“I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it,
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, oh, have a!
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,
You know you got it if it makes you feel good,
Oh, yes indeed.
You’re out on the streets looking good,
And baby deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain’t right…”
Rancho Boots (from the book JuÃ¡rez), JuÃ¡rez, 2009
Photographs and text by Bruce Berman
Every once in awhile you have to just throw yourself on the ground and go for it. Sometimes it’s worth it. This was worth it. My eyes needed it.
JuÃ¡rez is changing. It’s good. People are dancing in the streets. The Cartel is receding into memory. JuÃ¡rez has always had its own style, its own punch, it’s little kick in the gut that reminds you you’re not in Kansas anymore.
JuÃ¡rez is the center of the world of nowheresville.
This photograph was taken during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), exact date unkown.The photograph was taken byÂ commercial photographer Robert Runyon (1881-1968), a longtime resident of South Texas. His photographs document the history and development of South Texas and the border, including the Mexican Revolution, the U.S. military presence at Fort Brown and along the border prior to and during World War I, and the growth and development of the Rio Grande Valley.
This image was shot on a glass-plate negative ; 5×7 in. Camera unknown.
No telling what and who will come over the Cordoba bridge that links El Paso, Texas with its sister city JuÃ¡rez, Chihuahua.
In this case, crossing from south to north, was Spencer.
Pipe, a hat that said “F___ Off,” aged Doc Marten’s, punk rock labels every where, Â he is as ecclectic as the border. In a strange way he, is the border: neither this or that, neither Mexican or American, neither barrier nor passageway.
A friend once called the border a metaphor for a person who has “an undefined personality.”
Looking at Spencer -and some others (in my mirror!)- I’m thinking it’s a place for very defined personalities.
The problem is that it’s really difficult to say exactly what they are.
This man is a shoe decorator. He paints designs on shoes and then the shoes are sold in nearby stores, The faster he can paint the more money he can earn. The fumes from the permanent paint are toxic and the shoe man swigs from his Coca Cola constantly.
The economy of JuÃ¡rez is purelyÂ entrepreneurial capitalism and there are many one-man “businessmen” in the Plaza Reforma which has become the new heart of El Centro. The recent Cartel War saw the exodus of much of JuÃ¡rez’ middle class and along with them the businesses they owned and maintained. Much of JuÃ¡rez that butts against the border south of the Cordova/Paso del Norte bridge has now been razed in anticipation of a massive redevelopment.
As the new JuÃ¡rez rises so has the need to create one’s own business.
There was a day when you could think of Juarez and think in color. I get whiffs of it lately, but one is so cognizant that under that shiny surface is a black and white heart that has been ripped open for all to see and it will take a long time fill with the energy and joy that was -and will be again- the hallmark of Ciudad Juarez. It will happen. It is happening now. A generation has now come that learned to live abajo, and carefully. There has been damage. No one can live under that cloud forever.
It’s nice to look back, now and again. But here, on the border, it has been years since people have allowed themselves to look forward.
Juarez, Chih., Mex. — So how did this Cartel War begin and how does it end?
The Border Blog will not answer that today. We look for the things that make the heart tick and leave the fancy thinking to those that make these messes in the first place.
Roughly, for me, it began a long time ago, when the people who haveÂ most of the marbles understood that they didn’t have to do a thing about bringing along another class of people who had hardly any marbles at all. Impunity. No apologies. In Juarez the maquila industry began when someone figured out that Labor was a cheap product that Mexico had a lot of and that it could be exchanged for some major profit. Of course nothing so crass as that was said. Rather, this was the bright new day that would lead to a burgeoning “middle class,” and bring everyone up from the bottom. So they said.Â So the “development” of Juarez began. The powers that be brought willing companies looking for labor and they delivered “labor.” This labor, also known as the citizens of Mexico came from the far flung corners of Mexico. They had nothing else to do and would work at any price, went the theory. Everyone would be happy. You move here, we’ll give you subsistence (and societal dislocation), and we’ll go to the bank. Everyone will be happy.
When I first started photographing in the maquila factories of Juarez in the early 1980’s the salary in a maquila was $5 per day. Today it’s a little over $7. A full two dollar increase in 20 years. Imagine!
