Juárez, Chihuahua, México
Trapped inside of luscious glass.
“Have no false idols before me.”
Forgive me lord, I cannot resist “tchotchke.”
photograph by Bruce Berman ©2017
Editor’s note: Excerpt from Walking Juárez, page 8-9
The New Millennium
El Paso/Juárez has never been flat. It is a place of differences. Peeks and valleys. Yins and Yangs. The epicenter of this riddle is found at the river. Even the river has two names: El Rio Bravo/Rio Grande.
This is the early morning of the new millennium, January 1, 2000, the first morning of who knows what.
Sleeping lady at CREAMAC, Juárez, 2012
This woman sleeps the sleep of the near dead.
She lives at CREAMAC, a refuge and shelter in the mountainside of the Juárez mountains in west Juárez, México.
There are many different kinds of people in this institution, ranging from homeless, mentally ill, epilepsy and other.
There is little treatment available, unless, the resident gets unruly and then there are injections to completely subdue the client.
There is no industry there, no skills to learn, just time to spend, safe from the streets but not from the various devils that afflict the residents.
Sometimes it’s just better to sleep.
Ice truck, Juarez, 1975
Ice trucks up and down Avenida Juárez.
Same routine every day.
Go to the municipal ice plant, over by the railroad, buy ice, get it on the truck, head to your customers, mostly saloons.
Get the day’s orders.
A half block will usually do.
Get it inside, let the baristas chip it down to cooler-size.
The runoff gutters around the base of the bar take the ice melt away.
Good to go.
All the ice trucks eventually die from a fatal combination of age and rust.
Last days of the last days, Globe Mills
and I10, El Paso, October 2015,
photograph by Bruce Berman
“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…”
Text and Photo by Bruce Berman
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.
Which brings us back to “undefined.”
Text and photograph by Bruce Berman
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.
The New Juarez.
Everyone is talking about it. A new day, full of new promise. Many acquaintances tell me about all the new bars and cantinas. That Juarez will rise again.
This morning, Easter morning, two bodies were found hanging from a bridge in central Juarez. The victims were young, scruffy, boys with no names.
Hanging, like crucifixion, is a public and humiliating death. A death after death, the person shamed, rendered helpless, publicly. This is death with a message.
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.
There are “whiffs.”
The streets of JuÃ¡rez abound with life again.
The “Cartel War” is over.
The war for justice and integrity in government, the war to develop a country that doesn’t need a drug transporting business as it’s second most important economy (after petroleum), is not over and won’t be for the foreseeable future.
On the streets of JuÃ¡rez, there is a strange mix: Old people who couldn’t get out, the poor that couldn’t get out, the young that didn’t know there was anywhere to go to and babies!
There are a lot of babies in their teenage parents’ arms these days. In the streets in from of the Mercado Reforma there is this strange blend of young parents weighing babies in their arms, interspersed with the very old, interspersed with prostitutes, interspersed with an economy that is not longer threatened by the incursion of “the franchises.” Franchises bailed out of JuÃ¡rez years ago, when the war began, in 2011.
This isn’t the JuÃ¡rez of the glamour 1950s or the boom boom 1960s and their international factories, or of the up and down 1970s and 1980s with the rise of the licenciado middle class, nor of the “we are almost first world” JuÃ¡rez of the 1990s and beyond.
This man shocks people in bars! He takes his battery operated tool around and for five bucks looks for masochists who, drunk (or insane?), pay him to turn up the juice, hit the button and let ‘er rip..
It takes all kinds, no?
And it takes someone to recognize certain kinds of Humanity and let ‘er rip…for…five bucks!
Commentary by the Editor
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.
The View South #421, July 2014
Flags are down in Parque Chamizal. Wind must be up and hopefully a little rain. Just a whisper of a season change. Not yet. But not all that far off either. ‘ta bien. The View South. Days come and go. Then years. Then decades. Then…? I turned my back on the past a long time ago. People tell me that’s good. Bible says it too. Do they really mean it?Â
by Co-Editor Bruce Berman
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.
El Toro bi-plane on La Avenida, JuÃ¡rez, 2008
Streets of JuÃ¡rez are changing.
The murderous last few years are being replaced with growth. Planned growth.
The entire border is under development and there have been plans for decades that are now starting to happen.
It’s as if the violencia was a cleansing. Or was it a scrubbing?
In the “new” JuÃ¡rez there won’t be any Bi planes. The era is gone. Anything from the 20th Century will become increasingly a rarity.
So be it. C’est la vie. Es la vida. What can one say?
Or was it a
Conscience is the root of all true courage; if a man would be brave let him obey his conscience.
– James Freeman Clarke 12/31/2013
Comodante Marcos, JuÃ¡rez, 2006 Â©Bruce Berman
Segundo barrio Yo Yo boy, Halloween 2011
Text by Bruce Berman (in full snide mode)
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.
Mailbox Kids, Segundo Barrio, El Paso, 2012
The Shrinking Segundo Barrio
by Bruce Berman
El Barrio, The Segundo, is shrinking.
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.