EL PASO, Texas — Thousands, including many who crossed the border from Juarez, gathered to celebrate “16 de Septiembre” — 200 years of Mexican independence from Spain — at San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso.
Festivities here drew more people than usual because public events in Juarez were curtailed due to the current drug-related violence there. Juarez residents were asked to celebrate at home with a televised ceremony.
Others opted to celebrate in El Paso at Mexican Consulate sponsored festivities. “We came to celebrate because we heard a big party was going to take place,” said Juarez high school student Diana Mojarro, 17.
Other ceremonies took place during the day in Juarez at private venues and protected locations, “We had celebrations throughout the day in school and parks, but not like before, nothing like this,” Mojarro added.
Mexico, celebrating 200 years since its proclamation of Independence, was having its biggest “grito” festivity yet, but Juarez residents were denied their bicentennial celebrations.
With almost 2,000 deaths, this year, Juarez mayor Jose Reyes-Ferriz, announced that traditional fiestas were canceled and a televised ceremony would take place instead.
“Participating in a big event like this is not the same as watching it on television,” Beatriz Mojarro, 46, said. “I wanted my daughters to celebrate their “patria” and bringing them here was our best option,” she added.
Approximately 10,000 spectators from the El Paso area attended the San Jacinto Plaza ceremony under tight security —nearly 3,000 more than last year.
When asked to compare the Juarez celebration to the one in El Paso, Mojarro added, “It is better here because there is more security and the people here are more respectful.” Even if only a few hundred yards away, Juarez residents may have found a new way to celebrate their patriotism in a foreign land. “I would definitely consider attending here next year. I liked it a lot,” Mojarro said.
More than three years have passed since Mexico began its war on drugs and Juarez is the city that has suffered the most. With the death toll reaching 6,700 and counting, Juarenses see no end to the violence in sight. People blame the killings on the drug cartels and on general corruption and they are urging government to fix the problem.
But there may be another solution as well.
“Part of helping to solve this problem is cutting the demand for drugs in this country,” said UTEP Chicano Studies Professor Carlos Ortega. “It isn’t just poor people, but also middle class and upper class people that are involved in buying drugs,” he added.
Ortega recognizes how disappointing it is for Juarenses not to be able to celebrate their independence, but sympathizes with Mayor Reyes-Ferriz, “You have to put yourself in his position, because it is a hard decision to make. Either let the celebrations go on with this violence and put more lives at risk or just stop.”
Tradition calls for crowds to gather around city hall and make a “cry” for their independence. Responding “Viva Mexico!” in chants, is part of the tradition that Juarez residents lost this year, which also marked the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.
“The canceling of the bicentennial celebration just really proves how serious it really is,” Ortega added.
The “grito” went on as usual in other Mexican cities, with only Juarez and a few other cities toning down celebrations. “I am sure peace will happen soon, but right now it just seems really ugly because the violence and killings are so constant,” Ortega said.
He urged residents to remain hopeful and with community involvement to take a stand against violence. Together they can have an impact, he said. “You can only hope for the best, and hopefully next year Juarenses get their celebrations back.”