I met Al Giordano in early 2009. I was dating someone who worked for an online publication under the direction of Al’s partner at the time. That night, my girlfriend and I, Al and his girlfriend went to a presentation of Cat Power in Mexico City. Before the concert, we went to have a drink at his house. I remember that when I met him, he seemed like an incredible person. He was the director of Narco News, a legendary publication that I had known because of its coverage of the Other Campaign in 2006, and where one of the best journalists covering the war on drugs, Bill Conroy, published his work. In a way, Al condensed everything I idealized at the time into one figure: an “anarchist” who at age fourty-something, lived off his pen, who disparaged all institutions of “formal” education, who surrounded himself with interesting people, who played guitar and banjo, and who treated us all to beers. I also remember that when the night ended, I told my girlfriend that I wanted to be like him when I grew up. At the time I was 22 years old. I still lived at home with my mother. I was a university student and I was trying to make a living doing English translations. That’s why, a few months later when my girlfriend told me that her best friend, who worked for Narco News, was looking for a new team member to work as a translator and “assistant” I didn’t hesitate to apply. I called Al from a telephone booth and he gave me an appointment at his house. I had prepared a CV but it wasn’t necessary. Al, after remembering me and asking me a few questions, welcomed me into Narco News. From that point on, my life changed, and not necessarily for the worse. New paths were opened for me that lead me to this Wednesday night, almost a decade later, in which I remember Al Giordano and Narco News.
When I read the first posts from women about their unpleasant experiences, the first thing that I thought was “finally!” I don’t know why it hadn’t exploded earlier. Well, maybe I do know. I suppose it was because of fear of him and his retaliation. I think that everyone who has been close to him or his project at one point or another, knows how he operates generally: as long as you are with me and the team, you will have everything; but if I give you the thumbs down, bye, it’s over. I, all powerful Al Giordano will make sure to destroy you and close all doors to you that I can. I believe that the fear this generated has been the primary reason that many of those who felt exploited and/or abused haven’t spoken up during this time. And I am not referring only to sexual abuse, but to professional and labor abuse as well.
In the time that I worked for Narco News, I was a witness to this on many occasions and with many people. I saw him humiliate people, men and women, whether they were his “friends” or not. I saw him trash talk other people, organize to “expel” from the community people who did not do his bidding. The first time I saw this was at the first (of the three) School(s) for Authentic Journalism that I attended in 2010. I had just arrived. I had participated in the planning of the school, together with the rest of the team (at the time, he and four other people worked for Narco News. I was the newest and the youngest of them) and Greg. My experience at the School was incredible, especially because of the people I met, the friends I made, and the work that came out of those days in the Yucatán Peninsula. At the same time, I could say that the School was one of the best parties I had ever been to. Yes, as the rest of the testimonies state, there is a high level of alcohol consumption, and I’m not complaining. To the contrary, I think that a large part of the camaraderie generated by the School comes from the consumption of alcohol as a lubricant, dance, and the long nights. However, reading the testimonies of women who suffered, and seeing that alcohol is a recurring theme, makes me think that my position was quite comfortable: I am a man and I am Mexican. What I mean is that I am a local and I have a penis (90% of the schools took place in Mexico). I was not as vulnerable to dangerous situations that the alcohol facilitated as was, for example, a woman desired by Al or by any other man present. However, I also think that he is the problem, with his powered position, and the rest of us, men and women are in the same boat, experimenting with a different and effective educational model.
During that first School there was a huge split. Three of the students worked as reporters for TeleSur, and at some point they questioned the funding of the School. I remember the long discussion in assembly. You had to take sides. Those who chose to question the funding were banned from the School and Narco News forever. That was the first time I saw the Stalinist purge in action. I stayed with Al and Narco News, although I never stopped having contact with the people who were expelled that afternoon. From that first School, at least half of the students and professors were excluded for the future. I remember thinking that it was “His” School, and that there was no reason to question anything, even with any ideological objections I could have at that moment, I assimilated and naturalized the process.
However, the most important thing was that for the first time I knew how things worked: you had to continue paying homage to his personality among a very young army of followers or you were out. And from then on, and in the successive Schools I attended, the functioning was the same: no questioning. And there were several moments of abuse and humiliation I saw around, from some of the already public cases, like Irene and her work for the BBC, to others. In particular, I felt very close to what Isadora wrote while working for him. She had just started working for him after I resigned in mid-2011 — largely as a result of the exhaustion of working for him: you had to always be available, earning more or less the basic to live, everything on a very exhausting rhythm. I couldn’t be that close anymore. I resigned and left the country. A few months later he wrote me and offered to continue doing the translations for Narco News, by then he had my replacement in other functions: Isadora. I accepted, knowing that I was only going to translate and that I was more than 4 thousand miles away. So I continued doing that for a while longer — I even went back to a last School in 2013 — until suddenly, without formal communication or anything, translations and payments stopped coming. I assumed I was out.
Nevertheless, what now takes me to write about my period in Narco News is to express my solidarity with each of the women who have written about their traumatic experience with him, and to suggest that his behavior is not that of someone who sometimes acts erratically, or that he is a “weird guy”, as I often thought or said, but that his pathological behavior is part of a pattern of a person with problems that has caused a lot damage, more than I thought. And I think it’s time that it doesn’t happen again.
I never told him anything about this, nor did I object to his behavior, and that makes me feel guilty. I suppose that by now I must be on his blacklist, along with many more — and maybe his counterattack will be without mercy — but that is just the most paradoxical thing: at this moment, his pathology has united the School more than ever. Horizontally and without a boss.
P.S. A few weeks ago I was in Mexico. While walking through the market of a little town I saw in the distance a known figure sitting in a restaurant. I had an invasion of strange sensations while I didn’t know whether to approach to say hello or not. My body did not want to do it and my mind started going very fast between past and rare memories. Finally I decided to keep walking without stopping. For a while I did not know why I didn’t want to do it, until today.