Editor’s note: Excerpt from Walking Juárez, page 8-9
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.
Appolino was 16 in 1987. His parents had died during the revolution.
In 1987 the old National Guard of Somoza was huddled just north of Jinotega Province, in Honduras, fighting with and being trained by the United States military, both Army, National Guard and elements of the CIA and other agencies. If you arrived in Nicaragua by airplane, it emptied out in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and most of the people getting off that airplane were anglo, in their thirties and forties, with short haircuts and heavy bags that looked like they carried more than clothes.
So, there was Appollino, with his Chinese-made AK 47, standing guard, in his country, awaiting nightfall, ready to defend his home and family, i.e. his country.
Mad as in nutty mad…mad because they were delirious with the defiance of convention while simultaneously becoming the masters of the Establishment (and remain so, truly understanding what motivates consumers -and that became all of us- and then getting them to consume), mad because they were about to be jetting and tail-finning and mini-skirting and drinking and potting and pushing every moral convention ever taught and/or learned out the back door into what became the waste dump of the 60s. They were insane with the possibilities and not burdened by the weight of the previous two generations (The Great One of the Depression and the War). They were mad and intoxicated and wild, like their cars, huge, with unlimited horsepower, design that was plastic and chrome and sweeping, made with materials never heard of before. Theory knew no limits. Everyone felt a little “illegal,” yet, invited to the table. Being ecclectic was safe. Just keep consuming, it’ll all be all right. Yes, they were nutty mad and flew high, never thinking there could be a landing, mad with the waiting for the coming fall, the doubt, the emptiness, the great Genericide, ergo, The End Of The Innocence (Don Henley). They became us. Post Mad. The masters of data, overthink, and, compliance.
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 JuÃ¡rez, 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 JuÃ¡rez years ago, when the war began, in 2011.
This isn’t the JuÃ¡rez 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” JuÃ¡rez of the 1990s and beyond.
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 haveÂ 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.Â 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.
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.
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 inÂ Kern Place handing out candy, their yearly contact with the rabble.Â They’re all afraid of the people when they have fun.
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.
Robot attacks little girl at Robo-Geek Fest, El Paso, Texas
Story by Bruce Berman
El Paso —-
Four-wheeled robots wielding paintball guns took over the Western Technical College Northeast campus on October 15, when students from nine area high schools competed in the college’s first T-Robo Competition. The students design, program and build the robot vehicles.
The competition was part of a daylong event, which included a Geek Fest with demonstrations by area engineering and technology businesses, as well as Fort Bliss and White Sands.
There was a military flare to the event showcasing various careers in the STEM fields. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Possible applications for the robotic vehicles would be non human operated military vehicles or “drones.”
Luis Jimenez’ Largartos (Alligators) in San Jacinto Plaza,
El Paso, Texas, July 2011 by Bruce Berman
El Paso —
by Bruce Berman
This is what kids do on their Quincineras in El Paso. They go to the heart of El Paso. They go to the downtown plaza, the “San Jacinto Plaza.”
This is what they want to record for a background, Los Lagartos, the alligators. They don’t go to the Mall. The Plaza theater around the corner really isn’t open to them (hey why not show movies? Why is it closed? It’s for “the people, isn’t it? Show movies in the daytime and they will come). Kids -and visitors- go to where their heart tells them there is a soul to the city: they visit Los Lagartos.
Do they even know why? Do they know that the artist who conceived and constructed the Lagartos was one of them, a local kid who once had Â a rented tux(I’ve seen the picture), celebrating like El Paso kids do, joyous and robust, almost free for a day (well that Limo driver is just out of camera range and is -unofficially- going to pass on a little mini spy report to the parents and they know it!).
Those buildings in the background are downtown El Paso. The space behind, the mountain, that’s Juarez. That girl there, in the foreground, the one with the whimsy and the joy and the hopes and the fragility, she’s a million miles away from this borderland desert, that stupid and brutal war (Juarez), that trying parking lot monotony (El Paso), at least for this night.
What is the news anyway? Is it what “they (in my case, us)” say it is? Or is it the dreams of a young girl (or boy) on one of the most remembered nights of one’s life?
I’m thinking the news, the significant events of our world are days and evenings, like this. Viewpoint. Remember that (!) as we become addicted to trouble and stress and our live’s of “quiet desperation (you wouldn’t know it if you looked at TV commercials would you?).”
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?”
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.
Lomas del Poleo. The battle goes on. More people leave. People fight to stay.Â A mean strip of ten lane highway has snaked its way through Lomas del Poleo (see previous posts or Google it). The Developers got what they needed and left what they didn’t, more or less. They don’t even blink as they plow ahead. This highway is going to happen, no matter what. The development will follow, is gonna happen, no matter what. Nothing stops the grinder. The Grid viene: Diamond Shamrock, The Chicken Colonel, Pemex, trucks full of electronic crap, three bedrooms, two baths, probably a Wal Mart (whoa..let’s not get too crazy!), the same vexing and stinking Grid that we hate and that people fight to have (Iran, Cuba, Libya, you, too, can have it!). There goes the texture, and, in the case of Lomas del Poleo, the isolation and faux rural vibe, the farm at the edge of the city, the special dream that has been Lomas: get out of the city, raise some chickens, leave us alone. A quiet hope on the edge of always possible chaos that is Juarez.