Soft-spoken and humble, Alfredo Corchado hardly seems like someone whom drug lords would find threatening.
But as a journalist Corchado -- who as a child worked in the San Joaquin Valley with his Mexican immigrant parents, farming sugar beets -- covered the cartels with such tenacity and incisiveness that drug lords grew concerned, and made him a target.
Corchado, who was born in Durango, Mexico and grew up in California and Texas, is the author of a new book, “Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Though A Country’s Descent Into Darkness,” a personal account of covering his homeland’s increasingly tough and dangerous fight against the drug business and corruption.
The book, Corchado told Fox News Latino, was as much a journalistic endeavor as a personal search for answers about what the future could hold for his country.
The title of the book was inspired by a U.S. official’s warning to Corchado, who is the Mexico City bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, that he appeared to be one of three people on a cartel hit list.
“It was the night of the death threat, it was literally midnight in Mexico,” Corchado said. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Like many reporters based in Mexico who cover the drug world, he had been threatened several times over the years.
“It just happens,” he said evenly. “It’s a way of keeping you away from those stories, a way of telling you ‘You don’t mess around with my profits.’”
But the U.S. official’s warning took the reality of how serious the cartels were about stopping Corchado to a whole new level, he said, adding that the official told him, “I would get out.”
“From that moment on my world was just shattered.”
Questions and despair filled him that night, he said, about Mexico – what had become of his beloved homeland. And a book to delve into those questions seemed like something he had to pursue.
“It was therapy but also [about] answering those questions,” he said. “What has the whole democratic transition meant for Mexico?”
Corchado's insatiable desire for getting answers to questions, and for giving a voice to the voiceless – and he considers many Mexicans to be voiceless, because of the constant threat and violence by cartels – grew out of an experience when, as a 13-year-old, a reporter asked him about life as a farm worker.
“A TV crew came up to me to ask me questions about what it’s like to work in the fields without the right conditions,” he said. “Someone wanted to give me a voice. When the time came to pick a career, I kept thinking about that, that someone gave me a voice, and wouldn’t it be neat for me to someday become a journalist and give others a voice.”
And when the opportunity to focus on Mexico arose, it was a dream come true, though problems were plaguing the country.
“There was always this yearning for the homeland,” he said, “it opened so many possibilities. I wanted to be there, Mexico called for me.”
“As an American journalist, what better place to be than on the front row seat in the most tumultuous time in Mexico in the last 50 years?”
A decade ago, he worked on investigations of the killings of women in Ciudad Juárez, and traced some back to the cartel there. He did stories that uncovered numerous crimes, in the United States and in Mexico, that were linked to the cartels.
Eventually, he became one of the world’s top reporters on Mexican drug violence and the world of the cartels. But Corchado is unfazed by the accolades, and there have been many, including a fellowship at Harvard.
“I’m always mindful that when you have a U.S. passport, that gives you protection that a lot of my colleagues in Mexico lack,” he said. “I would never say I’m more courageous than my [Mexican] colleagues. In Mexico there are some very valiant [reporters], and many of them don’t have the protections.”
“I can call my editor at any point of the day or night and say things are getting hot, let me get out of here.”
His book, he said, is not just about drugs.
“The drug war is more of the backdrop,” he said. “It’s a very personal story, it’s about a lot of the complexities between the United States and Mexico. It’s a story about my family, but also about the millions, not just from Mexico, but from all around the world who come here, who reinvent themselves in a new country, but they never let go of the motherland.”
And it’s therapy.
Midnight, after all, eventually gives way to dawn.
“I wanted to believe in a dawn, in the promise of a new day.”
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente