5:10pm – December 30, 2009
Last block of America. Or is it the first?
Fifth Street and El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas.
This used to be happy street. It’s still a busy street. It’s the street where the downtown bridge from Juarez exits or, conversely, it is the street where you leave the United States and enter the bridge to Juarez.
There’s a strange urgency on this block now, on this border now, if you’re looking and listening these days. People try to get back to Juarez before dark. Dark is when the heavy killing begins. At least that’s the way it’s been for the last year. Lately, things are getting even crazier in Juarez. Burrito ladies shot in the middle of the street in broad daylight, children executed in plain sight, house invasions and retaliations. Hard to know when a “safe” time to be in Juarez anymore.
Now it’s another stage.
The craziness has spread and devolved. There’s no Law anymore. Never really was, in the Western sense, but there was at least an order. One knew what was what. The police could be counted on, not for enforcing the law, but at least for enforcing the agreed upon order. You steered clear.
No more. The chollos are loose. The criminals are free to extort and kidnap and take. People are being threatened and killed and it has nothing to do with drugs. It has everything to do with the fact that while the narcos are doing their battle the city is left naked and defenseless. If you can leave, you leave.
On the “First Block of America (FBA),” I noticed tonight, for the first time, the Korean store owners of some of the shops on Stanton Street and El Paso Street, two blocks over, are not restocking their inventories. Their businesses have been murdered by this war too. Is that one of the things they mean when they talk about the violence “spilling over,” into the United States?”
I don’t think that’s what it usually means, but what it has come to mean. If you’re paying attention real violence is coming too, in a lot of ways. It’s just the beginning. I denied this forever but I can see what this war has done to the people who are refugiados (refugees). There are lots of signs.
El Paso, as it was many times in its history, is tierra salvo, safe ground. It should be. Everything about this city is driven by its geography and its culture, and part of its heart is Juarense.
Way back the word “anarchy,” used to sound good to me, in the Chicago days of my own rebellion. I thought it was the equivalent of “freedom,” or being without “restrictions,” or not having to deal with the “straight” world. Anarchy, in my naievite was almost like unionism, beating back The Man. Hey, Anarchy was cool. No parameters, right? Gringo stuff.
Now I am seeing it. No law. Nowhere to turn. Dead store owners who wouldn’t pay. Artists chased from their studios. Doctors jacked up for a weekly payment. Severed heads on car hoods on main thoroughfares, extortion of people who barely make a living to begin with. Abandoned homes. One-way rides across the bridge. The worst people taking from The People, from anyone, everyone, more and more. Displacement, death, chaos. Tragedy. Juarenses have always been amazingly resourceful and optimistic, I have thought. I learned everything from them. There’s something to be learned from the present situation too, but these are skills for raw survival not for progress. How can you have hope for a future when there is no known path, when the roads have been torn up, when the traffic cop has a butcher knife in his hand? I am seeing it, while the people of Juarez are living it.
Anarchy is the enemy of life and this situation changes everything in my thinking and opens the door to understanding so much history; understanding that so much that was bad through the ages was just a nasty pendulum swing running away from anarchy.
2010 is here. Let’s hope that it brings, if not “order,” to Juarez, at least some kind of pattern.
The year ends tonight.
According to the best researcher I know, as of 9:00am today, the Death Count for the year is 2,652.
There are 15 hours left in the day.
In this city of increasing anarchy, even God doesn’t know what this day will bring.