Here are a few things I didn’t know about Chihuahua before we started our project. But we need to know:
Chihuahua is Huge!
Chihuahua state is the largest state in Mexico. It is about the size of Colorado. About a third of the state is desert, sharing a boarder with southern Arizona and southwest Texas. Mountains make up about a third of the state as well on the western side. Chihuahua is one of the least densely populated states in Mexico (28 out of 32 states). But its two largest cities, Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua city are the 5th and 12th largest cities in all of Mexico. What that means is outside of these two population centers, the state is very sparsely populated.
Chihuahua has a significant indigenous community
I usually think of the states of Puebla, Oaxaca or Chiapas as having large indigenous populations. But Chihuahua is home to about 120,000 members of the Tarahumara (or Rarámuri) people, an indigenous group that lives mainly in the mountains in the western part of the state. Indigenous peoples make up about 3% of the state’s population.
Tarahumara communities are some of the poorest in the world
The Tarahumara live on less that $2 per day. In fact, one Tarahumara community, Batopilas, is one of the 14 poorest municipalities in Mexico and one of the poorest in the entire world.
Tarahumara and Other Indigenous Teenagers in Prison
There are about 40 juveniles in Chihuahua’s prisons from the Tarahumara or other indigenous communities, about 25 in the Ciudad Juarez prison and 15 in the city of Chihuahua prison. They make up about 7-9% of the juvenile prison population. These teens’ communities are so poor and the distances so vast in Chihuahua, that it is very rare for any of them to see their mothers or fathers on visiting days. Last week we had the opportunity to deliver Care Packages to the 15 Tarahumara boys in the Chihuahua prison. The prison social worker told us that these boys are the most in-need, they never get visitors and therefore never receive the basic supplies that everybody needs – underwear, soap, towels – but aren’t provided by the prison.
One boy began crying as he told me he hadn’t seen his mother for 10 months. He was 16 years old. Knowing these basic things about Chihuahua state help us to understand the tremendous obstacles that these boys, their families and communities face. Not only while they are in prison, but when the are released. Creating alternatives to detention and effective reintegration programs for these teens will be one of our biggest challenges in Chihuahua state.