January 21, 2016

In a region dominated by Mexican drug cartels, a new bookstore


Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 3.18.44 PM


Apatzingán, the capital of Mexico’s mountainous Tierra Caliente region, has long been a stronghold for drug trafficking cartels—which means that if you’ve heard of it, it’s probably from the media coverage of the violence, extortion, and kidnappings that plague the area.

But David Agren reports for The Guardian that the prestigious publisher and book retailer Fondo de Cultura Ecónomica has recently opened up a location in a renovated Apatzingán railway station. In addition to a fully stocked bookshop, the FCE center “offers reading sessions for children and adults, dance classes, and even mariachi lessons.” Their goal, Agren reports, is “to promote peace and help restore the social fabric through books and music.”

In a place where narco culture can be especially seductive to young people, parents are enthusiastic about the new development. “I’m buying books and my children now want to read them,” one mother said. “If I don’t push something positive on them, someone will push something else—likely something bad.”

Others remain skeptical. Despite the noble intentions behind the efforts, some, like Gonzalo Zaragoza, former director of a local chamber of commerce, “questioned how cultural programs could help—even in the long term—in an area lacking educational and employment opportunities for young people and where ‘thousands’ of businesses closed due to insecurity.” The Guardian report notes that “Mexicans read just 2.94 books per year, according to the National Reading Survey.”

While substandard education, corruption, drug trafficking, and “political dysfunction” remain serious challenges in Apatzingán, the FCE hopes that this will at least help start to turn things around. “We might not change all of Apatzingán,” FCE director Martha Luna said, “but we will change those we’re working with.”

So far, “participation is exceeding expectations.”



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.