LIVING OFF DEATH - YOVANI SOLÍS EMBALMS EX-PRESIDENTS, MIDGET WRESTLERS, AND VICTIMS OF THE NARCO WARS
Every day I ride a tram back and forth between my house and office. I’ve taken it for years now. The route goes through some of Mexico City’s nicest neighborhoods, like Colonia Roma, but it also passes one of its roughest: the Doctores, where each street is named for a famous physician. Last year, on an April morning, I was gazing out the window of the tram when I spotted two oversize trailers backed up to the door of what looked like a nondescript residential house. A large group of photographers were snapping pictures around the trailers as soldiers stood around the perimeter, blocking off the street. It was an unusual sight, but it didn’t provoke any Roswellian suspicions.
Later that day, as I was watching the news, I learned that the house I saw on the tram is something like a stopover to the afterlife—like a mom-and-pop-shop mortuary.
The scene kept replaying in my mind until curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to return to the house and see who was inside. I knocked on the door, expecting some creepy, vampire-looking old guy to answer. Instead, I was welcomed inside by a sweet and soft-spoken young man named Yovani González Solís, who is the sole employee of La Embalsamadora la Piedad (Mercy Embalmings).
The first thing I asked Yovani about was the trailers I’d seen while riding the tram, one of which was currently docked to the house from the sidewalk. He told me that the trucks were full of bodies, and that they were being delivered to him. Autopsies in Mexico are handled by the Forensic Medical Service (SEMEFO), a government agency tasked with identifying bodies and investigating violent deaths. But people like Yovani are relied on for the cleaning and embalming. It’s mortuary outsourcing, basically.
When I asked Yovani where the stiffs on the trucks came from, he said they were transferred from Tamaulipas’s infamous narco mass graves—victims of a series of brutal drug-cartel executions that happened last year. I was shocked and thought it best for me to leave to reflect on what was going on at Yovani’s house, but I asked him whether it was OK to come back some other time to talk more about his work. He said yes.