Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fiesta Juárez 2014

Ever since the Ham Sandwich Fiasco of 2011, I've done my best to avoid reading the comments that follow online news articles. I often find myself wondering what life was like before the Internet, when readers just kept their quiet, psycho thoughts to themselves. But I am a Millennial, so that is neither here nor there. People tend to say the most asinine things when they are behind the protection of a computer screen. So when the El Paso Times did a piece on Fiesta Juárez 2014, I should have known what would follow and ignored it, but I slipped and ended up sifting through the comments on Facebook.

It was the same bullshit that people have to say about Juárez anytime the city makes a cameo in a US publication. I guess I'm still a bit naive though because each time I read a hopeful piece about how my city is on the mend and that the violence is a fraction of what it was, there is a small part of me that expects a more supportive reaction from our neighbors to the North. Obviously it's not all lollipops and rainbows in Mexico these days, but in many areas things have calmed down significantly.

After reading this article about a carnival in Juárez that is back up and running this year after a 4 year hiatus due to violence, I stupidly expected people to be more excited. I mean, El Pasoans are always telling me about the glorious days they spent in Juárez, "before the drug war."

They go on and on about the food and the music and the clubs and the tequila and the parks and the people and all the fun they used to have. And this is their big chance to have it all back again, all wrapped up into one event. But no. No, it's too dangerous. Despite the promises from the organizers of Fiesta Juárez for heightened security this time around, and the reassurance that times are indeed changing in the area, many people just couldn't be convinced. That's understandable.

Even though things are improving here, I don't mean to make light of the struggles Juárez has had. I know first-hand how it has affected people. We too witnessed corpses on the side of the road and lost friends in the midst of this... Mess. But at some point, we had to move past it and keep on living. Everyone does. And glorifying what is actually happening today in Juárez and living in the past doesn't help anyone. There are 1.5 million people in this city who need to move on with their lives and in a border town such as this, it's going to take some cooperation from our friends from the North.

Juárez is deeply connected with El Paso and vice versa. One cannot survive without the other. If people aren't going to Juárez to spend their dollars, then people won't be going to El Paso to spend their pesos. Without the trade and tourism from one city to the next, both would just be another dusty ghost town in the Southwest. Comments like those that I read on this news article only add to the real problem.

"I heard they'll be giving out free shots." 
"Youth?!?!?! There wont b any youth the rate they goin over there.." 
"Get up missing posters out if u go.....An have people crying on y this happened." 
"What so the cartel can shoot it up na I'm good." 
"Everyone make sure to wear yur bullit proof vests..." 
"Oh lovely a huge target for the drug cartel! Let's hope nothing goes down because I don't want those stray bullets hitting anyone here in El Paso!" 
"Nah I rather deploy and get paid to get shot at"

When was the last time these people were in Juárez? Have they ever even been to Juárez? Those were the first things I wondered after reading their responses to the article. I went against my promise to myself and engaged. I had to know. I questioned people directly only to find that they hadn't been in the city for years, and in a few cases, ever.

So if you haven't been here for years and clearly don't know what you are talking about, why take the time to comment? Why feed into the negativity? Why glamorize and exaggerate the violence in a city you know nothing about? It seems that the people commenting usually live along the North side of the border but don't have any current ties to Mexico. I don't get it. That would be like me pretending to have some sort of first-hand experience with the tragedies in Ferguson just because I grew up in Kansas City. It's ridiculous.

I know I've said this before, but it's almost as if people want Juárez to fail. They want it to be some sort of dangerous, no man's land where anything goes and justice went to die. I know that sounds insane, but the more and more I talk to Americans about their current perspective of the city, the clearer it becomes. Maybe I'm over simplifying, but it seems as if by categorizing Juárez as no more than a crime-ridden, violent city, it makes people feel better about the US and it's current state of affairs. And of course, violence sells newspapers and magazines and books, right? If the media can continue to point a finger at Mexico, they don't have to stop to look at the source of the problem.

Look at those Mexicans, killing their own people, selling drugs, smuggling immigrants. Shame on them.

The longer America wags it's finger, the longer it can ignore it's drug addiction, it's archaic immigration laws, it's questionable policies on gun control. And eventually, the viewpoints of certain news outlets inevitably trickle down to their readers. I really need to learn how to just keep scrolling. No matter what.

I honestly didn't mean to go off on such a tangent, but people get me going sometimes. I really just wanted to share pictures of our night at la feria, sans bulletproof vests. Because the truth is, Juárez is rebuilding. Like it or not, Juárez is putting the pieces back together. This city is resilient and it's people are insanely strong. I have faith that everyone will see that strength in time.

