The unmarked graves and unsung heroes south of the border.
Palomas may be quiet, at least for the time being, but the drug-related violence in Chihuahua and the rest of Mexico is not over from the point of view of those who live there.
In Palomas some people are saying that one of the cartels still rules there, thus creating a kind of manufactured peace. One person thinks it's La Linea, the enforcement wing of the Juarez cartel.
It's not easy to get comprehensive information about what's happening in the rest of Chihuahua.
A Mormon man living near Nuevo Casas Grandes has told me that violence there has decreased. A woman living on this side of the border who hasn't visited her family in four years says it's increasing.
The woman knows someone who knew a person killed in an attack on an ambulance in Juarez on Dec. 7. The ambulance had come from Casas Grandes with dialysis patients. Four people were killed. The incident seemed just completely crazy to this woman — the victim her friend knew was totally innocent, she said.
There was a massacre of six people in Bocoyna in southern Chihuahua on Nov. 13. They had been building a school house when they were attacked.
But when things really do quiet down, at least relatively speaking, much of the remains of the violence will still be there.
There are thousands of bodies buried in unmarked grave sites throughout the state. There are certainly hundreds between Palomas and Nuevo Casas Grandes alone.
The man interviewed in the book El Sicario by Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden (see "Vintage Bowden," March 2011) was a professional killer for 20 years until 2006. He claims he knows that only 5% to 6% of the mass graves in Juarez and the surrounding area have been uncovered so far.
I talked with the Mormon man in front of a tire shop in Deming a while ago. He told of some other Mormons he knew who had recently built a fence in their community of LeBaron. When they dug a hole they uncovered a corpse that had been dead for only a few days. It was surprising to them that it was right near a road.
The anecdote is potent as it shows how casually and fearlessly these burials are being carried out.
(Interestingly, Mitt Romney's father George Romney, himself a candidate for US president in 1968, came from one of the northern Chihuahan communities of Mormons, called Colonia Dublan. The younger Romney has never visited those communities.)
The burials have been going on since long before the outburst of violence in Juarez in 2008. I and many other people have driven past these anonymous graves for years, beside the road, near remote ranches or desert canyons, and never suspected they were there.
The bodies have often been made impossible to identify by burning them or using lye or chemicals to destroy them. Most graves are unmarked and will never be disinterred.
These bodies sown throughout the state will spring into the murderers' dreams for the rest of their lives. That's what happens. I've interviewed someone who was a member of the Italian mafia 30 years ago and he still has nightmares. He said his father, who also belonged to the mafia, told him, "You have to be strong."
I wonder if I've met one of the Mexican killers in a ranch south of Palomas. He sat across from me with guarded, cynical eyes and said very little. There were no cattle on the ranch.
The consciousness of these graves leaves fear like a layer of acrid smog over people's lives. It will set limits on their lives as to what they say or do for years to come.
The dead will rule from the ground. They include the totally innocent victims of extortion and the half-innocent people who got involved with the cartels because their children were crying for food.
They are those who have killed 4, 14 or 140 people. They may have been put there by cops or soldiers.
They include one man I wrote about in 2008 who had been selling drugs and was "levantado" (kidnapped) from Palomas streets one day and never returned.
Americans and Mexicans will forget, and that's the healthy thing to do. They'll snap their photos and buy pots, go to dances, beauty contests and parties. But on some level they'll remember.
I've recently heard a few local Anglos talk very negatively about Mexicans. I know an elderly couple who spent years bringing supplies to Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon. The man said to me, "I've had it with Mexicans."
It is the Mexican mestizos who've been illegally logging the forests of the Indians and forcing many of them to pick their marijuana and poppies. What is really unbelievable, but true, is that they are known to kill some of these workers at the end of the season. It's understandable the Anglo couple feel this way.
A teacher in the Deming schools told me a student of hers e-mailed his girlfriend a photo of a woman who was cut up in pieces. This teacher is planning on moving to another school district.
But I'm so glad I know a bit of the other side of this story.
I met a Mexican woman who rode horseback up to the Camp Furlong celebration last March. She immediately agreed she could drive me around Casas Grandes if I were to go there. I said to her I'd be afraid of putting her in danger, and she replied, "No-no-no-no-no." I repeated myself, and she insisted, "No-no-no-no."
I've never thought that I had a wild stroke of luck and found the bravest, pluckiest woman in Casas Grandes. I know there are dozens, if not hundreds, like her, just because I know something about Mexicans.
Another woman stood in the way of the work of some drug traffickers south of Palomas, and lived to tell about it. She was in some dangerous situations two or three times.
But she sits smiling at her kitchen table with her arm over the back of a chair, saying, "I've always known I was in God's hand." The famous "simple faith" of the Mexican poor has never been more simple and sincere than it is with her.
It's just humbling to know these women. I haven't found their courage yet.
That's why it makes little sense to get too self-righteous about all the forces of evil in Mexico these days. There's so much heart and self-sacrifice among the Mexican people that it may be that the unselfish and heroic things that are going on exist as an equal and opposite force, although they'll never be recorded.
Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.