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FHS celebrates Red Ribbon Week with Mika Camarena

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

Mika Camarena, the wife of slain undercover DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, was the special guest Thursday, Oct. 27, at Fallbrook High School for the inaugural ribbon-cutting event on campus for the school's Camarena Youth Prevention Crime Group.

Each year, from Oct. 23-31, more than 80 million young people and adults show their commitment to a healthy, drug-free lifestyle by wearing or displaying the red ribbon during Red Ribbon Week.

The eight-day celebration is an annual catalyst to show intolerance for drugs in our schools, workplaces and communities.

The Fallbrook club was started by junior Jasmine Hernandez, who presented Mika Camarena with a bouquet of red roses. Other guests at the ribbon cutting were Chamber of Commerce CEO Lila MacDonald, FUHSD Superintendent Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez, FHS Principal Lauren Jones, FUHSD Trustee Oscar Caralampio, and Mario and Veronica Hernandez, who encouraged their daughter Jasmine to start the club.

"She (Jasmine) had a hatred of drugs since the fourth grade," Veronica Hernandez said. "Her older siblings were the reason with their troubles, but Jasmine has been steadfast in knowing the danger of drugs."

Jasmine met with the crime prevention officer of the Sheriff Department's Fallbrook substation in July to learn about ways to encourage a drug-free campus.

Other students in the new Camarena club are Cianya Mejia, Kimberly Acosta, Jezabella Uribe, Xochilt Xalamihua, Amy Sanchez, and David Daza. The students meet twice a month.

"It's very heartwarming to be here," Mrs. Camarena said after the ribbon cutting. "It's exciting to find people helping our youths to stay away from drugs."

The Chula Vista resident said she was married to Kiki for 15 years before he was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. "It was painful when they couldn't find his body, but when they finally did and we had his service, I thought there would be closure – but it's still painful."

Kiki Camarena was killed in 1988.

He was born July 26, 1947, in Mexicali, Mexico. Camarena grew up in a dirt-floored house with hopes and dreams of making a difference. He graduated from Calexico High School in Calexico in 1966, and in 1968 he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. After serving two years in the Marines, moved on to become a Calexico fireman, Calexico police officer and an Imperial County Deputy Sheriff.

Kiki joined the Drug Enforcement Administration in June of 1974. His mother tried to talk him out of it. "I can't not do this," he told her. "I'm only one person, but I want to make a difference."

His first assignment as a Special Agent with DEA was in Calexico. The DEA sent Camarena to work undercover in Mexico to investigate a major drug cartel believed to include officers in the Mexican army, police, and government. On Feb. 7, 1985, the 37-year-old Camarena left his office to meet his wife for lunch. Five men appeared at the agent's side and shoved him in a car. One month later, Camarena's body was found in a shallow grave. He had been tortured to death.

In honor of Camarena's memory and his battle against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors began to wear red badges of satin. Parents, sick of the destruction of alcohol and other drugs, had begun forming coalitions. Some of these new coalitions took Camarena as their model and embraced his belief that one person can make a difference.

These coalitions also adopted the symbol of Camarena's memory, the red ribbon. The National Family Partnership organized the first Nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign in 1988.

In 1997, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (now the Department of State Health Services) began committing resources to ensure the continuation of the Red Ribbon Campaign in Texas, as well as the hopes and beliefs behind this grassroots effort to protect children from the dangers of alcohol and other drugs.

Red Ribbon Week eventually gained momentum throughout California and later across the United States. In 1985, club members presented the "Camarena Club Proclamation" to then First Lady Nancy Reagan, bringing it national attention. Later that summer, parent groups in California, Illinois, and Virginia began promoting the wearing of red ribbons nationwide during late October.

The campaign was then formalized in 1988 by the National Family Partnership, with President and Mrs. Reagan serving as honorary chairpersons.


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