The City of El Paso is participating in the Cities Mean Business: 2019 Annual Conference in Houston, Texas as part of the Sister Cities International organization.
“Sister Cities International allows El Paso to connect globally and thrive locally and thus helps us to promote our culture, tourism and regional economy,” said Jessica Herrera Director of Economic and International Development.
“By building and strengthening relationships with cities from around the world we can collaborate and share best practices, which will help us to grow and strengthen our vibrant regional economy.”
City officials are also participating in the 4th China – U.S. Mayor’s Summit as part of the conference and have met with various country representatives.
El Paso currently has a sister city agreement with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and Hadera, Israel.
As part of the sister city agreement with Juarez, El Paso is scheduled to host the 2020 U.S. – Mexico Mayor’s Summit early next year, which will be attended by elected officials and business leaders.
Sister Cities International serves as the national membership organization for sister city programs in nearly 500 communities, with relationships in over 2,000 communities in more than 140 countries.
The Summit is the fourth in its ongoing bi-national series of Summits to reaffirm and strengthen sister city relationships in key countries.
The purpose is to bring together mayors, elected officials, business executives, city managers, and educators.
It took Ciudad Juárez resident Norma Martinez about 90 minutes just to get halfway through the pedestrian line at the Paso Del Norte Bridge bridge Saturday afternoon on her way to shop for clothes, umbrellas and other goods she resells at her store across the Rio Grande. She said her young son’s feet began to hurt, so the people in front of her allowed her to skip ahead.
Otherwise, she said, they probably would have waited more than two hours to get through U.S. Customs. Normally, Martinez said the line is about 30 or 45 minutes.
She’s just one of the thousands of border residents that have been forced to grapple with a drastic increase in bridge wait times after President Donald Trump’s latest effort address a growing influx of immigrants — many of them Central American families with children — who cross the border to seek asylum.
The Department of Homeland Security said last month it was redirecting 750 Customs and Border Protection officers from the ports of entry in El Paso, Laredo, Tucson and San Diego to assist U.S. Border Patrol agents in processing undocumented immigrants. The reassignments have caused massive delays at international bridges for pedestrian, vehicular and cargo traffic in the weeks leading up to Holy Week.
That has merchants concerned about how the administration’s decision to pull hundreds of agents away from their duties at the international bridges will impact the city’s retail sector — especially now at the beginning of Holy Week, one of the busiest seasons for cross-border shopping.
“We are really concerned. Historically Mexican nationals shop a lot during the holidays, especially with the Easter holidays right around the corner,” said Cindy Ramos-Davidson, the CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Jon Barela, the CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, a nonprofit focused on promoting business and economic development in Ciudad Juárez, El Paso and New Mexico, said Mexican shoppers are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of El Paso’s retail trade, depending on the time of year.
And since federal officials pulled agents from bridge duty, Ramos-Davidson said average wait times for passenger vehicles at El Paso’s international bridges have reached 160 minutes or more, about three times the normal wait.
She said international travelers, mainly from Ciudad Juárez or Chihuahua City, will still likely brave the long lines, but they might decide that shopping is less of a priority than visiting family. The chamber, which has 1,300 members in the El Paso area, recently conducted research and found that more than 50 percent of Mexican tourists won’t cross only to shop if wait times are more than about 45 minutes, she added.
After making it across the bridge Saturday with her son, Martinez said she’ll likely cut back on the number of trips they make to shop in Texas.
“After what we saw today we’d probably think more about making the trip,” she said. “Maybe we’ll come once a month” instead of two or three times.
Commercial industries are also going to feel the effects of the slowdown, Barela said, due to the time tractor-trailers have to spend in line. One business member of the Borderplex Alliance that supplies metal to factories in Ciudad Juárez is operating at about 30 percent of his normal output because of the wait times, Barela said. The employer even had to send some employees home at the height of the slowdown, when according to Barela, wait times reached about 12 hours at some ports.
He said he’s hoping Congress will come together and find the will to reform the nation’s immigration system when it realizes the situation not only affects the border, but industries nationwide.
