by Co-Editor Bruce Berman
I drive my old routes. Camera on the passenger seat or my lap. As always, these days it usually stays there, untouched. There are things along the way that spark memories. Object that aren’t there anymore. Gorgeous commercial signs constructed by craftsmen in the 1950s and 60s (not the least of which from the Jimenez Sign Company) were carted off to other cities that were twenty years ahead of El Paso in their bourgeoisie ambitions.You can drink under some of El Paso’s “Motel, Vacancies,” signs in various bars from Austin to Houston to Baton Rouge. There’s a withering away now, aging and weathered, but mostly not endearing anymore, not worth stopping for (to make images). There came a year, a month, a day when the treasures of El Paso were either gone, carted off or just left to rot.
There are whole swaths of this incredible and authentic city that are gone, at least for the long gaze of a photograph: Alameda. El Centro (downtown). Segundo is shrinking fast, bordered by El Paso Street on the west (with nasty tentacles of them all over it) and Cotton on the far east, with old residents living out their days, youth getting out fast and them with their bulging eyes all over it. Off of Delta there are condominiums and some revamped industrial buildings, residents living an almost urban lifestyle (sans humanity). Even the Gay Bars have fled, a sure sign of urban renewal/removal.
It’s not my job to do anything about any of this. My job, as I saw it, at the beginning, in 1980, was to give face to a face that was not known and I have tried. As The Grid lays out its future in the city with two hearts, it’s clear to me that my mission isn’t to pick sides in land rights, power exchanges, or to watch -or judge- the inevitable blandification. But blandification has come. Oh happy day. Some loudly exhale and go, finally! The city is becoming presentable to visitors again. It’s cleaner. It’s newer. There’s baseball. Soccer is coming (watch out Chamizal! The final blow that started in the mid 1960s is finally here). There are restaurants with the preface Le with Foo Fo thing-a-ma-jig dishes with little portions of things that look like they squiggle -vegetables- on top of things it’d be hard to identify below. Fancy. Plates of Foo Foo. There are young people downtown again, well, the kind of young people that look like they’d also be comfortable up in Kern Place on Cincinnati and the upper Westside.
Finally, there’s a Starbucks downtown near the Plaza and the Westin. The kids from the ‘hood can serve the hipsters that come in from outer Zaragosa Road and beyond.
Boring? Not to everyone and I wish them the best. I am not part of this. I left this scene in three other places I lived before this very long stretch here. It’s the same message: you’re in the gentry or you’re equitied out of the gentry.
Segundo barrio Yo Yo boy, Halloween 2011
Text by Bruce Berman (in full snide mode)
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 in Kern Place handing out candy, their yearly contact with the rabble. They’re all afraid of the people when they have fun.
Mailbox Kids, Segundo Barrio, El Paso, 2012
The Shrinking Segundo Barrio
by Bruce Berman
El Barrio, The Segundo, is shrinking.
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.
Doroteo in front of the ruins of Centro Chicano
2011 ©Bruce Berman
Centro Chicano gone. Rosas’ place gone (goodbye early 19th century, hello Denver to El Paso bus station). Flea market gone (it was so, “messy”). Museo Urbano, barely here and now gone. Koreans on S Street seem to be throwing in the towel, going. Can’t sell to Juarenses that aren’t there. The bi-national plan rising like a phoenix, unchanged and in better shape than it was (thank you Cartel War).
I know where “El Paso,” is right now. Bright New World. Shiny. All’s they need is a theme park and it’s on its way.
But Chicano El Paso, the turf south of Paisano, south side, El Segundo?
Man in the Segundo, El Paso – Sept. 2011
Photo and Text by Bruce Berman
Man from Anthony, New Mexico, describing his younger days in the Segundo barrio.
The Segundo barrio is El Paso’s most historic neighborhood, hugging the border with Juarez, Mexico and architecturally intact from the 1880’s “railroad boom,” that brought fired brick architecture and “Chicago Brick (which is atypical red).” Some adobe structures go back to the early 19th century. This part of the city has had human habitation for thousands of years. Spanish travelers began European settlement at this place in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in the mid 1600’s.
The real significance of the Segundo barrio, however, is the Latino community and it is significant. The barrio, historically, was the first “stop” on the journey north to “El Norte,” whether it was a matter of days for rest or for a generation of orientation. Many people in El Paso trace their roots to family who lived in El Segundo barrio in their first years in the United States.
FOR CAFÉ TACUBA VIDEO (and the rest of this article):
Gator skin and diamonds, El Paso – May 2011
El Paso –Six blocks to the border. There are diamonds. Well, they ought to be diamonds. He says they cost $250. I believe him. Sunday drive. Family in the Dodge. Stylin’ on Paisano Street by Bowie (Boooie). If you know El Paso you know the references. If you don’t it wouldn’t matter. Chuco street.
