Latinx Files: Killing of Americans will reverberate in border debate

A white mini van and barb wire
Four U.S. citizens were kidnapped by gunmen in Matamoros, Mexico.
(Diana Ramirez Santacruz / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

“Poor Mexico, so far from God, and so close to the United States!”

That quote, coined by José Nemesio García Naranjo but made famous by Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz*, was the best my brain could come up with when trying to make sense of the kidnapping of four Americans by cartel members in the border city of Matamoros last week.

The group of friends crossed into Mexico from Brownsville, Texas, on Friday reportedly for a tummy tuck procedure, but were immediately ambushed and fired upon by unknown gunmen. They were then thrown into the back of a pickup truck and taken away.

On Tuesday, Mexican authorities said that two of the four Americans had been found dead. The other two had been rescued and were transported back into Brownsville, where they received medical attention.


From all the accounts I’ve read, one possible scenario involves a case of mistaken identity gone terribly wrong. As my colleagues Kate Linthicum and Patrick J. McDonnell reported, “one theory is that the assailants may have opened fire after mistaking [their] van for a vehicle transporting rival gangsters.”

The tragedy sparked an international incident — the FBI has opened an investigation and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised swift justice.

“We are very sorry that this happened in our country and we send our condolences to the families of the victims,” he said of the political embarrassment.

That the authorities quickly found the Americans was not lost on some Mexicans.

“What has to happen so that the cases of kidnapping and disappearance in Mexico are investigated at the same speed with which they dealt with the case of the four Americans taken in Matamoros?” Pascal Beltrán del Rio, editorial director of Excelsior newspaper, tweeted in Spanish on Tuesday.

It’s a fair question to ask in a country where more than 110,000 people have disappeared. If I were a Mexican citizen, I’d have a difficult time not feeling like the lives of Americans are more important than mine in my own country. After all, not much has been said about the Mexican woman killed in the crossfire.

Which brings me to the quote at the top. The phrase is meant to acknowledge the terse relationship that has existed between the two countries since the Mexican-American War of 1848 — the real war of northern aggression. It’s also a tacit recognition that whenever things go south, it’s Mexico that’s meant to bear the brunt of it.

There are no real winners here except for those politicians who have already used this tragedy as an opportunity to bang the drums of war. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) have already made it clear that they want to channel their inner James K. Polk and strike at the cartels inside Mexico. These calls for a military operation are ludicrous, of course, but something tells me they’ll parlay these theatrics into a push for further militarization of our southern border.


It is, after all, election season.

*Surely Díaz uttered this phrase in irony given how he opened up the country to American robber barons during his dictatorship.

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Meet our Latinx staff: Diana Ramirez Santacruz

The Los Angeles Times employs dozens of Latinx journalists. One of the goals of this newsletter is for you to meet them all. This week, we’d like you to meet Diana Ramirez Santacruz, who recently joined The Times as art director for the Latino Initiatives team (I’ll have more on this later, I promise). Here is Diana in her own words.

My parents love to reminisce about how, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was always “una pintadora” — a lady painter. I was 5 years old and already making career choices. How very first generation Latina of me.

My father in particular loves to share this story with loved ones, and his eyes light up with pride every time he does. It’s possible that my father’s own artistic talent had a direct influence on my young career aspirations, as he is a super-talented tattoo artist from CDMX.

Tattooing and graphic design are similar in that they both involve creating permanent images that people will regret in 20 years. Just kidding! But in all seriousness, both require a strong sense of artistry, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate a message through visuals.


I’m excited to be joining The Times in a new journey. I know firsthand the challenges that come with breaking into the industry and getting your work seen by the right people. That’s why I’m motivated and excited to be using this platform to give other Latino designers, illustrators and artists the opportunity to put themselves on the map.

My 213 babies, hi! Hello!

Things we read this week that we think you should read

— The Biden administration is considering resuming the practice of detaining families who are caught crossing the border without documentation. The news is not sitting well with a faction of the Democratic Party.

— Sí quema cuh! The “Edgar cut” is having a moment. The hairstyle gaining popularity among young Latinos across the Southwest is the subject of two separate stories. The first was published on Friday by the Dallas Morning News and was written by Carmina Tiscareño. On Tuesday, NBC News published its take, written by Edwin Flores.

For Refinery29, Eva Rencinos spoke to four Latina authors about how they broke into the book industry.

— Edwin Castro, the recent winner of a $2-billion Powerball jackpot, has used part of his prize money to buy a $25.5-million house in the Hollywood Hills. Congrats, Edwin! I look forward to getting the invite to the carne asada in the mail.

What we’re listening to, Día Internacional de la Mujer edition

We’re going to try something new here. Every once in a while — weekly? every two weeks? — I’ll ask my colleague Suzy Exposito, The Times’ new columnist for our Latino Initiative and in my opinion a definitive voice in the world of Latin music, to give us some music recommendations. Here’s what she’s listening to this week.


Being that this Wednesday was the International Day of the Woman, I’m sharing some sonic bread and roses this week, courtesy of Latinas. Some new tracks I’m digging include “Deserve Me,” the cutting new collab by Colombian superstar Kali Uchis featuring American neo-soul revivalist Summer Walker; “Herrera,” a sultry bachata by Dominican singer-songwriter Yendry; “Ni Santas Ni Putas,” an act of Caribbean alt-rock revolt by Roxiny; “Algo Bonito,” a feminist fight song by Puerto Rican furies iLe and Ivy Queen; and “Mientras Me Curo Del Cora,” a feel-good island jam that Karol G, now the first woman to score a No. 1 album entirely in Spanish, dedicated to her sister, Vero, as she struggled with postpartum depression. ¡Viva la Venus!