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Rupture: The heroes to come


Our blindness before the results of systemic violence is best perceived at the debates of communist crimes.  The responsibility that emanates from them is easy to locate. We are faced with subjective evils, with people that did wrong. It is even possible to identify the ideological sources behind the crimes: the totalitarian ideology, The Communist Manifesto, Rousseau, even Plato. However, when attention is drawn towards the millions of people who have died as a direct result of capitalist globalization, from the 16th century tragedy in Mexico to the holocaust in the Belgian Congo over a century ago, every responsibility is eluded. It seems as if everything happened as a result of an “objective” process planned and executed by no one, without any

capitalist manifesto”.

Slavov Zizek








About five kilometers away from Monterrey’s City Hall, rising before Nuevo Leon’s post-card pride, the Macroplaza, stands the Independencia neighborhood, the area most aggravated by the war fought in this city by drug dealers and government agencies.


There are thousands of homes built by its inhabitants, most of them blue-collar workers, crammed up on a hill. Both soldiers and marines, quartered by the President and sent from Mexico City, seldom venture to these slums where everything is uncertain. Local policemen find even less of a thrill in such an adventure. They acknowledge their fears in Portuguese. Favela, the term from Rio de Janeiro to name lost territories, is used more and more often to describe Independencia. Before such a condition, in early 2010, food and other domestic goods suppliers banned their distributors to enter the place.


To avoid complete isolation and scarcity, some past trades, those that never quite disappeared have actually come back full throttle. One of these trades is that of men who carry goods up the hill on the backs of mules and donkeys. During a journey through the area in 2010, I had a opportunity to talk to Martín G., a 53-year-old man, one of the “burreros” (a person who transports goods assisted by donkeys) who roam the warzone, ignoring the historical segregation foisted upon the people of the area.


- How did you start out as a “burrero”?

- Carrying water.

- How many donkeys do you own?

- I got this one and another, but that one’s still learning.

- How do you train a donkey to walk around these streets?

- The thing is, this is meant to… ¡Eaaah! (yelling at the donkey)… Do the heaviest work. But, this one ain’t a donkey…

- What is it then?

- A cross of mule and donkey.

- What difference does it make?

- These ones are stronger and more stubborn.

- No wonder it looks huskier…

- Yes, it is stronger and can’t be beaten the whole time. These ones need no beating, they work on their own. They live longer than donkeys.

- Do you work with them every day?

- No, the thing is I used to work in a factory but I got surgery because of a hernia, so I wasn’t working for a while there, then I got the donkey as a present so I was able to get into this business again.

- Is there any work despite the situation?

- No, not as much as before, but some. Now, I’ve only carried a load of beer that they asked from the top. That’s the only thing I did all day long.

- How about loads of groceries or construction materials?

- Oh, construction materials, that’s it, but not like before.

- Why do you think that is?

- Because a lot of folks are leaving, folks leave because of the war going on. And right now, well there ain’t much work.

- Why don’t you leave as well?

- I would if I could. But, how would I make a living somewhere else?




- How much do you make with each load, more or less?

- Thirty pesos.

- That cheap?

- Yes, I’m taking this one to Tlaxcala Street, where that yellow house is.

- Do you take loads to the top of the hill?

- Yes, you go all the way to the top, climbing the little stairs, there aren’t any streets there. When I’m there I sell sodas. I have to make enough for me and to feed the animal.

- What did your parents do for a living?

- Same as me. My father worked in construction and carried material on a donkey he had. We all worked in construction, but it ain’t enough, so we take loads from the lowest part of the city to the top.

- I heard they race donkeys in this neighborhood, is that true?

- Yes, they are held by the “burreros.” That was like a tradition, but now there ain’t been any, ‘cuz of the way things be. You can’t do things like that.

- Did you ever race?

- Yes, but the donkey I raced died. This one here I raced too, but it knocked me over. He ain’t any good at running.

- Did you win?

- No, I fell. But when this other one is trained, I won’t be losing.

- Isn’t that cheating?

- Well, yes, the thing is these are crossed. But many raced them too. What is really cheating is to bring horses. Some people raced crosses between donkeys and mares, and well, that’s a cross right there, but they let them race too.

- What do you feed your donkey?

- I just got him some leaves. They eat more than a person. All they do is eat, eat.

- Where are you going now?

