“I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it,
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, oh, have a!
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,
You know you got it if it makes you feel good,
Oh, yes indeed.
You’re out on the streets looking good,
And baby deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain’t right…”
Rancho Boots (from the book JuÃ¡rez), JuÃ¡rez, 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.
JuÃ¡rez is changing. It’s good. People are dancing in the streets. The Cartel is receding into memory. JuÃ¡rez 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.
JuÃ¡rez is the center of the world of nowheresville.
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,Â pro seguro.Â 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.Â 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!
No telling what and who will come over the Cordoba bridge that links El Paso, Texas with its sister city JuÃ¡rez, 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, Â 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.
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 JuÃ¡rez is purelyÂ 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 JuÃ¡rez’ middle class and along with them the businesses they owned and maintained. Much of JuÃ¡rez 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 JuÃ¡rez rises so has the need to create one’s own business.
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.
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 JuÃ¡rez, 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 JuÃ¡rez years ago, when the war began, in 2011.
This isn’t the JuÃ¡rez 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” JuÃ¡rez of the 1990s and beyond.
This man shocks people in bars! He takes his battery operated tool around and for five bucks looks for masochists who, drunk (or insane?), pay him to turn up the juice, hit the button and let ‘er rip..
It takes all kinds, no?
And it takes someone to recognize certain kinds of Humanity and let ‘er rip…for…five bucks!
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 haveÂ 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.Â 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.
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.
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?Â
Halloween is The Great Day in El Segundo barrio. The ‘hood comes alive. People are pouring over the bridges heading from Juarez on the candy quest. People in the neighborhood put on the costumes and come out of invisibility. The first block of America (6th and El Paso) is a riot of laughing and color and wild abandon.
Nothing is sure on this border in this neighborhood anymore. “They” are back! The Developers. “The 180s” aren’t around on this day. The Developers, their Pol puppies, the Gov. employee “Good Germans,” even the The Do Gooders (even if they are really the Do Badders). That’s what I have come to call them all. They say something and if you want to find out what they just said just think 180 degrees opposite from what it was. Most of them are up inÂ Kern Place handing out candy, their yearly contact with the rabble.Â They’re all afraid of the people when they have fun.
It’s getting the squeeze. The squeeze has been coming for a century or more but it’s a full assault now, and a generation that had roots in the ‘hood, that was born of a time and place that demanded they fight, is no longer there in numbers and possibly not there in energy and historic resentment.
The neighborhood is being squeezed from the north with the Dreamland Downtown Plan back on Premium and from within. A proposed Science museum in the old Armijo School would be the death blow.
If the deathblow can be delivered to an already dead corpse.