THE WOOD GATHERERS

The Wood Gatherers, Juárez, 01/01/2001

 

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.

It’s cold. The kids are hunting for wood for heat. They live in improvised sheds, mostly constructed from shipping pallets, some don’t have stoves, none are legal, if they have electricity or plumbing it is pirated. This colonia is a “first neighborhood.” People squat on land owned by distant political landlords. They are called parachadistas, parachuters, landing as if dropped in from the sky. Their parents came to the border from México’s interior to work in internationally-owned factories

These kids don’t know me or I, them. They are busy and they are wary. Their mission this day is not me, it’s wood, heat for the family. I walk with them in the fine sand of the riverbed. I find a few scraps of wood and they seem to feel better about me and allow me a few photographs.

I turn to leave and see El Paso, across the river, close, a million miles away, another world. I wave goodbye. They wave back, our barriers shattered. We are friends now. Wood Gatherers.

I’m about a hundred yards away now and turn around. They stand firm, watching me. I feel like I’ve left home, going back across the river, like a parachuter, falling from the sky.

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The View South #421

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? 

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Crossing the Rio without Confusion

Undocumented Women CrossingThe R2, Juraez-El Paso, 1984

Text and photograph by Bruce Berman

The river with two names: Rio Grande/Rio Bravo del Norte. Depends where you begin and where you end and where you return to. These women are heading north. It was a long time ago. Everything has changed and nothing has changed and I suspect it will continue to change and not change forever.

The river with two names, the R2, is also the place of the personality with two halves.

Confusing, no?

It is the place of bifurcation. But even that has two sides: twice as much insight.

Where are these women now? Which side happened to them? What happened to me? What happened to Juárez and the U.S.?

What happened to me?

I know this: people will cross going north no matter what and no matter the year. People will cross less, going south, depending on the year.

The river will flow south from Colorado (a Spanish name) to the Gulf of Mexico (an English language name).

And none of it matters to anyone living here except that one government makes it hard for another people to do what they have done for thousands of years and another government makes it necessary.

Who’s confused and who’s doing the confusing?

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El Paso Dreamin’

Town for sale, El Paso – Feb. 2010

From the movie The Border:

Marcy (Valerie Perrine) : (Showing her Border Patrol husband brochures about El Paso, trying to talk him into moving there, at their breakfast table, in Los Angeles) Honey sometimes you gotta dream.

Charlie Smith (Jack Nicholson) : (Pausing, furrowing his now signature brow) I never dreamed no El Paso.

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I kiss you, SNOW!

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El Puente Cordova, El Paso/Juarez, November 30, 2009

Snow!

A rarity in this no-mans-land.

Hardship. No one is ready for it. Not man nor beast nor domicile. The aftermath will be unnavigable mud on some of the streets in Juarez: there’s always a fire from people using heaters they’re not used to using;  tons of $14.95 coats will be sold on El Paso Street and Stanton Street and the various Fallas Paredes tiendas all over town; car crashes aplenty; you can bet on it. The homeless freeze. Rich people buy juniper logs for five bucks apiece to have their moment of apres ski. Everyone will adapt eventually, but by then we’ll be back in T-shirts and shorts; my loft turns to a freezer;  life is anew. This is a place of the sun, not really set up for anything else.

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Centro Family Train

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Family in Segundo barrio, El Paso – 2009

Thanksgiving Day.

Summer of 2009.

I see it every day.

That other day, the one in November, I guess it’s in there somewhere. Eating and stopping the world and traveling and the whole schmeer. That’s thankfulness, right.

What is the word for grinch in Thanksgiving-ese?

I see thanks every day in my barrio. I see thanks for the mere act of being alive and being safe and having someone who calls you Dad or Mom or Mijo.

Yeah, I’m a simpleton.

And I dig it, too.

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Que Miras Musico: Change

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Musicos, El Paso – April 2009

Wary eyes.

Everyone’s wary, in El Paso/Juarez, these days. The border is at war, with itself, with it’s two yin/yang sides, with the Interiors of each of the two sides.

Everyone’s wondering where it’ll end, where they will fall on the have and have not scale, what’ll be left of this little rough Shangri La (not a Shangri La of paradise but a refuge for those who have fallen from paradise. Sort of a suburb of Shangri La).

