All posts by Andrea Gibbons

Thunderstorms

I sat last night as the wind sent waves of rain sweeping under the porch, the lightening flashed bright in the darkness lighting up the sky, the thunder cracked loud. And I was happy the way I am always happy in a thunderstorm. An almost perfect moment, the feeling of being self-contained and content, entirely alive. In such moments I am myself, warm flesh and blood, heart beating. And also alive as part of the storm, greater than myself. And I was thinking I would like to find love like that. Based not on need or ownership but upon becoming something greater together. Two people alive and happy in the world, because life is so good; two people alive and struggling in the world because what we have made of it is not good at all. Two people complete in themselves and able to live completely. Two people together because being with the other makes this joy richer, the understanding deeper, the world’s colours more brilliant, because in sharing it with the other the world expands so that it is far greater then you could ever make it on your own…

I’m not sure what this requires, an equal certainly. A capacity to give of yourself without dependence, so different from independence without the capacity to give. An absence of selfishness, but a respect for the passions of the other and your own. Understanding the need for individual space as well as sharing to grow, and the need to challenge the other and to rise to their challenge. Trust and the solidity of someone who will tell you when you are fucking up and always be there when you need them. Passion and compassion. A delight in each other’s bodies and stories, thoughts and dreams. A simple delight in each other. A sharing of pain and suffering, and doing all you can to help it stop or make it less. Commitment to see the thing through. There’s probably much more, I haven’t even touched on eating habits, but…I wonder if it is at all possible, it must certainly be rare.

The light is beautiful, the sky is beautiful with dark clouds it up by the setting sun. The birds are all singing, there is a cardinal on the phone lines, a hummingbird and finches are flitting about the mulberry tree. I hear cactus wrens and a gila mockingbird, I love knowing the songs of the birds around me. I miss it when I am away from the desert. I am not less when I cannot match a bird to its song, such knowledge simply makes me greater.

Living well in L.A.

You doubt it no? Disbelievers…L.A. can sometimes be one of the best cities in the world, and I say that because of everything I have ever written about it, both heartbreaking and heartlifting, who would want only one or the other in their life? You’d cut your wrists with the first and stare at the world through the translucent walls of your bubble in the second without ever truly living. This weekend I remembered once again why I love it so much…again full of writing and struggle and dancing and art and friends and dragon boats and…I can’t even tell you how much fit into this weekend.

Political truth (my own truth with a little ‘t’ though I think it might deserve capitalization): every community should have a central place to gather, to laugh, to eat, to dance…it is the distance between us that makes control so easy, that makes poverty such a burden, that allows each of us to suffer believing that we are alone…the more we come together the stronger we will be, and the better we can plan.

Personal truth: happiness could easily be as simple as live music every weekend, surrounded by friends that are family, and a little bit of dancing, preferably under the sky. And if the music be a mix of jarocho and cumbias and zapoteada and some old mariachi favourites to belt along with…well, so much the better.

Combine those two and you end up with my Saturday between 11 and 2 in the neighborhood I have worked in for years upon years and where we had established the Displacement Free Zone, saje and the land trust threw a little block party and it was small but lovely and we danced, first to jarocho with it’s amazing politics and message and it was a joy

and then to…se me olvide agarrar su tarjeta, I shall have to find out who they were…to the backdrop of Henry’s market. You can buy pretty much anything at Henry’s, and I mean anything. The Harpy’s feel pretty strongly that their tag needs to be covering that clear green wall, which is why it is white down below. I’d like to suggest they add a red stripe and an eagle, there’s no other excuse for such a shade of green…

and here is one of the women I most admire in the world, who danced the entire time and knows how to zapotear like no one, and has more heart and courage and knowledge than almost anyone I know…beauty along with it:

Monic dancing…

So I wasn’t sure the weekend could get much better…but I went over to Bev’s after. The fact I had destroyed my bike’s innertube first thing in the morning made this a bit slower, and it made me a bit sad, but I overcame. And then I was stung by a wasp on the walk over…how many years has it been since that happened? Took me back to the old desert days, I have been stung by almost everything but I shall tell those stories later. Or never. People who didn’t grow up in glorious yet hostile environments where everything can hurt you rarely seem to enjoy those stories. So I hung out happily sorry for myself with some ice in a towel pressed against my shoulder. Wasps hurt a wee bit more than I remember.

