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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SLEEP

 

 

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.

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RELIC #3/ICE TRUCK IN JUAREZ

Juarez Ice truck, 1975

Ice truck, Juarez, 1975

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.

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RANCHO BOOTS IN JUAREZ

Rancho Boots (from the book Juárez), Juárez, 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.

Juárez is changing. It’s good. People are dancing in the streets. The Cartel is receding into memory. Juárez 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.

Juárez is the center of the world of nowheresville.

I bow to it.

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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 seguroOn 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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THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SHOE PAINTER

 

Juárez Shoe Man
Man in the Plaza Reforma, Juárez. 2014. Photograph ©BruceBerman2014

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 Juárez is purely 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 Juárez’ middle class and along with them the businesses they owned and maintained. Much of Juárez 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 Juárez rises so has the need to create one’s own business.

 capitalism.

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The Old New Juarez

Loteria de Juarez. Photograph ©BruceBerman2013

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.

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Whiffs: I Can See Tomorrow

El Mariachi (the real one), Juarez Photograph ©BruceBerman1999

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.”

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Unhappy Crowd With Tarot Cards

Unhappy crowd getting their Tarot Cards read, Juárez. ©BruceBerman2014

 

The streets of Juárez 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 Juárez, 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 Juárez years ago, when the war began, in 2011.

This isn’t the Juárez 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” Juárez of the 1990s and beyond.

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La Familia Hernandez: A Short History Of The Causes Of War

La Familia Hernandez, Juarez. ©BruceBerman1995
La Familia Hernandez, Juarez. ©BruceBerman1995

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 have  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.  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.

Right?

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.

Bienvenidos campesinos.

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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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El Toro bi-plane, Juárez

 

BiPlane_Juárez_LoRes

El Toro bi-plane on La Avenida, Juárez, 2008

Streets of Juárez 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” Juárez 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

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Flowers And Music For Juárez

Music and flowers, Juarez, 2012 –
©Bruce Berman

Commentary by Bruce Berman

There are many reasons for music and flowers in Juarez. Marriage, love, marking passages of accomplishment and age and transition. And death. Recently there has been little music and lots of flowers have been offered for goodbyes to loved ones, lost in the war. There are a lot of crossed fingers these days, lots of hope for better times, for the good. It’s been a long “winter” and it won’t go away right away. But there is still a Juarez in Juarez and the one we love is not gone. It had color and style and verve. It will again. There was the sweet smell of gardenias in the night air and thoughts of new possibilities and the violins played music of happiness in the skillful hands of roving mariachi. The Pop sounds of a new generation had begun to fill stadiums, singers emerged from as far away as DF and from within. Juarez was about style and boldness and defiance, a unique culture built over the past century, forged from a revolution and tempered by the shadow of a bossy and boasting neighbor. J town, Chihuahua. Strong, bold and pretty.

It’ll take a lot. A lot has happened.

It will be back. It is coming back (Estará de vuelta. Que se está recuperando).

It is, isn’t it? We hope.

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Lost And Looking For Redemption In The Mountains of Juarez

Man#26, The Other Truth series, Juarez, May 2011

Christmas Eve/El Paso

A Personal Narrative

Lost and abandoned. Christmas Eve reminds me of that, right now, as I look out my south-facing window to Juarez (three blocks away) across the valley of Juarez, to the foothills of the Sierra Madre, where Creamac sits, CREAMAC, the “mental Institution” there, where the people huddle, people with trouble, trying to be warm, trying to make sense of the world, trying to live. CREAMAC, the House of the Abandoned and Troubled and Hurt.

I should be there. Today. Often. More often. I struggle with that. It’s snowing outside. Excuses to stay home, safe, just wrestling my own demons. I should cross the bridge (would my car get back over the ice on the bridge later tonight?), I should do SOMETHING!

Do I?

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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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