Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, is a small town 125 kilometers southeast of Mexico City with about 12,000 inhabitants and not to be confused with another town called Tenancingo in the State of México, famous for its rebozos, or shawls.
The first is well known for something rather less reputable: 10% of its population is estimated to participate in the town’s main source of income, prostitution and the trafficking of women.
The seedy story of Tenancingo has been told many times, as it must be, inspiring documentaries, books and even an opera.
It has become known around the world as the Mecca of human trafficking, having risen to be the most important provider of prostitutes in the United States, particularly in Southern California and New York City.
Just last March one of the United States’ 10 most wanted human traffickers, Paulino Ramírez Granados was arrested in Tenancingo, the 26th member of his gang to be apprehended.
Evangelina Hernández, a journalist and novelist, has dug into the subject: the economics of Tenancingo have naturalized violence towards women; whole families participate in it.
“Women, even girls, are kidnapped or seduced by the padrote, or pimp, but then they become part of his family. Criminal networks there are formed by mothers, sisters, uncles, grandparents.”
Hernández has interviewed women who after being kidnapped and raped sit down and have breakfast with their captor’s family.
Most of the women come from poor southeastern states, and even Guatemala.
The men, meanwhile, are driven by an exploitative mindset: “I own you, you belong to me.”
The profitable business of prostitution began in Tenancingo in the 1970s and 80s after a great number of factories shut down and many people found themselves unemployed.
However, essayist and novelist Jorge Volpi tells of a myth dating back to prehispanic times, when it is said that the town was already famous for trafficking in women. The practice was renewed in the 20th century and then became international in scope at the turn of the century.
Volpi’s investigations inspired him to write a script that narrates this human tragedy, material that later became a movie, a verse novel and an opera.
Hernández says the economy of Tenancingo is dependent on human trafficking. “Eighteen municipalities surrounding the town are now contaminated. People there have neither jobs nor education alternatives.”
But there is money in human trafficking: worldwide, she says, it is the third most profitable illegal trade after drugs and arms trafficking.
Evangelina Hernández has chronicled the story of Tenancingo and given a voice to the victims through her recently published book Tierra de Padrotes, or Land of the Pimps.
Jorge Volpi premiered his opera Cuatro Corridos (Four Ballads) in 2013 in San Diego, California. His verse novel, Las Elegidas (The Chosen Ones), will be published in September and a movie of the same name just premiered in Cannes.