“In Mexico, human rights are violated by ignoring the law. In the United States, human rights are violated by implementing the law.” This strong statement made by Carlos Spector provides an accurate synopsis for Marcela Arteaga’s “The Guardian of Memory,” a documentary and oral history of the genocide experienced in the north of Mexico and the consequences suffered by thousands of innocent families that were forced to take shelter in the neighboring country.
Carlos Spector is a Texan Jewish lawyer with a Mexican mother. He fights in favor of families seeking political asylum due to violence experienced in México. Spector is the man that will guide you through this devastating journey by explaining the roots of the conflict between the Mexican government and the drug cartels.
Valle de Juárez was a quiet place where life was functional, dreams flourished and children could play in the streets. However, when the Mexican government started its ‘fight against narco’ in 2008, a wave of disappearances, kidnappings, extortion and assassination ensued.
But the narcos were only one of the problems. Mexico City authorities arrived, and soon the army and national guard joined them. They didn’t come to protect the people; they came to rob houses, threaten businesses and carry out an ideological cleansing. Journalists and social activists were hunted. Every person that complained or inquired disappeared.
Through heartbreaking testimonies, Arteaga captures the desperation of the people and narrates how a pacific town became a living hell. The stories are so cruel you would think they were fiction. But they are not.
A mother spent weeks looking for her sons after they were unfairly apprehended by the police. Local authorities and government officials refused to help, so she turned to the media and eventually started to receive death threats for doing so. She had to flee to the United States. There’s another case of a woman whose grandson was murdered while watering the plants on the grave of her son, who had been murdered two days earlier. Make no mistake, “The Guardian of Memory” is a tough watch, and these words can’t do justice to the terror, impotence and sadness that the testimonies contain.
Between these stories, Spector explains that the violent situation in Mexico is not considered as a condition to ask for political asylum in the United States; therefore, his current work is directed to push for the concept of ‘authorized crime,’ meaning that through impunity, the state and businessmen allow criminals to control the town by whatever means necessary. This explanation is as informative as it is harrowing.
Arteaga shows the pain that these families had to endure after leaving their home, family, friends and roots. “It’s shameful having to recognize that I was not treated well in my own country… that I didn’t get the opportunities I was looking for,” relays one of the interviewees.
The exiled also describe how the United States’ asylum request process is designed to humiliate and break the foreigners. As a result, 99% of Mexican families seeking asylum are rejected, and many of the people in this documentary were deported.
There’s no footage of violence. The interviews and stories are accompanied by Axel Pedraza’s powerful cinematography: barren landscapes, destroyed houses and the objects that were left behind. It’s a beautiful, bleak and poetic metaphorization of the painful situation in México.
“The Guardian of Memory” is an urgent documentary about a failed system, a machine whose way of operating is destroying a great country. It’s an impactful, wise and bone-chilling work that tries to keep alive the memory of a massacred town and its survivors.
“The Guardian of Memory” (El guardián de la memoria in spanish) is part of Hola Mexico Film Festival 2020 and will be available to watch until September 20.
Ricardo is a Mexico City based bilingual writer, digital animation graduate and awards season nerd. He also enjoys pro wrestling, is a Paddington fan and is the founder of the film website “La Estatuilla.”