Through a strange and complicated turn of events Bev and Samantha were going to be rowing in the Dragon boat races at the lotus festival in Echo Park and had come back from practice, so we all headed over to a BBQ at one of their new team-mates’ houses. Turns out that everyone else rowing had worked for Mayor Bradley back in the day (and I mean back in the day), so the BBQ that we (well, I) had crashed turned out to be a more formal sort of dinner with the most amazing food. And then council member Wendy Gruel turned up with her family. Now this may not seem so exciting to most, but you have probably not done as many delegations to city council members where you sought to speak to them in vain about important issues, or carried out long power analyses where Gruel was invariably one of those that should be on our side but could always go the other way…at any rate, the irony was delicious, as was the wine. Also turns out that the following day’s race was to be a race to the death against Gloria Molina’s office, and in fact Michael (enthusistic team head), had flown in from DC just to paddle in this race and destroy the Molinistas in this rematch (after 15 years or so)…turns out me and those with me were all too young to remember Bradley but a few of us also had some serious beef with Molina (the rest could care less), so we joined together in a toast to the county supervisor’s bitter and inglorious defeat…

You’ll have to wait a bit for the outcome of that, first because I want to see the effect on my readership (cliffhangers seem to work for the networks after all), second because I’m tried, but most importantly because we then had to go see Luke in his play/sketch comedy “Touched in the Head” in a tiny theatre on Santa Monica, and we laughed…there was a fabulous sketch about the horrors of cat rape, and the victims were Tony the Tiger and Garfield and Tom and the Cat in the Hat…every male cat you can imagine in fact. My other favourite was a pyromaniac chola who comes to give a motivational speech to 1st graders about all the things they should set on fire when people talk shit to them. If it hadn’t been the last night I would have recommended it highly!

Still not done, cos it’s almost Laura’s birthday, so it was off to Highland Park to celebrate it with her and a ton of other people…there were cumbias playing in the front room, old soul playing on the back patio, watermelon soaked in vodka and negro modelo and rum mixed with lots of other things, there were friends and family, people I knew and people I didn’t know at all, all of them the kind of people you’d like to know. We left just after midnight, I was tired and Bev was paddling for glory and Jose just went along with it…

A brilliant day yesterday. Today was brilliant too. Maybe I’ll get to it tomorrow…

Save

Save

Colour and Invisibility

A man came up to me today while I was waiting for the blue train, leaning against my bike and reading. He nodded towards the handful of people who shunned the shade, and launched into friendly conversation – some people just really love the sun, huh? They’re crazy, the sun makes you blind, they’re going to go blind…I thought about skin cancer and freckles and wrinkles and the way I love the Arizona summer where the world is all white light and heat that wraps around you so heavy on the air you can feel its comforting weight. Of course, the only thing I like to do through the Arizona summer is read while drinking long cool glasses of anything with ice, it’s been a hell of a long time since I was able to do that. Amazing how much can go through your mind in a split second. I love the sun.

I was lucky. He required no response to continue: the sun makes you disappear. My mom was upset when I moved out here, I’m from the East coast and when I went home they thought I was ugly, I was light skinned there but here you stand in the sun and you turn the colour of charcoal, no one can see you at night, you become invisible. He lifted his arms and they were a dark dark brown, and the wiry hair on them a very bright white.

I thought about this means of becoming invisible. You become the colour of darkness, you walk along unperceived and hidden against the backdrop of night, I thought about what it means to disappear. An arcane power of sorts, the ability to become one with the dark, to travel unseen…who has never dreamed of that? With the power of flight, invisibility is pretty high on my list of unfulfilled desires. The train came then and I shall probably never see him again. I wanted to ask him if he had read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, I wanted to ask him if invisibility were really a function of colour and camouflage, or of politics. I wanted to ask him about the invisibility of South Central and all the people in it, the invisibility of the poor to those with wealth, the invisibility that comes with a skin colour approaching the night. The invisibility you endure when you wear an apron or a janitor’s uniform or a name tag proclaiming your willingness to serve. The way that so many people I have known and loved have disappeared. It was not the sun that disappeared them, and I rage that they could have left this world with so small of a ripple. I wanted to reconcile the challenge, and the promise, of the gulf between invisibility in the world of my imagination, and invisibility in the imagination of the world.

