EL PASO — Luz relaxes in a chair and taps the table with her fingertips as she begins to reveal startling details about her unique life as the child of a powerful Juarez drug cartel member.
Reminiscing about her childhood brings a smile to her face. She lived a life that was close to perfect, she says, full of luxuries, expensive clothes, cars, parties, entertainment, and any wish she desired.
“You get used to having a lot of stuff, good stuff,” says Luz, 24, who asked that her name not be revealed. “I never remember hearing my mom say, ‘no we can’t get that because we don’t have money.'”
At the same time, she admits, it was difficult for her mother to teach her and her younger brother strong ethics and values because of her father’s criminal activity.
“We weren’t following any of the rules, any of the laws,” said the petite 24-year-old with light-brown shoulder-length hair and brown eyes. “I was always told I couldn’t talk about what my dad did, which involved the drug cartels.“
One particular memory remains vivid. In 2001 Luz and her mother were inside a car waiting in line to cross from the lower valley of Juarez to the lower valley of El Paso, when they saw her father on foot running towards Mexico, several U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agents chasing after him.
After this incident her father was unable to return to the U.S and her life changed drastically. Later that year her family moved from their home in the lower valley of El Paso permanently to Juarez to begin a new life. She and her brother began commuting to school every day to El Paso.
Although details about her father’s business were rarely discussed at home, Luz said she began to ask questions. Why had they seen their father running towards Mexico, leaving behind his truck, she wanted to know. Later, her mother confessed that he was smuggling drugs into the United States.
Their home in Mexico was located in the mountains in a rural area near Ciudad Juarez. It was brick house surrounded by a towering brick wall. Their vast yard was covered in green grass and flower bushes. The long driveway was often full of vehicles – cars, go-carts and ATV’s. Luz says she often saw drugs – “little squares and big squares” – going in and of a large warehouse on the property.
The family also kept sheep, pigs, cows, calves, horses, chickens, ducks, even a monkey for a short time.
In the distance, she could see rows of houses made of cardboard and sometimes she imagined the people who lived there staring at her family’s palatial grounds and thinking that whoever lived there “must be monied.”
Before her father’s run-in with U.S. Border Patrol, respect and power came effortlessly for the teenager. “There was no law for us in Mexico. We could do whatever we wanted because of who my dad was,” she said.
She remembers one time when Mexican police stopped her for speeding. She mentioned her father’s name they let her go.
“People were frightened, not just by my dad, but of other men involved in the cartel,” she said. “Everyone knew who they were.”
Her wealthy life provided many perks. For her 15th and 16th birthdays she was allowed to order whatever gifts she wanted. During the family’s New Year’s Eve parties, they set up tables in the yard loaded with guns and ammo. Guests celebrated by shooting the guns into the sky.
Once, during a visit to a ranch that belonged to a friend of her father’s, she came across a koala bear. Another family friend owned two tigers. She remembers sticking her hand into the large cage of a baby tiger. The tiger slammed her hand against the cage but fortunately she was not injured. Another time she witnessed her six-year-old brother holding a grenade in his hands. He’d found the weapon in a shoebox next to a vanity in the house they were visiting.
“He was a family man,” Luz says of her father. “He was always taking care of his own yard, and washed his own cars.” She said he often advised her to attend school and stay on the right path. “He knew he made the wrong choice but he couldn’t take back his choice,” she said.
On a Sunday in 2008, during the month of her high school graduation, her boyfriend called to say she needed to come with him to El Paso. When she protested that her parents would be angry if she went, he confessed that they had both been shot at a gas station on the outskirts of Juarez. Her mother had been wounded in the jaw, hands, back and stomach and had been rushed to an El Paso hospital.
As Luz stood beside her mother’s hospital bed, a cousin rushed in to tell her that her father was dead. Sinking to the floor, Luz recalled the thoughts that swirled through her mind: “My dad was dead and my mom was fighting for her life.”
After a month in the Intensive Care Unit, when her mother was allowed to return home, the doctors said it was a miracle she’d survived the attack.
Returning to Mexico now is out of the question she said. Luz lives with her husband, daughter and brother in the lower valley. Her mother went to school and received a technical degree in cosmetology and her commercial driver’s license and moved out of the El Paso-Juarez area. Although she admits she has fond memories of her childhood in Mexico, the bad ones outweigh the good.
“It’s kind of hard because we don’t have a grave that we can visit. I mean we do but it’s in Mexico and I wouldn’t want to go back.”
Luz says she feels at peace over what happened to her father and is thankful for the time she had with him. “I was a good daughter, and he was a good dad.”