Note: This was written in April of last year. In your opinion what has changed since then? Have things gotten worse? Or do you see an increase of proactive behavior from both sides of the border? As the political season heats up South of the border, is there a candidate(s) that offers some hope in offering real solutions? Let me hear your thoughts below, through facebook or tweet me @monkeycblog.
Where we grew up you could sit atop the rock wall on the side of our tangerine-bricked house and watch the sun slowly go down, a fiery red and orange explosion slowly cooled by the night sky. The night, it seemed, would begin to blanket the sun the way a parent puts a feisty child to sleep, soothing the sky with hues of orange and pink and red. And no sooner did the feisty sun go down that a string of sparkling lights to the south illuminate the horizon. I remember how clear those lights looked, and if you squinted your eyes they almost looked like they were dancing.
The southern lights of Juarez have been a beacon to many people, whether they’ve lived on the border, the frontera, all their lives or just passing through. Today it’s easy to dismiss Ciudad Juarez as a gun-slinging, lawless border town where people die every day. In a time where US forces engage enemies half a world away, thousands of people have died in a war right in our backyard. But if you grew up in this area, Juarez represents so much more.
It was the place we’d visit every Friday night for a good meal, where my dad took my brothers and I to get haircuts. I still hear the nicotine laughter of those old men in their white shirts, still smell the aftershave they wore and how it reminded me of my abuelo. I can see the shoe-shine kid sitting atop his wooden box and the way he made that rag snap the shine into countless pairs of shoes. An old radio spat out Mexican music through a broken speaker that crackled like a candy wrapper.
As a kid growing up we’d often here stories about Juarez, the kind you could hear in front of your parents and the kind you only wanted to hear with your friends. There was a blanket of mystique wrapped around the northern Chihuahua city every time its name was mentioned. As young teenagers we yearned to here about our older brother’s stories of partying on “The Strip,” “Drink and Drown,” slow cops, fast women, and the smooth-talking taxi drivers that promised to take you to see the fabled donkey show.
For me the allure of Ciudad Juarez is similar to many US-born Hispanics of Mexican decent. Cross any point of entry into Mexico and you’re crossing into your own personal history, stepping right along the footsteps of your own culture. This is the pass that generations of immigrants took to get to the United States and if you go back far enough, the El Paso border area was actually part of Mexico prior to the Mexican-American War.
What people living in Middle America and especially Washington DC fail to realize is that there is no clear divide between Mexico and the United States, not for communities along the US-Mexican border. For people living in both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, the border divide is as blurry as the murky waters of the Rio Grande. It’s not uncommon for American families to cross into Ciudad Juarez to celebrate a birthday with their own relatives. People from both sides of the border cross any one of the major points of entry to go to work every day. Ciudad Juarez’s own mayor, Jose Reyes Ferriz, lives in El Paso. And Mexican shoppers are responsible for about 40% of El Paso’s economy.
Like it or not, the fabric of the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez communities are woven together tightly. Some would prefer to see the violence in Ciudad Juarez as simply “their” problem, but the truth is there is nothing simple about it nor is there a simple resolution. Juarenses do not feel safe, distrust their government and take anti-violence rhetoric from Washington with a grain of salt, as what’s happening on their streets is the result of drug supplying entities fighting a bloody turf war to better serve their American consumers. And it’s for this reason, above all others, why the deadly violence is not “their” problem.
Me, you, people living on both sides of the border are left powerless, save for a protest every now and then. Do we become desensitized to the daily news of bloody murder or do we just stop listening to the news altogether? I don’t know about you, but I miss Ciudad Juarez; I miss the way it used to be. And so now, whenever news hits of another brutal killing, the only thing I can do is say a prayer.