I recently took a vacation to Veracruz, in southern Mexico. It’s the homeland of Son Jarocho, a style of Mexican music I’ve become a little obsessed with since I reported a story on a community of musicians in San Diego and Tijuana.
Today, Son Jarocho has gained popularity in cities, but traditionally it’s a rural music played by farmers. So I traveled to the town of San Andres Tuxtla for workshops with some of these old-time musicians.
During the week I spent with other urbanites from across Mexico and the world, farmers from the surrounding rural communities would come into town to teach us at the Cultural Center during the day. In the evenings, we would travel out to their communities for communal jam sessions called fandangos.
On the first day, I was surprised when one of the workshop organizers announced that our transport out to these farms would be the local police.
“They’ve agreed to drive us out there,” he said.
And then he added something that impressed me: “We thought it would be a good arrangement, to defy expectations but also to kind of reverse roles. To show that the community can ask something of the police, and that the police can serve the community.”
If you follow the trends of crime, corruption and drugs as closely as we do here at the Fronteras Desk, you probably know that police corruption is a major problem in Mexico, especially in areas where drug cartels operate.
In some places it’s true. It is such a problem that people don’t bother to report drug-related crimes for fear of being snitched on by the police themselves. Internationally, the mass media narrative of corrupt Mexican police is so prevailing that they’re viewed as hopeless, to be feared.
Yet in this small town, the workshop organizers decided to disrupt that image a little. They were aware of it, but wanted to make the police human again in the eyes of visitors from places as far away as France, Israel, Germany and the U.S. To show, contrary to mass media simplifications, that in many places a sense of community still prevails.
Son Jarocho is all about community, so to me this seemed an apt exercise.
When several police pickup trucks arrived at the cultural center, about 40 of us piled into the back. As we drove toward the edge of town, people turned, spotted our instruments and hollered jokingly, “They’re rounding up the musicians!” The police traversed the bumpy dirt roads leading to the farming community of El Nopal, slowing for potholes, and delivered us to the home of a longtime farmer, the site of our first fandango.
As I got off the truck, I shook one of the officers' hand and thanked him.
That evening they came back to pick us up. And that’s how it was for the rest of the week.
Here's that first fandango:pe="oembed" align="left" >http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjzAR1cJ9pY