“Sometimes you need a crisis to encourage people to act and that’s where we’re at right now,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said last week that 545 of the 750 reassigned CBP officers were from the Laredo field office, which has significantly challenged the remaining officers in his district. The Laredo customs district is the country’s No. 1 inland port and saw about $229 billion in two-way trade in 2018. That was followed by the El Paso customs district at about $77.4 billion.
Cuellar said he met with incoming U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez last week and urged him to replace the reassigned officers with supplemental officers from other South Texas field offices.
“We look forward to the arrival of sufficient CBP reinforcements within the week. Congress must work with the Administration to create a strong immigration framework, which can process migrants without sacrificing U.S. commerce,” he said in a statement.
After threatening to close the border with Mexico over the influx of undocumented immigrants, Trump backed off last week and said instead he will impose tariffs on imported automobiles next year if the Mexican government did nothing to stop the flow of migrants.
“[Closing the bridges] is off the table now, but what anxiety does it create in the market? Will people try to rush things into the market before the bridges close?” said Ken Roberts, the president of WorldCity, Inc. a Florida-based company that analyzes trade data and business trends. “That creates traffic on the border. The biggest factor is the uncertainty.”
I cross the international border between Cd. Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas about 4 times a week. I am amongst the thousands of transnational fronterizxs that live their life crossing the frontera as part of their weekly routine.
I cross over there easily to enjoy what I call the homeland. My veins bleed proud Mexican blood that was passed onto me by my parents.
When I cross back, I am questioned as to why I was in Juarez and my answer is always the same, because it’s my second home. I detest Border Patrol; the migra that instills fear into so many people.
Now, I’m often antagonized when I share my opinions about Border Patrol and ICE. People will argue that those people who work for these government sectors are simply people, like you and I, who are trying to make a living.
I think it’s important to note that I am in no way trying to dehumanize these men and women who work for CBP and ICE. But I also find that the attempt to separate these humans from the accountability of their actions is problematic.
At this very moment, there are men, women and children in cages like animals. They spent days outside, underneath a bridge exposed to whatever the climate was. It was reported that children had bruises on their bodies from sleeping on the floor on top of rocks.
Whether or not Border Patrol agents “signed up” to do this when they applied for the job, they did it and they continue to get paid to do it. This makes every single man and woman who works for Border Patrol guilty of accepting paychecks for executing the inhumane treatment of migrant men, women and children.
I’ve had this conversation with both those who agree with me and those who disagree, and it seems like the argument I’ve come across the most is that these people who work for this government or this current administration need to feed their own families and thus have no choice.
If we can make this argument for these modern oppressive structures, can we not make them for say, Nazi soldiers and SS officers?
It can be argued that it is unlikely that EVERY SINGLE NAZI shared Adolf Hitlers’ dream of a “pure Germany,” but does that erase the damage that was done by every single Nazi that helped exterminate 6 million Jews?
How do we separate the inherently racist jobs that people do from the person who does them?
The answer is simple. We don’t.
If the humanity of others can be erased by a paycheck, then you are part of a broken system and you should and will be held accountable for the evil actions that you enact.
Border Patrol and ICE are organizations that’s entire existence is dependent on racist and xenophobic policies.
These conversations are uncomfortable for many people because we don’t want to think of our Tio in CBP or father in ICE as racist or xenophobic. And maybe they’re not blatantly so.
But when they put on a badge and drag children into cages, they are fueling a system that sees citizenship as a dealbreaker for treating someone as a human being that deserves respect and THAT is xenophobic. When an organization specifically targets folx with brown skin while simultaneously ignoring migrants from other countries (that are white), that IS racist.
There will be accountability.
Revolution is coming and it will remember the monsters who “did their job” and ignored morality.
The El Paso Herald-Post welcomes all guest columns, open letters, letters to the Editor and analysis pieces for publication, to submit a piece or for questions regarding guidelines, please email us at email@example.com
UTEP’s Border Region Modeling Project (BRMP) has released its projections for the region’s labor markets, demographics, commercial activity and more in “Borderplex Economic Outlook to 2020.”
“Although policy uncertainty has impacted investment plans on both sides of the border, overall economic conditions remain favorable throughout the Borderplex,” said UTEP Economics Professor Tom Fullerton, Ph.D.
Among the projections for the forecast period is ongoing low unemployment in El Paso, Texas, but a deceleration in jobs growth for Juárez and Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico, caused by recent interest rate hikes that hamper certain industries.
