I feel safer living in Mexico because, between mass shootings and hate crimes in the U.S, chances of survival in Mexico seem far greater.
“Safest place to live in Mexico.” Those were the exact words I Googled before uprooting my life and planting myself in Mérida, Mexico, 10 days later. That same, “Wait, WHAT?!” look of shock that perhaps just flashed across your face is the same exact reaction I received from all of my family and friends. After they’d somewhat digested the news bomb I’d dropped on them, without fail, the very next words out of their mouths were always, “Watch out for the cartel.”
There were far more mass shootings in the United States in 2020—611, in total—than there were days in the year, totaling 611 shootings. But, “Beware of the cartel,” they say, never stopping to consider that my own backyard poses a bigger threat to my life.
It always fascinates me that people warn me to, “Beware of the cartel!” when I am in no way affiliated with any sort of illegal or cartel-like activity, so I’m pretty sure I’m a non-existent blip on its radar. True enough, bad things can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any given time. But, ironically enough, those bad things that can happen, I fear them most coming from my own proverbial backyard in the United States, not Mérida, Mexico, or any of the 20+ countries I’ve visited (many of which I explored solo).
Sensationalized headlines and popular shows like Narcos paint a skewed picture of Mexico—one that casts the idea that the drug-centered drama is a depiction of the country as a whole. It creates this false narrative that Mexico is generally unsafe and your best, safest bet is to stay at a resort upon your arrival, and never step a foot beyond its blissful borders until it’s time for your departure.
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This is not reality. The reality is, Mérida, the city in which I dwell, is the safest city in Mexico and the second safest city in North America. The reality is, you are 33% more likely to killed by a firearm in the United States than in Mexico. The reality is, as a Black American, I am three times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans in the U.S. There were far more mass shootings in the United States in 2020—611, in total—than there were days in the year. But, “Beware of the cartel,” they say, never stopping to consider that my own backyard poses a bigger threat to my life.
Apparently, I do not stand alone in these sentiments. In a 2019 survey, 59% of Americans said that they feel random acts of violence, such as mass shootings by other Americans, pose the biggest threat to their safety. Only 16% of survey takers said they feel threatened by foreigners on U.S. soil.
Fifty-nine percent. Let that digest for a moment.
To break it down even further, there were only 52 deaths by homicide in the entire Yucatán state in 2020, not just the city of Mérida, but the entire state. In contrast, almost 20,000 Americans died by homicide, specifically gun violence alone, in 2020. So, when people ask me if I feel safe as a solo Black woman living in Mérida, the answer is an unequivocal, “YES!”
I feel safe given there is a heavy police presence here, who tend to keep to themselves unless needed. I’m not harassed, nor do I feel profiled for walking, jogging, driving, sleeping, or simply existing while Black.
The burden of being Black that weighs me down in the U.S. is heavy. It’s exhausting. However, it is a load that I can put down while living in Mexico.
There’s a tightness that resides in my chest and an uneasiness that consumes me every time I return to my home country—every time I walk into a grocery store, a church, a movie theater, a park; places that are supposed to be “safe,” yet, are no more. In Mexico, I can breathe. The burden of being Black that weighs me down in the U.S. is heavy. It’s exhausting. However, it is a load that I can put down while living in Mexico. That reprieve allows me to feel lighter. Freer.
Even in relation to how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled, there is no other place I would have rather been than here in Mérida. The local government jumped into immediate action, putting restrictions and safety measures into place, transforming convention centers into triage centers, even when the number of cases in the city were minimal at the time.
I can live here knowing that I am seen as an American first and a Black woman second.
As a Black woman living in Mexico, I’ve had incredible experiences and I’ve felt far safer here than I ever have in my home country. My experiences do not define the experiences of every Black woman or Black person traveling or living in this country. They are mine and mine alone. Mexico is not without its problems and faults. No country is. Just as no country is without racism and prejudices. However, I feel like I can live comfortably in this country without feeling like my mere existence is a threat. I can live here knowing that I am seen as an American first and a Black woman second. I don’t question whether my, very few, negative encounters were fueled by racism. Instead, I chalk it up to simply being a gringo (foreigner), because I’ve witnessed other foreigners, of all races, endure the same experiences.
Now, when people find out where I live and tell me to “beware of the cartel,” I tell them I am more afraid of the disease-carrying mosquitoes than anything else. These blood-thirsty monsters don’t care about your race, creed, religion, or sexuality. They are the real gangsters out for blood, and are more likely to take you out with illnesses such as Dengue fever and Zika, versus some other violent crime in the city. Despite how safe I feel in Mérida, I still take precautions and use discernment and advise anyone traveling here to do the same.