A wonderful piece of investigative journalism, Ed Vuillamy's `Amexica' creates a complex and nuanced portrait of the US-Mexican border, and deals in depth with both its troubles, and the attempts at community and at improvement which exist in these communities often ravaged by drug addiction, violence and poverty (especially, though not exclusively, on the Mexican side). Vuillamy interviews a number of important figures, from the exhausted, exploited Mexican truck drivers of `Ventesies' (a truck-stop and major meeting point for Mexico's truckers), to those working with the domestically abused, and with both local officials, and ordinary citizens living amongst the terror and anarchy of cities like Ciudad Juarez. Vuillamy also integrates newspaper stories, tales of `narcocorridos' (folk songs about the drug runners and cartels), and histories of both the towns and cities he visits, and how and why the drug trade boomed in those areas; and what legacies that led to. Viewing the war as `post-political', with both the police and the armed forces often involved in partnerships with the Cartels; Vuillamy also puts forward alarming and fascinating arguments as to why the drugs war is borne out of macho posturing, envy of women finding work, the want to own the best cars and clothes, and other such issues; theories backed up by the comments of local workers like Esther Chavez, who elucidates fantastically the reasons for the murders of the maquiladoras (factory girls) across Mexico's borderline.
Vuillamy also explores the American side, though in a little less detail, focusing on the illegal flow of guns from the US, to the Mexican cartels (guns being illegal in Mexico), and the high calibre of weapons, like AK-47s, which the Cartels possess. Combined with this, is Vuillamy's wonderful lyrical style, which evokes the rolling sands of Arizona in which illegal migrants struggle to travel through, the charged, buzzing energy of community and of danger in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, and the old folk myths of Mexico, and it's `Virgin of Guadalupe', permeating the areas of the old Rio Grande, as it flows endlessly between the borderlands. Despite this wealth of skill and information however, the book has a few minor flaws; though nothing so off-putting as to stop the book being hugely enjoyable. Firstly, Vuillamy fails to get any interview with people currently involved in the drugs trade (besides a very brief chat with a few small-level dealers), and whilst it's unreasonable to expect him to be having a cappucino with Zeta leaders; it would have been nice to have some input from those involved in the trade at some level. Secondly, the book loses a little momentum towards the end - and Vuillamy pads out the information on old Mexican traditions of religion and society a little too much, and seems to lose sight of the main issues which underpin his investigative work.
These are just minor qualms though, in comparison to the wealth of quality in Vuillamy's `Amexica'. An academic and informative, but highly readable account of the issues which affect the borderline and threaten to spiral out of control; all in the midst of brave, honest people trying to get on with their lives, and earn a living either in Mexico, or by emigrating North illegally. One of the best investigative books of the last decade, I urge anyone interested in crime and society, or just looking for an invigorating read in general, to read Ed Vuillamy's `Amexica'.