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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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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Juárez: Room For Everybody?

People, Horse, Van in Juarez  by Bruce Berman ©2010

JUAREZ, Mexico – Juarez still stands. It is still Juarez. It is a city of my heart. I am not alone. It is insane what has happened in Juarez. There is no reference or metaphor: it just stinks. I walk the streets and there are “tastes,” of the old city. The “new city,” the one of Malls and chrome and green eco-glass, the nightclubs and shiny new cars has disappeared more than the old city has.

This might say something about what the condition of the city was before “The Troubles.”

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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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The Light in Juárez

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Is there any Light at the end of Juárez’s tunnel?

There are a lot of things in Juárez these days: widows, widowers, killers,  thugs, riddled bodies, drug addicts, every day normal people, kids going to school, people being married, bombs and death across the street (almost) from the old “City Market.” Everything.

There is very little Light.

The city seems to have turned from sunny and bright and colorful to Black and White, like an old photograph, one that wasn’t “fixed,” very well and is losing it’s contrast and fading away. The brightness is gone. Light is at a premium, right now, for sure, in Juárez.

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Letter to my friend: I’m On My Way Martin

Martin, man of dignity and courage, Lomas del Poleo, Summer 2009

Dear Martin,

I said I would be back to Lomas and I haven’t been back in a year now. It’s crazy. I drive to work in Las Cruces three times a week and I look to the west and I can see you, I can see Lomas, right there, the flat top mesa poking out from behind Cristo Rey.

No, I haven’t been back. I am sorry. Life caught up with me and I had to do my labors, take care of biz, run around like a chicken without a head. And, in the meantime, I have fallen in love with a photo project, far away from here, up in Nuevo Mexico, and I have given it a lot of my attention.

All weak excuses.

I said I’d be back and continue the work we began and I haven’t.

You -and sus vecinos, sus compañeros in Lomas del Poleo- are never out of my thoughts.

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Do You Have Shares In Hell?

Street kids on Avenida Technologico, Juarez – 2010

Pictures?

More pictures of dead bodies in the streets of Juárez?

Hard to want to do. I’m not visiting. I live here. It’s better when you have to get the images for your boss/editor and then high-tail it to the airport.

But, I’m not working for a daily paper anymore.

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Sequesterer(alleged) Sequestered

la acusación (perp walk) en Juárez, May 15, 2010

Iasi Emanuel Rodriquez Gamez , aka “El Enano (the dwarf),” 22, is led down a hallway, by a member of the Federal Police at the Ministry of Justice (Procuraduria de Justicia del Estado) in Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

He is accused of being the leader of a kidnapping gang that kidnapped at least 19 people.  Authorities alleged Rodriguez, 22, took orders from suspected kidnappers Ernesto “El Neto” Piñon de la Cruz and Jesus Eduardo “El
Lalo” Soto Rodriguez. This group is accused of committing 39 kidnappings since December 2008. The “El Lalo y de Neto,” gang has operated in Juarez over the past three years.

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“El Paseo” (With Death in the Shadows)

Town plaza, Zaragoza, Chihuahua-05/08/2010

Sunny normal day.

In Zaragoza/Juárez?

Impossible!

I couldn’t work it in -excuses!- but beyond the Tarahamara woman and her brood, in the deep darkness of the trees, protected by yellow police tape and the Policia Federal -who shooed me away- lies a dead woman in her twenties.

Cause of death? Bullet wound.

Reason for death? Unknown.

Plaza Zaragoza. Gateway to the east valley of Juarez, the new turf of the Cartel who have all but emptied the towns there, clearing them like you’d clear a loading dock, which is what the Cartel has done.

Anything in the way is burned or buried.

Maybe this woman was in the way.

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Half Dead City Is Fully Alive

Zaragoza (Juarez), Chihuahua, street kids at scene of a murdered woman, 05/08

©Bruce Berman 2010

Two border towns.

El Paso and Juarez.

One city is half dead and the other is in a coma. Guess which is which?

As always, a trip to Juarez puts everything in perspective and raises big questions. For openers:  We don’t have to do all the things we think we need to do, there are worse things than physical death and injury, watch out for what you hear, and, we should never believe anything except what our eyes  feel.

My eyes tell me Ciudad Juárez is alive.