It wasn’t sustainable then and it isn’t now.
The promise of some kind of job, of rising above downright depraved poverty, was strong and people flocked to the border factories. First from Veracruz, then from Durango, then from Torreon and on and on.
If you were a Mexicano and wanted to improve your life without the terrible alternative of actually crossing the border and trying to make it work in El Norte, you headed to the maquilas of Juarez or Tijuana or Nuevo Laredo. If you made that journey you left your culture and customs behind. This was the brave new world.
I drive my old routes. Camera on the passenger seat or my lap. As always,Â these days it usually stays there, untouched. There are things along the way that spark memories. Object that aren’t there anymore. Gorgeous commercial signs constructed by craftsmen in the 1950s and 60s (not the least of which from the Jimenez Sign Company) were carted off to other cities that were twenty years ahead of El Paso in theirÂ bourgeoisieÂ ambitions.You can drink under some of El Paso’s “Motel, Vacancies,” signs in various bars from Austin to Houston to Baton Rouge. There’s a withering away now, aging and weathered, but mostly not endearing anymore, not worth stopping for (to make images). There came a year, a month, a day when the treasures of El Paso were either gone, carted off or just left to rot.
There are whole swaths of this incredible and authentic city that are gone, at least for the long gaze of a photograph: Alameda. El Centro (downtown). Segundo is shrinking fast, bordered by El Paso Street on the west (with nasty tentacles of them all over it) and Cotton on the far east, with old residents living out their days, youth getting out fast and them with their bulging eyes all over it. Off of Delta there are condominiums and some revamped industrial buildings, residents living an almost urban lifestyle (sans humanity). Even the Gay Bars have fled, a sure sign of urban renewal/removal.
It’s not my job to do anything about any of this. My job, as I saw it, at the beginning, in 1980, was to give face to a face that was not known and I have tried. As The Grid lays out its future in the city with two hearts, it’s clear to me that my mission isn’t to pick sides in land rights, power exchanges, or to watch -or judge- the inevitableÂ blandification. But blandification has come. Oh happy day. Some loudly exhale and go, finally!Â The city is becoming presentable to visitors again. It’s cleaner. It’s newer. There’s baseball. Soccer is coming (watch out Chamizal! The final blow that started in the mid 1960s is finally here). There are restaurants with the preface Le with Foo Fo thing-a-ma-jig dishes with little portions of things that look like they squiggle -vegetables- on top of things it’d be hard to identify below. Fancy. Plates ofÂ Foo Foo. There are young peopleÂ downtown again, well, the kind ofÂ Â young people that look like they’d also be comfortable up in Kern Place on Cincinnati and the upper Westside.
Finally, there’s a Starbucks downtown near the Plaza and the Westin. The kids from the ‘hood can serve the hipsters that come in from outer Zaragosa Road and beyond.
Boring? Not to everyone and I wish them the best. I am not part of this. I left this scene in three other places I lived before this very long stretch here. It’s the same message: you’re in the gentry or you’re equitied out of the gentry.
Halloween is The Great Day in El Segundo barrio. The ‘hood comes alive. People are pouring over the bridges heading from Juarez on the candy quest. People in the neighborhood put on the costumes and come out of invisibility. The first block of America (6th and El Paso) is a riot of laughing and color and wild abandon.
Nothing is sure on this border in this neighborhood anymore. “They” are back! The Developers. “The 180s” aren’t around on this day. The Developers, their Pol puppies, the Gov. employee “Good Germans,” even the The Do Gooders (even if they are really the Do Badders). That’s what I have come to call them all. They say something and if you want to find out what they just said just think 180 degrees opposite from what it was. Most of them are up inÂ Kern Place handing out candy, their yearly contact with the rabble.Â They’re all afraid of the people when they have fun.
It’s getting the squeeze. The squeeze has been coming for a century or more but it’s a full assault now, and a generation that had roots in the ‘hood, that was born of a time and place that demanded they fight, is no longer there in numbers and possibly not there in energy and historic resentment.
The neighborhood is being squeezed from the north with the Dreamland Downtown Plan back on Premium and from within. A proposed Science museum in the old Armijo School would be the death blow.
If the deathblow can be delivered to an already dead corpse.