The report also forecasts a stronger labor market in Las Cruces, New Mexico, through 2020.
The report offers projections on personal income trends, residential real estate, nonresidential construction activity, hotel activity, airport traffic, and water consumption in El Paso.
It also forecasts international bridge traffic, as well as metropolitan economic conditions in Las Cruces, Juárez, and Chihuahua City.
The BRMP, which published this report, is a research unit within the Department of Economics and Finance in the College of Business Administration at The University of Texas at El Paso.
BRMP sponsors also include El Paso Water and the UTEP Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness.
Before the first words of President Trump’s prime time Oval Office address Tuesday night, border human rights advocates already had a rebuttal ready.
“What we have seen at the border over the past two years are the impacts and chaos caused by a cruel and racist President who has no respect for the rule of law,” Fernando Garcia with the Border Network for Human Rights said just moments after the Presidential Address was over.
The first Presidential prime time address was meant to convince Americans that the government shutdown, now in its 17th day, is needed in order to hold out for funding for a steel fence along the nation’s southern border.
Many immigration advocates at Tuesday night’s event at BNHR say the address did little to provide concrete evidence of a sincere crisis at our southern border.
“Why, even if there was something urgent at the border right now, why this administration would choose to respond with a wall that will take years or decades to build,” said Garcia.
Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who now has a massive online following, decided to take a direct approach to the assertion by President Trump that there is a national emergency at the border.
O’Rourke took to Facebook live to walk viewers around his Sunset Heights neighborhood, discuss the proximity of El Paso to Ciudad Juarez and our dependence on each other for economic and social prosperity. Former City Council member Steve Ortega and Joel Guzman, both fellow Sunset Heights residents joined in on the discussion.
While Trump was quick to bring up two recent murders in the U.S. allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants, he also failed to mention the deaths of Guatemalan migrant children Jakelin Caal or Felipe Alonso-Gomez, who both became ill and died while in custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Father Arturo Bañuelos with the Catholic Diocese argued that the lack of the President’s compassion for the true humanitarian crisis happening across the border was part of a larger problem.
“We need real, lasting, humane, and permanent solutions ro our immigration system that provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. and that builds a legal system that comforts with reality moving forward. With a President unable and unwilling to act, Congress must lead,” said Garcia.
During Christmas week, El Paso saw a massive surge of migrants being released by ICE from detention facilities, which sent organizations in the Sun City to scramble to house and feed the massive release of families.
On December 26, ICE released a record 522 migrants from detention in a single day. By Wednesday, January 9, all three of the emergency shelters that were opened by Annunciation House during Christmas to house the unexpected surge of migrants will be closed. The closures are representative of a return to ‘normal’ release numbers by ICE since New Year’s Day.
The overall flow of migrant families into the U.S. is still far more than it has been in recent memory according to Annunciation House Executive Director Ruben Garcia in a previous interview.
President Trump is expected to make a trip to McAllen on Thursday to survey the southern border for himself. While he has previously indicated he would consider declaring a national emergency in order to fund the construction of the Border Wall, he stopped short of any declaration on Tuesday during his address.
In a response via Twitter Tuesday night, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar said “Tonight’s speech offered nothing new, just another glimpse at a POTUS w/ no understanding of how to cope w/ challenges of changing migration patterns. When he goes to south TX on Thurs, he’ll do the usual photo ops w/ federal agents. Maybe he’ll wear cowboy boots and ride a horse.”
The El Paso Herald Post will continue to offer coverage of the proposed Border Wall and the Government Shutdown.
Watch Full Border Network for Human Rights Press Conference Below
President Trump’s Address to the Nation on Border Security (Courtesy CSpan)
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — Teresa Rodriguez might have found comfort inside this border city’s famous downtown cathedral Tuesday afternoon when she stopped in for a midday mass after running errands. But after leaving Our Lady of Guadalupe church, she was back on guard.
“That’s close enough,” she told a reporter just a dozen or so paces from the church’s main entrance. She shielded her eyes from the sun with one hand and raised the other in a “halt” gesture before adding. “You know, because of everything that’s been going on.”
