Inside Kiki & Mika Camarena's Tragic Love Story In Narcos: Mexico

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Look at enough promo art for Narcos: Mexico, which dropped on Netflix on November 16, and you'd think the show was exclusively about drug Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna) and DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena (Michael Peña). To a certain degree, that's true: Narcos: Mexico depicts the men's cat-and-mouse chase, which occurred in Guadalajara in the early-to-mid '80s, in granular detail.
But the show also focuses on the other individuals affected. Each scene with Geneva "Mika" Camarena (played by a luminous Alyssa Diaz) is a reminder of the lasting repercussions the show's events had on people's lives. At the start of Narcos: Mexico, Mika is a wife relocating her family from Fresno, California to Guadalajara, Mexico to support her husband's career. By the end, she's a 37-year-old widow and mother of two, leaving Mexico without her husband.
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On February 7, 1985, the real-life Camarena was walking to his pick-up truck to meet his wife for lunch. After about four years spent in Guadalajara, the couple was planning for their imminent move to San Diego. Neither could have predicted that on his way to lunch, Camarena would be abducted by corrupt police officials on orders given by certain members of the Guadalajara Cartel.
Who, exactly, gave the orders remains a mystery. However, Narcos: Mexico showrunner Eric Newman believes that evidence points in the direction of Rafael Caro Quintero, not Gallardo. “We believe Gallardo was too smart to [to kidnap Camarena] on his own — and Rafael Quintero had ordered his abduction,” Newman told Entertainment Weekly. Quintero was still livid about the raid on Rancho Bufalo, the cartel’s massive marijuana plantation, spearheaded by Camarena a year earlier.
Camarena was missing for about a month. On March 5, 1985, his body was found on a ranch in the western state of Michoacan, Mexico, along with that of pilot Alfredo Zavala. Their bodies showed evidence of torture. Camarena’s death spurred the DEA to take action and launch a homicide investigation task force called Operation Leyenda.
That’s one way to understand what happened to Camarena. The other way is to watch Mika Camarena’s face as she tries to keep it together for her two sons on Narcos: Mexico.
Narcos: Mexico provides a glimpse into Mika and Kiki’s relationship, though the depiction is partly fabricated. In reality, Mika and Camarena had three sons together: Enrique (who was 11 at the time of his father’s death), Erik (6), and Daniel (4). In the interview with Entertainment Weekly, Newman explained that there were only two Camarena children in the show because “kids are so hard to work with.”
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Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images.
Over the course of their decades-long relationship, Mika watched Camarena transform from a high-schooler into a dogged DEA agent. Mika and Camarena were high school sweethearts in Calexico, California. In 1966, two years after graduating from high school, Camarena joined the Marine Corps. He served for two years and then returned home to Calexico, where he worked as a fireman, police officer, and eventually an Imperial County Deputy Sheriff.
In 1974, Camarena joined the DEA, setting him and his family on a fateful path. Initially, he was stationed in Calexico. Then, in 1977, he was reassigned to the DEA's Fresno office in Northern California — that’s the period in which Narcos: Mexico begins. Finally, in 1981, he was transferred to Guadalajara, where he tracked the rise of Gallardo’s empire until he died in 1985.
Mika always knew Kiki was in potential danger. In the show, Mika informs Jaime (Matt Letscher), Kiki’s boss, of the plan she and Kiki had formed in case of Kiki’s capture. In an interview with Diane Bell of the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2010, Mika said, “I think the knowledge of the danger was always there. The work he performed had never been done at that level. He told me very little because he didn’t want me to worry. But I knew.”
Following Camarena’s murder, 37-year-old Mika moved back to California with her three sons. In May of 1985, she met with President Ronald Reagan. First Lady Nancy Reagan later turned Red Ribbon Week, a campaign for Kiki's memory that began in Calexico in 1985, into a national anti-drug campaign that takes place each October.
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In 2004, Mika founded the Enrique S. Camarena Educational Foundation. The foundation sells busts of Camarena’s likeness as a memorial to those lost in the struggle against drug trafficking or drug abuse, and also issues scholarships to high school seniors. In addition, Mika travels to schools around the country promoting drug awareness.
Like his mother, Enrique Camarena Jr.’s career was shaped by Camarena’s passing. Enrique, who was only 11 when his father was killed, became a San Diego Superior Court judge in 2014, partially out of respect for his father.
"You know, I think about him every day,” Camarena Jr told NBC. “And so for me, it's still a little bit about the legacy of duty. And that's what I've been doing ... I'm going to be serving my county, serving this community in a different way."
At the end of Narcos: Mexico, the narrator insinuates that the show's story isn't over. It wasn't over for Mika Camarena and her sons, either. They have continued to honor Kiki Camarena.
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