Saturday, December 28, 2013

Innocent's Day

The original title to this blog was "Verguenza en Juárez," but then I got schooled.

As the day began, I was already pissed off because my car is back in the shop. For the 3rd time in two weeks. Today is not my day. I was feeling sorry for myself, pessimistic about life and ready to smack anyone who looked at me the wrong way. I honestly wasn't even planning on blogging today, I feel so out of it. Then I came across this article in El Diario. Of course.


Derrumbarán la Equis por insegura

Gabriela Minjáres 
El Diario | 2013-12-27 | 22:48

La escultura monumental construida por Sebastián en el bordo fronterizo, la Equis, fue clausurada ayer y será derrumbada el próximo mes porque las autoridades locales detectaron “graves daños estructurales” que ponen en riesgo a la ciudadanía.

El dictamen fue emitido por la Dirección de Obras Públicas, Desarrollo Urbano y Protección Civil del Gobierno Municipal, luego de que autoridades de El Paso, Texas, pidieron revisar las condiciones de seguridad del monumento de 62 metros que se localiza a unos metros del Río Bravo.

El comité técnico revisor determinó que la estructura de acero corre el riesgo de desplomarse porque la base no tiene el diseño adecuado para sostener el cuerpo completo que pesa más de 100 toneladas; la soldadura presenta defectos, las perforaciones donde se colocaron los tornillos no corresponden al diámetro de éstos y no cuenta con refuerzos laterales.

Además, se detectaron fallas en el sistema eléctrico y la carencia de uno para la extinción de incendios, lo que pone en riesgo a las personas que entran a la estructura para subir al mirador que se localiza justo en el centro del monumento, el cual parece un ojo.

Se comentó que la demolición es inminente por el riesgo que representa para la ciudadanía y porque el Gobierno Municipal carece de recursos para hacer las reparaciones correspondientes, las cuales costarían hasta unos 25 millones de pesos, casi la mitad del costo total de la pura escultura.

El ex presidente municipal Héctor Murguía y el ex director de Obras Públicas, Arcadio Serrano García, no fueron localizados para conocer su opinión acerca de la clausura y demolición de la principal obra realizada durante su gestión, porque todo esto no es verdad, “inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar, sabiendo que en este día en nadie debes confiar”.


First of all, I'd like to apologize to my readers who don't speak Spanish and secondly, after reading this, all I could think was, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

For those who couldn't read the article, I apologize. It explains that they've decided that for the safety of the people, they will be tearing down the X sculpture here in Juarez. This 197 foot tall, 80 ton sculpture cost $2.8 US million dollars to build, plus an additional $3.4 million US for La Mexicanidad plaza and esplanade. Its inauguration was only 7 short months ago. However, the reporter said that the base wasn't designed efficiently enough to sustain the weight of the sculpture.

I couldn't believe my eyes. I called my husband, who was waiting impatiently at the mechanic's. I went off, in true Emily style. He went on to tell me he wouldn't have believed me, but that he was reading the same thing in the newspaper he found in the shop's waiting room. "Ni modo," he remarked sadly. "Typical Mexico."

Although its inception was highly controversial, we supported it. Many people argued that the city should use the money in other, more logical ways. In the schools, the roads, the parks. While I would agree that those things were and are unquestionably more worthy of the city's funds, I also realized that the suggestion of this sculpture came at a crucial time for Juarez. A time when the streets were dead. Literally. When they began to build La Equis, people didn't attend events in Juarez, much less dare to walk to the corner street vendor for tacos. 

The year construction of this sculpture began, there were over 3,000 homicides in Ciudad Juarez. I had just arrived to the city myself, and the violence was present in everything. Even in the street tacos. 