I have lost much of my substance behind the name tag and pinned smile of the service employee, the painfully unfashionable clothes and bad haircut of that embarassingly poor kid who really wants nothing more than to disappear (luckily I’ve grown and fought my way out of both for the most part)…but my experience is limited as someone who will only find camouflage if the night becomes the colour of pale sand. I yet sit uncomfortably poised between several worlds none of which seem to be visible to the others, and I could not imagine myself anywhere else…and so this problem of how and what people can see seems to be one of the keys to resolving the injustices that have pushed these worlds apart. And so a blessing on the old charcoal gentleman who disturbed my reading today and set my mind spinning, may he find beauty in his skin…

Pigs at the Marin County Fair

Ahhh, the Fourth of July…a bad day for politics, a good day for BBQ’s, beer, friends, fireworks, and farm animals. A full house, so to speak, of interesting and enjoyable activities. A lot of people seem to agree that the county fair is really the place to be on the fourth, and they come in all sizes, shapes, and colours, though I will admit there is a bit too much red, white and blue for my taste! I actually spotted an American flag fanny pack, which delighted more than depressed me really. My sense of the absurd rarely marches with my politics, which is probably my saving grace.

The National Pig Racing Association. Just roll that on your tongue for a moment as you close your eyes and imagine the possibilities. It’s like Nascar…with pigs. And sawdust. The country music was rocking, the crowd breathless with anticipation, the nascar flags flapped in the wind, and the tall Texan cowboy taunted us as the clock ticked down and the sunlight flashed from his NPRA belt buckle…

The race was finally ready to start, the first set of pigs in their gates, the oreo cookie placed on the tray at the finish line, and far too many people were in between me and the race track…still, I managed a few shots, and the little bastards were very cute!

My pig lost! Dolly Porker was unseated I’m afraid, so I had to pin my hopes on the second race, and Lyndsy Lowham. Kevin Bacon looked like a close contender but I knew Lyndsy could do it…so here are the big ugly bastards:

And I won! Well…the pig won. We figured 2 races were enough, Monty, Leslie, little Josephine and I strolled through the holiday crowds, I sought in vain for veggie fare and settled for a bad quesadilla while they feasted on sausages…pigs are definitely good for more than racing, no? We saw a pig weighing 350 pounds…lying on its side (it’s debatable whether it could do much else!) in a frightening mound of flesh and THE biggest balls I have ever seen. I remember my grandpa’s pigs on the Devonshire farm when I was five, I doubt there has been anything much more frightening then the ominous sound of something incredibly large and stinking on the other side of a wooden door, I don’t even remember what they looked like, just that they were bigger then me and undoubtedly wanted to eat me.

At any rate, the other highlight was the Preservation Hall Band, New Orleans jazz at its technical best, it was brilliant and I danced…so did Les and Jojo. And then we sat in the shade and enjoyed life to its fullest…no BBQ and no beers til after we got back, and in San Francisco the fog was too thick to see the fireworks, even though we climbed the ladder up to the high rooftops and stood a while in the swirling greyness listening to the booming

Save

The Los Angeles Blue Line

I love them I know, and I also know I write about them a lot. I don’t know why the rest of my day doesn’t inspire me the way the ride home does.

I had a lovely evening, spent with friends that I haven’t seen in ages and haven’t really talked to for years, we met up at Masa in Echo Park and then they kicked us out for a hipster wedding party and I damned gentrification and we walked a couple of blocks to Barragan’s. Masa’s used to be called Carmelos, it was a brilliant cuban place that had been there for decades with pink booths and a counter the old men used to sit at and drink their cafe con leche, and they sold magical pasteles de guayava y queso, and platanos and all things nice. Now it’s dark and candlelit with brown booths and tatooed waitstaff and really good microbrews on tap and the food is nice too…it’s just all twice as expensive.

