The Project

The Heart of Mexico
By Jason Yang and Thorne Anderson

From the outside looking in, Mexico can seem like an intimidating place. The Mexican drug war has taken more than 60,000 lives since 2006. From 2005 to April 2013, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) has documented 84 journalists killed and 20 disappearances of media workers.

These are the dramatic statistics behind the sensational headlines. But they only tell a small part of the story of Mexico. The violence is localized and shallow. The vast majority of the country is peaceful, and Mexican life experiences and culture run deep.

Determined to challenge stereotypes, Heart of Mexico sent six teams, each with a writer, a translator and visual journalist into the green mountains and crowded concrete buildings of Tenancingo and Malinalco, two small towns in the state of Mexico. Ten students from the Mayborn School of Journalism at University of North Texas (UNT) joined forces with ten students from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UAEM). Our objective was to immerse ourselves in the lives of ordinary people and to share their tales in narrative text, photographs and video. Students lived in the communities they covered, mostly in the homes of Mexican families.

After three weeks in the center of Mexico, the teams uncovered rich stories straight from the heart: a woodcrafter fights his own struggles to pass a centuries-old tradition to the next generation; a pest exterminator tackles a community problem despite her financial instabilities; a saddler is redeemed through love in the shadow of his troubled past; a father endures a life of poverty (literally at the feet of his savior) but never questions his faith; a keeper of traditional arts overcomes a difficult childhood to provide a better life for his own children; three generations of women in one family fight for their dreams against Mexico’s gender inequality.

The struggles explored here reveal the underlying strength of a powerful culture unexplored by the sensational headlines of the drug war. What emerges from these intimately observed slices of life is a complex sculpture of contemporary small-town Mexico, where tradition collides with change and strong characters climb to the future from the foundation of their past.

These students spent hours upon hours, day after day with their subjects encountering tradition, compassion, redemption, hope, empowerment, transformation and change. The characters you meet here are more than the sum of their struggles. Their stories demonstrate the richness of their experience. These people are more than statistics. They are the hearts of Mexico.

Personal Essays