One of the riddles of photography for me is that every once in awhile there is an image that must be in color. Most everything I see and shoot is in B/W, but every once in awhile…
This dude is in color.
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©2010 Bruce Berman
EL PASO — Grave is a Renaissance man. He prowls the city spraying paint, rapping with passerby (me included), dreaming of new projects, checking out vacant walls that he or his kids can awaken, always lining up the next stuff, sharing philosophy, Being.
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.
Joy#2, Segundo Barrio, Sagrado Corazon gym – El Paso
Sagrado Corazon gym. Sunday dance.
Kick it hombre!
Golpelo, vato viejo (no muy)!
Joy always seems to be somewhere near this gym. The ‘hood is really tattered now. Anything near the border is tattered or about to be.
But ya gotta dance, yeah?
5:10pm – December 30, 2009
Last block of America. Or is it the first?
Fifth Street and El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas.
This used to be happy street. It’s still a busy street. It’s the street where the downtown bridge from Juarez exits or, conversely, it is the street where you leave the United States and enter the bridge to Juarez.
There’s a strange urgency on this block now, on this border now, if you’re looking and listening these days. People try to get back to Juarez before dark. Dark is when the heavy killing begins. At least that’s the way it’s been for the last year. Lately, things are getting even crazier in Juarez. Burrito ladies shot in the middle of the street in broad daylight, children executed in plain sight, house invasions and retaliations. Hard to know when a “safe” time to be in Juarez anymore.
D’town El Paso, 104 degrees, July 28, 2009
It’s cookin’ in El Paso.
Hard to breath.
But people do.
You keep moving.
Dignified Man #2, Segundo Barrio/El Paso – July 11, 2009
There are a lot of viejos in the Sagundo barrio. They get around.
There are a lot of kids too.
Like it always was but just fewer. It’s the heart of this isolated town.
Sagundo barrio, El Paso – July 14, 2009
Needed a trip to see someone “rich,” get to my home, my ‘hood, the epicenter.
A day -part of a day- in Americaland was enough for me. Felt sick. Left wobbly. Everyone comes to that place where you’ve got to weigh the illness of your certainties against the “healthiness (or lack of it)” of your insecurities.
I head to the pueblo.
Pumpa Monumental, FBA Project/El Paso -2009
It ain’t all war and drugs and deals.
Or is it?
Right here, in the midst of it all is…this!
Who made this? Chinese hands? Sweat shop Haitian hands? Don’t tell me North Carolina hands! They did wingtips, right?
Who will end up with this radical pump? Where will they wear it (I think I can imagine)? Is there pain and despair there, or a happy night? Baile, baile. I hope. Will this end up on the other side of the border or is there a place, close by, that will be dazzled by the wearer of this shrine?
Is this the scariest thing I have ever seen or the funniest and why is it this that provokes my thoughts and not the library or some archive or gallery? Why is it this that reminds me of those who toil without options of what is toiled at? Is everything always going to bring my thoughts to the Cartel, to class disparities, to the haves and the have nots, to the black magic of the border? Is that my fate: to see the most outrageous shoe in the history of my life and I can only think of slavery, not aesthetics?
Can I just let it slide? That seems like a long time ago.
Ah, all this in la pumpa monumental.
I smile. I gather the image. I harness my moment. What else can you do? We’re all stumbling around, teetering on some spiky platform or another. Making it look good. We toil at what we toil at, we dance with the partners we’re given, we all try to slick it up. What else can you do?
Otra vez, calle El Paso…estas el mejor!
I have loved you for a long time.
Quincineara, Segundo barrio, El Paso – 2009
Fifteen and delirious, defiant and non-idealogical, optimistic and uncertain, determined and hesitant, at times wildly free and untamed.
Family in Segundo barrio, El Paso – 2009
Summer of 2009.
I see it every day.
That other day, the one in November, I guess it’s in there somewhere. Eating and stopping the world and traveling and the whole schmeer. That’s thankfulness, right.
What is the word for grinch in Thanksgiving-ese?
I see thanks every day in my barrio. I see thanks for the mere act of being alive and being safe and having someone who calls you Dad or Mom or Mijo.
Yeah, I’m a simpleton.
And I dig it, too.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: JUNE 15-22, 2007
Dignified man at the crossroads , El Paso, Texas / 2007
A man stands in the last light of the day at the corner of 6th and El Paso Street in El Paso, Texas. This is the first street of the United States after entering the U.S. from Mexico from the Paso Del Norte International Bridge. The bridge links Ciudad Juarez with El Paso and 6th and El Paso streets could be considered the crossroads of the northern part of the Western Hemisphere from south to north.
A lot of old folks (viejos) grew up in this barrio and are still there. They are the dignity of the barrio.
Imagine how people felt when a picture of an old viejo was used, by City planners, to show what was wrong with El Paso?
Los Viejos are what’s right with El Segundo.