The middle child of three casually says, "There are dead people all over Juárez." He watches the nightly TV crime highlights, and murders are a favorite conversation topic between his older sister and her friends. Unfortunately for Guillermo, the ghosts don't always like to stay hidden. They sit on benches and lie in the road alongside Hidalgo Park across the street from his house.

But in an interesting twist of fate, the one square block of green that sits 50 yards from Guillermo's front door is slowly becoming populated by a more lively crowd. "We realized that our city has beautiful spaces but that they had been abandoned out of fear," says 26-year-old Susana Molina, a hip-hop musician better known in Juárez as Oveja Negra, or Black Sheep. It's 7 o'clock on a recent summer night, and she's standing in Hidalgo Park surrounded by scampering kids and the rhythms of Bob Marley. "We decided it was time to leave the house and occupy public spaces as a way of taking our city back," she says.

It's a unique experiment: Molina and her friends, a ragtag group of young musicians and artists, began to arrive nightly at the park in the historical center of the city this past April, armed with drums, toys, a stereo, guitars, and soccer balls. "At first, no one wanted to leave their house because they said we'd bring trouble," she explains. But little by little, families emerged.

Eight-year-old Esteban, pictured standing outside his family's house, first saw dead bodies two years ago, in a car four blocks from home. He asked his father: "Even if they did something really bad, they didn't deserve to die, right, Daddy?"
Photos by Luis Aguilar
Eight-year-old Esteban, pictured standing outside his family's house, first saw dead bodies two years ago, in a car four blocks from home. He asked his father: "Even if they did something really bad, they didn't deserve to die, right, Daddy?"
Guillermo stands in the alleyway between his house and where he says his next-door neighbor -- a ghost, "un niño" — lives. The first-grader has never seen a real dead body but is haunted by the phantom image of one.
Guillermo stands in the alleyway between his house and where he says his next-door neighbor -- a ghost, "un niño" — lives. The first-grader has never seen a real dead body but is haunted by the phantom image of one.

Now Hula Hoops twirl on two-foot-high hips, and toddlers bang on drums most evenings. Teenagers flirt on benches, moms cluster to discuss rising food prices, and elders hunched over walkers try to keep up with scurrying grandchildren. "This looks like the good old days of Juárez," a woman passing by remarks to one of Molina's friends.

That's the idea, says Verónica Corchado, a member of Pacto por la Cultura, a campaign by various citizen organizations in Juárez that coordinates this and other events. "A lot of people have given up hope in our city and have left," she says. "But there are those of us who aren't going anywhere. So after two years of shock, we decided we needed to start living again," the redhead says. The plan is to replicate the Hidalgo Park pilot around the city. It — along with film series, art exhibitions, poetry readings, and anything else, Corchado says — might help Juárez residents enjoy life again.

"It's also a form of protest," she says. Corchado and Molina strongly believe that staying inside is not only a normal self-defense mechanism but also the result of government intimidation. "The government enhances the climate of fear, because if there is no one on the streets, then there are no witnesses to what goes on," Corchado says. She remembers that when the military arrived, TV ads encouraged people to stay home, and traffic light poles were adorned with informational posters about how to duck-and-cover in the event of a drive-by.

In Juárez, rumors circulate that President Calderón is in bed with the Sinaloa Cartel and that the city's militarization is an effort to crack down on the cartel's rivals. Indeed, most recent corruption arrests of high-ranking officials have nabbed those linked to Sinaloa, and while more than 500 members of rival cartels have been taken into custody, Sinaloa's leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, remains free.

Pickup trucks filled with Federales slowly circle Hidalgo Park several times throughout the evening. "They'd stop and harass us if there weren't so many of us here," Molina says. But instead, they drive on as the sun sets, and the oppressive June heat finally relinquishes its grip on the day.

Guillermo had crossed the street earlier to wait for Molina and crew to arrive. He sits hesitantly on the sidewalk that borders the park's grassy middle — until he notices the partially decayed carcass of a tiny bird on the concrete next to him and gets up to move.

Guillermo says he began seeing ghosts "a while ago," though it's unclear whether that means a few months or a few years in his 6-year-old mind. He becomes animated when telling stories of where and when the spirits appear.

The accounts are confusing to follow because he uses the word muertos, which translates literally as "dead people," to describe the phantoms. But it soon becomes clear that, word choice aside, Guillermo has never seen a real dead person.

One of those muertos was in the park the previous Saturday, he says. Actually, it was only a head, and it was hanging from a tree — likely an unconscious assimilation of the Juárez executioners' trademark of hanging dead bodies in public. But Guillermo sat on the grass anyway and focused on his guitar lesson. The thrill of learning how to play a C chord apparently meant more than ghosts mulling about, for that night at least.


Esteban — the composed and inquisitive boy who saw the slain bodies in the car as his two younger siblings slept — spent Father's Day this year at his grandparents' house, along with a gaggle of cousins, aunts, and uncles. His family, a rare breed of third-generation juarenses on both sides, made a feast, and the kids and a few adults spent the sweltering June day romping in the circular above-ground pool.

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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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