Rodriguez survived the war between rival drug cartels that raged in this industrial border city from 2008 to 2011 — and with violence on the upswing again, she’s taking extra precautions.
From January through last Sunday, there were 829 reported homicides here, including 114 in August, according to local media reports. The monthly average stands at six per day, though it’s unclear if the latest surge means the beginning of another turf war like the one that began in 2008 and resulted in more than 10,000 killings here.
Experts say the latest bout of fighting is between former cartel allies — the Juárez Cartel and the Barrio Aztecas — vying to claim the downtown area as their own. But the how or why seems less important to the people whose main concern is instead how long this new surge in killings will last.
“There are innocent people that are there when they get to a business and the hitmen show up,” said Rodriguez, 69. “And they don’t just kill [the target] — they kill all of them.”
The homicide total includes 29 children, the most recent of whom died Sunday after getting caught in a crossfire the week before, the Diario de Juárez reported.
Howard Campbell, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso whose research focuses on the U.S-Mexico border, sees the current wave as unique because most of the violence is concentrated in downtown Ciudad Juárez.
“What’s different about this is it’s just over and over and over again that people are getting murdered in these areas where the Aztecas live, which is right in the heart of the downtown area,” he said. “So a lot of these killings have been in broad daylight.”
The Barrio Aztecas in Juárez are affiliated with Aztecas in El Paso, but Campbell said the Juárez Aztecas operate independently. And while the organization was once aligned with the Juárez cartel, it has since split and is fighting to keep a foothold in the city.
Campbell said the end could come when one gang ousts the other, but what he sees as perplexing in this situation is that it’s the hometown gang that’s being squeezed out.
“It looks to me the Aztecas are losing, and that’s pretty shocking,” he said. “It’s like going on somebody’s home court and kicking their ass.”
There is the added element of the prevalence of methamphetamine dealers trying to find a niche in the Juárez market. While cocaine, pot and heroin have historically been the illicit goods of choice for street peddlers, methamphetamine has been making its way into the traditional markets largely because of the increased presence of another major cartel: the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación.
“[The Aztecas] see meth as a threat to their business, and it’s only recently that meth has made an appearance in Juarez,” Campbell said. “The influx of meth and the people that sell it are contributing to this conflict. And the Jalisco people are the biggest meth producers and meth controllers, so they have a lot to do with this.”
The city government has acknowledged the surge in killings, but leaders there say it’s not going to rise to past levels. During a Mexico-U.S. border summit in El Paso last week, Roberto Rentería Manqueros, Ciudad Juárez’s secretario del ayuntamiento, a high-ranking position on the city council that serves as the administration’s second in command, conceded his city is having issues due to “disgraceful” acts by criminal elements. But he said he didn’t see what’s happening today as comparable to the war a decade ago.
“What caused the great worry for Juarenses 10 years ago was that the crimes affected common people. That was the impact,” he said. “What we’ve seen currently is that the crime that’s increased are murders are between the [warring groups].”
Just north of the Rio Grande in El Paso, city leaders still see the need to remind outsiders that their city is one of the safest in the country despite what happens in Mexico. A decade ago, lawmakers and tourism officials were engaged in a nonstop public relations effort to convince potential visitors and business investors that El Paso wasn’t affected by what was happening south of the river.
Last week, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said the violence in Ciudad Juárez has always affected El Paso but that it was up to people to see for themselves what the reality of the situation actually is.
“It has an impact, it always has,” he said. “During [times of high violence], people said, ‘How can you come down to El Paso?’ The point is, we got to get people here to understand the uniqueness of our region. Everyone keeps talking about the border, but no one has been down here.”
As the situation plays out, there will be people like Leonardo Cortez, a maintenance worker at the El Paso Museum of Art who lives in Ciudad Juárez — and asks himself every day how far things will escalate.
“The mayor is preoccupied with things other than security, and everyday people are getting killed,” the 54-year-old said. “The gangs don’t respect the citizens, they don’t respect God. There is no respect for life.”
Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts, along with the Cities of El Paso and Juárez, are in the running for an award that will provide funding for a joint cross-border art installation.
Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that El Paso is one of 14 cities that could receive up to $1 million as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge.