I salute you, injured Madame Juárez.

FOR SLIDESHOW, GO TO NEXT PAGE:

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At least 6 police and one sicario killed in Juarez

Dead Police and Murderer in Juarez by heroic

by anonymous El Diario de Juarez photographer

Today in Juarez. More of the same. If this were anywhere else we’d be sending aide and 120,000 troops. Instead we send DEA Agents (under the terms of the “Merida Initiative”) and clandestine military “trainers,” to train soldiers and police…to do what, exactly?

The last time I heard the term “trainers,” it was the early and mid sixties and the trainers were being sent to Viet Nam.

How’d that work out for us?

More importantly, how’d that work out for Viet Nam?

Watch out Mexico, there are many many dollars seeking calamities. Buy cheap, wait, sell strong.

Anyway, six Federales and one murderer (sicario), today, so far.

Same old…

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Myths, Ghosts, And, This Window

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Ghost View south, Dec. 19, 2009

Three of the last four posts have involved this window. The view to the south. One block to Alameda Street, two more down Stevens and, voila, you’re at the bridge, then you’re in Juarez, then if you keep going you’re on the carretera to Ciudad Chihuahua, then Torreon, then Puebla and Mexico and then… well who knows where this ends?

This is the last one of this window for awhile. I’ve been clinging to it. Home. I’ve been shooting from this window and the roof right out my back door for decades. The view hasn’t changed that much.

I have.

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My Window and Mi Compañeros a Sur: Season’s Greetings!

Guad 41 LoRes

Guadalupe #41, El Paso – Dec. 18, 2009

This third floor window looks out onto the Cordova Bridge to Juarez, three blocks to the south. It’s the Season. Guadalupe, I will light you every night -and a string of Christmas lights too- for the rest of the holiday. If anyone in Juarez sees this, please wave at me, say hello, know I am with you and I am waving at you, too, and I will be visiting with you, soon.

Andale compañeros. Vida sobre todo.

Note: Yes Victoria, I tilted the frame!

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A Warm Farewell

A piece written to my photography students at the end of a fine semester at New Mexico State University. Forgive the “first person.” Originally posted on their class website at www.nmsu.documentaryshooters.com:

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Brucini w/New Blan­ket from a Good Friend, El Paso –Dec. 9, 2009

So it comes to this, the semes­ter ends, we go our own way, we know more for hav­ing known each other.

We have had our ambi­tions and we have had our dis­ap­point­ments but, what we mostly have had, I think, is a jour­ney of discovery.

At least, it’s has been that way for me.

I was given some­thing won­der­ful today: a very warm blan­ket from a very good and thought­ful friend (she had heard that my Loft is frigid in the win­ters, a con­crete old fac­tory build­ing of a palace, not designed to be lived in).

I stopped on the way home for some Christ­mas lights. First time in my life I have bought any. How can one not suc­cumb to this Sea­son when such kind ges­tures are extended?

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I kiss you, SNOW!

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El Puente Cordova, El Paso/Juarez, November 30, 2009

Snow!

A rarity in this no-mans-land.

Hardship. No one is ready for it. Not man nor beast nor domicile. The aftermath will be unnavigable mud on some of the streets in Juarez: there’s always a fire from people using heaters they’re not used to using;  tons of $14.95 coats will be sold on El Paso Street and Stanton Street and the various Fallas Paredes tiendas all over town; car crashes aplenty; you can bet on it. The homeless freeze. Rich people buy juniper logs for five bucks apiece to have their moment of apres ski. Everyone will adapt eventually, but by then we’ll be back in T-shirts and shorts; my loft turns to a freezer;  life is anew. This is a place of the sun, not really set up for anything else.

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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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Dignity In Juarez

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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.

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Murder Is A Teaching Moment (Editor Says…)

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Picture 10

Local TV Handles Vilolence In Juarez (at least Art about violence)

  • SEE FULL VIDEO ABOUT THE ART CONTROVERSY:
  • >http://www.kvia.com/
  • >Go to page #6 of videos
  • >Hit:”Controversial border art makes waves”

Your Editor Stumbles Into a Defense Of Decapitated Heads (Art) At El Paso’s Library

July 9, 2009

Editor’s Note: Here is what they left on the “cutting room floor”

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