The sculpture's designer, Enrique Carbajal González aka Sebastian, was quoted stating that La X was "full of meanings, a mark to welcome people and to demonstrate the ancestral Mexican culture." In the El Paso Times, I also read that it was "a tribute to Juárez's namesake, Mexican President Benito Juárez, who changed the spelling of the country's name in the 1800s, from Méjico to Mexico and it symbolized the mestizaje, or merging of two cultures in Mexico." But for me, breaking ground on this project represented something more. A new Juarez. The promise of cultural events and concerts and a new museum was a promise of much, much more. It was the promise of a new beginning. 

I assumed that in a city so large, and in 2013 for fuck's sake, people would have already looked into safety and structural issues before they began a project that cost a troubled city more than 75 million pesos to realize. I suppose that was just my American optimism though. Now all Juarez had to look forward to was the "I told you so's." I was sitting here thinking to myself that this was so ridiculous, it had to be some kind of joke and maybe there's some sort of Mexican version of April Fool's Day in December that I was unaware of. I posted a link to the article on Facebook, completely enraged. 

Much to my surprise, my hopes came true. 

Shortly after posting, a friend informed me that the story wasn't true. I questioned her response and she went on to tell me that today is Dia de los Inocentes in Mexico, osea, Innocent's Day. I was doubtful at first and began Googling like a mad-woman. I saw the quote "inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar, sabiendo que en este día en nadie debes confiar," on several websites about Innocent's Day and recognized it from the original article. Apparently there is a Mexican version of April Fool's Day. And of course, even Gordo fell for it.

A gringa never stops learning in Mexico.

The original final line to this blog involved me shaming the sculpture's designer for his epic fail. I guess now all I can say is Feliz Día de los Santos Inocentes?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Q & A Part 2

It has been a long, rough, week. Among other things, we haven't had a car since Sunday and when you're a daily border crosser, car problems are pretty much your worst nightmare. It's at the mechanic now and will hopefully be fixed by Tuesday. Of course paying for the repairs will be another fun experience involving pay day loans and credit cards and whatnot.

I suppose I could write a long, depressing blog about money problems and Juarez/El Paso public transit shortcomings, but I don't think that'll do anyone any good. People all over the world struggle with money and their vehicles so let's just leave it at that. Am I right or amiright?

No, instead I'm going to go ahead and give you Q & A Part 2 and answer some more of the questions you all sent in a couple of months back. Hope everyone is enjoying their weekend and staying warm. Remember to make it a great day, or not, the choice is yours.

(I am totally trying to convince myself right now. Did I sound convincing?)


Do you feel safe in Juarez? Does if feel as dangerous as it's depicted in the news?

I feel perfectly safe in Juarez. Did I feel safe when we first moved here in 2010? No. That was the height of the drug war and it wasn't a rarity to see a body lying about or caution tape blocking off an intersection in your neighborhood. However, times have changed. It's not as though I just got used to the violence si no que the violence isn't as prevalent. People don't want to hear that and if they do hear it, they refuse to accept it because at this point, they have been so scorned by the murders and those who haven't cling to dramatically gory news stories. At this point I almost feel as though people don't want Juarez to rise from the ashes. Because after all, what would they have to write about in the Sunday paper? People are attracted to drama and violence, that's no secret. And so I suppose I'm trying to say that yes, I feel safe. And no, I don't think the media accurately portrays Juarez. I am not discounting the violence that has happened and continues to happen. I do not have amnesia as someone recently accused me of on Twitter. Horrible, graphic things have happened in this city. Yet, I feel safe. And I believe in my heart of hearts that Juarez will prevail. It's people are too strong, too resilient, too passionate, for it to go any other way.

Why doesn't your husband just learn English already?

He's too consumed with learning Mandarin, he just hasn't had the time to delve into English.

How long does it take you to cross the border every day?