And we drank and told stories of course, and it was just what my heart needed…such evenings are rare in L.A. because they require so much coordination…Almost everyone I love most is here and I feel like I never see them enough. The people I see are on the train. I wanted to write a novel once about the train, how it was a portal to some other place, to some much better place where everything was flipped around and the poor were rich and the sad happy, and the crazy were sane…that the woman in the floor-length faux-fur leopard skin coat was the key, or the old guy passed out in his seat. I never wrote it, the raw reality of the train itself defeated me, this world we have created…

There was a crazy guy playing porter today along the blue line, he was frighteningly crazy, with his lips pulled back and jagged teeth and no touch of awareness in his gaze, he could not speak only yell words barely recognizeable. At each stop he got out and held the door and shouted what might have been all aboard, and ushered the people in who were brave enough to choose his door…we lost him at firestone station as the people poured in and filled the car completely, he continued to hold the door as the warning bells chimed again and again and sacraficed his place so the last family could jump on. It was his moment, and as he watched the train leave he was shining.

My friend with the glasses bearing white 50 cent flags stuck on each side and selling candy with a smooth fast sales pitch that makes everyone smile was on the train today, he had almost sold everything.

A man younger then me sat quietly on the bottom of the steps leading up to the green line, he held a forty in a brown paper bag and threw up to one side casually as though he were just spitting. Once, and again, and once again. The smell of it was sickly, and it mingled with the sour stink of beer to fill the air.

An old guy told me he loved me. He was too drunk to really speak and drink had marked his face as it’s own and I was too sad to do more then smile. He might have meant to say something else, maybe he didn’t love me after all. But his eyes never left my face and when he followed me onto the green line I realized he walked only with great difficulty and a congenital limp…and the fact remained he was frighteningly drunk and therefore unpredictable and I hate to be stared at and I was glad when he got off at the first stop.

My friend from a few weeks ago was on the train as well, the one who had a crush on Hillary Clinton…he had lost the one sock he had, but had acquired shoes that did not fit his swollen feet. He had a large black book with a red logo, and on it he beat an irregular rhythm and sang a song to himself in a language that probably only he could understand. The smell of him was terrible, and his clothes were falling off of him and he was doing far worse then when I saw him last.

I saw everyone with ghetto hard faces, the kind that say don’t fuck with me, I could hurt you. You have to wear it to wall out the overpowering need of others, to protect yourself, to create your own distance from what is around you. If you don’t live here you never see those faces transformed, masks melted away where it is safe, and people return to the way they ought to be. I lost my mask in Scotland, but I feel it creeping into the set of my lips sometimes…when I think about it I do not want it back, but there is a price to pay for that. Unconsciously your face hardens.

I biked home through the darkness and the smell of flowers, and laid out on the grass for a while to search for stars. If I could have any power at all, any gift, I do believe I would sacrifice my lifelong dream of flying for the ability to heal people. There are layers upon layers of what is broken and I know the scale of it…but it is the brokenness of my people on the train one by one that breaks my heart.

The next blog shall be funny, I solemnly swear.

Biking tipsy through the darkness

Last night my friend Jose and I repeated the famous downtown L.A. bar tour on bikes…cycling from bar to bar is invigorating, the wind blows cool against your face and the night wraps around you. The night is yours in fact, it belongs to rebels and dreamers and tipsy joyful adventurers on bikes; the L.A. streets were almost completely deserted as we frolicked along them. Hard to explain the freedom and happiness to be found playing speed racer down a long slow hill in the darkness…

We started at Jose and Bev’s, watching some episodes of a brilliantly bizarre manga show called CLFL, and drinking a cold beer. I had to recover from the grueling bike ride from work to the house carrying a heavy backpack complete with laptop, books, clothes and necessaries for three days since I am off to Santa Barbara bright and early this morning…When the dvd proved unplayable at a key point in the tangled story we decided it was time to leave. We headed the Gold Room, on the cusp of gentrification, the Lakers were playing so it was mostly the regulars. It’s a tiny divey place on sunset, half the bar is palm trees lit up in an ever changing rainbow of color; over the single line of booths is darkness fretted with tiny golden lights like stars. The waitresses wear tight white shirts almost completely unbuttoned, but they’re very nice and they give you bowls of free peanuts in the shell, which I appreciate much more than their cleavage. We left before the lakers lost, and went down the street for dinner at Thuvia’s – pupusas de queso con loroco and platanos fritos, god damn they were good! Even if the place had a C rating and the waitress asked us if we wanted the salsa even though there was a chance of salmonella as it wasn’t cooked. That’s certainly enough to make you pause, but adventure called and we answered and had the salsa anyway.

