Santa Ana Michoacanos Vs. the Templarios

Santa Ana residents are helping to wage a secret war against one of Mexico's most ruthless drug cartels—and they're winning

The man makes a sweeping gesture with his right arm and points his forefinger at the other men standing at the bar with him. "We came here to better our lives by doing honest work," he says. "We earned what we have. Those people [drug lords] became rich through terror and murder."

*     *     *

Michoacanos began arriving in Santa Ana in the early 1960s, the same time Easterners, Midwesterners, Appalachian hillbillies, tejanos and others began flooding Orange County and Southern California. Michoacanos had another thing in common with their fellow migrants: They were all part of a population boom and construction surge fueled by the aerospace industry. The others went to work in aircraft or defense plants or electronic firms; Michoacanos worked on farms, poured concrete, even picked the oranges that were still plentiful then and performed other backbreaking jobs handed out to newly arrived immigrants.

Hans-Máximo Musielik/Courtesy Vice Mexico
A self-defense member in the aftermath of a confrontation with Los Caballeros Templarios during the takeover of Parácuaro, Michoacán
Hans-Máximo Musielik/Courtesy Vice Mexico
A self-defense member in the aftermath of a confrontation with Los Caballeros Templarios during the takeover of Parácuaro, Michoacán

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The lucky ones worked as laborers in the construction industry—the pay was better—and helped to build the houses purchased by aircraft, defense and electronics workers. The really lucky ones joined the Laborers Local 652, hung out at its union hall off Chestnut Avenue, and earned relatively good wages and benefits. Many of the $40,000 dream homes built in central and north Orange County in the early 1970s were constructed in part by their blue-collar labor. When developers ran out of places to put up stucco and lay down concrete and asphalt, they turned to South County and took the michoacanos with them to build more expensive homes on ridges that rise above the ocean.

The first families settled around First Street and Grand Avenue in Santa Ana, often sharing homes or apartments with other michoacanos until they could get on their feet. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church near Second and Grand, where First Communions and weddings were celebrated, served as an anchor for the community. As their numbers grew, they began pushing west toward South Main Street, where the first shops and restaurants catering to michoacanos began appearing in the 1980s. Today, Santa Ana is awash with businesses bearing the names of the Michoacán towns that sent the most people: Zamora, Sahuayo, Uruápan, Pátzcuaro, Apatzingán, El Granjenal.

Over the years, michoacanos have been perhaps the most cohesive of the many Mexican immigrant communities who settled in Santa Ana, frequently organizing hometown benefit associations to press for political change in the city and to raise funds for municipal projects back in Michoacán the Mexican government could never seem to care to finish. But those ties are changing as assimilation becomes easier for the newer generations. The sons shun the starched Western-style shirts, broad silver belt buckles and cowboy boots worn by their fathers as their Sunday best. The community festivals held at the union and church halls are not as important as before, when they were also a forum for families to gossip about events taking place back home.

"Our children are Americans. Many haven't even been to Michoacán. To them, it's just a place where their parents came from," says the man from Peribán.

For all the negative stereotypes that many have of Mexican immigrants and Santa Ana, there is also one real fact: The children of michoacanos who arrived as unskilled laborers half a century ago are today working alongside the children of whites who arrived at the same time. They are also buying the homes their fathers helped to build. The elders, meanwhile, rue the violence that is tearing apart their homeland and worry about family members who stayed behind. However, there is near-universal support for the autodefensas who are taking back the towns, whether birthplaces or ancestral, from drug lords and disdain for the government and military who allowed Michoacán to teeter close to becoming a failed state.

Autodefensas have proven an embarrassment to Nieto and the Mexican Army. A ragtag group of embattled farmers have done in a few weeks what the military and law enforcement were unable, or unwilling, to accomplish in a decade. The fighters have their own uniform of sorts; white T-shirts emblazoned with "Grupo de Autodefensa" on the back. They've been hailed as heroes by almost all of Mexico, compared to the Zapatista uprising of the 1990s or the troops of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata from a century ago. An image of Michoacán's unofficial mascot—a Purépecha girl that's the logo for the La Michoacana ice cream company, now sketched with a shotgun, pistol and bandana covering her face—has gone viral, a commentary on the state of the times. Some critics have charged the autodefensas are nothing more than hired gunmen for another cartel looking to oust the Templarios. However, no evidence has backed up the allegations, which have been strongly denied by leaders of the local defense groups.

A few weeks ago, the military threatened to disarm the self-defense groups, who refused to give up their arms and pushed back with demands of their own: They would consider a compromise only if all of the Templarios' top leaders were arrested and a genuine rule of law without crooked cops is established in their towns. Late last month, the government reached a "temporary" agreement with the vigilantes in which the autodefensas would cooperate with government law-enforcement agencies and be absorbed into quasi-military units called the Rural Defense Corps. The units will be overseen by the Mexican Army, and the fighters would be allowed to keep their arms if they register them. The latter stipulation is significant because Mexico's gun laws do not permit citizens to own assault weapons.

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47 comments
mutunus69
mutunus69

Most people mistake this to be a Mexican problem.  It is not, the problem is precipitated by American drug money and American made weapons.  The sooner Americans learn and accept it, the closer we will be to a solution.  And, as far as military boots on the ground, it's been done in Columbia, Panama, etc.  It can, and should happen in Mexico.   My thoughts and prayers with the Autodefensa.

Feevahs
Feevahs

i can only pray the autodefensas continue to uphold these ideals and their successes continue unhindered. I can say without a doubt that these groups have overwhelming support from the american public, not just native michoacanos or even just hispanics, this type of righteous fight is deeply rooted in the american way of thinking and we would eagerly join our brothers south of the border to fight the good fight, even if we would get sunburned crispy in the process. 

madilyneh
madilyneh

Well done Gustavo. Real local news, history, info and journalism... and heros.

