It is an annual ritual, a pilgrimage that Mexicans living in the United States make to visit hometowns and families for the holidays.
But this year, the terrifying drug war violence sweeping parts of Mexico is taking its toll.
The Mexican government is warning travelers driving into Mexico for the holiday season — many from Southern California — to move in convoys and only during daylight hours.
These convoys can be “escorted or monitored” if travelers check in with federal agents upon crossing the border, the government said. The Mexican army is also offering protection.
The recommendation signals an acknowledgement that hold-ups and violence on Mexico’s roads attributed to drug-trafficking gangs could affect the holiday travel crush.
“When our own government says it’s not safe to travel in our own country, it really makes you feel sad,” Luis Garcia, head of one of the numerous clubs that Mexicans belong to in the Los Angeles area, said in a telephone interview from Lynwood.
Garcia said many of the nearly 2,300 members of his Federacion Veracruzana, an association of people originally from the coastal state of Veracruz, have decided to cancel their trips this year. The topic has been a top concern among Mexican expat clubs, and “people are really worried,” he said.
Too often, Garcia said, motorists come upon roadblocks where people disguised as police demand money or the travelers’ possessions. And waiting to form convoys can be time-consuming.
Mexicans living in the U.S., legally or illegally, often return to their hometowns for extended breaks from late November through early January.
The Interior Ministry made its travel recommendations this week in an announcement timed to coincide with the launch of its Compatriot Program. The multi-agency effort is designed to ease returning Mexicans back into their home regions by reminding them of rules and services.
“Compatriots can call free of charge the number 060, from any phone inside Mexican territory, to ask for information, report crimes or seek help,” the ministry said in its statement.
Cash remittances from the estimated 12 million Mexican-born adults living in the United States are Mexico’s second-largest source of foreign income, after oil exports.
Mexican state governments have predicted that travel home this holiday season may be down as much as 50%.
Hernandez is a news assistant in The Times’ Mexico City Bureau. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report.