- I’m carrying a load from some lady. I live here, up on the very last step. I just got my pasture for the donkeys, but some lady told me to carry a load for her, right now. I be taking two sacks for ten pesos.

- That isn’t much.

- Five pesos each. What can I do? If I don’t do it I don’t eat, or worse, if I work in something else then I be stuffed with lead.



- What else do you carry up-hill?

- Beer. Trucks come in two times a week, sometimes three. We take the donkeys to bring the boxes all the way to the top.

- Why don’t they come up?

- They don’t like to. They scared.

- Where do you take the beer to?

- The warehouses on the top. I drop it there.

- Of all the things you carry, what pays the most?

- Rods.

- How much?

- Ten rods make fifty pesos.

- Can the donkey bear it? Shouldn’t it rest for a couple of days?

- No, donkeys don’t do much resting.

- They don’t?

- They can’t feel it.

- What’s your donkey’s name?

- Camila.

- Why Camila?

- My granddaughter’s named her that. Camila, Camila! They said one day and it stuck.

- That other donkey looks a bit odd.

- That be a tall donkey. There’s a few like that. Because they be crossed with mules. The most common are the short donkeys, they are really good, very civilized.




Through with my conversation with Martín, one cannot help but wonder: What would these donkeys of Independencia make of the barbarism among which they have to work?





Sometimes, when I’m writing, I am located in a place, but I am somewhere else. The street before the apartment has just been swept by rain. A big, fat avenue with a traffic island crammed with trees, profusely illuminated, though suddenly it got dark, it got heavy. I hear music, Ramón Ayala and los Bravos del Norte. I wander here, but I am over there, some early morning when everything is much too strange: too much lightning, too much horse galloping on the horizon, too much random.


There are things that appear like lightning; these things don’t knock on the door, they tear it down. At the moment I am uncertain whether one of these apparitions is still here with me, or, as almost everything seems to point out, it just went elsewhere. What did remain here with me––no doubt about it, I can tell this right now––is the memory of a sea smell coming from a certain mouth and the discharge of some extremely odd eyes as we walked about any city, deleting ourselves from the context. 


The lightning hit me as it usually does: right in the middle of the storm. It was during one of those moments when some things in life make no sense. It’s when chance or accidents waited a long time to happen. Good thing the lightning struck and ended the period of time between happy incidents––the black cloud as the troubadours call it. 


Some of my sadness during that window of time had to do with the calendar and a somewhat phony crisis. I had so many expectations for the year 2010 (I was much too naïve I should say). In 2006, while I attended a funeral in Oaxaca for some people I had the chance to meet and whose government got away with murder, or after I listened to the girls from a rebel town called Atenco, raped by federal policemen, I, like many others, thought––or even prayed: “If the Independence War happened in 1810 and the Revolution in 1910, by 2010 this country should get a much needed jolt.” I started reporting more or less professionally in 2000, and by 2010 I had piled up a bunch of sad stories, but because I could write them down they didn’t rot my insides. I also had the hope that there would be justice; I was starving for justice, I made it mine, and I even thought (silly me) that in 2010 its quake would be felt.


I chose not to realize what everybody knew: that history is not marked every hundred years, that the only cycle in such cases is the illusion, shared by many, that things will change, that things can be less painful than, as it seems, they must be. It’s already 2011. None of that happened in Mexico in 2010, everybody knows. The jolt this country is going through is about money, mere killer ambition mingled with the pettiest political interests. Today, pain is a larger, deeper stain, unlikely to be kept in one’s chest. Those (us?) lucky enough to find a way out of hell, or those who weren’t born in hell, simply pop a pill to tackle insomnia and they’re good to go. Others, the eternal injured party, have been forced to realize by this senseless reality that if there is nothing to live for, then there is nothing to die for. And so, they meet their deaths: over nothing. The most fashionable job nowadays is death.


Or is there something deeper going on and it’s eluding me?


Back when I was struck by the lightning, it was all those things I mentioned above that were bringing me down. And now I am sharing them to let my depression go. It was some kind of depression maybe caused by me reaching a certain age, or because one feels rather absurd narrating, exactly that, the absurd, even if a glimpse of beauty is attained through the words that name, that challenge the absurd. Due to this war in my gut I have been dreaming, for months, that my son––the one and only revolution in my life––will grow up to be a carpenter and not a journalist, the very trade that endowed his own father’s existence with meaning.