We went to the standard, and shall we say that the standard is not for rebels and dreamers and tipsy joyful people on bikes? That would be the nicest thing I could say, we weren’t so much turned away as ignored and put off, we weren’t the only ones, so a rooftop poolside bar with white pod waterbed chairs was not to be ours…I suppose the price of admission is the L.A. look, and what a price to pay! I’m not willing of course, and I don’t enjoy looking at it at all, and even standing in the line was painful, but I did want to take pictures from the roof! So I cursed on principle, hating the thought that there’s somewhere I cannot go even though I don’t really want to, Jose successfully blew it off, and we went around the corner to the Library Bar. Small and cosy with an old-fashioned bar and lights shining through glasses and on the opposite side a wall of books and an old stove full of candles and even a globe! I am fascinated by globes. Needless to say I liked it, though it started filling up with Celtic fans (god only knows where they came from or if they made it home in safety!) and so we left…headed over to La Cita only to find a line of hipsters and a cover charge, I spit upon covers, and upon hipsters. It’s a metaphorical spitting of course, but psychologically very real.

So the third stop was Bordellos, lush with black chandeliers and mirrors and painted gothicness…no cover and Go Betty Go in its new incarnation was playing and they were really fucking good! We met up with Evelin and Ludin and America and had a couple more beers, and after Go Betty Go came the Fresas and they weren’t quite as good but still excellent, with tight harmonies and an electrified violin…I love all girl, well, almost all girl, pop punk bands. Everytime I see bands like that I still want to play the guitar and whisper, croon and yell into a microphone…i suppose my day has passed for that. But the company was brilliant, and the music was rocking until the last band came on. They should be happy I’ve forgotten their name cos the music was ok but the lead singer was a bouncy blond in a cutsy tube top dress who jiggled rather than rocked, and whined rather than raged and we fled precipitately. We sped homewards in the darkness, struggling up hills and reveling in the way we went spinning back down them. We past alongside Echo Park, beautiful and silent and solitary, the big fountains in the middle an arching misty silver…and came full circle back to the Gold room for a final libation. We closed the place out, headed home for some quesadillas de queso fresco, and I feel asleep for a few hours before getting up to catch my train North…

MacArthur Park

MacArthur Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, shimmering green against shade and sun, palm trees and the dirty blue of the lake. It was full of families, there were even some people fishing. It was also full of people sleeping, forms stretched out in every patch of shade and lost to the world, lost to themselves. On the corner of 7th and Alvarado you can still buy anything, but there are fewer people selling then 10 years ago. Their faces are different, but the look is the same. Lean, hungry, watchful. They look me up and down; in a segregated Los Angeles where race almost always equals class and people stick to their own in both company and geography, I clearly do not belong. Usually I am happy that there is nowhere and nothing I belong too, it frees me to move between worlds, spending time in each with the people I love.

A small fat preacher was shouting into a megaphone, hurling words in Spanish of love and belonging, a yellow banner stretched between two trees, 25 folding chairs set up on the grass, a ragged crew of people clustered around him. Most slept on of course. “Quizas la proxima semana…” the preacher yelled, “perhaps next week you will stop smoking, perhaps next week you will pick up the phone and call your mother or your daughter, perhaps next week…” And the people listened, he called them up in revival style, “Tu hermanita, tu, necesitas salavacion, venga…” There is such desperate need for belonging, need for hope, the people came.

At the other end of the park another small fat preacher was screaming into a megaphone, suited and tied, his words were entirely of hell and the book of revelation. Everyone slept on, walked past as though he were not there. One of his associates blew a long animal horn of grey that curled upon itself, it sounded deep and echoed off the palm trees and no one listened. I myself dream that people will take responsibility for themselves and for the world, that people will cease to look for salvation as a gift and demand a better life as their right, that people will work to change what is broken…and what is not broken? My faith is that this is possible. I almost stole the megaphone but reflected that shouting at people in the street was hardly exemplary of my vision. Perhaps next week I will come back and smite it.

