Those who stay live an altered reality. "I am scared most of the time," Alfonso says just above a whisper. Pablo's murder was not the first time death came to the neighborhood; two years earlier, there was a drive-by shooting right across the street. "That didn't really matter," Alfonso says, shrugging off the incident. But ever since Pablo's April killing, Alfonso doesn't leave the house unless he has to.

"Of course, everyone stays inside," says Clara Jusidman, president of Incide Social, a Mexico City-based social research and advocacy organization, who for years has been studying violence in Juárez. "The city is in the middle of a civil war. If you're inside, you believe you're less likely to be collateral damage."

Some kids stop going to school, although Alfonso says he never left. The day after Pablo's death, his homeroom teacher saw the boy crying alone in a corner of the schoolyard. He felt a mix of rage and despair, the sixth-grader remembers. Alfonso confided in the teacher, and she took him to the school's psychologist, one of a fleet of professionals stationed on campuses across the city who deal frequently with trauma, though they often have no specialized training. Alfonso began regularly visiting the shrink. "That helped," he says, nodding his head in apparent sincerity, but he no longer goes to his appointments.

More than 250,000 residents have left Juárez because of the sinking economy and fear of increased violence, leaving behind houses such as these.
More than 250,000 residents have left Juárez because of the sinking economy and fear of increased violence, leaving behind houses such as these.
Esteban spent Father's Day at his grandparents' house. The kids romped in the pool to escape the sweltering heat.
Esteban spent Father's Day at his grandparents' house. The kids romped in the pool to escape the sweltering heat.

More than anything else, he finds solace in his family — a close-knit group, most of whom live within a few-block radius. Alfonso says he has nine cousins, though it's not clear whether Pablo is still included in that count. They all recently came together for a Father's Day celebration. "That was a hard day," Laura says. Such gatherings are likely to be harsh reminders of their loss for a long time to come.

Laura says keeping Alfonso inside is her only choice, though she admits it's no way to raise kids. "We have to put up with that for now," says the 40-something hairstylist. "It's got to change at some point, but the solution is not going to come from the politicians. All they do is send more Federales, and look where that's gotten us."


It's a post-lunch sugar rush. A dozen wired 4-year-olds climb on top of each other in the front classroom of the Independent Popular Organization (OPI), a daycare center in Juárez's poor Poniente neighborhood. Face paint smears as the youngsters jostle for position, and by the time they settle into a circle, Spider-Man looks more like a ripe strawberry than a superhero.

The question put to the group is universal: What do you want to be when you grow up? The answers are stingingly Juárez: "A soldier!" The boy barely finishes his thought before another chimes in. "Me too!" the second boy yelps, throwing his hand into the air as if offering to enlist right then. A third takes a different slant. "I want to be a policeman in El Paso," he states, lips pursed with seriousness. The rest take their time to think about their responses but eventually fall into line. By the time the circle is done, it's clear that every male kid — if childhood dreams become fulfilled — would be packing heat daily.

Juárez's Federales and soldiers are ubiquitous. The former are dressed in dark blue, the latter in green. They respond at crime scenes and man checkpoints. But mainly, they circle the city, stuffed into the back of pickup trucks, masked and standing erect with rifles pointing outward. On an average day, residents cross paths with more than a dozen patrols. For adults, they inspire rage and fear. But in the eyes of a child, these men are life-size G.I. Joes; Juárez is a videogame turned reality.

Mikaela Castillo, who's been the director of the daycare center for years and has heard this chorus a thousand times, shrugs: "At least they didn't say assassins."

But few of the children will grow up to be Federales. "In Juárez, your only choice is narco or the maquila," says Susana Molina, an activist who helped revitalize a once-desolate public park. And maquilas offer dream jobs. The sprawling factories are infamous for deplorable working conditions, low wages, and long hours. "Narco," Molina says, referring to narcotrafficking, "offers a better life."

Even if Juárez were to give up its reign as murder capital, it would still be deeply troubled. Education is substandard: 68 percent of 5-year-olds — about 65,000 children — do not attend kindergarten. Juárez has the highest dropout rate in the country — 29 percent — and students begin leaving as early as fourth grade. About 45 percent of those between the ages of 13 to 24 are neither enrolled in school nor have formal employment.

"What can you expect when the maquilas' starting salaries are the same whether you have gone to school or not?" Jusidman asks. "There have to be other economic opportunities for Juárez residents if this city is ever going to change."

And Juárez will remain a thorn in the side of the United States. Juárez and El Paso constitute the largest bi-national metropolitan area in the world. Thousands legally cross back and forth daily — living on one side and working on the other, or doing errands across the border. The recent Juárez crisis has not been all bad for El Paso.

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12 comments
Talk2sk1951
Talk2sk1951

So because Mexico does not give one flying crap about its people...we should bring everyone here and take care of them? The world is a sick and sad place for people. This is not Americas fault. But we have a duty to protect what we do have. Let God take care of the other countries.

Rjr261
Rjr261

This is not America"s fault? Are you kidding? Have you not heard of the rule of supply and demand? If America did not have such a huge appetite for crack, coke, marijuana, steroids, etc. Mexico woul' nt be having drug cartels fighting for "transportation routes" Wake up. This has alot to do with America!

