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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SOLDADERAS/WOMEN SOLDIERS

Maria Gonzalez and soldaderas.
Maria Gonzalez and soldaderas, Photograph from the Runyon Collection/Library of Congress

 

This photograph was taken during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), exact date unkown.The photograph was taken by commercial photographer Robert Runyon (1881-1968), a longtime resident of South Texas. His photographs document the history and development of South Texas and the border, including the Mexican Revolution, the U.S. military presence at Fort Brown and along the border prior to and during World War I, and the growth and development of the Rio Grande Valley.

This image was shot on a glass-plate negative ; 5×7 in. Camera unknown.

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UNDEFINED PERSONALITIES AND THE BRIDGE

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 Juárez, 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,  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.”

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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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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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Twitter Tweets Police Kidnappers in Jalisco

Editor’s Note:

Check this video out.
When Americans talk about the violence in Mexico they often view the situation through “western” eyes, thinking of Good Guys v. Bad Guys.
As this Al Jazeera report shows, the conflict is often between Bad Guys and Badder Guys and the public -the oppressed people of Mexico- have to stand on the sidelines, knowing but unable to alter the situation.
This video asks, Where do you turn when there is no one to turn to?

Commentary by Bruce Berman / Video by ©Al Jazeera 2014

There’s something happening in journalism.

When Aljazeera -who shouldn’t give a hoot about what’s happening in Mexico- publishes a well done piece on police kidnapping in Mexico, when Mexican journalists go ahead and publish their own work, under duress, knowing that to publish is to perish, and increasingly the xenophobic U.S. press dithers on entertainment and cheesy presidential inanities, we are talking about a new arrangement of the deck chairs on the the good ship journalism.

The truth is that most American newspapers and magazines aren’t undergoing the huge transformation they are experiencing in a vacuum. It’s not that hey are not irrelevant. They are merely irrelevant as the source for hard news (at a minimum) that relies on being the “go to” media.
For the most part, they are not that any longer.
If there is one source “out there,” it will be Tweeted or Posted on some social media site, within minutes, and then the fun begins. From there, people will Retweet it (RT), add links or complimentary sources and then the multiplier of social media begins. The question isn’t, Are you getting the news, but, rather, How much can you take?
Of course the eternal existential question remains, What happens when there is no longer a source of information (such as the New York Times. Sky News, CNN or Fox, i.e the “media giants?
This is not likely.

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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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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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House of the Abandoned

Maria Full Of Grace, from The Other Truth (T.O.T.) series,

Juárez, May 2011

Photo and Text by Bruce Berman

Juárez —

 

Maria. Full of grace. And other emotions.

A permanent resident of CREAMAC, in the hills of Juárez, way up there, near the Guadalupe, the last place on one of the last streets, near the top. Some people call it an “insane asylum.” It started as a place the mayor of Juárez sent “street people.”

He took an old police station and created a shelter and ordered the tourist police to “get those people off the streets.” That was 34 years ago. There are still people there…from then!

I go there, driving through the anxiety streets of the troubled city, eyes are out, sharp, both ways. These days, if you keep up with the ever terrible news coming from the Cartel War, there’s a game you play, while driving in Juárez. You match up news with the locations where it happened, that you’ve heard about: “Oh, there, that’s where the drug rehab place is: 16 murdered in three minutes. Oh…there is where the mother and son got shot. Up that street, that’s where the family got wiped out but one kid hid under the bed and survived, yeah, and over there, that’s where they put the bomb inside the guy and dressed him as a cop and called in the Cruz Roja and Policia Federal and then blew him up, right there, over by the old market.”

And so it goes.

It could go on forever on a long ride, but we race through the streets, purposely. There is no leisure in Juárez, only meaningless purposefulness.

On this day, we’re heading to the “Insane Asylum,” which seems like a more positive mission than chasing down murder scenes.

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Prom Night: The Boogie Man Is A Long Way Away

 

Prom Girl, El Paso, Texas -May 2011

 

Murder schmurder! It’s Prom Night in El Paso.

Those buildings in the background are downtown El Paso. The space behind, the mountain, that’s Juarez. That girl there, in the foreground, the one with the whimsy and the joy and the hopes and the fragility, she’s a million miles away from this borderland desert, that stupid and brutal war (Juarez), that trying parking lot monotony (El Paso), at least for this night.

What is the news anyway? Is it what “they (in my case, us)” say it is? Or is it the dreams of a young girl (or boy) on one of the most remembered nights of one’s life?

I’m thinking the news, the significant events of our world are days and evenings, like this. Viewpoint. Remember that (!) as we become addicted to trouble and stress and our live’s of “quiet desperation (you wouldn’t know it if you looked at TV commercials would you?).”

One can hope it’s that way.

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The Great Border Storm of 2011: El Paso – Juarez

The Great Border Storm of 2011, El Paso-Juarez

by Bruce Berman ©2011

EL PASO –It was an amazing storm. Hard to believe it happened. Zero temperatures (in El Paso!!!!). Ice. Snow. Irregular electricity. No internet. Intermittent Gas (for some people). Highways closed. Jobs (including mine. I haven’t been to NMSU since last Tuesday! Bummer! I like it) canceled. Everything closed. Voluntary curfew (requested). Went on for three to five days (depending on which part of this freaky happening we’re talking about, and, when it was all over, yesterday, it wasn’t over because there were major outages of water (I’m going to get that shower eventually…like today!).
Now I think it’ll be El Paso again and we’ll be in shorts T Shirts and swamp coolers, squishy asphalt, hoods up and steaming radiators and complaining about the heat in no time at all.
Like I said, it was like a dream and hard to believe it ever happened.

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