Judge’s Message Honors Father, Red Ribbon Week

Judge's Message Honors Father, Red Ribbon Week
Posted on 10/19/2021
Superior Court Judge Enrique Camarena continues to find ways to carry on his father's legacy.

Editor's note: This article was first published in October 2018. To honor the 2021 Red Ribbon Week Campaign, CVESD News is republishing this web post from our archives, with updates reflecting this year's theme, "Drug Free Looks Like Me."

The news footage shows Enrique E. Camarena at 11, walking alongside his mother on an airport tarmac where his father’s flag-draped casket was being carried by Marines. Many grieved with Camarena Jr., the eldest of three children, in the aftermath of the murder of his father “Kiki.”

The elder Camarena was working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Guadalajara, Mexico, when he was kidnapped in February 1985 and executed by drug traffickers. His body was found a month later along with that of a Mexican pilot.

The incident touched off an international furor. There would be years of policy debates, crackdowns on Mexico’s drug cartels, and escalation and examination of the “War on Drugs.” The kidnapping also began the tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of the fight against drugs.

Red Ribbon Week®, the National Family Partnership’s Anti-Drug Campaign, is held each October 23-31. It is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation, reaching millions of young people. 

“Red Ribbon Week is extremely important to me because it was started, it was influenced, by my dad’s death,” Camarena recalled. “It is something very positive that came out of something very negative. It is celebrated by hundreds of millions of people across the world now.”

In CVESD, school #45 was named Enrique S. Camarena Elementary in the elder Camarena’s honor in 2012, after his son appeared before the Board of Education. A Chula Vista resident and local prosecutor at the time, Camarena gave an impassioned speech to the Board to name the school after his father.  

At times inspirational, at times solemn, his presentation drew tears as well.

“Within weeks of my dad’s death, hundreds of school children here in California honored my father’s sacrifice by pledging to lead drug-free lives. School groups, coalitions, parent-teacher groups started wearing red ribbons,” Camarena told the Board. “The Red Ribbon Week campaign grew from these grass-roots campaigns. Red Ribbon Week is now the nation’s oldest and largest drug-prevention program. …Every October, every school in this District—and I have spoken at many of them—celebrates Red Ribbon Week. They keep enlarging the footprint my dad leaves on this Earth.”

Camarena noted that, “…When my father was a boy, he knew he wanted to be a police officer. My grandmother tried to talk him out of it.” His father responded: I am only one person, but I can make a difference.”

Camarena jokes that the presentation is still the best “closing argument” he has given to date.

Camarena is now a Superior Court Judge, a position that does not allow him to make as many school visits to speakEnrique Camarena Jr. about drug prevention as he would like. But, he continues to find ways to carry on his father’s legacy.

This year, Judge Camarena took part in a brief Red Ribbon Week promotional video to share with students. Schools often plan a week’s worth of “spirit” activities with messaging that encourages students to live drug-free lives. Activities include “Turn Your Back on Drugs,” where students wear their shirts inside out, and “Stomp Out Drugs,” where students wear boots to school.

“Red Ribbon Week provides an opportunity for us to strengthen our communication to families and kids about the importance of living drug free lives,” said Melissa Minas, CVESD project manager and Red Ribbon Week coordinator. “There are so many fun activities that happen around our school district. …One of my favorites is, “Our Future is Too Bright For Drugs,” where students wear sunglasses to school.”

All schools are encouraged to share their school activities on social media with the following hashtag: #CVESDRedRibbon. For Judge Camarena, the anti-drug campaign is as relevant today as during his father’s time with the DEA.

“I think every student should know that whatever you put into your body has an effect on your body,” Judge Camarena said. “There are a lot of things that have a bad effect on your body. Right now, we want all students to make healthy choices, good choices for their lives. Staying away from drugs, alcohol and tobacco at this stage of their lives is one of the most important things they can do.”

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