard someone trying to get inside the house. They weren’t able to, and that’s when the shooting began. These people were determined to kill us all; they didn’t even bother to cover their faces. Then they left.

I called the military police. They asked a million questions and even heard the shots. But no one ever came. I called the local police, but it was only after I told them that there was a body outside the house that they came.

A few hours later, we fled Tijuana, escorted by the state police, one suitcase each, leaving our lives, our work, our friends, our things, absolutely everything behind. Now -- what’s left of my family -- we will live like refugees from house to house, with fear of them seeing us or finding us.

And I ask you, kidnappers: Why?

How do you put a price on someone’s life? On my parents’ love for their son?

Everything my family had, we got through hard and honest work. We didn’t inherit it, didn’t steal it, didn’t win the lottery. My father went to Tijuana with nothing; everything he got was earned over 45 years. My mom, a doctor, member of Colegio Medico de Tijuana, has been working for over 25 years out of love for what she does.

How do I explain to you that I wanted to have my brother with me all of my life, that I remember his smile when he was a child and had huge teeth? How will you understand that I will miss the sound of his laugh, his clean stare, how he would complain like my mother does, or get suddenly serious like my dad does? How can I explain that I would’ve done anything in my power to shield my parents from this pain? That you don’t have the right to destroy our lives?

This letter represents the pain, the anguish and the anger that we feel. It’s a desperate cry for an answer, an explanation, a hope, a demanding of our rights. We couldn’t get help from the people who are paid to protect and serve, to guard the safety of citizens. Unfortunately, they protect and help the criminals.


When will there be action? When will the municipal, state and federal institutions be cleaned up in a real and forceful way? When will there be real laws with sentences that punish kidnappers and the bad behavior of corrupt agencies? What will happen to our country with its good people? When will we stop living as cowards and start fighting for a better future for the sons and daughters of Mexico?

I love Mexico and Tijuana. It is the place were I was born, my country. But it’s impossible to live here.

Goodbye, Tijuana.



About this story

Tijuana’s violence was once more myth than reality, but in the last year, the city has moved to the front line of Mexico’s war with itself. Fear hovers where it never did. Doctors have been kidnapped, a battle between drug cartels broke out next to a kindergarten in January, and last month, a shootout left 13 dead.

No one knows exactly how many people have been kidnapped -- dozens have been documented this year, but some groups estimate that at least half go unreported to authorities. The Mexican government has sent in federal and military police to crack down on the criminal gangs, but so far the violence has not abated.

On May 8, the Tijuana newspaper Frontera published a longer version of this letter from Aiko Enriquez Nishikawa, the sister of a 35-year-old engineer who was taken away and never returned. Her letter voices what so many in Tijuana grapple with: How do you continue loving a city that hurts you? More than a family memorial, the letter is an angry plea for change, a prayer for a city on the brink.


-- Josh Kun


Kun, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, translated the letter from Spanish.