Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Daily notes from my visit to Ciudad Juarez, Oct 18th - 20th

The purpose for this trip was to try to get a better understanding of the last 14 years of repetitive murders and disappearances of hundreds of young women in Ciudad Juarez, an update on the current situation and gathering material to make a documentary film about the situation with the purpose of getting youth students worldwide to be involved in a sub project “embroidery and gender issues”. I also wanted to gather material for a book I plan to make.

Marisela Ortiz, the founder of and director of Nuestras Hijas, and director of the school “Secundaria Estatal Por Cooperacion Juarez Nuevo” is clear, the change has to come from within the society and the focus needs to be directed towards the youth; The grandchildren of the mothers fighting for their murdered daughters justice, the sons and daughters of the living men and women in Juarez are whom to concentrate on. This imply to not give up on the students having difficulties fitting in, but to find ways to reach them. It is through art therapy and play, through rehabilitation centers, women crises center, through continue to spread the awareness of what has, and still are happening, nationally and internationally. It is to see every obstacle as a challenge to be met. It means to use every opportunity available to force change. What possibilities does education give you? It means focusing on gender issues, what does it mean to be a man and a woman in Ciudad Juarez in 2007. It means education in sexuality.

My notes:
Thursday Oct 18th.

09:15 am: (Houston time)
Marcela Descalzi, co founder of Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB) in Houston, and I are sitting in our seats waiting for the plane to take off. Been a rushed morning to get there on time. But made it (felt like barely.) Marcela is coming with me for two reasons, number one: She is interested in seeing if VBB can be involved in some ways and secondly, but very important for me, she is there as a translator and a good friend. She is originally from Argentina

10:00 am
Arriving El Paso, luggage not lost, (always afraid of that). Hotel has a shuttle, picks us up after just a few minutes wait. The room is ready early so we can check in. We quickly unpack and gather the gear: video camera, digital camera, microphone, laptop and equipment for collecting sound. (which means two heavy back packs….) Call Marisela Ortiz to confirm time to be picked up in Ciudad Juarez.

Shuttle to the border. Dropped off at Free bridge. Start to walk over the bridge and the border. The walk is through a fenced sidewalk. The right side of the bridge is the passage to Mexico, the left side is the passage to the US. We are about 30+ people walking this path. Under me I see a river, flowing with 2 paths, separated by constructed middle section. I see tagging on the sides of this constructed area and I wonder how anyone could get there to do it. There are images of maps and writings I don’t understand. Above me the fence have strips of fabric and plastic wavering in the wind. I wonder how they got attached. It is easy to cross the border this way. Nobody asks us any questions, there are no lines, I see a few policemen as I come closer to the Mexican side. When I look at the left side of the bridge there are 4 lines of cars hardly moving to cross the other way.

Marisela Ortiz, the founder and director of Nuestras Hijas, and her daughter Nakar picks us up. I think we must have looked a bit out of place, sitting with a big camera bag, tripod and sunhat in the middle of a “roundabout”, to be sure she wouldn’t miss us. (Had sent her a photo of us also)

Marisela and Nakar take us to visit Elba, the mother of Rebecca, one of the victims murdered 7 years ago. Her case has not been solved and the family has been threatened to stop asking questions. Elba is around 60?, lives with her son, daughter-in-law, Maria, the two children Rebecca left behind, Alison and Danny, and one other grandchild. Maria has recently lost a second child to sickness. Elba meets us at her doorway. I remember meeting her before in Houston where she was one of four mothers invited by the museum to come to the opening of Frontera 450+, an exhibition dedicated to the women of Juarez.
Elba has also been one of the mothers embroidering her daughter’s name.
We are taken into a living room, painted in a bright blue color. On the wall there are several photos of Rebecca, a small TV, paintings and many other momentous. A cat and her four kitties are running around our feet. Rebecca’s two children Danny and Alison, walks in to be part of the conversation. We start by each of us presenting ourselves and telling why we are there. Danny and Alison interview each other. Because I unfortunately don’t speak Spanish I could only follow the conversation through tone of voice, expression in faces and body language. (The interview will be presented on the blog when I have had it translated.) Marisela has worked with these children and other children of victims through art therapy and play. They made a mural together where each child painted something for their missing family member. It is a beautiful and colorful mural.