Daria Marjanovic
Daria Marjanovic

Reading this article, I can hear in my head the voice of Joan Baez singing: "Show me the alley where the bombs had to fall..." Because I myself grew up in a very quiet alley with the friendliest neighbors you can imagine, gardens with flowers and birds singing in the trees. And all of a sudden the bombs started falling on people's heads. Unfortunately, the name of the town may sound familiar to you, as it has become the symbol of war - Sarajevo. In Juares it is not called the war, but in my opinion naming the degree of violence is more or less the matter of terminology. But why I am bothering you, good people of Phoenix, with these things? It is only a political question, far away from your children. And it really happens for most of you mostly on TV and newspapers, although the border is only miles away. Like it was happening in Beyrouth or Dublin for the children of Bosnia before the bomb situation. Or for the children in Juares many years ago when Mexico was just a romantic place for vacations. We think too often that things happening on TV to other people can't really happen to us. And only when they come to our doorstep, most people start thinking that maybe it could have been solved before it was too late - with talks, negotiations, fair international agreements, law and justice, police doing their job, judges prosecuting bad cops here and politicians spotting bad guys not only over there. And what can possibly do a simple person who is totally out of horrors of illegal trafficking of any kind? Probably just what La Otras Hermanas are doing - helping to the affected individuals the best way they can. Being simple human beings who really care about other human beings.Being a patriot doesn't necessarily mean being stupid enough to think that we can never ever be wrong about anything. I would like the fellow readers to think about it. The bullets flying over your head change the processes going on in the head. And it can happen to everybody just like it happened to me.Lost European

Stevemallman
Stevemallman

2 weeks on the internet and only 8 comments including mine.Maybe it's about time to shut down and go somewhere else like the northeast where they don't think they have an illegal immigration problem.

Charis
Charis

Hello All,

The good thing is that here in Phoenix there is Las Otras Hermanas. We work with women and their families in Juárez, Mexico providing them with more than sustainable economic opportunities. We are helping a community organization to build a community center for children with a library and childcare. We are working on building a new culture of safe educated children and economically independent women. The women we work with have been part of our programs and have been able to acquire sewing skills and resources as well as business trainings. We support their efforts to conduct workshops on gender equality and we have started a library for children out of the existing center where the women construct a fair trade organic clothing line.

We have a store in Phoenix where you can purchase the items. We are currently relocating to 1524 East McDowell inside of Hair Pollution Salon and will have our grand opening on October 3rd. We are 100% volunteer run organization and ALL of the profits from the store go towards our Income Generation Program.

To learn more email me at charis@lasotrashermanas.org or simply visit our website:

www.lasotrashermanas.org

So despite this awful situation in Juárez, there is something you can do, now, to change lives of women, children, and families in Juárez.

Charis ElliottFounder, Executive DirectorLas Otras Hermanas

Dreamer441984
Dreamer441984

This is very sad circumstances. I truely believe that stopping all illegal traffic on our borders, be it human smuggling or drug trade, and aiding Mexico's government in effectively stopping these cartels, is the best solution for all. If the factories were required to take better care of their employees then honest work could become more appealing again. If Cartel's couldn't move their product to the U.S. then dishonest work would become much harder and less appealing.

Guess
Guess

The truth is many young people consume drugs here in the United States. I say to families here in the USA to start educating their kids about not using drugs, maybe these kids when they grow up are anot the future consumers of drug dealers. Mexican cartels are active because there is too much demand for drugs here in the United States. The key is, if you want to have kids you need to be educated to know how to educate. American Families need to stop the drug use by putting attention to their young adolecents and give the the info about why not to use drugs. If there is no demand here in the USA there will be no supply. No border, military soldiers or laws will stop the cartels. The consumers will stop them by making the choice of not consuming because they know better.

jDub
jDub

Guess, we have been "educating" youth against using drugs for over 40 years. It is the illegality of drugs that keeps the cartels in business. We need to legalize drugs, seal the border, and simplify our immigration policies. Problem solved

Johnny
Johnny

I am from Ciudad Juarez, and everything they say here it's true, what i can say to all our American Friends, is that please for your own safety don't go to mexico, it's really a bad place to visit now.

Anyone can be a victim, not even mayors are safe

Ambeckman
Ambeckman

I have a friend who just moved to Poza Rica on the east side of Mexico to be with her husband who is only a legal citizen of Mexico. Her two children born in the US went with her, they are 3 and 1. I am scared to death for her - she speaks little Spanish and does not know anyone except for a couple of his family members. She has no job and has the kids with her all the time and her husband works 2 jobs to pay debt to his family for going into business with them. I pray everyday for her that she stays safe as well as her children. I have been to Mexico many times...beautiful country but it is being overtaken by drugs in which our country is responsible for supplying. Drugs are horrible, but if we legalized them I don't think our plight would be as bad. It's so messed up and we're now paying the price for not doing something sooner.

CC
CC

That is just scary. . . I can't imagine living a life so full of fear and injustice. It makes me shudder to think about it. . .Now I know to not take my own lifestyle for granted.

 
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