PART 2: “12 Hours in Tijuana: Trafficking Narcotics in Mexico” by Bettina Mangiaracina

Photograph by Bettina Mangiaracina: Taken in Tijuana, Mexico January 15, 2015. 


12 Hours in Tijuana: Trafficking Narcotics in Mexico (A Road Trip Gone Very Very Wrong)

By Bettina Mangiaracina

Part one can be read here: PART 1

Woken up by Border Patrol between Tijuana and the United States. A canine sniffing under the crocheted top of my dress. Two kids shoved into handcuffs. Arrest record possibly states, “Pot heads…dumb.”

Paraded through a parked lot of a hundred people, we were pushed forward to a holding cell inside a large grey building by two US immigration officers.

Ry and I cattled to a front desk inside, where a female officer with a clipboard was waiting to intake us. My purse and Ry’s backpack handed over to her, she walked around the desk and stood in front of me. She was my height, maybe even my age.

“Spread your legs, arms out, we will be doing a full-body search, bend over, do not speak, if you speak it will only cause more trouble for yourself.”

I leaned down and hung my head, the canine coming over and sniffing my face and sticking his nose into my breasts.

“You got marijuana in there too?” she asked. “He keeps sniffing that area. Stand up.”

I did as I was told, but I said, “I’m not wearing a bra.”

“What did you sew marijuana into your clothing?”

And she feels up my chest for like five minutes and keeps picking up the fabric covering my breasts and then rubbing it between her fingers.

“He seems to really like that area. Maybe it’s that green color there, looks like a flower pattern. Might be confusing him.”

And then she goes behind, and sticks her hand under my dress and starts tugging at my thong and rubbing her hand.

What is that?” she whispers in my ear.

And I turn to her horrified because I’m not understanding what she’s asking.

“You wearing a tampon?” she asked.

And I realize.


And this seems to satisfy her, so she goes behind her desk and writes something down, and I feel like I just got fingered and I feel like I might just start crying.

“Stay right where you are, do not cross that line, I will be asking you questions and you will answer them from where you are standing. Do not cross that line.”

There’s a faint red line marked on the ground about two feet from her desk, where I’m standing, where I’ve stood this whole time.

She goes, “What’s your address.”

“Um, I don’t really have an address. I’m in the process of moving,” I say, but she just looks at me, like she doesn’t like what I’m saying.

“I’m moving to India, so I — um…I don’t really have that exact address for you.”

But she’s still just staring at me, and I kind of feel like she’s about to slap me and I kinda feel like I forgot to get dressed this morning.

“I could give you my mom’s address?” I go. But now she’s just blinking her eyes at me.

So I give her my mom’s, and she writes that down, but then she looks up at me, pushing her chin up, and says,

“What high school did you go to?”

“Um, Dreyfoos? It’s an arts school.”

She’s just staring at me again, but then she swallows and raises her eyebrows at me, narrowing her eyes like she doesn’t believe me.

“You went to Dreyfoos?”

I nod my head and stare back, but then I change my stance to stare just as intensely as she’s staring at me, because I don’t know what’s going on, I feel like I’m in a movie. I feel like narrowing my eyes and doing that head up-nod thing too.

“Dreyfoos School of the Arts?” She goes.”What did you major in?”

Fuck. She knows it.

Dreyfoos, the competitive and selective arts school I went to in South Florida, is a school full of depressed kids making art high on paint fumes and achieving GPAs over 4.0.

And half a minute passes before I reply,  “Theatre.”

She pauses, then says, “That’s a really hard school to get into. That’s one of the best schools in the country. You have to be really smart to get into a school like that.” She looks over to her coworkers now like she doesn’t know what to do, then says, “My niece has been trying to get into that program. She’s been training really hard.”

I just nod my head agreeing with her, but then she starts yelling at me.

“Why the hell are you in my office? I mean Dreyfoos? Really? Why the hell are you in my office? You should not be here.”

I want to explain everything, I want to tell her that it isn’t my weed, that it isn’t my car, that it isn’t my fault, but I knew Ry had marijuana in the car, I knew it was legal in California, but illegal in Mexico. We were just straight stupid.

“How do you two know each other?” She waves her pen connecting the gap between Ry and I.

So I say, ”Semester at Sea.”

After she does that staring thing again, shakes her head, and writes down my answer, she walks away.

I look over at Ry, and he mouths I’m sorry.

And then we are directed to sit down in the holding cell across the room, on one of the steel benches bolted to the wall, while one officer goes to test the grade of weed Ry has. And when he comes back he starts going on about how this is some high-grade shit and he takes the prescription bottle, puts it on the ground and smashes it with his boot until it breaks into all these mellow-yellow pieces, scattered around the cell. And all you hear is crunch crunch crunch.

On the bench there’s these men whose feet are handcuffed to the bottom, and their arms are tied up around them in this white lace-suit, and the one closest to me starts growling, and an officer comes in with a small water bottle and a straw, and he puts the straw into the growling guy’s mouth so he can have a drink of water.

I stare at the floor, because I’m thinking that’s probably the best thing to do in here. It’s been an hour, but I don’t feel anything, and I don’t even know if I should be feeling anything.

I’m bouncing my legs up and down really fast when I hear the woman finally call out our names.

Ry and I walk up, and she goes, “I don’t want to ever see you in my office again,” and she starts folding up our forms with all the details of our arrest and places them behind her back. And Ry’s crushed prescription bottle is still scattered on the floor, and the surface of her desk has little pieces of weed blown out everywhere, and there’s a purple baggie with a small nug in it — the full amount that he had — and she’s looking at me now, like she wants to tell me something, but all she says is,

“This doesn’t happen.”

An officer comes around and uncuffs our hands, and whispers: “You two are very lucky.”

Ry and I look at each other, in shock, we are free.

Out of Mexico. Into the US. Against a sunset of orange, red and streaks of pink, we head for LA.


Bettina Mangiaracina is a creative writing student from the Hunter College class of 2015 with a minor in women and gender studies. Mangiaracina is also a two-time Semester at Sea alumna. This piece is an account of events that occurred when she was road tripping from Los Angeles to San Diego to (oops) Mexico. Follow her original content on her website as she embarks on a film career in Goa, India:


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