Dignity In Juarez

CaballeroJuarez LoRes

Dignified man #7,  Juarez ©2009 Bruce Berman

Juarez/13 June 2009

So what else is there in Juarez besides murder and catastrophe?

Right now, it doesn’t seem like anything.

But, then, there are those moments.

Tender Mercies.

I walk the streets. I walk the beaten down downtown. I bus through the factory landscape with For Lease signs more plentiful every time. I walk through the night clubs on Avenida Lincoln, defying myself, defying my fear.

But it’s there. The noise comes out of the clubs, loud, but not the joyous sound, more like the power-driven sound of defiance and booze.

People wait for the situation to end. It will. Someday.

Daily, the murder rate climbs, like an upward missile, slicing through the inherent good nature of this state and city, through this sunny northern Mexico metropolis that was turned into, first, a factory for first world consumption and, then,  a monument to the future of world global wage reality.  It was that, just a few years ago.

Seems like an entire epoch ago.

Now, wiped like a blackboard, there are just traces and rising from the ashes of that dream is, well, a nasty and senseless wholesale slaughter of the poor and a killing of the middle class dream, a landscape built for new riches that has now become a place you must hide when the sun goes down and, often, even then it is too late.

If you can, you have left by now.

If you can’t, you live in hope.

Every day people die in despair.

It’s real and it’s grim: this is the depression of a dream that could have been.

I talk with friends from Juarez who won’t go home, won’t go “over,” anymore.

My friend tells me his father -in his 80s-who lives in Juarez and owns apartments has him concerned. He isn’t getting any younger. My friend ponders having to take care of the apartments, having to be in Juarez, having to leave his life on the U.S. side, even for a day trip, having to go over there, risk his life, worse, just see the decay of his memory from when it used to be good. Who needs it?

I see more gabardine-wearing licenciados who now have morphed into temporary resident entrepreneurs on the El Paso side.

Doctors have fled. Merchants have fled. A good thing, too. Two nights ago, while, inside, her daughters tidied up their small store for closing, their mother, outside, was gunned down, caught randomly between one gangster chasing another.

Another Juarez story, cautiously written, on the next day’s Metro pages.

A mother gone.

From where will those girls get their justice?

The poor of Juarez wail in their hearts at this outrage of murder. The rich have a wall of obsidian around themselves. Frustrated about their plans deferred, but, staying away from the kill zone.

More die. The tally becomes absurd. I have a friend who monitors every news source, trying to keep an accurate count and then sends out a daily email with the day’s count, trying to make some order of this mess. Every day there are more and more. It’s sometimes hard to believe this is happening.

Every year more die. The count is higher this year than last. The murder will end, but, when, and what will it leave? Surely it will never be the same again.

Only the casket makers and the embalmers, the writers and photographers are doing good in this scene. But not really. Of course, they are one “glimpse-of-what-you-shouldn’t-have-seen” away from becoming the latest tick on my friend’s daily body count that appears every morning in El Diario de Juarez, or every afternoon in El Norte.

One used to think the game of Chess was played by the elite, a peaceful contest of wit.

Check mate?


This Chess, match is played by the gangs and it is played so vigorously and so cleverly that it has gone on for a year and a half, and there is no end in sight. This obscene spectacle has ripped open -if you are really wanting to look and not think in fairy tale terms- the truths of this land, the land of the world’s best people, the land of one of the world’s worst oligarchy’s. One can expound on the Army that came to “save” Juarez and has overseen an expansion of hell, one could tell of their deep insight into who and what the Federal Police are and what they do, one can rattle on, cynically,  about the “real world,” of Mexico’s “system.” It titillates the intellectuals, connecting dots between the forces of this society.

But, in the end, it is the People, only the People, who really know what all this is about because they live it and feel it, and, right now, they don’t much want to talk.

The situation flat out sucks.

The People want peace. Later, perhaps, justice.

If not peace, how about just no more stupid deaths?


The word sounds sweet.


In Juarez?

I wander these streets. Mad at myself for not doing more in the media, asking myself if I shouldn’t be chasing more blood, sangre, guts, tears, police tape, bullet holes in windshields, photos of our own little war (not so little). I wonder why I see this and don’t want to turn my camera on it. My lens is not virgin but to concede this after all these years of searching the joyous heart of this disparaged landscape seems like defeat.

This war has everyone guessing and I’m not immune.

Then, as always happens if you spend time in Juarez, it all goes away. As I hunt for something unknown, with my camera and eyes, I see someone. Just for a second. A  mere instant. A millisecond. Snap snap (which is my search for order). I get my glimpse. This is what people do in this kind of a circumstance. It’s happened for me everywhere, every time, especially in wars, and that little glimpse stands out like a beacon in a storm, telling you, yes, there is land, it’ll be OK. Order. Hope. Paz. Maybe. There’s a little flicker of what is good, or, at least, what can still be good, the core, what might come of all of this, the thing that attracted you to a place in the first place.

Sometimes the defiance of this apocalypse is just a slight tilt of a chin. Just a nod. A gesture. A tilt that tells you life will go on, that there is more than this uselessness, that there is still goodness and it will prevail.

Sometimes, perhaps, the only dignity is that, a subtle nod. Maybe it’s all just in my head.

Maybe the only victory in a mess like this is retaining one’s dignity or being able to still see that it still exists. To  see it, to remember, to have faith that that is true puts us on this side of the line of craziness, not the other.

This is all I can shoot right now, on this day. It’s this or it’s decay. It’s this. It’s something.

And that is a Tender Mercy.

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