I walked past MacArthur Park because we had a reunion today, of everyone that had ever worked at CARECEN though I am sad to say not everyone was there…enough to make it enjoyable though. My friend Ruel made it quite enjoyable in fact, we met first at our old Winchell’s and had donuts and coffee. Winchell’s, with its perennial sign stating they have been “fresh and warm since 1948,” and an even better sign saying “CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN! 14 donuts!” It’s like an alternate universe really, that has been making me smile for 8 years now. I missed Don Tonito though, he used to sell artesanias and Salvadoran books on revolution and revolt. He lent me old tapes of boleros and home videos of when the FMLN marched back into San Salvador to sign the accords. He used to tell me stories about the guerrilla, like the time he was hiding with a companera in the end house of a long set of row houses. The military came searching house by house along the ground and there were more of them walking along the roofs so that no one could escape and he believed he was dead, when the roof of the house right beside theirs fell in under the weight of the soldier on top (good old poverty), and the soldier broke his leg. And that was enough to stop the search and save my friends’ life. Funny that most of the stories I know from El Salvador are tragic and brutal and still haunt me, it is only the stories of the fighters that have humour and hope in them. I wish I’d stayed in touch with him. But I’m back in touch with some other old friends though, and that is always a beautiful thing

LAPD officer wounded, resident killed, in Boyle Heights

Yesterday a gun battle broke out on Malabar Street, when police tried to serve a narcotics warrant. The four hour stand-off left one of the men in the building dead, and a police officer in the hospital with a wound in his leg, and the mark of a ricocheting bullet on his helmet…the swat team evacuated 30 residents from the block, and this is what they looked like to the folks living in Boyle Heights:

Luis Sinco - L.A. Times

It’s an armed invasion team really, how can this make anyone feel safe?

I was talking to my friend Leonardo yesterday, who has been organizing in Boyle Heights for years upon years…they’ve done a lot of work on the issues of gangs and drugs. And the reality is that there are systemic reasons that these things exist, the lack of jobs, good schools, opportunities. The reality is that our economic system is broken, and while it remains broken we will continue to struggle with gangs and drugs because they provide for very real needs, whether an escape or income or sense of belonging or protection.

And so while fighting to change the system, we must also fight to control the violence. And in Boyle Heights the community is beginning to do it, people are beginning to walk the neighborhoods at night, to talk to their youth, to build altars together to those have died and work together to try and stop it. It is slow, but sure, and Union de Vecinos is having an impact. The idea that humvees full of police carrying automatic weapons can bring any kind of security seems almost funny, if an endgame where people die riddled with bullets could ever be funny.

Save

Economic Bubbles and the Blue Line

I rode the train home late last night, the blue line down through South Central and Watts; L.A. makes me sad sometimes. There is so much speculation on the state of the economy, you can read it in the papers. Taking the blue train late at any time through South Central and Watts, most of that speculation seems rather out of touch. There haven’t been any good times here for a very long time, and when the economy turns, it hits here hardest. And it keeps on hitting. The contrast is stark between this world inhabited by tens of thousands of people, and the world of financial speculation. From here the bubble is very clear, and entirely maddening. Most maddening is that the bubble requires the world of poverty to exist, it is built upon it, immense wealth cannot be held by everyone. It depends on millions of poor in this country, many millions more around the world…

I was talking to an older guy who was only wearing one shoe last night, and white tube socks pulled up high. He was riding the green line train up and down, having nowhere else to go. His legs were swollen the way my gran’s legs became swollen with her diabetes and lack of exercise, the way my friend Mark’s legs became swollen when he was turned out into the streets. Like age and diabetes, the streets swell you up, make you sick, kill you. He was voting for Hillary Clinton, he said he had a crush on her. I laughed at that. He asked me if I was a model and I laughed at that too. He told me I could be anything I wanted to be, this was America, told he was working on his own modeling career. I can forgive this man his bubble, I can forgive him almost anything he needs to survive.

I can’t forgive the people who speculate on the economy night after night on the news, and I can’t figure out who they’re talking about. I don’t know the world they’re talking about either. None of them address the growing gap between rich and poor, growing numbers of people in the streets, growing poverty, growing legions of police to control the poor and protect the wealthy. The only things shrinking are the job pool, the supply of affordable housing, the access to health care, the number of teachers, support for veterans and the elderly, the water table, the ice in the arctic…

