One night at the border

Translation: Tomas Dinges
Photographs: Antonio Juárez

We have reached the edge. Holding on to the railing of the Santa Fe
Bridge, I can see the Rio Bravo´s dirty water running, and I can feel the electric current again. I face red painted nails I do not recognize, and I tell myself this is not me. I'm not an immigrant, not a worker in the maquila. I am not a family member of any of the murdered women, nor an inhabitant of this border city. And yet, hips sheathed in black silk, red lips and high heels, I walk into the Juárez night like a fish in water.

In Noche y Día we drink cold beer for 12 pesos while other women strip instead of me. One shows signs of a recent birth. On the way to the toilet is the small space that plays the role of the dressing room. I play the role of another, just like the girls who get drunk before returning home and becoming housewives until the next night. I try to interview them in vain but the conversation moves away from the formal rules of journalism when I ask for a sip of their beer.
Literally and metaphorically, this trip has destroyed any remnants of
journalistic discourse. I can talk only about the night and day, like
the name of this decadent place where we see a solitary man enjoy
the show from the front row, as a lover would wait for his girlfriend.

Because of these women I had to rip up newspapers and cut out the
only coherent words: one more body, double life,
unidentified, her clothes.
A text defines performance
art as tending to critically examine seductive techniques, creating
desperate spectators in the process. Somehow, this is what we do
when we enter the night. I walk along López Mateos Avenue in a
ripped dress, leaving an ephemeral imprint only documented by
Tońo Juárez´s camera. Like an obscene soundtrack, male voices
from passing cars stay registered in our mind. Here, violence is not
seen but felt. One can also sense it in some of the rules put in place
by the state government; a veiled curfew, an obligatory invitation to
leave early and not see what might happen later. Liquor stores close
at 9pm and bars at 2am. The Juárez night ends early, and nobody
seems to like the idea. Or at least this is what our hosts think, as they
discuss where to continue the party in a corner. Tired, I am that
person who reminds them there is no place to go. People start to
come home, streets begin to empty, and gringos go back to El Paso;
we can see them at the bridge marked by a cross full of nails. There
is one nail for each murder victim in the last ten years, inhabitants
explain; more than three hundred in all. There is not a trace
remaining of the four and a half thousand women missing. Beyond
this cross, death is not a word that is pronounced. But the fear is felt.


Suddenly they appear in the middle of day. A black rose of
mourning in Mrs. Norma Andrade´s door. The mangled body of her
daughter appeared three years ago. A barren field. And then another.
Kilometers of desert. Night erases the marks left by the day, but
reveals the unseen. The range of possibilities that the border opens
up is unexpected. In Bajarí men undress for a mixed audience,
mostly gay. They display their curves and muscles and dance to the
rhythm of music, allowing the spectators to touch and kiss their
dicks. Men and women grab your waist and ass without asking for
permission. Repeatedly. One grabs my left breast and I respond with
a slap, forgetting what a blow could mean in this city. The guy begs
my pardon, saying what he really wanted was the ass of another
man; he reaches towards the one next to me. Someone offers their
seat to rescue me. I become a spectator, a fish in a fishbowl.

Given a choice, the dancers, supposedly gay, prefer straight girls as
partners. Overly daring dances that not anyone could follow. The
artist Lorena Orozco improvises a routine in which she moves from
being the dominated to the dominator. She ends her piece bending
the stripper at the waist and slamming his ass with her hip, throwing
him far from the stage. Other women get sat on by men. I observe,
seated at the table. My game is one of exposing artifice. That’s why
I cut up my dress and my lingerie, and give away squares of black
silk that at least one man keeps in a box. But memories of the Juarez
night don’t fit in any box.

And Neither Do Memories of the Day

In the Hospital of the Family I met some of the girls that work at
night. Later I visited two of them at Virginia´s, another club, along
with the sociologist Jorge Balderas. The air was thick enough to cut
with a knife. The waiter took us to a table, almost by force, to ask us
in too loud a voice what we wanted. Then they escorted us to the
door when we decided not to drink. The girls weren´t allowed to
speak, and saying that I worked for a newspaper only worsened the
situation. At the exit Jorge and the waiter argued over who was the
first president of Mexico. My friend answered, Moctezuma, and the
waiter yelled, indignant at the response. He insisted that he-could-re-
spond-to-what-ever-we-want-ed-to-know. The waiter didn´t
understand that this was impossible; I wanted to know what it was
like to be a woman in Ciudad Juárez, and I didn´t want a man´s
answer. We fled.

My question remained up in the air without an answer, and I had to
bite my tongue. Jorge had spent two years interviewing women
workers in the maquila. Many of them had immigrated from their
hometowns to gather up the scraps of the American Dream, which was
to reach this side of the border. They entered the workforce
in jobs, putting together the smaller pieces for larger machinery for
transnational corporations. Leaving their small towns where they
grew up was as if they had been advanced three decades. They
liberated themselves; they no longer had to ask for permission from
anyone and they didn´t need a man to form a family. These
accomplishments and the regression signified by the appearance of a
new term, feminicidio, seemed to be two faces of the same coin.
Someone was throwing that coin into the air to decide the fate of the
Juarez women. Authorities and mass media took advantage of the
deaths to invite the survivors to close doors, mouths, necklines and
legs, for their own safety.

Long Skirts and No Nights

We found the rest of our friends at The Open, a more relaxed
environment with liter beers and pool tables. We left when they
started sweeping up and turning off the lights. Day was taking over
and trying to wipe away the traces of havoc. Insomniac eyes were
impossible to hide.

Even so, most people woke early to travel to the desert, to burn the
soles of their feet, climbing on sandy dunes.

On the way back, one of the last activities was a tour. The voice of a
professor at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez, told us
motel stories and the intensity of his sex life when he worked at the
maquila. He avoided referring to six crosses on the side of the road,
but talked about the jonkes (junkyards) and the house of famous
Mexican singer Juan Gabriel on our way. When the bus stopped at
Bar Noa Noa, which had recently burned down in a fire, he didn´t
tell us the story.

In relation to the first night´s outing, El Segundo Piso seemed
inoffensive, individualist, tranquil, modern, and unreal. The Nomo´s
had a good vibe, and you could talk calmly with strangers. But the
real Juárez night seemed to be somewhere else.

We participate in a performance art festival and lose ourselves in
city lights seen from a precipice that Jorge takes us to, in the streets
that we videotape from the window of his car, in drug dealer
hangouts, on the banks of the river right on the border. We lose
ourselves in all those hotels whose thresholds we do not cross. In my
hand holding the bridge railing. In those women I am not.

Elisa Montesinos, freelance writer and journalist born in Chile. She has spent the last
three years living between Santiago, Mexico City and New York, and also writing
her first book, a travel journal about her adventures.

© 2005 Underground Voices