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No Futbol War

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“Maleno,” Juarez – March 2009

Juarez, March 13, 2009/ Estado Benito Juarez, Juarez, Chihuahua/Mexico

The Juarez Indios are a professional futbol team(soccer). They are in the middle of the Cartel Drug War. Much of the city of Juarez has rallied around the Indios, finding some “normalacy,” in the middle of the troubled Juarez violencia. Julio Daniel “Maleno” Frias is a star of the team, a “striker,” a troubled city’s hero. The city loves him, he’s a hero in the middle of bad news caused by rats. When Maleno,” was younger he joined a gang. He got shot. He decided to change his life and he did. Maybe this is why the city fell in love with him, he’s a living metaphor for a city’s hopes. Maybe they just like the way he plays: smooth, quiet and intense.

Some players have left the team and others have sent their families back to the cities they came from (some in Mexico, one in Argentina), trying to avoid the touch of violence that has afflicted Juarez, Mexico’s third largest city.
The team is struggling to stay in the top tier of Mexico’s professional soccer league.
Attendance is sold out.

Futbol is trumping the war.

So far.

Life goes on.

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Border Magic Eye

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Cordula at the fence, March 23, 2009

Anapra, NM/Colonia Anapra, Juarez, Chihuahua

Yesterday I worked with an incredible journalist from Der Spiegel (the German equivalent of Time). She is German, from the north of Germany. Works out of the DC Bureau. Sharp and smart and witty and ironic and puro journalist. We did a story at Fort Bliss. She was bright and lively and brave and charming and funny and we’d had a successful day and did a great story together. She wanted to see “El Paso.”

So we head for the border (I’m a one trick pony. To me, the border is El Paso).

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Alameda Street Showboat: Blast From The Past

Alameda Street Showboat, El Paso-1987

Alameda Street Showboat, El Paso-1987

Alameda Street is about (what’s this “about,” stuff?) to get stomped. Progress. New Hospital and Medical School down the Street. Progress.

‘ta bien, really. Time to move on. One thing about Urban Renewal and Plans: we have had the best of it and now you can have the rest. The next “blight,” that I move to -older and wiser now- there will be no Forwarding Address.

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Santa? Juarez needs one

Santa en Juarez-Dieciembre 2008

Venga Santa….come on!

If ever there was a place (other than certain parts of Africa right now) that need some kind of Devine Intervention, this is it.

Come on Santa! Forget the regalos. Paz, baby. Bring on the Peace.

If there is a Santa, bring on the Peace.

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Two way island

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FBA#20-El Paso/Juarez-Dec. 2008

First block of America (FBA).

El Paso Street. La Frontera. I’d call it Texas but it ain’t. Everyone knows it if they’re from here. Texans hold their arms out, full length. Americans think it’s part of Mexico…or hell. New Mexicans…furgidaboutit! It’s all they have to really feel superior to.

El Paso, the nation-state of nowhere.

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Mist and mirrors: facts and fictions

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Mist and mirrors d’town, El Paso – 6:38:51pm/July 28, 2008

I am supposed to be packing right now. I have a job in another city. It starts in three weeks. I won’t be leaving. This corner, this light, these people, their shadows, have inveighed my life for an adulthood…a long time.

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Border fools and border delights: You gotta look hard

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Americo with prayer shawl, yamulke and guitar,

Segundo barrio, El Paso – July 26, 2008

Why do I ever leave my loft?

Went to the gym where a friend of over three years, a retired professor at the local university, someone who has never displayed anything but kindness and goodwill, out of the clear blue, no warning, told me “…the Jews got what they deserved after all the stuff they did as bankers in Germany, don’t you think?”

Wha-a-a-a-a-a?!

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Mexico’s other border

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SEE VIDEO: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/video/player?titleID=1372185572

 

Borders. North and south. Mexico is a yin yang of the first order.

See what’s going on on the southern border and get some insights into what’s going on on the northern one.

Article by the always interesting and powerful Charles Bowden with cut-to-the-bone humane photographs by superb Magnum shooter, Alex Webb.

 

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Immigration abuse never ends. Jacob Riis: Concerned Photographer

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“Slept In That Cellar Four Years,” 1890-92

“Slept in the cellar (of a Ludlow Street tenement)

where the water was ankle deep on the mud floor”

View more work -and hear an excellent NPR audio clip- by the great Danish-American documentary photojournalist. He was one of the first to use “flash,” (first introduced in Germany in 1887). Riis cast the mold for what a “Concerned Photographer,” is, and launched a century of relevant, motivating and society-changing “witnessing.”

Editor’s Note:

For more images and audio clip: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91981589

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