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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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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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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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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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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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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Ken Van Sickle!

all photographs ©Ken Van Sickle

Every once in awhile, when you’re not looking, and something new comes to you and you go, “There’s More!”

This morning, in my meanderings,  I came across this quote:

“A person often meets their destiny on the road he took to avoid it.*”

The quote led me -in that totally weird way that “surfing,” around the web sometimes does- to a photographer I have never even heard of, before, let alone, known.

And his pictures are Fabulous!

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Border Beauties

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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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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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“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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Amada and Love

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: October 5-12, 2007

amada1994-lores.jpg

Amada, Central Cafe, Juarez – 1992

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Amada, Central Cafe, Juarez – 2007

Amada has worked the counter at the Central Cafe in downtown Juarez, since the early 1980’s. The cafe is next door to the cathedral and is a major crossroads for buses -and most of all, people on foot- heading to all directions in the city. The cafe is a crossroads, the city’s heart, and a center of transition and change.

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