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Rolling Stone interview: Among Mexican-Americans, a complex view of 'El Chapo'

Amid the ethical debate over the Rolling Stone interview of drug lord Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán, Mexican-Americans have a unique view. 

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Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City Friday.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP

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For Michelle Madrano, the capture of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán – and actor Sean Penn’s interview with him – doesn't stir anger or elation or much of a response at all. After all, when you think a government is lying to you, it's hard to know what to trust.

“I don’t trust the Mexican government to tell the truth about what really happened,” says Ms. Madrano, a civil engineering major at Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys.

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But for Edna Becerra, a professor at Whittier College, Mr. Penn's Rolling Stone interview with Mr. Guzmán “borders on the ridiculous.” 

“Here you have someone who knows next to nothing about Mexican culture, Mexican issues, or the drug trade coming in and shaking hands with this terrible person whose business is ravaging the country,” she says.

How the Mexican-American community has responded to Guzmán's capture, as well as the Rolling Stone article that some critics say makes the drug lord look like an antihero, has varied widely. In several interviews, younger Mexican-Americans – especially those whose families have been in the United States for generations – generally responded with a cynical shrug. Older Mexican-Americans and those who grew up in Mexico are more engaged. 

Professor Becerra, for example, is a first generation immigrant and says she is “very aware of Mexico’s politics.” 

She considers the Rolling Stone interview with a hint of anger. The seriousness of Mexico’s economic and social problems contrasts sharply with what she considers “the irrelevance” of Penn’s observations. 

For Pablo Salazar, a construction worker who has been in the US for 16 years, the issue is still very close. In fact, he's hesitant even to speak of it given that he still has aunts, uncles, and cousins living in Guadalajara.

His family in Mexico never touches the subject for safety reasons, he says. “They don’t talk about it because they still live there,” he adds. 

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For his part, “I don’t trust the Mexican government, that’s why I came here,” he says. “All this is just to distract the people from the real problems Mexico has.”

That lack of trust in government runs deep among the handful of Mexican-Americans interviewed. 

“You can’t trust any government,” says Santos Gutierrez, another student at Los Angeles Valley College. 

A third-generation immigrant, Mr. Gutierrez, says he rarely thinks about Mexican politics. “I don’t really care. If I talk about politics at all, it’s about this country, not Mexico.” 

Madrano's parents came from Jalisco before she was born, and she says a government class she's taking at Los Angeles Valley College have opened her eyes. She says she's “learning all kinds of new things about politics” and doesn’t think the public is getting the full story. 

She also hints at a more complex image of Guzmán back home – and even among Mexican-American teenagers.  

“I have heard he has done things for the poor people in Mexico and so they see him as a hero,” Madrano says, though she is quick to add, “I don’t see him as a hero because he hasn’t used his money to do anything for the people here,” she gestures around herself.

However, she says with a laugh, her sister doesn’t care about the politics at all.

“She’s still in high school and she really likes all that narco drug music,” she says, referring to narcocorridos, popular Mexican music celebrating the exploits of the drug trade.