“The Rubin Center has a dynamic history of presenting contemporary art that involves artists and audiences from both sides of the border,” said Kerry Doyle, director of the Rubin Center at The University of Texas at El Paso.
“This partnership with the City of El Paso, the El Paso Community Foundation and our partners in Juárez highlights the strong connections we have with our sister city, and the importance of building bridges for the future.”
The proposed art installation is titled “Border Tuner.” The project, led by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, includes a series of light and sound installations that will connect El Paso and Juárez with robotic searchlights that make a bridge of light. The light sources open bidirectional live sound channels that allow people from each side of the border to communicate with each other from three stations at Juárez’s Chamizal Park and three at Bowie High School in El Paso.
In February, Bloomberg Philanthropies invited mayors from U.S. cities with a population of 30,000 or more to submit proposals for temporary public art projects. More than 200 cities applied with proposals that fostered creative collaboration, addressed civic issues and supported local economies through public art.
Bloomberg Philanthropies will select at least three winners among the 14 finalists in the fall to execute their projects over the course of 24 months. The grants will cover project-related expenses but will not fund 100 percent of the total project costs.
Other participating foundations for the El Paso/Juárez art project include the El Paso Community Foundation, Fundación Comunitaria Paso del Norte and the state government of Chihuahua.
Late last year, a busload of teenagers pulled into Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care (YLM), in El Paso’s Lower Valley. More than a few of the kids had a look of expectant wonder on their faces as they had made this trip before. Others were beginning to wonder what they had signed up for.
Yet, here they were, ready to begin a trip that would help shape their futures.
I’ve previously written that I am the type of guy that tends to view everything through a jaundiced eye. With all I’ve been through, it’s hard not to. That’s why, when I see something positive, I must write about it. When that story also involves a group of fifty teenagers spending their Christmas vacation building homes in Juarez, I really must write about it.
Imagine, a group of kids coming from Mayer, Minnesota, to build homes for people they don’t even know, in a country, most of them have never visited before. Then, learning that the youngest person on the trip is thirteen-years-old, and you have something you take notice of.
Mayer Lutheran High School is a school within the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod. At the core of their teachings and beliefs is service to others. The same is true of YLM. For over thirty years YLM has been striving to change lives- Changing Lives Through Simple Acts of Kindness, is their motto.
I’m not going to tell the story of the kids who came down to build these homes; it’s better to hear it from them directly. You can watch the video I made with them here above. The story I am going to share with you is quite different. The story I want to share with you is about
need, about unity and about how it shouldn’t matter where one is from, or where one decided to help.
Over the last year, I have seen our country become polarized. Simply put there are two schools of thought. You either agree with the mainstream view, or you are labeled as a leftist, close-minded, or a moron.
It seems you must agree with everything the current administration preaches, or you will simply be an outsider looking in.
When I was considering this article, in early January, I spoke to several individuals about the work YLM is doing, and more specifically, the homes these kids are building in Juarez.
The most common refrain was that they should be working over here, in the United States. So, I spoke to Dave Lane, one of the teachers on this trip to El Paso, and Juarez.
“I had a lady, in one of our fundraising events, for this, tell me that specifically.” said Dave Lane, “I said, I don’t think it’s either-or, I think it’s both-and. Of course, people need to be helping people in our country, but who’s going to help those people in Anapra?”
As Dave said, he doesn’t see any agencies in Juarez working to help families in need. Don’t get me wrong; there are people who do help. But how far can their limited resources go?
That’s why it’s important that individuals such as Dave Lane, and his group of kids come down to help families in need.
Now, imagine a world where Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care or Mayer Lutheran High Schooldidn’t exist. Imagine those individuals who have received home, home extensions, food baskets, or the free medical care that is hosted on their Lower Valley campus. Where would those people, those families be?
Were it not for those groups, there would be 3,000 families, on both sides of the border, who would possibly be homeless, or worse. There would be families who would not be able to make their limited supply of groceries last between paychecks were it not for the food baskets provided by YLM to families in need.
Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care is one of a limited number of groups reaching out and serving those in need. Regardless of religion, race, or political leanings, YLM – and others – exist to help.
This is what we need to remember, to serve others.
Rabbi Shalom of Karlin, in the 18th Century, said “If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into the mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person yourself out into the light.”
