We had come to the morgue talk to the medical examiner about the rate at which bodies go unidentified, as the city’s homicide rate last year became the highest on record. The neighbors in Tijuana knew about the stench, which got worse in the summer months as the temperatures got higher. The employee who came in carrying a gallon of the Mexican cleaning liquid, Pinol, also knew about the ways that it traveled through the hallways. The medical examiner knew.
There were bodies on the gurneys that had not yet been autopsied — fifteen, on the morning we arrived. They would then be assessed for the cause of death, which in the cases that the morgue dealt with was usually violent. Auto accidents, gunshot wounds, strangulation. The kinds of things you hope do not happen to anyone you love, or even anyone you know. For those who had already been identified, the vans from the funeral homes came to the parking lot to haul people to the cemetery.
A colleague of mine who I had told that I was writing about the morgue warned me: many of the reports that come out of there are amarillista, yellow journalism that helps nobody. It stuck with me, while I watched relatives who were coming in to identify their family members and felt embarrassed to have come with a notebook. I imagined that this is not what they expected: a stack of photographs in black and white. The scent of everyone. The air conditioning not working enough to give them a break.
I’ve been thinking about those families as I started to consider how to write responsibly about these circumstances.
Maya Averbuch, 2019 US-Mexico Border Fellow