Paul Mendez
Paul Mendez

It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees

Pencotron
Pencotron

Does anyone believe that the cartels have survived this long without help from the Mexican government?  The registration of the weapons of the Autodefencas will be the first step for the corrupt government to disband them or worse.

Kiki Camacho
Kiki Camacho

Viva el pueblo. Unido, jamás será vencido.

P Verdin Jimenez
P Verdin Jimenez

God Bless this "AUTODEFENSAS" & thank them for helping and defending the Catholic Church along with defending themselves!..about time

Ask a Mexican
Ask a Mexican

Not necessarily true—en unos pueblos en Michoacán, no dejaron a Komander o la hija de unos de los Templarios tocar.

Dawn Ramirez
Dawn Ramirez

Christ Christ Christ. Thank you for this article.

Sam Rodriguez
Sam Rodriguez

i would not be surprised if the Mexican govt. and police are in cahoots with the cartels including our DEA. the flow of drugs is driven by greed, profits and politics.

Arturo Acevedo
Arturo Acevedo

You should add that those autodefensas have already started aligning with the government. What was interesting about those groups -at the beginning- was precisely that they were independent; they did not have all the vicious that Mexican police and even the military has. Therefore, the autodefensas will end as a kind of rural police that little by little will be eaten by the same corruption practices that have rotted the official security groups.

Steven Ferris
Steven Ferris

Rafael Sandra Floy Julia Felipe Mercedes Gayde Guillermo Cristian Eileen encontré éstas buenas noticias de Michoacán. saludos, amigos.

Daniel Castor
Daniel Castor

Pero alrato andan con sus narco-corridos, cantandole y bailandole a las canciones que glorifica esos mismos que esta causando tanto terror a la gente Mexicana.

Cezario Miranda
Cezario Miranda

La raza I'd rather die on my feet then live on my knees. ( Zapata )

El Chato
El Chato

Viva la Raza.. They are finally waking up, and taking what's theirs back!

Gerardo Robles
Gerardo Robles

That's what's up. Pretty soon all of Southern California will start doing that as a way of ending police corruption

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

ahahahahahaa


Obamas voting strategy paying off big time


hey dem voters who actually care about their lives and property


cant wait, can you for those cartels to move in 


ahahahaha

hangobamanow
hangobamanow

"Bienvenidos al Limon de la Luna" ("Welcome to the Lime of the Moon")"

Dear Fake Bilingual Person: a 'Limón' is a lemon. A lime is a 'Lima'.

I know, I know ..it STILL doesn't make sense. That's Mexican "Spanish" for you!

Bestias.

Maher-Sawaf
Maher-Sawaf

well, that is a debatable statement. The act of strife will not lead to a happy ending every time!


However, I am happy for the people of Mexico. 

brownout
brownout

@sweetliberty17761776 I can't wait for drugs to be legalized, and for those cartels to starve to death. And yeah, I'm gonna keep voting Democrat until someone else comes up with new domestic policy ideas other than trying to keep the brown people out.

Feevahs
Feevahs

@Maher-Sawaf  not in the slightest, with the sun on his back and his wounds to the fore, every man should die on his feet.

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@brownout


If you have to lie you must not really believe in your own position


the gop is NOT against brown people coming in


LEGALLY


or are you admitting that the Dems want people here illegally cause they never admitted to that,,in words



so if you base your foundation on a lie, then that means your life is a lie


think about it

targetmedia
targetmedia

We've had that discussion in my house my wife told me to get Limons and when I bring home lemons she screams at me asking me why I didn't bring home limes :)

Feevahs
Feevahs

@Maher-Sawaf @Feevahs this is not a charging offensive to change the world that is twisted for the ends of the loudest group, or a lofty ideali hijacked for the gains of a few opportunists. the idea is the defense of your home against those who would corrupt it, the idea is "i'm from here, i didn't come here". the idea is fixing your home so your brothers dont die, your sisters are not raped, your family does not have to be destroyed. if the goals are accomplished and the bloodbath continues, then your goals were not accomplished were they?




and yes sir, dying on your feet in defense of your home is one of the most honorable, and beautiful, things on this earth.

Maher-Sawaf
Maher-Sawaf

@Feevahs @Maher-Sawaf  People believe in a noble idea they improvise they work they put their lives on stake they achieve something then the idea gets bigger more people join with different interests the clash intensifies it gets uglier people start to lose family members killed brothers raped sisters it gets complicated No Turning Back. other people will start to invest in your life they put money on your death The Idea starts to crack the legitimate strife turns into a circus and the bloodbath continues................

dying on your feet is not that beautiful, is it? 

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@brownout  


The Obama administration has unilaterally eased restrictions on asylum seekers with loose or 


incidental ties to terror and insurgent groups, in a move one senator called "deeply alarming." 


The change, approved by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secretary of 


State John Kerry, was announced Wednesday in the 


Federal Register. It would allow some individuals who provided "limited material support" to terror groups to be considered for entry into the U.S

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@brownout  

you said you vote for (dems) cause thats who wants the illegals to come in as shown by their actions


of course (whites ) people who are either educated or speak the language have an easier time


my original post stands true

brownout
brownout

I don't claim to represent the Democrats or anyone but myself. That being said, you're either completely uninformed in regards to the immigration process, or you're not being entirely honest yourself. I have a good friend who emigrated legally from Peru, and the process took over ten years. There's much more of a backlog coming from Mexico, whereas people who wish to emigrate from countries that tend to run a little whiter, coincidentally, sail through the system in spite of the fact that there are more European illegal immigrants than there are from south of the border.

 
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