THE WOOD GATHERERS

The Wood Gatherers, Juárez, 01/01/2001,

photograph by Bruce Berman ©2017

The New Millennium

El Paso/Juárez has never been flat. It is a place of differences. Peeks and valleys. Yins and Yangs. The epicenter of this riddle is found at the river. Even the river has two names: El Rio Bravo/Rio Grande.

This is the early morning of the new millennium,  January 1, 2000, the first morning of who knows what.

It’s cold. The kids are hunting for wood for heat. They live in improvised sheds, mostly constructed from shipping pallets, some don’t have stoves, none are legal, if they have electricity or plumbing it is pirated. This colonia is a “first neighborhood. People squat on land owned by distant political landlords. They are called parachadistas, parachuters, landing as if dropped in from the sky. Their parents came to the border from México’s interior to work in internationally-owned factories

These kids don’t know me or I, them. They are busy and they are wary. Their mission this day is not me, it’s wood, heat for the family. I walk with them in the fine sand of the riverbed. I find a few scraps of wood and they seem to feel better about me and allow me a few photographs.

I turn to leave and see El Paso, across the river, close, a million miles away, another world. I wave goodbye. They wave back, our barriers shattered. We are friends now. Wood Gatherers.

I’m about a hundred yards away now and turn around. They stand firm, watching me. I feel like I’ve left home, going back across the river, like a parachuter, falling from the sky.

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SLEEP

 

 

Sleeping lady at CREAMAC, Juárez, 2012

This woman sleeps the sleep of the near dead.

She lives at CREAMAC, a refuge and shelter in the mountainside of the Juárez mountains in west Juárez, México.

There are many different kinds of people in this institution, ranging from homeless, mentally ill, epilepsy and other.

There is little treatment available, unless, the resident gets unruly and then there are injections to completely subdue the client.

There is no industry there, no skills to learn, just time to spend, safe from the streets but not from the various devils that afflict the residents.

Sometimes it’s just better to sleep.

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RELIC #3/ICE TRUCK IN JUAREZ

Juarez Ice truck, 1975

Ice truck, Juarez, 1975

1975.

Ice trucks up and down Avenida Juárez.

Same routine every day.

Go to the municipal ice plant, over by the railroad, buy ice, get it on the truck, head to your customers, mostly saloons.

Get the day’s orders.

A half block will usually do.

Get it inside, let the baristas chip it down to cooler-size.

The runoff gutters around the base of the bar take the ice melt away.

Good to go.

All the ice trucks eventually die from a fatal combination of age and rust.

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LAST OF THE LAST

Last days of the last days, Globe Mills

and I10, El Paso, October 2015,

photograph by Bruce Berman

____________________

“I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it,
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…”

-Janis Joplin

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RANCHO BOOTS IN JUAREZ

Rancho Boots (from the book Juárez), Juárez, 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.

Juárez is changing. It’s good. People are dancing in the streets. The Cartel is receding into memory. Juárez 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.

Juárez is the center of the world of nowheresville.

I bow to it.

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SOLDADERAS/WOMEN SOLDIERS

Maria Gonzalez and soldaderas.
Maria Gonzalez and soldaderas, Photograph from the Runyon Collection/Library of Congress

 

This photograph was taken during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), exact date unkown.The photograph was taken by commercial photographer Robert Runyon (1881-1968), a longtime resident of South Texas. His photographs document the history and development of South Texas and the border, including the Mexican Revolution, the U.S. military presence at Fort Brown and along the border prior to and during World War I, and the growth and development of the Rio Grande Valley.

This image was shot on a glass-plate negative ; 5×7 in. Camera unknown.

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MEMORIAL

ASARCO #212, May 2012. Photograph
©BruceBerman 2015

 

Photograph and text by Bruce Berman

I miss you ASARCO.

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, pro seguro. 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. 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!

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The Old New Juarez

Loteria de Juarez. Photograph ©BruceBerman2013

The New Juarez.

Everyone is talking about it. A new day, full of new promise. Many acquaintances tell me about all the new bars and cantinas. That Juarez will rise again.

This morning, Easter morning, two bodies were found hanging from a bridge in central Juarez. The victims were young, scruffy, boys with no names.

Hanging, like crucifixion, is a public and humiliating death. A death after death, the person shamed, rendered helpless, publicly. This is death with a message.

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Whiffs: I Can See Tomorrow

El Mariachi (the real one), Juarez Photograph ©BruceBerman1999

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.

There are “whiffs.”

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Unhappy Crowd With Tarot Cards

Unhappy crowd getting their Tarot Cards read, Juárez. ©BruceBerman2014

 

The streets of Juárez abound with life again.

The “Cartel War” is over.

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 Juárez, 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 Juárez years ago, when the war began, in 2011.

This isn’t the Juárez 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” Juárez of the 1990s and beyond.

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The Shocking Man

Shock Man, El Paso, 2014
Shock Man, El Paso ©BruceBerman2004

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?

Ah Humanity!

And it takes someone to recognize certain kinds of Humanity and let ‘er rip…for…five bucks!

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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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The View South #421

The View South #421, July 2014

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? 

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Where’d El Paso Go: Le Foo Foo!

Opinion/Observation

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.

Woman fleeing, El Central/El Paso
Family of Shadows, El Paso, Texas. ©BruceBerman2007

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.

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El Toro bi-plane, Juárez

 

BiPlane_Juárez_LoRes

El Toro bi-plane on La Avenida, Juárez, 2008

Streets of Juárez are changing.

The murderous last few years are being replaced with growth. Planned growth.

The entire border is under development and there have been plans for decades that are now starting to happen.

It’s as if the violencia was a cleansing. Or was it a scrubbing?

In the “new” Juárez there won’t be any Bi planes. The era is gone. Anything from the 20th Century will become increasingly a rarity.

So be it. C’est la vie. Es la vida. What can one say?

Or was it a

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Segundo Barrio Yo Yo Boy

 

 

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.

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The Fast Disappearing Authentic Segundo Barrio: Mailbox Kids

ChucoStreet, Mailbox Kids in Segundo Barrio, 2012

Mailbox Kids, Segundo Barrio, El Paso, 2012

©Bruce Berman

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.

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