This is a tough question to answer because it changes so much. However, for the past few months, it generally takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to cross on Mondays and 15 to 30 minutes to cross the rest of the week. That is when I cross in the Ready Lane with my RFID enabled card. You can read more about that here. However, for the past week I have been hitching a ride with anyone and everyone and crossed in the regular lanes. It took much longer in those lanes and we waited at least an hour each day. Bridge wait times fluctuate greatly though. For much of 2012 and 2013, wait times were very low, whereas in 2011, I would sometimes wait over 2 hours to cross during the week. Now, I can only imagine that long of a wait on a weekend or holiday. All in all, Juarez wait times are typically longer than say, Nogales, and much shorter than Tijuana. Best Time to Cross is a great website (and app) to refer to if you would like to look into it more.

Since you make dollars in the US can you live in like a big fancy mansion in Juarez? Doesn't that make you live close to like the bad rich drugs lords and stuff?

This question literally made me laugh out loud when I saw it in my email and bless your heart for asking it. Before moving to Mexico, I thought we'd be living the sweet life. I assumed that if I could find a decent job in the US, we would have loads of disposable income. I imagined us going to Parral every weekend to visit Ray's family. I imagined us traveling all over the country on a whim. Yet here we are, over 3 years later, and I have yet to visit Parral. We haven't taken off to Chihuahua for the weekend, we haven't vacationed in Mazatlan, Ray still hasn't set foot on an airplane. So no, earning US dollars does not automatically make a person in Mexico wealthy enough to live next door to el nuevo Tony Montana. Even if we didn't have a mountain of credit card debt, we still wouldn't be able to afford to live in a big, fancy mansion. At least not by Juarez standards. The thing about Mexico is that the rich are really, really rich. Filthy rich. And the poor are disgustingly poor. Because of my US income, we fall somewhere in the middle of this. Our rent is 4,000 pesos. That is very high compared to most of the city, however it only equates to about $310 US. It's a 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath home a few miles from the bridge with gated parking, daytime security and a generous back patio. Plenty of closet space. But definitely not a big, fancy mansion. I jokingly tell Ray that we solely represent the middle class of this city. We can afford to pay our bills, including US debts, but there isn't anything left over for emergencies. It isn't what I expected, but I just feel blessed that we can pay the bills.

Are you jealous because I live at the beach?

Insanely jealous. Are you jealous of my answer to today's 3rd question?

What your most embarrassing moment when speaking Spanish?

After I quit smoking meth, and around the time that I really began to buckle down and learn Spanish, I secured a job doing customer service for a company in Gilbert, Arizona. I had lied on my resume, claiming to be bilingual, which wasn't exactly the case. I knew street Spanish. I could score you an ounce of whatever without skipping a beat, but scheduling an appointment in a professional situation was a different story. I was speaking to a customer in Spanish one day and told her that I had scheduled for the vato to stop by her home the next day. No one around me spoke Spanish, so I didn't get in trouble for telling this poor woman that I'd be sending a "homie" to her house, but she was quick to correct me. I was extremely embarrassed and apologized profusely.

Why did you leave your son in the US and move to Mexico? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Everyone needs to back up when it comes to this topic. I think I've made it perfectly clear that I do not want to discuss the details of our situation. We do not live together. We didn't live together prior to me even meeting my husband. I did not abandon my son to move to Mexico with my lover. He lives in the best place I could ever imagine him living. I visit him every single chance I get. Our situation is quite complex. It is an extremely emotional subject for me because of course, I love him with all my heart and living apart is the hardest thing I have ever done. Please remember, he is only 10 years old. I do not want him reading about this on the internet. Have a little respect. I will write about what happened when I am ready and when it's right for him, but I'm not and it's not. I feel like I share a great deal of my life online so I would appreciate it if everyone could respect my family's privacy just a bit. If people could just stop emailing me with questions about it, that would be fantastic. I suppose from now on, my only reply will be a link to this blog post.

How many Americans live in Juarez?

