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Xipe Totéc meets CSI

11 January 2010

The foreign press, as well as several of our expat bloggers have added their collective “eeewwww!” to the reports on the late Hugo Hernandez.

Hernandez was the Sonoran gangster chopped up — one assumes — by the Chapo Guzmán’s people, and his body parts scattered around various points in Los Mochis.  And… in what gives it that soupçon of grossness that makes it so comment-worthy, we are told, “his face [was] stitched on a soccer ball”.

On the  gross-out scale of 1 to 10, this probably ranks a nine at least.   But, as another gangster rubout (albeit a more creative and more — er — in your face — one than the usual run of the mill head chopping variety) not worth much comment.  Then, having read too many Patricia Cornwell novels and — stuck out in suburban Dallas for a month or so a couple years back  — having watched too many re-runs of CSI, I began to wonder about the story.

Wouldn’t sewing into a soccer ball deflate it?  Possibly not, though I’d think that uncured fresh skin would easily tear, and I’m not sure how it could be done… fishing line (afterall, this was in Los Mochis, which is a seaport).

The “how” is a problem, the “why” has just been dismissed as “that’s what gangsters do”… or, mental illness.  Maybe it’s not that simple.

I’ve maintained that the narcos are not illogical, and the violence they mete out is for the most part rational.  They are, after all, an industry that cannot turn to the courts to settle contract disputes or labor-management issues, and — seeing that their business IS killing people — they can’t, like the State of Texas, claim the death penalty is simply the ultimate in punishment for violating the rules of society.  More is needed.

If you kill a gangster and nobody finds the corpse, there is no message.  And with no news coverage, there is no media attention to serve — as is the theory with state-sanctioned murders in barbaric places like Texas — as a warning to others.    It’s no wonder the more prominent narco-killings come with helpful media kits (crudely written and terribly in need of editorial revision to be sure), but meant to be publicized.

I’ve written before on the Latin American attitude towards violent deaths … people accept the reality of death, even gruesome ones as part of nature.  But at the same time there is a certain amount of dignity surrounding what a friend of mine (a social worker being recruited by her dad to make a career shift, and take over the family undertaking parlor) calls a “significant transformative experience”.

The narcotics trade is an industry where violent death is an occupational hazard.  While the risk is enough to deter most people from entering the field if they have other options, is an assumed risk and a “death penalty” for violating the business rules isn’t likely to be seen — in itself — as significant deterrence for misbehaving employees or violating industrial standards.

Something more is needed.  Attacking the dignity of the person is the point.  For those of us NOT involved in the narcotics export trade, if it was a normal business, your run of the mill gangster rubout might be the subject of a trade magazine (Narco-week?) or the labor press, and maybe an obit in the local paper.  The head chopping would probably also be followed by a sternly worded memo from the Human Relations department reminding employees of the company rules. Or, in the case of the late Mr. Hernandez, perhaps a press release justifying the measures taken to preserve distribution rights and business relations.

But.. SEWING A FACE ON A SOCCER BALL?  Burro Hall isn’t the only one whose reaction is  “a mixture of terrified revulsion and awestruck admiration that, frankly, makes us hate ourselves just a little bit.”  Which makes it sound like outside observations on the more spectacular religious rituals around the world.

Carlos Monsivías, who knows more about Mexican popular culture than anyone else, once wrote that there are three themes in Mexican culture:  soccer, talking about soccer, and everything else.  The soccer ball is contemporary Mexico’s true icon — its symbol and fetish.  In classic Mexican culture (at least among Aztecs and Totonacs),  the god of re-creation, vegetative growth, is Xipe Totéc, the flayed god.

A manifestation of Tezacatlapolca — Lord Smoking Mirror, God of Reality and ruler of life and death — Xipe Totéc, according to believers, flayed himself and the earth, being covered in his fresh skin, was renewed.  He is a rural god, and rituals honoring Xipe Totéc were rural fertility rites.  One of the more spectacular — in which a priest was sewn into the skin of a flayed sacrificial victim, made it into Gary Jenning’s Aztec, which dwells on the more eye-popping details of Aztec legend and history.  More commonly, the sacrificial victim’s face was used to cover a local icon representing re-generation and re-creation.  Several of the soldiers left behind in Tenotitchlan when Cortés evacuated the city during “la noche triste” — and even a few of the horses lost by the invading Castillians — were flayed and their faces used for ritual coverings.

It’s winter… farmers have to think about next year’s marijuana and poppy crops.  So do their buyers and their exporters.  Re-creation, recreation.  Soccer and the visible and outward signs of life.  See where I’m going?

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Chapo Guzmán y Asociados have a professor of comparative religions on staff (though they could), nor that Los Mochis CSI should start looking for a skilled tailor knowledgeable in Aztec ritual, but I would say that even in the cut-throat (literally) world of modern capitalism, the traditional world finds its place.

Human beings are complex creatures, and human beings in a complex, syncretic modern culture like Mexico’s — even gangsters — based their actions in some part on their inheritance from the their past.  Mexico, much more than the north of the border cultures, is conscious of this, and embraces it.  That is not to say that any barbarous act is something to celebrate, but only that it is not some inexplicable and novel event, but something Mexican and human… and to just write it off as a mental aberration unique to gangsters is a huge mistake.

And who knows?  Maybe there will be a good marijuana crop this year.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 21 June 2017 9:29 pm

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