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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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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The Heart of El Paso/Alligators And Kids With Heart

Luis Jimenez’ Largartos (Alligators) in San Jacinto Plaza,

El Paso, Texas, July 2011 by Bruce Berman

 

El Paso —

by Bruce Berman

 

This is what kids do on their Quincineras in El Paso. They go to the heart of El Paso. They go to the downtown plaza, the “San Jacinto Plaza.”

This is what they want to record for a background, Los Lagartos, the alligators. They don’t go to the Mall. The Plaza theater around the corner really isn’t open to them (hey why not show movies? Why is it closed? It’s for “the people, isn’t it? Show movies in the daytime and they will come). Kids -and visitors- go to where their heart tells them there is a soul to the city: they visit Los Lagartos.

Do they even know why? Do they know that the artist who conceived and constructed the Lagartos was one of them, a local kid who once had  a rented tux(I’ve seen the picture), celebrating like El Paso kids do, joyous and robust, almost free for a day (well that Limo driver is just out of camera range and is -unofficially- going to pass on a little mini spy report to the parents and they know it!).

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Angelica Looks Up

Angelica, Segundo barrio, El Paso – Oct. 18, 2010

EL PASO –Angelica Alvarez. A true believer. A believer in her faith. A believer in a better day. A believer in joy.

I noticed her as she worked her way down the street, engaging every person that she encountered, leaving each person she talked with a smile on their face, enthusiastically waving goodbye to her, they no longer strangers.

I followed her.

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Border Beauties

[flagallery gid=3 name=”Gallery”]

February 13, 2010, the day before the Day of San Valentin – El Paso, Texas

Photographs by Bruce Berman

Pipo’s Hair Salon and School held a beauty competition and the best of the best turned out to coif, spray, paint and shape the “models,” in a competition that determined who was the most beautiful and who was the best beauty maker.

The night’s Dj, a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq was overheard telling the photographer (me), “I’ve seen a lot of things but I have never ever seen anything like this.

Not even in Iraq.

The border always has a twist. But this event, at least to your correspondent, seemed to make sense.

In journalism, they always teach you to ask, “Why?”

I guess the question here is, Why Not?

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El Dia de San Valentin

La “MC,” Lidia, San Valentin Beauty Show

El Paso – Feb. 13, 2010

El Dia de San Valentin/El Paso, Texas

Candy? Flowers? Lingerie?

Furgidaboutit!

Beauty!

Big day on the border. Everywhere now. Billions in tooth decay. Billions in flowers grown in eco-destroying third world corporate gardens.

Bah humbug (or whatever malapropism you say on Valentin’s Day)!

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“Rats” in a bad spot (or is it pretty?)

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Pretty spot/bad times-Juarez 2009

Juarez / October 2009

Murders continue.

Record year.

Day of the Dead is coming. Like every day hasn’t been that.

The streets have an eerie decay to them. Litter. Boarded up windows. Still a lot of hustle but the nights are empty and in the shadows are things no one wants to see.

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I Am Free

JohnHughes LoRes

Johnland,  El Paso – June 2009

Been thinking about this guy and borders and the idea of the Big Picture versus the small picture ever since I made it (the photo) this summer, on an almost rainy night, in the northeast section of town, out by the military base.

John Hughes.

Angry. Joyous. Funny. Dangerous. Sweet. Full of love, hate and ambivalence. Boozed up, half mad, half brilliant.

“I am free,” he shouts at the night. “I am free and I am in hell.”

I ask him if he ever goes across the border?

“I am borderless,”he replies, “aren’t you?” He shakes his hand and does a twirl, almost stepping into busy Saturday night traffic.

He does a little dance and steps so close to the edge of the curb that I go to grab him but he spins back onto the sidewalk and does a very theatrical bow. He is a tight rope walker and it looks like he has done this toe dance forever.

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Centro Family Train

elpaso_segundo44-lores

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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