THE WOOD GATHERERS

The Wood Gatherers, Juárez, 01/01/2001,

photograph by Bruce Berman ©2017

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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MEMORIAL

ASARCO #212, May 2012. Photograph
©BruceBerman 2015

 

Photograph and text by Bruce Berman

I miss you ASARCO.

You were texture. You were identity. You were muy macho. You had cajones. Your candy stripe shaft spewed your acids and we ran for cover. At least we were moving. You were not vanilla. You were not something else. You were, well, ASARCO, un madre. You were definitely not bourgeois, pro seguro. On dark nights, down on Paisano, huge trucks dumped your excrement and giant flames roared into the sky, lighting up I10 like a festive firecracker.

Now you are a bald pallet awaiting “The Grid.” They fiddle before they drop the hammer, just enough time for one to build trust in the untrustworthy. What should go on the ground that has your blood? Should it be a Western Town? Giddy up! Should it be an amusement park? Ice cream! Maybe it could be a “multi use” nothing (Ha! What else do you think they will do!)? We need more apartments and strip centers! Maybe we can just let UTEP spread its, its…well…it could just spread whatever it is that UTEP has.

I will politely clap. I am not lamenting the inevitable any more than I do on The Day Of the Dead.

Yes you were a cancer dispenser, a reminder of danger, vulnerability and of the sweat and blood of working men. Oh yeah, you were one bad hombre. Oh, and how the gerentes avoided your gaze. You were so not sheik. How could we sell this bipolar berg as the cultural and artistic epicenter of the great southwest with your giant schlong sticking into the sky, having intercourse with the eyes of every passerby? No no no, you had to go. You were so, well, nasty!

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A Kiss For Asarco

Man In Flames, ASARCO/El Paso – 1987

All photos ©Bruce Berman

 La Calavera-1986

A Dear John Letter to ASARCO
by Bruce Berman

Au revoir ASARCO. You were the spine of the border, a big giant dong sticking up out of the river, pouring flames and sulfur, lead and smoke. The town grew up around you, fed off of you, then outlived you. You looked down on battles and traffic, always with the bifocals of looking at two countries at once. Looking east to El Paso,  you looked down on the dusty foothills of the Franklins that became Kern Place and Mesa Hills, the sheik and elite (in its own mind). On the other, looking west, down into the dust and turbulence of Juarez, you looked down onto Colonia Felipe Angeles, which, too was foothills, that became a shanty town which became a barrio which became (shhhh..not quite yet) a path to a port of entry into New Mexico. What a vantage point you have had.  When I first saw you I stood up straight, saluted and said, Wow, yes sir!

I dug you from the gitgo, had the pleasure of working inside you, being constantly re-awakened by you, of working inside you near those flames with the weather outside 105 degrees, feeling the comradie of your workers, the satisfaction of being inside something that wild and crazy and productive, a caldron of energy and raw power.

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