Is Mexico Safe? | The Truth About Mexico

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Is Mexico Safe?

A post by "Jim Johnston" |

Jim Johnston is author of "Mexico City: an Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler." To see more posts by this author, click here.

Years ago when I lived in New York City I received a phone call one night from my mother, who sounded very upset.

“Are you OK? Is your house on fire? Are you safe?”

I didn’t know what she was talking about. I was totally fine. It turned out mom was watching the nightly news on TV.

Yes, there were riots going on in Brooklyn. Yes, buildings were on fire. Yes, people were killed and others hurt. It was all happening miles away from where I lived. I knew nothing about it. But my mother had the impression that all of New York City was at war.

That phone call taught me two important lessons I’ve never forgotten. First, the news has the power to amplify and distort reality. Second, most people accept as fact anything they read in a newspaper or see on television.

Recent reports of drug “wars” in Mexico are not necessarily untrue, but they look at a small part of the canvas and make people think they are seeing the whole picture. As a full-time resident of Mexico since 1997 I would like to suggest to my readers that they are being misinformed.

Frank Koughan’s excellent report and data analysis previously posted on this site already provides the facts of the matter, so I’ll simply tell you what my life is like here in Mexico City in terms of safety.

I’ve been asking all my friends here if they’re afraid of the drug violence they see in the news (it’s reported here, too, not just in the U.S.). So far I’ve not had an affirmative answer. Neither I nor anyone I know wears bullet-proof clothing. I get up early three mornings a week and stroll across the park to attend a yoga class–dodging joggers and unleashed dogs is my biggest danger. I walk to work, take the subway, ride the buses and taxis, all without fear—ever. People in my local supermarket seem more troubled about whether they should put their groceries in a paper bag or a plastic bag than by any more menacing concerns. Diners at my local taco stand fret over the eternal dilemma: red salsa or green salsa? When I head out at night my biggest worry is whether I will need a jacket or not.

In other words, life goes on in Mexico City much as it does elsewhere in the world.

Know the facts. Most of the violence in Mexico is targeted toward a very specific group of people connected to the drug trade. Most of it occurs in border towns. As a tourist, your chance of being hurt or killed by drug-related violence is about as great as having a piano fall on your head.

Read newspapers with a critical eye. I recently began writing for a national newspaper here, and I can see how easy it would be for any writer to choose a word or a phrase than could alter, slant or color a reporting of ‘facts’. I’ve noted often in The New York Times the use of quotations from one person to indicate the feelings of a nation.

Violence sells. A report about decapitated bodies makes a much flashier headline than one about a trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacán. The former Mexico correspondent for a major U.S. paper is a friend of mine. I knew he loved Mexico and felt safe and happy here, but he wrote many stories about drug violence and corruption. When I asked him about it he said, “That’s what the editor back home wants.”

After eight years of truth-bending news, Americans seem to be living in a country where fear is a common tool for controlling ideas and behavior. Beware! There is something dangerous out there and it’s trying to steal your mind. It’s called the news.

So when people ask me “Is Mexico safe to visit?”, I say yes, come on down. With the current peso devaluation, it’s a real bargain now, and it’s not crowded–all those scaredy cats who believe what they see on the news are staying home.

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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Terry Pollard Says:

    My wife and I just returned to the USA after renting a place in Puerto Vallarta for 6 months. This was our 5th time in PV and second season for a 6 month stay. We have already signed another 6 month agreement beginning in Oct. of this year.
    We love Mexico and the people. We have never had one problem and we drive a vehicle all over the place. We drive from California, cross at Nogales and end up in PV. This year we saw more Police activity but this does not bother me at all. This just reinforces that they are serious about keeping people safe and protecting property in their country.
    I love the USA it is my country but we also love Mexico as it has become our second home. We have made many friends and look forward to traveling there for many years to come. It is perfectly safe as long as you don’t do something stupid. It is exactly the same way in the USA. Do something stupid, get in trouble. Shame on you not the country you are in.

