Until the federal government suddenly became interested in the wars between the drug cartels in the area, this seemed a completely ignored quarter of Mexico. I made this painting after a church trip to Reynosa in the state of Tamaulipas. Every year we go across the Texas border to churches in Mexico to help build cinder block houses in the destitute border colonias. We stay for a week at a time, but natives spend whole lifetimes here.
The city dump of Reynosa is home not just to detritus, but to wild pigs and to people, horses, and stray pets. This is the Pig Colonia, so-called because of the herds roaming and rooting among the smoldering fires and dwellings in the dump. From this location, you can see the local drug lord’s compound up on the hillside, painted and surrounded by a wall. You can also see houses built from cast-off sheets of various materials or of cinder block; a putrid lake; and a prefabricated metal church. Where is a more appropriate place for God’s house than in the front yard of the poorest citizens? The most curious sight is the amputated beds of old pick-up trucks, re-made into trailers pulled by horses and mules, bearing scrap of all kinds through the dump on its way to a salvage yard somewhere. It is an astonishing display of recycling at its most basic. Whole families engage in this industry.
Here, the children go to school if their parents can afford to buy uniforms and books and later, lab fees. These tuition-free public schools are not the route to college, however. That route passes through private high schools, affordable for the relatively wealthy; the ones not subsisting off the dump. Because there are, apparently, no building codes, or certainly not code enforcement, people can build shelter out of most anything they can find. There is also no government intervention in enforcing school attendance. The doctor is sometimes available, if there is a way to make the trip to the clinic. It is a world of ingenuity and of hard work, but these attributes don’t buy much here. Selling illegal drugs to norteamericanos, however, does buy much. Good parents everywhere certainly want their children to have choices, don’t they?