I used to go to Vertigo every Saturday night and party till dawn. My family used to go to Juarez every weekend and walk the tianguis and get burritos y raspas. I used to go see my Tia a few times a week, she makes the best tortillas in the world. I used to get my hair cut twice a month in El Centro for only 20 pesos. I used get my check-ups every 6 months at Washington Dental. Best dentist ever. Hell, I've even heard some "I used to" stories about the prostitutes that frequent the massage parlors on Hermanos Escobar. I've heard it all. And I have to say, I'm at my wits' end with the some of these stories. I used to. We used to. They used to. She used to.
And then there was the drug war.
I know there is so much history on the border. So much back story with the drug war and the violence. So many have been affected and so much blood has been shed. People tell me the "used to" stories but they also have their fair share of horror stories. He was shot, they were abducted, she was car jacked stories. But how do we move past this? How can everyone feel at home in Juarez once again? What will it take for the 20-somethings to flock across the downtown bridge again to bar-hop before happily stumbling back across the border at 2 am? What will it take for people to reunite with their hermanos and tios and abuelos who they haven't seen in years because they don't have the luxury of a Border Crossing Card? What will it take for all the restaurants downtown to have a full house of El Pasoans once again?
Last weekend we went out for the first time in a long time. We watched the boxing match and had a few drinks with friends at Drink Team on 16 de Septiembre. After the fight we passed through the Pronaf district as we drove back to our neck of the woods. The streets were alive. The clubs were packed, people pouring onto the streets from the entrances of El Rudo and T'Kila. When we made it to our last stop, Shadow Davidson's, I was feeling so happy, so comfortable, so... normal. I wondered to myself, why can't everyone feel this way in Juarez?
I imagine this is what Juarez used to look like. Before the war. When do we start referring to the drug war as "the war?" What's the difference between a drug war and any other kind of war? Countries collide, people die, the military gets involved. What's the difference? I haven't quite figured that out yet. But regardless, things are finally starting to calm down and I'm curious what it will take for people to see that change. What will it take for things to get back to the way they used to be. What will it take for El Pasoans to come back to Juarez?
I honestly wish I could poll the citizens of El Paso because this is something that plagues me. I have invited my co-workers to birthday parties and barbecues at my house over and over. I know they won't come though. It's almost turned into a joke at this point. I'm not trying to get shot, they'll tell me. Over my dead body, they'll tell me. The tension between El Paso and Juarez is undeniable. When I truly began to understand how deeply connected the two cities are, this tension and animosity shocked me. Oh yeah, my tios and sister and abuelos live there but I won't go there. Por nada. Ni si me pagan.
Although some people just love to perpetuate unnecessary hatred towards Juarez (like when a DJ on 95.5 FM suggested painting a large middle finger on the Asarco tower pointing towards Juarez,) I think most people are just scared shitless of the what-ifs. Everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who has been directly affected by the drug war. Everyone knows someone who was kidnapped or murdered or car-jacked. It's not something you can easily move past and certainly not something that can ever be forgotten. I understand that.
I won't ever be able to forget the things I've seen here. But at the same time, the world can't stop. We have to keep living. And above all else, we have to keep enjoying the lives that we live. What kind of life is a life plagued with fear? And if we don't make an effort to get back to normal, we'll be afraid forever. I don't know about you but I don't like to feel afraid. I am always looking for a way to move away from fear.
I've talked about this with my father at length. Living in San Salvador, he's no stranger to my situation. He knows exactly what it's like to live in and love a city that has a constant travel warning from the US Embassy. In a moment of frustration this week I cried out to him. I don't fucking get it! I don't know how to convince people that Juarez is okay, that a trip over the border doesn't automatically equate to a death sentence. I just wish I knew how to make this all go away! He responded so quickly and at first the words seemed too simple to be right. But they were.
Well honey, El Paso is just going to have to take a leap of faith.