**DISCLAIMER** – This post is not meant to paint Mexico or the people of this country in a bad light. This is purely a commentary on the unfortunate and heinous nature of sex trafficking and those subjected to the pandemic. Please take note that injustice such as what I am about to describe occurs the world over and is not exclusive to Mexico. Please love and pray for Mexico and its people.
La Merced is the center of prostitution in Mexico City. On my family’s first visit to this city last December, my friend Benny took a wrong turn on our way to a tourist spot and accidentally gave us a drive-by tour of the area. What I saw that day drew some uncanny parallels to the story I heard behind Drew Brees’ recruitment by the New Orleans Saints football team a few years ago.
In his first tour of the city, Drew Brees accidentally bore witness to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina when coach Sean Payton took a wrong turn. Payton’s intention was to show Brees all the best and attractive areas of New Orleans. (Oops!) I’m sure at that point, the coach thought he screwed up his chances of landing the coveted free agent quarterback but as the story goes, Drew and his wife could not deny a sense of calling they had to move to New Orleans. After witnessing the destruction, Drew Brees knew that a move to New Orleans would be about more than just football. This transition was about being a part of rebuilding a city.
My accidental tour of La Merced last year is part of what drove my family and I to make the move to Mexico City 6 months ago in what may turn out to be a 2 year commitment. We witnessed the destruction from a car and felt a calling to help “rebuild” a city with our hands and feet on the ground. What did we see that day? A street full of prostitutes scattered along every few feet or so in the bright light of day.
For the first time since moving to Mexico City, I was able to take a very intentional tour of La Merced yesterday with Benny on foot. To say that my eyes were opened would be an understatement.
Though the area is just 30 minutes away by subway from where we live, La Merced felt like an entirely different country. Each nook and cranny of the street was packed with merchants selling every kind of gadget, trinket, and snack and the congestion of foot traffic makes for a very typical big city experience. One clear distinction however is that this street is home to over 1,000 prostitutes, many of whom are forced to stand and parade out in plain view of everyone in the middle of the day.
I don’t know if it was the street suadero tacos I just ate with Benny but I was on the verge of nausea the entire time. I don’t know if it was the smoke emitted by the cars driving by but I couldn’t help but feel a heaviness and fatigue as we walked by each prostitute. I never thought that such a place was possible and it’s hard to think that anyone could ever imagine a scenario such as what one sees in La Merced.
The place had a rather heavy police presence, which would normally mean that the law of the land is being carried out and the rights of people are being protected. I felt sick to my stomach as I learned that these cops work harder to regulate on street merchants peddling wooden bookmarks rather than the pimps who parade the bodies of countless women against their will. These law officials are paid off and turn a complete blind eye to the obvious evil in front of their eyes.
Within minutes of walking through La Merced, I couldn’t help but think about the United States pre-MLK when something as wrong as segregation and blatant discrimination was commonplace and “normal.” It took a revolution to turn the tide on this norm and though the problem is far from solved, at least the average American now knows that discrimination is unacceptable, un-cool, and definitely not normal.
I realized that if we are going to be a part of the solution here, we need to get people to a place where they are enraged by this injustice and this type of thing should feel incredibly abnormal and outrageous. It was shocking when it hit me that these prostitutes of mid-day were so commonplace that most people would simply walk by these women as if they were trees or street lights—normal fixtures.
Benny led me down an alley where there was another form of sale for men looking for sex. I saw this scene in the movie “Trade” (starring Kevin Kline) where women walk around in a circle as a massive crowd of potential clients gather to view and select their “merchandise.” To see this in real life was a shock and once again, the nonchalant and commonplace nature of this scene was appalling. A female janitor pulled her trash bin right through the crowd of men and ring of women as she needed to access the dump. There was no shock or anger in her voice as she said “con permiso” (excuse me) and walked straight through. Once again, the normality of the scene in front of me was hard to digest. Nausea.
Many of the women on the street were clearly mothers who have probably been forced into this trade in order to provide for their sons and daughters. It is not uncommon to see women in skin-tight jeans, stilettos and cleavage-bearing blouses who also happen to be several months pregnant. Of course there are many young girls on this street. These girls are prostitutes but they are also someone’s daughter, sister, mother, wife, and child. I did not observe a single genuine smile and most wore faces of deep pain and hopelessness.
My heart breaks and my mind is overwhelmed. I told Benny that after this experience I am realizing that the issue is even bigger than I had originally thought… and I already knew that this was big. Not only must we consider the girls, their pimps and their clients, but we must consider the fact that the government and law enforcement is in on this. When we think about the prospect of rescue and intervention, we must think about how we can change culture to think differently about the issue. The issue isn’t just apathy and corruption. There is a real need to empower the general public to take the power we naturally have as human beings in order to stand for those who have had their dignity stripped from them. “Power to the people.”
What can we do? Are we wasting our time by thinking that our little chisels on this great mountain of injustice will provide any sort of real, lasting change? Perhaps that is what Evil wants us to believe so that we simply give up and hope the problem just goes away somehow. It takes audacity to believe that a whole system of wickedness can be overturned. It takes a great deal of faith and a measure of insanity to think that a Goliath of slavery can be killed once more through measly stones launched from the hopeful slingshots of young activists.
I would much rather do something than nothing. I think that’s what it will take. If each person did something rather than nothing, I know we can bring global freedom once more. It’s happened before. We do what we can and then let God finish the work.
So what is the part we’re playing right now? In addition to our rehabilitation safe house, we are in talks to start a women’s center right in the heart of La Merced. Women who want to get out of the slave trade can simply walk in and start receiving the aide and information they need to live life as free people. Benny and I are dreaming about and laying the groundwork for a global campaign we hope to launch some time next year. We are engaged in the small as our sights are set on the big and grand.
Thank you for reading. There is a part each of us can play in this battle. What will it be for you? What questions do you have?
i shared my song “Unleash Your Beauty” on this blog a couple months ago and at the time it was performed acoustically at the Conference we hosted at Newsong.
As President Obama has declared this month the “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month”, i thought i’d post the live full-band version of this song from a couple weeks ago. As always, I have to apologize for the sound-mix and would like to ask you to listen with grace. I was also having a bad-hair day (or bad hair life rather) and i assure you that i’m a little more handsome in person ;).
this is a song about what happens when we lay down our lives for the poor and the enslaved. enjoy!