To anyone who is in the area and still on the fence about whether or not to venture back into Juárez or go to this fair:

Go. Have fun. Don't listen to all the crap you read in the paper. Instead of reminiscing about the Juárez that used to be, go enjoy what it is today. I wasn't here before, but I know in my heart of hearts what Juárez truly is today. The city needs you to move on if this violent stigma is ever going to go away. The last day to enjoy Fiesta Juárez is November 2nd. Don't miss your chance.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wrong Turn

The case of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi has been going on for over 6 months now. I first heard the story when someone shared a video on Facebook of some sort of Sons of Anarchy-esque motorcycle gang that was heading to Tijuana to demand Tahmooressi's release. The idea of a bunch of gringos showing up at a Mexican prison and demanding anything seemed laughable to me.

Then the whole story began to blow up in the media North of the border. Many called his imprisonment an "outrage." Eventually, during a Town Hall meeting, I saw El Pasoans demand that Congressman O'Rourke get involved somehow and get this man out of Mexican prison. People are reportedly disgusted that President Obama has not "made a call."

¿Que que que?

If you aren't familiar with the story, Tahmooressi is an American veteran who was arrested for weapons charges on the Mexico side of the San Ysidro point of entry in April of this year. He claimed to have made a wrong turn somewhere and that he didn't actually realize he was entering Mexico. He had an AR-15 rifle, a .45-caliber pistol and a 12-gauge pump shotgun, all loaded, as well as several rounds of ammunition in his vehicle at the time. The fact that Tahmooressi was diagnosed with PTSD in March is the cause of most of the uproar in this case, which is still making it's way through the Mexican legal system.

I have been hesitant to say anything because although I have battled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of some horrific situations I have been in, I obviously cannot even begin to understand what PTSD is like for a war veteran.

I am truly grateful for any veteran's service to our country and can sympathize with his condition, but can I just throw something out there?

If a Mexican tourist drove into the United States, with a trunk full of weapons and ammunition, breaking the local law, no one would question whether or not he should be put in jail. It wouldn't matter if he was an honorable Mexican war veteran, it wouldn't matter what conditions he had, and it certainly wouldn't be acceptable for some member of the Mexican government to step in and "get him out." So why should any of that matter for Tahmooressi?

Well it matters because he's American, of course. Apparently Americans should always get special treatment. Duh. In fact, even after attempting to escape from prison, Tahmooressi did not appear to receive any type of punishment. According to news sources, he was instead transferred from La Mesa to a private cell in El Hongo, one of the few Mexican prisons which is accredited by the American Correctional Association, and then given 2 hours of daily phone privileges. After a hearing he had in August, he was given 20 minutes to spend with his mother, while Mexican defendants who also had court that day could only hope to catch a glimpse of their family members from a distance. All special treatment fueled by the media attention he was receiving North of the border, no doubt.

You know those people who are always hollering things about immigrants like, "when you're in our country, you better speak our language, you better follow our rules"? Why is it that those people are the ones who are suddenly demanding the exact opposite treatment for an American in a foreign country? I swear, the hypocrisy and entitlement issues that exist in the US never cease to amaze me.

In time, it came to light that Tahmooressi had actually been in Mexico earlier that same day and even checked into a hotel in Tijuana. Listen, I was skeptical of the whole ordeal even before learning that little bit of information because how does one "accidentally" go to Mexico? PTSD or not, if you're familiar with the ports of entry along the border, you know it'd be pretty tough to come or go without realizing it. I don't mean to sound insensitive, or discount Tahmooressi's condition, I'm just having trouble wrapping my head around the details. The whole situation just seems extra sketchy.

I've been thinking about it more lately because there is some construction going on at the bridge that I use to cross into Mexico so the lines have been extra long. It's given me more time contemplate the meaning of life and/or stare at road signs until my eyes begin to cross.

I wanted to take a moment to share some pictures of the signage you'll see before you driven into Mexico. For those who aren't familiar with entering Mexico by land, or maybe at all, the following pictures show the warnings you pass as you approach and then cross the US/Mexico border. Mind you, this obviously isn't the point of entry that Tahmooressi crossed, but from my experience, they are all somewhat similar. There are more signs than what I have pictured here, these are solely what I pass alng my particular route from the US back into Mexico each day. And to be fair, there is one more U-Turn sign that I missed.

You'll have to excuse the fuzzy pictures taken from behind dirty windows, there's a little dust in Juárez from time to time.

So tell me a little bit more about that wrong turn?