Maria’s daughter enters the room, and the three children sing us a song, a song about hope for a better life in Juarez. Then they are off for school.

We continue the conversation for another half hour. When we leave we give two disposable cameras for the children; to document what they would like to share with us from their everyday life. These photos will be part of a subproject I will tell more of later.

Elba lives in a poor area of Juarez. Most of her neighbors work in the “Maquilladoras”, The roads are of loose sand, which means it turns to mud when it rains. I see many buses with signs: “Transporte de Personel” coming and going. There are children running around playing. We pass the area’s elementary school and see a play ground. Soon we reach an area of many maquilladoras. We cannot stop the car for me to take photos, the guards would take the camera if we were seen. We stop at a light and Marisela points to an area with grass and flowers growing. Suddenly I see 8 pink crosses. This is the Cotton field where 8 bodies where found in 2001. A Maquilladora is located on the neighboring lot.

The distance from a house made of cardboard to a fenced mansion is not very long. Just a few blocks from the poorest areas new developments are growing. New fancy hotels and shopping centers are popping up.
Every public property is fenced in with wires, most private homes as well, also those households with less income. Marisela tells us that Ciudad Juarez is the city for “Yonke”, which is a latinezed work for Yonk Yard. Anything can be stolen, sold and reused in many creative ways.

We stop to pick up Nakar’s daughter Jenifer at her school. She is being taken to the car by a safety guard. Jenifer, 11 years old, speaks well English, so good for me because I have an extra translator!

Our next stop is to see “ Secundaria Estatal Por Cooperacion Juarez Nuevo”, a middle- and high school run by Marisela. The school is also located in an area with many factory workers, but the standards of their houses are much better.

Marisela walks with a stick due to a bad knee. She was run over by a car in mysterious ways a few years back and her knee was severely damaged. As we enter the school I can see she is touching the knee several times and leaning hard on her stick.

Marisela takes us first to a classroom where 14 students are working on an art project related to world peace. I see beautiful drawings of all different nation’s flags, set up as hands, the globe, as turtle dove and more.

We have a delicious lunch in the school’s cafeteria: soup, meatballs and tortilla, before meeting the next group of students. These students are, due to various reasons, hard to keep being focused on school. Marisela therefore takes them out of a normal classroom, put them in groups of eight and have them work on different projects where several goals can be met simultaneously, for example she uses internet as a way to also improve their writing skills.

These 8 students we meet will be part of the photo project, and will combine the photographs with writing.

When we walk in the area between the classrooms I see three young boys playing guitar, in another area a larger group of women are marching, instructed by an energetic man. Some boys are playing basket ball, others come out of their classrooms laughing, the whole place holds a very good atmosphere.

It is getting dark and late, Marisela needs to do some work at her office while Nikar takes us to see some more maquilladoras and then the Ciudad Juarez city entrance. Many of the women have been found around the city border where the desert starts. She wants to show us how the huge pink crosses before surrounding this area have been knocked down, tried to be burned. The city is cleaning up its image while a hundred new women have disappeared in 2007!
Along a golden colored city gate, we find traces of the crosses, lying on the ground. We see traces of flowers that has been attached to the crosses. The pink color looks bright surrounded by the sand.

We pick up Jenifer and Marisela, They take us back to the border, this time to the downtown bridge, Santa Fe bridge. Nakar sees us through the gate. Marcela and I start the walk back to the US and El Paso. It is dark. The sidewalk is fenced in just like the other bridge we crossed this morning. Still many cars are trying to get into the US. There are about 50 people crossing by walking such as us. Both Marcela and I have strong sense that we are part of some movie scene and that we soon will hear somebody say: “cut”. On the US side we have to walk through security, being asked what our purpose in Mexico was. Our backpacks are ex-rayed. We walk back to the hotel through deserted streets. Make us walk fast even if our bodies ache from a long day.

We are sitting in a fancy café sharing a delicious salad, and “quesedillas”, and a glass of Argentinian wine. It feels like the day holds months of experiences….

Fast asleep


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