Life and Death on the Avocado Trail
A Mexican-American cook routinely travels 2,000 miles, driving through a drug war and slipping past kidnappers’ fingers, all for a decent mole poblano for her New York customers.
Photos by Jessica Bal
In December of 2013, Denisse Chavez and her husband were stopped by two unmarked white cars while driving north on the highway out of Reynosa in the Tamaulipas state of Mexico. The vehicles had been tailing her own car, a worn-out 2002 model that her mechanic’s tools permanently called home, for four or five miles. It was a scene she had witnessed many times before.
A small-time importer and business owner in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, Chavez, forty-nine, had been traveling by car from New York to Puebla, driving over 5,000 miles each trip, for almost six years. Along the route she’d seen gunfights break out before her eyes, as well as robberies and kidnappings. But she always escaped unscathed. Typically, she made the trip to stock her Bronx bodega, El Atoradero. This time, she had gone to Monterrey to purchase equipment for her then-forthcoming restaurant.
The risk implicit in the journey was not lost on her. She knew the price of traveling through …