What It’s Like to Grow Up in the Narco Zone

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This week we continue with “A Moment in Mexico,” our special series of six Op-Docs by Mexican directors.

The second film in the series is Everardo González’s haunting “Children of the Narco Zone,” which is a companion piece to his stunning feature documentary, “La Libertad del Diablo” (or “Devil’s Freedom”).

In both films, González explores the personal toll of organized crime and the drug war through searing interviews with people with direct experience either of violence or its social ramifications. In “Children of the Narco Zone,” the focus is specifically on how a climate of violence affects children and shapes their understanding of what’s right and wrong. As in “La Libertad del Diablo,” González dresses all his subjects in masks — partly to give them anonymity, and partly as an eerie aesthetic choice. But the result is a mosaic of deeply individual testimonies.

How does the ongoing turf war affect children living in these areas?

Growing up in a narco zone is an experience that many individuals around the world can hardly imagine. It is a reality that entails facing tough life challenges on a daily basis, including violence, poverty, and an overwhelming sense of insecurity. Places like Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin American countries have faced significant drug cartel and gang-related conflicts that have claimed thousands of lives, leaving families and communities shattered.

In these regions, daily life is often marked by a constant sense of danger, where gunshots ring out in residential areas, and drug cartels run rampant. The steady influx of illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana has made life even more challenging, and governments have failed to curb the spread of drug trafficking in these areas. Children growing up in these zones witness disturbing occurrences and live in a world of crime and impunity.

One of the most challenging aspects of growing up in a narco zone is that individuals are often caught in the middle of these ongoing turf wars. Young people become easy targets for drug dealers and gangs, and many are forced into joining them. Unfortunately, many teenagers and children in the range are recruited to work for these dangerous gangs just because of their circumstances. This makes them vulnerable to becoming victims of drug abuse, prostitution, and even homicide.

Families living in these areas also face unimaginable difficulties. Parents often face dire economic problems, with limited job opportunities and meager salaries. These daily struggles lead to many children being forced to drop out of school to help their families make ends meet. This, in turn, perpetuates the cycle of poverty in these areas, making it nearly impossible for children to escape a life molded by violence and insecurity.

With narco zones facing unimaginable violence, children are often robbed of the chance to have a childhood that is free from fear and uncertainty. Many children are exposed to drug addiction and violence, making their exposure to violence and trauma a norm. Families suffer endless duress and are at constant risk of becoming victims of violence themselves.

The reality is that growing up in a narco zone is an experience that shapes an individual’s identity and influences their lives in countless ways. The impact of violence, drugs, and poverty is felt across generations in these areas, making it a difficult cycle to break. Governments must act to intervene, to tackle the proliferation of illegal drugs and crime, and to provide robust support to the communities affected by these issues.

In conclusion, growing up in a narco zone remains a complex and challenging experience that affects individuals, families, and communities in many ways. The challenge of violence, drug addiction, and poverty poses a formidable obstacle that has left many individuals and communities scarred for generations. There is an urgent need for national and international governments to take responsibility and implement policies to help these areas recover and provide a safe environment for future generations.

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