  2. Fossil Says:

    Thank You!

    Dammit, I’m tired of my fellow countrymen who are so frightened of things that they are afraid of travel. How do they function normally or are they just sheeple herded by the whip of fear that our government wields all too willingly?

    Traveling for pleasure in Mexico and for business in Costa Rica has been a wonderful experience. Better than that, it has been life affirming with all of the wonderful people I have met and all that I have learned. While reading this some Tico friends called me to wish me a happy birthday – they will be staying with my spouse and I for a week this summer, enjoying Lollapalooza here in Chicago.

  3. Carlos Says:

    I live in So. Central Los Angeles. Several years ago (during the last “riots”), I was out watering the lawn and noticed a news helicopter kept orbiting a few blocks away. What’s going on, I thought. So I went in and turned on the news. To my surprise, “the whole city was in flames”. Sure, right. I live just 2 short blocks from where that poor truck driver got attacked. I shut off the TV and went back to my yard work.

    The news isn’t about the news, at all. It’s about advertising revenue, only. Notice they never interupt a commercial, for “breaking news”?

  4. Carlos Says:

    You want to stay safe in Mexico? Stay away from drugs..

  5. Francisco Ramirez Says:

    Gracias por los comentarios….. el lado mas amable e inteligente de los norteamericanos, el verdadero buen vecino, el americano que entiende y repeta con inteligencia. Que entiende que nuestros problemas son profundos, pero ajenos a los norteamericanos.


  6. Rochelle Cashdan Says:

    I hve lived in Guanajuato, Mexico for 10 years and have been robbed once by a pistol wielding guy during a film festival and recently was assaulted in the callejon where I live. I plan to move to a better lighted part of the city.

    In Mexico, as anywhere, don’t assume if you’re traveling, that all the bad guys are on vacation too. Having said that I’ll add that in my many visits to Mexico City I’ve never had a problem.

  7. Marcelo V Says:

    Im a native of Chile,Naturalize US Citizen,married with 3 children. Since 1995 we had taken one week a year to vacation in PVR, we loved Puerto Vallarta. My kids look forward every year to visit Mexico. Many time people tell me that I either look or talk like a mexican, my response to them everytime is ” I’m proud to be a Mexican” Mexico is a wonderful country with very welcoming people, your money goes a long way and you can eat good food…..and don’t get me wrong I love the USA,I love Chile. It’s kind wonderful to have 3 nations.


  8. Berenice Says:

    Gracias a todos por sus comentarios y por poner en la perspectiva correcta la situación de México. Soy mexicana y quiero decirles que la vida en mi ciudad, Cuernavaca, sigue siendo la misma. Los ciudadanos vivimos nuestra vida normal: salimos al trabajo, a las escuelas de nuestros hijos, hacemos nuestras compras, nos divertimos en el cine, en el parque, en el centro, etc. Los problemas existen, eso es innegable, pero esos problemas son de quienes se los buscaron.

    Es una pena que la gente esté perdiendo oportunidades de conocer y disfrutar la cultura, la historia, los hermosos paisajes, la amabilidad de los mexicanos…Amigos extranjeros, no se dejen sorprender, las cosas buenas y malas suceden en todas partes del mundo.

  9. cynthia Says:

    As a business person in San Miguel de Allende, I spend a lot of time working to find articles such as this to post – Everywhere! Any time you can send me more good news about our wonderful country of choice, I will post it, with gratitude.

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Expat-Friendly Links for April 13, 2009 | Says:

    […] Is Mexico Safe? – a perspective about safety in Mexico, outside of the border towns. […]

  2. The truth about crime in Mexico « Ren Ellis – San Miguel de Allende – Mexico – Fashion Says:

    […] Is Mexico Safe? | The Truth About Mexico Says: March 25th, 2009 at 11:19 am […] Koughan’s excellent report and data analysis previously posted on this site already provides the facts of the matter, so […] […]

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