I have no clue. After our piece on This American Life aired, I was contacted by countless men and women who are living here for the same reason. I tried to keep everyone straight, even stopped to make a list at one point, but eventually I lost track. I still have that list, and it has 23 families on it. But I learned of countless more after the fact. So the answer is countless? I have no idea. And if there are this many of us in Juarez, I can only imagine how many families are living in other border towns. I would assume Tijuana hosts the bulk of families in our situation.

Do you ever regret moving to Mexico or would you do something differently if you could do it again?

I will never, ever regret this move. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only did I fall in love with Juarenses, but I found myself. I give full credit to this city, to it's ebb and flow, even to the fucking line. If I could start all over, the only thing I would change is that I would have brought 2 cars. We purchased an SUV before we came with the sole purpose of crossing the border with a trailer. If I could do it again I would have brought a second car. A tiny itty bitty nugget of a car. The smallest one I could fit in. This way, we would save countless dollars in gasoline and of course have a back up if something happened with the other car. Word? Word.

If you could wave a magic wand, what would immigration reform look like to you?

This question has plagued my mind for ages. I've thought about it even more since someone messaged it to me a couple of months ago. I still don't think I have an answer. I'd love to be this intelligent person who can spout off a response to this question without second-guessing herself. That's just not the case. I guess all I think is that the law should be less black and white. We are talking about love here, after all. Spouses, brothers and sisters, children, parents. How can one law establish eligibility for everyone? I don't know that I believe in open borders. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. All I know is that thousands of families are suffering. Many of them unjustly. I'm not very smart though. I don't follow politics well. I don't understand economics much. I don't have bold, concise solutions to suggest on how we should fix the system. I don't have a plan. I wish I did. I wish I had an answer. All I know is that many of my friends are living in less than questionable conditions because of their spouses' menial immigration violations. I know that even if my husband would have tried to do things "the right way," there wouldn't have been a path for him. There is no legal way for a blue-collar worker, without connections or hefty bank account balance, to enter the US legally. I know that countless individuals are living apart from their family because of the draconian immigration laws in the US. And I know that there has to be some sort of solution. Maybe some type of farm-worker bill is the solution? Maybe not.

All I know is that I don't know anything at all.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The V Word

There are few words that I won't say. Few words disgust or offend me. Those few are all in the racial slur category. With that being said, I swear a lot, in case you hadn't noticed. Fuck being a personal favorite in English. For the longest time I have battled my tendency to cuss, trying to weed certain words out of my vocabulary. About a year ago, at the suggestion of my parents, I even went through this blog and edited out all the shits and fucks and whatnot. It only took me a short time to realize that it just wouldn't be possible. Sure, I have a semi-effective child and professional filter, but here? I can't hold back. It's not happening.

And when I began to live half my life speaking only Spanish, it was only natural that I began to swear in my second language as well. And in Spanish, my most used swear word is verga, much to my husband's disgust. He says my choice of words embarrasses him, that I sound like a naca, a cualquiera, a callajera. Ghetto.

Yup, he got it right. I'm well aware of what I sound like.

Again it was suggested that I watch my words. My mother-in-law tried to teach me to say a la ver gatos ni ratones quedan instead of saying a la verga. Yeah, that one didn't stick.

I understand why it's such a big deal. Honestly, I do. Especially when speaking Spanish, I understand that my language isn't lady-like. And I get that for whatever reason, a woman who says hijo de la chingada is more offensive in Mexico than a woman saying son of a bitch in the US. I don't know why, that's just the way things seem to be. And as a woman with a colorful vocabulary, I am misunderstood quite a bit. Maybe thought to be low-class. Okay, that's great, I just don't give two shits.

I really don't care if people think I sound like a low-class hood rat that was raised by a pack of wolves. I know who I am and I know how I was raised. I'm not planning on dining with any Juarez debutantes any time soon, much less the Obama family. I just express myself in the most accurate way I know how. Take it as you may.

Honestly, if you haven't noticed by now, I'm really writing this for my husband. It's my twisted way of putting my foot in the ground and valiantly saying, "Now you listen mister, if I want to say que ella es una perra mal nacida, you better let me say it!"

