I’m  freelance writer in Mexico City, where I cover politics and culture.

Currently funded by National Geographic.

Some of my stories have been featured on Longreads and Longform.

madeleine dot wattenbarger at gmail dot com.

Featured Publications

Photo by Dominic Bracco for Rest of World.

Rest of World: Where surveillance cameras work, but the justice system doesn’t. Thanks to the C5 surveillance cameras, the authorities had evidence of the police officers kidnapping and robbing Carlos. But the official seemed to want to leave the investigation at that. “Police like that are out there,” he said. “We don’t have any control over them.”

The Guardian: US-Mexico border factories stay open despite COVID risk. A few days after the state ordered the Autolite factory to stop work, Ayala got a text message inviting him back to work, on condition he did not drive there: the factory parking lot had to stay empty. “They offered us a bonus of 250 pesos and a vacation day,” he said.

Photo by Mallika Vora for Eater.

Eater: Mexico City’s Public Markets Are In Danger Of Disappearing. Some markets have benefited from the city’s newfound status as an international culinary hotspot. But what would it take for them to be truly accessible to residents of Mexico City?

Strangers Guide: Defending water, defending life. The tent’s walls flap as cars speed by. In large hand lettering, the street-facing wall reads: “PLANTÓN EN DEFENSA DEL AGUA”—“Sit-in in defense of water.” It’s April, and the sit-in is in its seventh month.

Columbia Journalism Review: The front line of Mexican media is DIY community radio. We go through the open first floor of a house, across a courtyard dotted with cats and chickens, and climb stairs scattered with beer caps to a cinder block room. Outside is the radio transmitter, which Perez and fellow radio host Hugo Franco Guzman now fix themselves whenever there’s an issue. Before, it was always Samir: he was small and slender and scaled the roof like it was nothing.

Photo by Madeleine Wattenbarger for Foreign Policy.

Foreign Policy: We’re Doing What The Government Won’t Do. Bones seemed to rise from all corners of the property. The carelessness with which the government had treated the remains added to the brutality with which criminals had killed their searchers’ families.

Al Jazeera: Inside Mexico’s feminist occupation. One young girl pauses every so often to jump onto the sky-blue aerial dance silks that hang from a roof beam; she hooks her feet around them and swings back and forth over the atrium. Meanwhile, the women take turns keeping guard at the doors, where they’ve arranged a line of Molotov cocktails for emergency use. 

Photo by Alicia Vera for Zora.

Zora: Meet the Women Smashing Mexico’s Male-Dominated DJ Scene. To dance in the street is to assert the right to the city. For Mendoza and the Musas, taking a place as sonideras — playing music, not just dancing on display — is asserting that they have just as much right to that space as men do.

The Baffler: Conspiracy of Silence. When I first began reporting in Mexico, these stories struck me as bone-chillingly eerie: a journalist murdered by the state for writing about someone else murdered by the state. Many had foreseen their own fate, but even knowing the mechanisms, they could not save themselves. It’s more of a curse than a catch-22: the knowledge is what ultimately doomed them. Once they knew, they couldn’t escape.

The Nation: Caravan Migrants Carry Hopes Northward As Their Journeys Resume. Alfredo and his nephew toss playful insults back and forth, collapsing onto each other in laughter, while Carlos hovers nearby, every so often joining their jabs with a grin. A few men with smartphones show each other pictures and play reggaetón hits on YouTube. Alfredo flashes a laminated card distributed by an aid organization, advising migrants of their rights while in Mexico, jokingly calling it his “all-access pass.”

You can find more of my published writing here.