The heroes to come are still hidden, writes John Berger, to whom I resort to during nights like these. I wonder, where are the hidden heroes of Ciudad Juárez? When will they come? Or should they already be here, will they make themselves known at all? When will they come and say “Good evening. We are here. Us, the heroes.” I look through my photos. I am looking for the hero of Ciudad Juárez, but I can’t see a thing. I see myself hopping on a federal police convoy. There, within those policemen, there is no heroic strain, on the contrary. There are some remarkable people in Ciudad Juárez, yet no heroes. Still going through the album, looking at the images I brought along with me. I am no photographer, but in some trips, I take more pictures than notes.  It’s always the case in Ciudad Juárez. Most of the time it gets extremely delirious up there, and photographs are the only weapon my memory has to fight the war of memories. Photographs also help me to write. And now this my war: I want to find the hero, I want to behold him, I want to meet him and put him face to face with José Francisco Granados de la Paz, employee of an assembly plant who has agreed to become one of the infamous murderers of women, helping build a painful world reputation to this city. He and his friends, workers at the assembly plant, have killed ten women out of thousands. I need to find the hidden hero of Ciudad Juárez, to better understand De la Paz; what makes me write about a murderer like him? Where is the hidden hero? Will he ever come? This exact same question may be asked in Ciudad Juárez or in Monterrey or elsewhere in Mexico: corpse towns.




First photograph:


The train wagon of broken hearts, tossed to the pavement.


The convoy of the federal police sent to Ciudad Juárez moves along the street Truinfo de la República and passes by old urban buses that transport workers with noisy stomachs. The built-in reporter is ready for the performance. This war, not against drugs but over the control of them, is about to happen before his camera.


Second photograph:


Crabs in a hopeless venture.


We arrive to a house that, as I learned seconds earlier, has been reported as a suspicious location. The police assault on the site is somewhat suspicious as well. It happens in slow motion, and I feel like in a montage à la Florence Cassez, with a lower budget though, for a show well outside prime time. Not a single shot is fired during the broadcast, and the lack of conviction in the movements of the actors that are playing in this operation is evident. The only one pulling a trigger – of a small (pathetic) little Leica camera – is me.


Third photograph:


This is not a dead soul.


There is nobody at the suspicious house. That’s the script. The commander covers his face. Just letting his eyes show, I can’t figure out why, this commander has no look at all on his face. He poses for my lens. I shoot. Days later I stare at his picture and remember his countenance as if recalling a ghost.


Fourth photograph:


Tearing ourselves to pieces.


The suspicious place we have entered is two places at the same time: on one hand, the facade is like the average middle class family house; on the other hand, a lab where workers produced synthetic drugs among spicy clippings from the evening journals and Mexican folk song records, that nobody listen to at the moment.




Why did I even stare at this terrible dream?


We go back to patrolling. Up next we find a young lady across the pavement, bleeding. Some fellows on a Thornton truck drove full speed through the red light, the girl was run over and of course they didn’t even bother checking on her – I mean they didn’t even slow down. I take a look at her before I shoot. She’s real pretty. Who knows if she will make it, and who knows why she encountered such disgrace. If women have been killed in Ciudad Juárez for over a decade without the slightest hint of things turning around, it’s quite naïve to expect drivers to respect a simple little red light. I take pictures of the girl on the ground and feel like I belong to the damned criminal environment of Ciudad Juárez. In this town, I’m a criminal too.


Sixth photograph:


I shall pray every chance I get.


At least one of the three men on the truck that hit this girl was a member of Los Aztecas. One of the federal policemen says the group just stole the big ride and they were cruising through the town, drinking beers and popping pills. None of them is El Cala, Édgar nor De la Paz, none of them is one of my high-school friends, yet I can’t help but remember them when I press the button of my camera and record all of them face down.


Seventh photograph:


There is no fear of the atomic bomb or emancipation anymore.


At the end of the trip, one of the federal policemen with whom I drive through Ciudad Juárez, is surprised and moved by my interest in photographing his and other officers’ footwear. He offers a pair of boots supplied by the President to wage war for 200 pesos. He says that they were meant to be worn by a policeman who was released of duty by an AK-47, which smashed his head during a clash and was never able to wear them. I wasn’t able to wear them either. They were size nine. I am not size nine.



New York, May 2011


Texto del Catálogo de la exposición En cada instante, ruptura, curada por Carla Herrera-Prats.


TRADUCCIÓN: Andrea Quiñones.






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