Another War: Juarez, Mexico

Over 210 people have been killed in Juarez since the beginning of the year…it’s hard to know the exact figures, they keep finding bodies. It’s an all out war between the drug cartels, and the victims include corrupt cops, hired mercenaries, local street gangs, the soldiers sent in force to try and control the situation…and one can always hope not too many innocents. But this is a war complete with mass graves, automatic weapons, masked men roaming the streets, humvees full of men in fatigues. Such wars find it hard it hard to limit themselves to the active participants. It is generated and funded by the immense wealth to be found in supplying the immense demand in the United States for drugs and good times. Of course, the profits do not just come from trafficking drugs into the United States, they also come from trafficking people, many of whom are the afore-mentioned innocents. These people seeking hope and a better life (and miles between themselves and Juarez) also make good times possible by cleaning kitchens, cooking food, taking care of children, picking crops, building houses…In short, a lot of good times in the US are sponsored by Mexico. A lot of them are even enjoyed in Mexico, border towns are always good for hopping into for a cheaper currency, and picking up cheap goods along with your sex and drugs. Tijuana, Nogales, Juarez, they all have their strip of excess with their sex shows their buckets of cheap beer their drunken underaged drinkers their sunburned tourists. Survival is a difficult business, an ugly business here where extreme poverty collides with extreme wealth.

Juarez is famous in Mexican corridos for the drug running exploits, the colorful characters of the cartels, and its legion of corrupt officials. It is almost as famous for acres of maquiladoras manufacturing things very cheaply to sell quite expensively across the border. The women working in the maquiladoras are more victims, not only due to low pay and horrifying working conditions, but also the hundreds dead or disappeared over the past 15 years and no one prosecuted. They too have made it into song, these things might not hit the news very often but communities are always working to make sense of the world, talk about what is happening, try to improve thinsg for their children…

Las Mujeres de Juárez (Letra y música de Paulino Vargas, grabado por Los Tigres del Norte en su disco Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humillante y abusiva la intocable impunidad
Los huesos en el desierto muestran la cruda verdad
Las muertas de ciudad Juárez son vergüenza nacional

Mujeres trabajadoras de maquiladoras
Cumplidoras y eficientes, mano de obra sin igual
Lo que importan las empresas no lo checa el aduanal
Vergonzosos comentarios se escuchan por todo el mundo

La respuesta es muy sencilla cuáles saben la verdad
Ya se nos quitó lo macho o nos falta dignidad
La mujer es bendición y milagro de la fe, la fuente de la creación
Parió al zar y parió al rey y hasta al mismo Jesucristo lo dio a luz una mujer

Es momento ciudadanos de cumplir nuestro deber
Si la ley no lo resuelve, lo debemos resolver
Castigando a los cobardes que ultrajan a la mujer
Llantos, lamentos y rezos se escuchan en el lugar

De las madres angustiadas y al cielo imploran piedad
Que les devuelvan los restos y poderlos sepultar
El gran policía del mundo también nos quiso ayudar
Pero las leyes Aztecas no quisieron aceptar

Tal vez no les convenía que esto se llegue a aclarar
Ya hay varias miles de muertas en panteones clandestinos
Muchas desaparecidas que me resisto a creer
Es el reclamo del pueblo que lo averigüe la ley


The Women of Juárez (Words and music by Paulino Vargas, recorded by Los Tigres del Norte on their album Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humiliating and abusive, the untouchable impunity(1)
The bones in the desert show the raw truth
The dead women of Ciudad Juárez are a national shame
Women workers of the maquiladoras
Reliable and efficient, hired hands without peer

What is important to the businesses is not checked by the customs office
Shameful commentaries are heard throughout the world
The response is very simple to those who know the truth
Either we have lost our manhood or we lack dignity
Spoken: Woman is a blessing and a miracle of faith, the fount of creation

She gave birth to the czar and gave birth to the king, and even Jesus Christ himself was born of woman
It is the moment, citizens, to live up to our responsibility
If the law does not resolve this, we must
Punishing the cowards who abuse women

Tears, laments, and prayers are heard in the region
Of the agonized mothers and they cry on heaven to have pity
That the bodies be given to them so that they can be properly buried
The great world policeman also wanted to help us
But the Aztec laws did not allow it (2)

Perhaps it was not in their interest for this to be cleared up
Already there are thousands of dead women in hidden graves
Many disappeared, that I can hardly believe
The public demands that the law investigate this.

(1) “impunidad” is a common term in Mexico, referring to the routine failure of officials to bring criminals to justice. (2)This appears to be a reference to the Mexican government’s refusing US law enforcement assistance.
Translation ©2004 Elijah Wal

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2