Alfredo Corchado’s Midnight in Mexico

 Alfredo Corchado

 When Alfredo Corchado was six years old, his family moved from Mexico to California where they worked the fields and lived in a trailer. By the time Alfredo dropped out of high school, his parents convinced him and their eight children to leave California and move to El Paso, Texas where they later opened a restaurant, Freddy’s Café, named after him. How Corchado wound up with a fellowship at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism and a book deal with one of the Big Six publishing houses is a long story.

Alfredo Corchado, 1986

Alfredo Corchado, 1986

He started by going back to school and, at the age of twenty-seven, graduating from the University of Texas, El Paso with a journalism degree. He worked at several newspapers before the Dallas Morning News hired him in 1994 and sent him to Mexico City. He arrived with plans to cover serious issues—politics, immigration, culture. He was soon interviewing and networking with Mexico’s elite. He felt at home living literally in Mexico and professionally in the two countries he loved.

NAFTA had just gone into force bringing great economic opportunities to Mexico. Meanwhile, the PRI party which had dominated Mexican politics for seven decades was falling apart. In 1999, PAN candidate Vicente Fox won the presidential election and granted his first interview to Alfredo Corchado.

Midnight in MexicoBut democracy, even at its best, can get messy. With the old political system upset, weak spots and power vacuums opened up. The drug cartels were quick to move in. This, of course, was news, and Corchado was dogged in his pursuit. Despite three death threats, he refused to back off. In July 2007, the fourth, and most harrowing, threat drove him to leave Mexico.

It was the last threat that led Corchado to Harvard and the Nieman Foundation in 2009. There he began work on what became Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness (The Penguin Group). The book, which came out last May in English and in October in Spanish, is an all-in-one thriller, memoir, history lesson and commentary on Mexico’s social, political and cultural reality today. Well documented and well written, it paints an unsettling picture of Mexico and its future.

Medianoche en Mexico Currently the Mexico City bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, Corchado has had to balance book promotion with his day job. His long list of interviews includes the Washington Post, Texas Monthly and NPR.  Last week, Canana Productions, whose founding partners include Mexican stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, announced it has optioned the movie rights to Midnight. When I contacted Corcado for this post, he was about to leave for a speaking engagement at the University of San Diego. From there, he had events at Princeton and in New York City.

The big question is: After all he’s been through, why did Alfredo Corchado chose to return to Mexico? Below is his beautiful and moving response.

“As I child I was very sad about leaving Mexico. I didn’t know then what I know now; that my mother had lived under Mexico’s class system, surrounded by the country’s privileged world and she needed to escape that. Returning to Mexico I realized why my parents left, but I also saw the beauty of my homeland. I see Midnight in Mexico as an attempt to write about the tragic beauty of my homeland.

“I think for many years I tried to do what many Mexicans have done for too long, look the other way, look beyond the troubling issues that affect this country. The drug war forced me to look hard and long and yes, I have seen the dark side of the country, but I have also seen the best of Mexicans as they try to lay claim to their homeland in ways that are inspiring and have helped me give value to my work as a journalist.

“Sure, there are times when I leave Mexico and feel I have had enough, but I remain a believer in better days ahead and as a journalist I want to be there to document, to witness, to give others a voice, to serve as a bridge between my two countries. The more I investigate one the more I understand the other and in that sense, the more I understand myself and somewhere in that togetherness lies the fusion of why, what, who we are and that’s where the beauty of our identity lies.”
 

Follow Alfredo Corchado at: http://alfredocorchado.com/ and on Twitter @ajcorchado.

 

 

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  1. […] like author Alfredo Corchado, work in the news business in Mexico. (For more information, see “The Other Side of the Peso” December 16 post.) No surprise, either, that 2010 Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa made the list for his […]

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