Any group that is willing to get down into the “mud” and help, they are worthy of our help and support.
“G-d does not need our good works,” Martin Luther, Father of the Reformation said, “but our neighbor does.” (Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 10).
So, I want to challenge you; I want to know where you are. Are you sitting there, on the sidelines, waiting for someone to help? Or, are you willing to help? That’s where I challenge you, to get up, get out and help.
Take a moment this week to speak to your Rabbi, your pastor, your parish priest. As them how you, as a community of faith, can help those who are hungry, are homeless, who are sick. Ask what can be done, and where to begin. You may be surprised as they just might be waiting for you to get the ball rolling.
Hillel the Elder said, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Cross-border commuters in El Paso and Juárez will have access to real-time bridge wait time information as part of an unprecedented program launched by the City of El Paso.
“For the first time, the City of El Paso is giving commuters who travel between El Paso and Juárez the opportunity to access truly up-to-the-minute bridge wait time information through our new PDNUno.com Web site,” said Mathew McElroy, Director of the City of El Paso’s International Bridges Department. “This innovative program goes even further by making commuters part of the solution; the Web site is powered by the Metropia smartphone application, which gathers real time information from commuters who are crossing the border 24 hours a day.”
Border crossings in the El Paso-Juárez region are among the most active on the continent. Recognizing the strategic importance of cross-border commerce, travel and tourism, the City of El Paso is leading this regional effort to address congestion.
In the near term that can reduce bridge wait times and air pollution; in the long term information acquired through this program will inform long-term policy decisions and investment in transportation infrastructure.
To further incentivize use cross-border use of Metropia’s smartphone app, Metropia’s navigating capability have been expanded to include address-to-address routing which minimizes congestion in El Paso and Juárez.
In addition to building routes which minimize congestion within each city, cross-border navigation from Mexico to the United States will direct motorists to the least congested border crossing.
Metropia’s smartphone application includes separate wait time information for heavy trucks, private motor vehicles and pedestrians.
There’s a place in the world, just south of the United States border, that many talk about, but rarely go.
A city that is a police state, plagued with what seems like a never-ending drug war, government corruption, and extreme poverty for as long as many people can remember. This city is Ciudad Juárez.
The flashing lights of the federal government police vehicles are a sad strobe, bouncing off the shattered windows of the businesses closed since the violence started. But in the midst of a country divided by a war with itself, sanctuary can be found in the Ciudad Juarez nightlife.
So I went out in search of these havens.
My first stop was on the corner of Paseo Triunfo de la Republica and Calle Lara Leos at a second story cafe bar called Asenzo.
I walked up the spiral staircase and was greeted by the deafening and familiar sounds of a STRFKR cover of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper. The smell of cigarettes hung in the cold winter air and filled the lungs of the party-goers, all looking for an escape from the realities of their country.
I excused myself from my company to use the restroom and was greeted by walls decorated in sharpie marker. There was poetry, profanities, and love notes about heartbreak and the feeling of emptiness.
I returned to my friends and we made our way to the dance floor. People moved their bodies to the hypnotizing music. The darkness of the dance floor turned the dancing bodies into nothing but silhouettes swaying gracefully – like dandelions in the wind. I was infatuated by this.
It was a world different than the one I’d just walked in from. Outside there was sirens, hunger, missing women and war; but in here, there was beauty and a passion to be free.
I read once that “en Ciudad Juarez a bailar es un acto de desafío” which translates to “in Ciudad Juárez, to dance is an act of defiance”. The kids wanted to dance and they did just that.
Our second stop was a gay bar named Cavas. The inside was decorated with much like any other bar: dark, but painted by the strobing colors of the rainbow light system. At the bar I saw men flirting with beautiful trans women.
It wasn’t much different than the gay bars in the United States but at the same time it was.
This gay bar was located in the middle of a war zone – nonetheless these people were here and they danced which the same defiance as the people in Asenzo. They all longed for the same freedoms their brothers and sisters just north of the border have.
These people inspired me. They kept dancing and – in a way – that meant that they kept fighting.
That night, I was invited to spend the night by my guide. As we took the uber back to his house, I stared out into the street and thought about the struggles of the Juarenses. I thought about all the articles and news reports that highlighted the violence and war and felt a sense of sadness that no one ever highlighted the beauty that I’d seen that night.
