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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  September 2010


One Day Yes, the Other No

Working — and eating — only intermittently in Palomas.

Everybody knows that Palomas is struggling with hunger and unemployment right now, but we all need reminding.

In early August I stopped and asked for directions from a woman standing in front of a dark green house on a street corner in Palomas. I also asked how her family was doing in these hard times.

It was the usual story: She said her husband had lost his job and was working about two days a week at odd jobs. It's uncanny how many people say they're working two days, for some reason. She was taking care of her two kids and a nephew.

They were eating "un dia que si, el otro que no" ("one day yes, the other no"). This doesn't literally means that every other day they don't eat, but that every so often they don't eat for a whole day — "until midnight" was her phrase, evoking the desperation they must feel when night comes.

I said, "Most days, do you eat three meals?" and she said, "Mm-m, more like two meals." She was friendly and sweet, and had a kind of nervous giggle as she talked with me.

An expression I've learned recently is "Dios aprieta pero no ahorca" — God tightens, but he doesn't hang [us]." There are probably all kinds of ways people describe what they're going through.

A phenomenon that I'm just becoming aware of is people in Palomas who have no work at all.

I stopped at a house where a woman and two men were sitting in the shade of some trees in front of the house.

The woman was getting Social Security from working at the chile and onion processors in Deming for 15 years. One man was her son, who hadn't worked for a year and a half, after being a mechanic. He talked for a little bit and then left in a truck.

I'm not sure who the other man was, whether he was a friend or relative of the woman. He had worked in construction in Palomas, but hadn't worked for about the same length of time as the other man. Some relatives in the US had been helping him out with necessities.

What I remember about him was that he was always looking down. He had a thoughtful, reflective look on his face. The man was struggling with the humiliation of being so long without employment. He was old enough that he was probably wondering if he'd ever work again. "There was always work before," he said.

What people need most in Palomas is work, and they know it.

Juarez is looking more and more like a war zone, from what I read in the Diario de Juarez. There are more shootouts of large numbers of people on the streets. On August 18 there was a report of a major shootout between Federal Police and presumed drug sicarios (assassins) right next to the office of the newspaper. People were running in and out of the building, and bullets left their marks on the building and some cars.

Women in front of the Women's Hospital nearby found themselves in the crossfire, though no one was injured. There were prayers and angry shouting, and people scrambled to hide themselves.

"I don't want to be here anymore. If we stay here they'll kill us," one woman with two little children said as she tried to dial her husband on her cell phone.

Another article on the front page of the Diario shows a forensic specialist carrying the body of a four-year-old boy named Fernando in a black body bag. The boy had been tortured and suffocated at his home because his brother, a Federal policeman, had gotten a death threat that extended to his family. Another 19-year-old brother, too, was put into the hospital after receiving the same treatment.

Even though the Federal Police are themselves capable of all kinds of crimes, the institution isn't monolithic, and some are being persecuted themselves.

Do crimes like this happen in other countries? Maybe they do, but Juarenses are being pushed to the limit by an overload of scenes like this.

An astonishing chaos prevails among the police. On August 7, 200 to 300 armed police blocked off streets to hold a street demonstration that included brawls, to protest a commander they claimed made them pay quotas from extortions and kidnappings and sometimes threatened to plant drugs on some of his subordinates.

Everybody, including the commander, was shipped off to Mexico City, supposedly for "investigations."

Palomas, by comparison, seems a lot tamer at this moment, even after three decapitated heads appeared on the plaza on a Sunday morning in August, the most grotesque thing that has happened yet in town. People were revolted and even fascinated by the heads, which remained for a few hours until the forensic specialists arrived from Casas Grandes. But from comments some people made, they seem relatively unfazed by this recent incident.

There still have been few deaths in Palomas this year. It is believed that the young men who were killed weren't Palomas residents, because people there would know who they were.

For a few years I've meant to travel to Madera, Chihuahua, in September, but I've never made it. This year is the 45th anniversary of a small leftist uprising in the town on Sept. 23, 1965.

This was the first Cuban-inspired guerrilla movement in Mexico and inspired a few other movements, including that of the most famous guerrilla leader of the early seventies, Lucio Cabanas in Guerrero. Only 14 to 17 rebels appeared early in the morning to challenge the army base in Madera, and they were thoroughly trounced. Eight rebel bodies were recovered.

In the aftermath of the attack, many area residents were tortured, killed, even dangled from helicopters by the Mexican military. They successfully cut off the press from reporting the incident.

But on Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead, at least a couple hundred residents appeared to commemorate the fallen in a brave act of protest. Every year afterwards this ceremony is repeated.

But things have changed in Chihuahua. This year on July 21, there was a shoot-out between 100 soldiers and 60 drug traffickers in the municipio of Madera, in a remote spot far from the city. Eight narcos were reported killed. This was in an area where traffickers have been terrorizing Tarahumara Indians for years.

Unfortunately, popular movements are being temporarily razed in Chihuahua. A different theater or war that's completely lacking in idealism is taking its place. The people's vision for social justice is being blurred by the acrid smoke of war.


To help the people of Palomas, you can send a tax-deductible donation to Our Lady of Palomas/Hunger Project, POB 622, Columbus, NM 88029. You can e-mail Chad Stinard at cstinard@gmail.com to request a newsletter online about what Our Lady of Palomas is doing.

Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.

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