Border Books

Last month I blogged Bad Business on the Border about the US/Mexico border, El Paso and Juarez in particular. This is an appendix to that piece because I'm thinking readers from elsewhere might want to know more about this place. I’m a poet, so my understanding comes through story and metaphor and mythos, not by statistics and theory. That said, if you’re interested in reading well-written books about El Paso, the drug trade along the border and the Mexican Diaspora, I would recommend the following:

Sam Quinones' two collections of essays about the migration of Mexicans to the U.S., True Tales from Another Mexico and Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream. Sam doesn’t talk about the Mexican diaspora as “immigration,” which infers a political situation with a governmental solution, but as “migration,” which is an anthropologic term inferring organic movement for specific reasons (e.g. climate change, famine, disease, poverty, etcetera). This may seem like a minor point, but it’s not. It allows for a much more in depth understanding of what we are witnessing. Next, Sam doesn’t write about statistics, he writes about people. And he uses these people’s stories to understand certain geographies and circumstances and cultures. His two pieces on Juárez are brilliant. His piece in True Tales, although written in 1999, still is the most insightful piece about the murdered women. He shows how the vacuum of law enforcement and city services has created an environment of violence that allows such tragedy to occur. And in Delfino’s Dream his piece documenting the black velvet painting craze that put Juárez on the map should become a definite part of our history.

Next is Charles Bowden’s Down by the River: Drugs, Murder, Money and Family. Chuck has a love/hate relationship with El Paso and Juárez. He loves it for its down-home realism and grainy streetwise truth, but he hates to see how the drug industry and the U.S. militarization are tearing at the fabric of relationship of these two cities and their two-million people. Further, the inattention that U.S. media, in particular, the El Paso Times, gives to the on-going terrible dilemmas in our sister city infuriates him. The 1995 unresolved murder of Lionel Bruno Jordan (the brother of DEA bigwig Phil Jordan) in the Bassett Center parking lot struck a match in Bowden’s imagination. He spent years coming to El Paso and Juárez to write this book. Bowden's prose gives us a revelation of the drug world that is the underside of our culture here on the border, but it also reveals much of our culture here, our cross-border relationships, that is being destroyed by the militarization, plus the narco and immigrante wars. Chuck’s book Juarez, A Laboratory of the Future, along with an article in Harper’s, first brought national attention to the terrible tragedy of young women being murdered in Juárez. The book also made famous a loose collective of photographers (aka “street shooters”) who were documenting the violence in their city. The collective splintered as organic arts communities do, but one photographer in particular, Julian Cardona, continues to document the ordeals of living just south of the border.

Our own Cinco Puntos Press has also published a number of books that are relevant to these issues:

Gary Cartwright’s Dirty Dealing describes in page-turning prose the history of El Paso’s Chagra family and the almost romantic beginnings of the drug trade along the border. This book remains a best seller in El Paso after all these years. And the anthology of essay Puro Border: Dispatches, Snapshots and Grafitti from the U.S./Mexico Border. The anthology has essays by Debbie Nathan, Charles Bowden, Sam Quinones (his piece about the murdered women), David Romo, Louie Gilot, Cecilia Balli and many others. In the interest of full disclosure: these last two books were published by Cinco Puntos Press, which is our family’s publishing company. Indeed, my son John and I, along with Tijuana novelist Luis Humberto Crostwaite, edited Puro Border.

These are all good and interesting books, very relevant to what's going on today. A man works for us from time to time, Gabriel. An American citizen, he lives in Juarez with his Mexican wife and two sons (one born on this side) for a web of stupid bureaucratic reasons. He crosses over to work on this side. This morning he was telling me about the 2000 federal troops that Calderon has sent to Juarez to curb the narco violence. He says the troops bring their own form of violence. According to Gabriel, the troops are going into homes for searches and when they leave they take with them money and jewelry and televisions. Meanwhile, the violence and murders continue, although not to the extent that it was before the troops came.

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