These people were fighters. They were lovers. They were artists and dancers. They were poets.
And they were living; and in Ciudad Juarez, that means something.
Robert Schriver’s job seems easy enough. Wave the cars in, collect the money. But it can come with its share of troubles.
“I’ve knocked some teeth out. Some people want to cause trouble.”
Robert parks cars at a Rio Grande Parking lot right at the base of the Santa Fe Bridge, which is the starting point for many trips to Ciudad Juárez. I see Robert there so often, I assumed he owned the lot and that the $4 per car he collects went straight into his pocket. Turns out, I’m not so bright.
“Do you think I would be standing out here in the sun if I owned this place? Come on, now, don’t be stupid.”
In fact, at least some of his troubles come from the owner of the lot. They’ve had some battles over the years, even some punches thrown, but Robert has been working the lot since the 1990s, and they have found a way to sort through those problems.
The Schriver family may not own the lot, but it’s still a family operation. Robert said he’d probably leave the job, but he stays for his dad, Ralph, who works the lot with him, along with his aunt.
Everyone who drives or walks by seems to know him, though perhaps not his name. They all say hello, but everyone calls him guero. “Any spots left, güero?” “Come have a drink with me in Juárez, güero!” “Qué pasó, güero?”
Even the folks who don’t like him, the drunks or the owners of impounded cars, they call him güero, too. Just with a few extra expletives thrown in.
Personally, I’ve never gotten used to being called güero. Even after 15 years of living in El Paso, I don’t like it. To me, it feels like people are saying, “Hey, white boy!” Which essentially is what they are saying. But Robert says it doesn’t bother him. What does bother him is when people, when he was younger, would see the scars on his head, and name him after the doll in the movie “Child’s Play.” He dislikes the name so much, he doesn’t say it.
“You mean Chucky?” I ask. He just gives me a look and doesn’t answer.
For as long as Robert has been working, he’s worked at this corner of the border. Before he worked at the lot, he had a job at the used
clothing warehouse just a block away at Santa Fe Street and Montestruc Court.
Like many who have been in the building, he has a ghost story. He said he was once sent to a lower floor by himself, and he saw a ghostly figure. When he realized it wasn’t a human, he ran.
“It was dark, and I was freaked, so I ended up running straight through an old plaster wall. They told me I had to fix it, and I said, ‘No way.’ There was no way I was ever going down there again.”
Robert, who graduated from Eastwood in 2000, speaks perfect Spanish. Formal Spanish? No. In fact, when I ask where he learned Spanish, he just says, “I don’t know. I just picked it up.” But, perfect, nonetheless.
“You wouldn’t last long at this job if you didn’t speak Spanish,” he says.
But despite his Spanish skills, and spending the day parking the cars of those heading to Juárez, he doesn’t cross the border anymore. He says he quit during the worst days of the city’s violence and has no plans to return.
Like every person with a pulse in El Paso, he has his Juárez stories, though. As we discuss the times we’ve had to pay the mordida to the Mexican police, he laughs remembering the time he got so mad at how he was being treated, he paid a cop $40 for the right to punch his partner in the face.
“You can get anything you want in Juárez, if you have money, including the joy of punching a cop in the face,” he says.
Ahh, the joys of Juárez.
Haven’t been in a while? Well, now that you know where to park, here’s some more inspiration: The Kentucky Club, long the favored watering hole of many a güero checking out Juárez, has added outdoor seating.
If there is anything better than sitting in the Kentucky Club, soaking up the history and being in the same space where John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and Benjamin Alire Sáenz had drinks, it is sitting outside the Kentucky Club, enjoying a beer or one of their famous margaritas while watching the action on Avenida Juárez.
Look north, and you can see the Franklin Mountains peeking above the line of cars waiting to head into the United States.
Look south, and you watch vendors hawking newspapers, taxi drivers hustling for customers and the club life begin to come alive as the sun goes down.
If you haven’t visited in awhile, it might be time. The terror of past years has faded, and if you’re still nervous, well, you don’t have to go too far on your first visit — the Kentucky Club is only a couple of blocks in.