And you know, when I am speaking to people, sometimes I see a gleam in Ray's eyes. A little glint of pride behind all of his embarrassment. Maybe it's because he's proud of my Spanish even though he doesn't approve of my choice of words. Maybe it's because he wishes he could express himself so freely, even to strangers. I'm not sure. All I know is that this is me, and everyone is going to have to just take it or leave it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mason Jars

Mason jars have come up in conversation a few times over the last week. Largely because of my commentary on a local bar, wishing they would serve beer in mason jars. One might assume I was paying homage to Toby Keith's I Love This Bar, but the truth is that I just think all beverages taste better in a mason jar. Especially water. Especially beer.

Growing up, our cupboard was always full of jars, much to my dismay. In elementary and middle school, a lot of my friends were from wealthier families. Because we lived on the outskirts of my school district some of my classmates were of a different breed. They lived in Warner Ranch and had swimming pools and a gate code to get into their little sector of suburbia. My neighborhood didn't even have a name, much less a gate. I wondered why my mother didn't just buy glasses like normal people. Jars? Why did she insist on reusing pickle jars and jelly jars? Why was she so weird?

20 years later, I realized that she wasn't weird. She was fucking cool. When I open my cupboard and am faced with an army of jars, I sometimes giggle to myself. I proudly drink from those jars and even prefer them to a regular glass. And looking back, I am so grateful for the way I was raised because it made me who I am today. And I like that person. I thank God that I didn't grow up in some fancy house with pretty crystal glasses that all matched because if I would have, where would I be today?

Maybe I'd spend my winter vacation skiing in Aspen and my Spring Break sipping cocktails on the beach in Fiji. Maybe my passport would be full of stamps from my exotic, impromptu vacations. Maybe I'd send out holiday cards to everyone boasting about my family's accomplishments over the past year. Maybe I would have gone to some great college and have a six-figure salary. Maybe not. If I never ended up in some shitty apartment in Mesa, would I have met my husband? A blue collar immigrant who spent his teen years dreaming of a job that could just pay the rent and put food on the table. Would I even know what it was like to dream? If I didn't grow up wanting so much, would I ever question life in this way? Would I ever stop to appreciate the little things?

What is it that changed me over the years? What changed my opinion, what shifted my view? How did I come to appreciate my upbringing and realized that I was so fortunate? I think it started with those damn jars. Reusing them out of necessity and practicality. That simple act was the catalyst of my realization of my mother's struggles as she raised us girls. I suppose a lot of people learn to appreciate their parents as they grow older though. In one way or another. It's only natural.

I asked my husband if they used jars as drinking glasses at his house, growing up in Parral. Si! Mole jars, peach jars, chile curtido jars, he explained. I asked him if he was ever embarrassed when friends came over. If he ever wished his mother would get regular glasses.

Why would I be embarrassed? Why wouldn't you reuse the jars?

He looked at me completely bewildered. Oops. I guess I was the only spoiled brat that worried about what her little friends thought about her family's drinking glasses. Maybe it's an American thing. Maybe not. Maybe it's an Emily thing.

When I began to write this blog, I got emotional. Thinking about my mom, how much I miss her, how much I wish I could be with her day in and day out. How much I wish I could run over to her house on a whim and look at her old artwork and play Scrabble. And over the years, the jars began to remind me of her, remind me home. Where ever that is. Is it in Arizona, where I spent my teenage years, where I met my husband? Is it in Missouri where I was born and where my family lives? Is it Juarez, the first city I've lived in out of necessity and fell in love with out of desperation? No, home really is where the heart is I suppose. Maybe one day home will near my mother, my sisters, my son. Maybe one day home will be near my father. But for now, home is here in Juarez with my husband. I guess I'm already home so it's time to stop missing it.

Whoever thought a spaghetti sauce jar could evoke so much emotion?