Help save the blues in Mexico City

August 11th, 2016


Two years ago I wrote a blog post about Ruta 61, a blues club in the Colonia Condesa which was then celebrating its tenth anniversary. Unfortunately, with no fanfare, the owners of the building have closed the club and have booted Ruta from its home. The club’s founder, Eduardo Serrano, is trying to raise 200,000 pesos to find a new space and get the necessary permissions to reopen. He’s doing it through Fondeadora, a Latin American crowdsourcing website. I’ve donated. Ruta was the only blues club in this entire city of over 20 million. Click here to go to Fondeadora and give. It’s a worthy cause, people. Give what you can.

Labels: Mexico City



Let’s celebrate

August 2nd, 2016


Better Delbeck

I’m not sure why, but I tend to play my cards pretty close to the vest on this sort of thing, and wait until the last minute to let the cat out of the bag. But I’ve got a new book coming out this year. It’s a novel, called One Life in English and Circunstancias atenunates in Spanish. The point of departure is my work as a mitigation specialist. It’s about Richard, a gringo in Mexico, who combs the back roads of Michoacán trying to find out about Esperanza, a young Mexican in a Louisiana jail, accused of killing her baby. Richard hopes that his investigation will save her from the death penalty. In alternating chapters, I tell both their stories, and how they’re linked by life and death, sex and love.

I wrote the book in English, and Unnamed Press will bring it out in the U.S. in October. It was expertly translated into Spanish by Fernanda Melchor, and is set to be published by Tusquets this autumn (once they give me a date, I’ll let you know). The early reviews are encouraging — this is what Publishers Weekly says, and here’s how Kirkus Reviews weighed in. In case you want to be the first on your block to acquire a copy, here’s the link to its Amazon page. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to make myself a martini. 


Labels: Mexico City




June 13th, 2016


This post is only tangentially about Mexico. I wanted to find some way to join my outraged voice to the millions of others over Judge Aaron Persky’s decision to sentence Brock Turner, the former Stanford student, to six months in a county jail for three counts of sexual assault.

In my work as a mitigation specialist, I have often represented undocumented Mexicans accused of capital murder. I have talked to many Mexicans about this work, and they are usually surprised when I go into details about the corruption of the judicial system in the U.S., as if they believe those problems were exclusive to Mexico. In my work I have dealt with prosecutors who hide evidence, judges who evidently favor the prosecution, and, once in a while, court-appointed defense lawyers whose efforts have been detrimental to the clients.

Suffice it to say that in none of my cases has the client been dealt with anything approaching the sympathy or leniency displayed by Judge Persky for Turner, the college-boy rapist. This article by Ken White, a criminal defense attorney, goes a long to way explain Persky’s decision. 

As if we need any further evidence of the hideous inequality at the core of many U.S. courts, take a look at this story from the New York Times of June 10. It is about a 14-year-old boy who was coerced by the Detroit police into confessing to murders that he did not commit, and who remained in jail for nine years. This was notwithstanding that on the week of his sentencing, another man confessed to the crimes supposedly committed by the boy. It should come as no surprise that Devontae Sanford, the defendant in that case, is black.

What the Times story doesn’t say is whether Sanford spent those nine years in an adult or a juvenile jail. In adult prisons, minors, and even young adults, are frequently brutalized by both guards and older inmates. Would that some judge had had any compassion for young Sanford. But of course he wasn’t white, blond, blue-eyed or a Stanford student.

Labels: Mexico City



A class act

June 7th, 2016


Photo by

A little while ago a friend called because he had an extra ticket for the opera at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Would I like to come? I’m embarrassed to admit that I know nothing about opera and this was only the fourth time I’d been in my life. But I was game, and so had the good fortune of seeing Bellini’s I puritani with Javier Camarena singing the part of Arturo.

Camarena, a 40-year-old tenor from Xalapa, Veracruz, has become a huge star. He is the third singer in the entire history of the Metropolitan Opera in New York to have been cheered enough to perform an encore, and only the second to have performed multiple encores. As I am an ignoramus about the opera, I cannot say anything authoritative about his singing. But it was clear to even me that, no matter how talented the rest of the ensemble, Camarena was in an entirely different league.

I puritani is set in the 1640s during the Civil Wars in England between the Roundheads and the Royalists. The plot is numbingly convoluted but mostly centers on the love between Arturo and Elvira, who are separated after he heroically escorts the widow of the murdered king of England out of the country. Elvira’s and Arturo’s arias — about love, loss, exile — are terrifically moving. In the aria where Arturo returns to England, at one point, Camarena kneeled, kissed his fingers and touched the ground.

The Mexican audience, nearly always generous, cheered wildly over Camarena. Like all opera stars, he leads a peripatetic existence — just this season he has been to Zurich, London, San Sebastian and New York, among other places. But at the end of the day he is Mexican. As the crowds yelled “Bravo,” he got to his knees, kissed his fingers and touched the ground. Mexico doesn’t have very much to be proud of these days. Javier Camarena is on that very short list.




Labels: Mexico City




March 21st, 2016


Photo by Enrique Metinides

In 1942, when Enrique Metinides was eight years old, his father gave him a camera. The family lived near a police station in Mexico City. A year or so later, the cops let little Enrique inside so he could take his first picture that would be published in the newspapers: that of a detective holding up the severed head of a man who had been murdered in the neighborhood. For the next fifty years Metinides would take pictures for the police blotter section of the city’s grisliest newspapers. He shot photos of people who had been shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death; of children whose hands had been mangled in meat grinders; of cars and buses that had crashed and been split in two. He took pictures of train derailments, airplane crashes and gas explosions. All of them were influenced by the black-and-white movies he saw as a child. Enrique Metinides: The Man Who Saw Too Much, a retrospective exhibition of his work, is being shown at the FotoMuseo Cuatro Caminos (Ingenieros Militares 77, Lomas de Sotelo, Naucalpan, Edo. de México). Curated by my friend Trisha Ziff, it’s an incredible show — a sort of collective catalogue of our traumas. Don’t miss it. Trisha also directed a breathtaking documentary about Metinides, also called El hombre que vio demasiado, which will be shown at this year’s Ambulante documentary festival. Click here for the schedule.

Labels: Mexico City