Anyone familiar with the Mexico sketched in Roberto Bolaño's fiction knows that the southwestern borderlands from 2666 and The Savage Detectives is a place of almost mythic criminality, where apathetic or outright antagonistic law enforcement does little to relieve the heavy burden of drug cartel violence plaguing the country's beleaguered rural population. Bolaño's Mexico is a shadowy place where maquiladora workers disappear without a trace, where pimps chase poets into the desert sands, and the threat of sexual violence looms over every character. It's the sort of lurid stuff that comes straight out of a hard-boiled detective novel or a film noir about L.A. in the 20s and 30s, not real world stuff. At least, it doesn't seem like it should be real-world stuff until you read about the relatively small town of Tenancingo, which sends an inordinately large number of sex workers and traffickers to New York each year.
The New York Daily News describes Tenancingo as a town so firmly in the clutches of sex traffickers that its little boys aspire to be to be pimps. With a population of only about 10,000, Tenancingo's sex traffickers were overrepresented in arrests made by New York's Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office — of the 32 sex traffickers nabbed last year, 26 hailed from Tenancingo.
For the last 20 years, sex traffickers in Tenancingo have cast a wide net beyond Latin America, sending sex workers to U.S. cities. Recent arrests and convictions of Tenancingo traffickers in the U.S. reveal that the industry has been stretching its tentacles — in March, 25-year-old Angel Cortez Granados pleaded guilty in Brooklyn Federal Court to luring a woman named Esperanza to the U.S. and coercing her into prostitution. Six other members of the Granados family have subsequently been charged in New York, following a legacy of relocated Tenancingo traffickers that includes the Carreto brothers (who were sentenced to 50 years in 2004 for luring at least eight women to Queens). Mexican authorities, too, have started to recognize the problem, though this increased scrutiny has yield 120 complaints and a mere 24 arrests, with not a single conviction.
Mexican congresswoman Rosi Orozco has acknowledged that something more needs to be done to curtail the rise of sex trafficking, and though Tlaxcala (Tenancingo's home state) is among a few other states to have passed laws making human trafficking a crime, actual punishment is rare. Orozco has introduced a stricter anti-trafficking law to the federal government, but, so far, it has failed to gain enough traction to be signed into law, a daunting prospect considering that Tenancingo's sex trafficking culture hides in plain sight.
The Daily News renders a portrait of a city within a town, observing that, behind and between the modest architecture on Tenancingo loom giant prismatic buildings topped with "pagoda-like turrets." Town residents call these buildings "calcuilchil," or "houses of ass," and largely agree that the sex trafficking industry is corrosive, but also admit that the threat of violence prevents many citizens from standing up to the major trafficking families. This disheartening fact renders Tenancingo, like any other city in the clutches of a vast, well-organized criminal culture that has out-muscled a local government's law enforcement apparatus, an organism that increasingly exists only to prop up the parasite that has taken over its body.