The border of my memory

A store at Mercado Juárez. (Courtesy of Cheryl Howard)

A store at Mercado Juárez. (Courtesy of Cheryl Howard)

I want to write about the border. I want to write about it without crying, but that doesn’t seem possible. If all our collective tears fell into the Rio Grande/Bravo, it would be a raging torrent again. The Mexodus edition of Borderzine just came out, and I want to read and write about it without crying, but that doesn’t seem possible. My friend Georgina posted a link to an article from El Diario that says 300 thousand dwellings in Cd. Juárez have been abandoned. At three persons per household, that is close to a million people. Talk about a Mexodus!  I no longer cross; I have been “Mexiled.”

Juárez, 2005. (Courtesy of David Smith-Soto)

Juárez, 2005. (Courtesy of David Smith-Soto)

The border of my memory is a happy one. It is at first naïve and childish. I tossed coins over a short fence into the river for boys splashing there to catch in cones flaring outward, attached to long sticks or broom handles, not thinking about poverty, only fun. I tried frog legs at the Florida and had my first, but not last, encounter with the elegant waiters wearing white linen towels over their forearms.  My grandmother bought a parrot (Pedro) and brought him back without any problems from customs.  There was always a visit to Mercado Juárez, sometimes in a taxi!  Ooh!

During the sixties and seventies, we came from Albuquerque to the border for the nightlife, for the rivalry between sports teams and for bus trips into the interior of México. We saw the strippers and the mariachis, danced to rancheras and rock and roll. We stayed at Sylvia’s, an early casualty of the drug wars.  We shopped at the grocery store at the ProNaf. We bought khalua and tequila. We ate chiles rellenos for breakfast at Los Arcos and boarded the bus when the station was between Futurama (now S Mart) and downtown. We went to D. F., Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca, Guanajuato, and to Creel and Los Mochis on the train from Chihuahua. The children in the streets taught me slang, simón, and the bus drivers taught me trust and patience.

The exotic became familiar. We began to feel at home. Not in a loud tourist way, but more respectful. The landscape, the people, the language, the colors, the smells began to be … as necessary as air.

In the mid to late eighties, trips to the border were for family visits and children’s high top tennis shoes that smelled like bubblegum at Tres Hermanos. Every time we came I bought several pairs in different sizes and colors. And then we moved to the border, El Paso, and I was ecstatic. From both my home and my office, I could see two countries. I could go for lunch. I could even go to the Florida for frog legs! I walked across on weekends and went to the Mercado Cuáctemoc or the Mercado Juárez, got my glasses at Veinte Veinte, and made acquaintances. Always the tour guide for visitors:  Oaxacan rugs, pottery from Tlaquepaque, sopa de ajo?  I knew just the place.

We could go camping in México. I loved the Sea of Cortez and the mining villages around Cananea, the sophistication of Hermosillo. We went to Bajia Kino several times. I came home with sand and salt in my soul and Seri wood carvings of animals. I worked with researchers at UACJ, helped Dutch students studying the border adapt and get their work done, loaned wedding rings to the girls so they could ride the bus with fewer hassles. I took and sent my own students across the border to learn, to collect data. I was never afraid; I was always at home.

Things began to change on both sides of the border in the nineties. More obstacles to get back to the U.S., more violence on the other side, more murdered women and more murdered men. My own father-in-law became a desaparacido, never to be found. I still crossed, but less often and with more caution. It just kept getting worse. After 9/11 the obstacles to cross became even more draconian, and then you needed a passport, and the violence kept mounting. My students who lived in Cd. Juárez had hair-raising stories to tell. With every story my heart, already heavy from a study of the homicides, sank a little more. Many colleagues and students who could move to El Paso did so. The officials and politicians said we had nothing to worry about; El Paso was the second safest city. The violence was not affecting us. They must have been blind or deaf. The violence was affecting us. It was splitting families, terrorizing people, killing them outright or slowly with fear. It still is. Many of us are in “Mexile” on this side.

My friends in Albuquerque ask me if I am moving back now that I am retired. I say no; it’s too far away from the border. The border of my memory anyway. Plus, I’ve got me a river to cry.

3 thoughts on “The border of my memory

  1. Thank you for your memories of old Juarez, Cheryl. Juarez has been through many iterations in its long history. Hopefully there will be better days to come.

  2. Totally agree with Mara, Juarez has been through a lot in its long history.
    Colonial Mexico, Independence from Spain, “Separation” of Texas (and some other states) from Mexico, U.S.-Mexico war, Revolution, PRI (for 70+ years and maybe back soon, hope not), maquilas, and now firearms coming from the U.S., drugs so they can party in the U.S., violence and the killing of a lot of innocent women and people.
    yes, we all miss going to Juarez for whatever reason, some of us to visit tios, primos etc… others to go to the mercado. I hope that although crossing is not going to be as easy as it used to be for some of us, thanks to Sr. CXXX Bush. Juarez is going to stand on his two big patas and at least our families are going to be able to sleep in peace at night and go out of their homes without being afraid of being attacked and killed. I really enjoyed your article, it brought back a lot of good memories.
    aunque no me hizo llorar tanto como las noticias que veo a diario en la tele.

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