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La Pulga

Visiting Deming's colorful flea market.

 

There's a flea market held on Saturday and Sunday mornings a little north of Deming, across from the exit to the Hatch Highway, that manager Patrick Pelton claims has existed for over 35 years, which he found out with a little research. In other words, it's been there since before 1979.

What they sell there are screwdrivers, chain saws, sewing machines, used jeans, Zapata T-shirts, Mimbres pottery shards, a used book of ham recipes, DVDs, dollar bills from 1899, 1914 and 1928, fuses for bombs used at a bombing range near Franklin Street in WWII, a live boa constrictor, used telephones, yellow plastic toy pistols, real rifles, potted plants — ruda (rue), two-foot-high sábila (aloe vera), and mulberry-tree saplings — electric sanders, hammers, tree-pruning shears, large wood sculptures of donkeys and saints, door hinges for Model Ts, cowboy boots, handmade jewelry, chintzy costume jewelry, Dutchman salt and pepper shakers, new tires, and matching cobalt-blue drinking glasses with lacy white designs.

More than that is being sold at what Mexicans call la pulga ("the flea"). Prices for vendor spots today are $11 in the shade, $7 outside, $2 for large tables and $1 for small ones. There's no paperwork for the vendors. It's a marvel of informality.

Most vendors live in Deming or Columbus, but a few come from El Paso or Chaparral, even Arizona, and sleep over on Friday nights.

La pulga is a meeting place for friends, family, and workmates, and a place for after-church socializing. It's a place for old-timers with canes in their hands and toddlers with their hair full of ribbons.

 

Pelton, who rides around in a little golf cart, says there used to be another flea market down on Pine Street near where the old A&W was. People used to put things out on the sidewalk to sell them. The one north of town was called the "Northside flea market."

He remembers someone who would say, "There's nothing but stolen property!" But he responds with contempt, "What kind of man would steal something and bring it out here?"

There have always been both Anglos and Mexicans buying and selling. Pelton and another vendor estimate that 50% or 60% of the people present are Mexicans. But my eyes tell me that 80% to 90% are.

The Mexican aspect of the flea market represents a home away from home for a lot of them. Some of the vendors don't even speak English.

 

The best part of it all for me is the Mexican food. There's a tiny restaurant called El Chaparral on the grounds, with a long menu of small items like burritos and flautas, and there are Mexican-made ads for soda on the wall. It feels uncannily like a restaurant in a little Mexican town.

Next door to this is a semi-open-air place called El Oasis that serves aguas frescas, the cool flavored drinks that are quintessentially Mexican. My favorite flavor is melón, made entirely of real cantaloupe juice and multiple ice cubes. There's nothing better to counteract a swelteringly hot day.

And just recently someone has set up a mobile grill in front of El Oasis where you can get tamales or tacos. They smell delicious.

Another eatery has been there for two decades and has no name. It operates out of a trailer in the northwest corner of la pulga, and three sturdy, plain tables are set up under a roof. The friend I ate with is vegetarian, and this was the only place that had something for her. We both had chiles rellenos, and a few flies completed the ambience.

Near the parking area there's a place where they are always roasting elotes, or corn on the cob. They sometimes make aguas frescas, too. Fresh vegetables and fruit are brought up from El Paso every weekend.

This stall and another one across the way carry dozens of Mexican candies. Mexican kids and adults have reveled in these for decades.

There are hot or salted tamarind-pulp candies, called pulparindo, mango and watermelon lollipops, the very traditional peanut marzipan wrapped in cellophane with a red rose printed on it, and the Duvalin hazelnut vanilla candies with a tiny plastic spoon to eat it with.

 

The pulga can be too hot in the summer, and in the spring the wind can throw dust around and spoil everything. Not many people stay long on those days.

I sometimes feel it's too banal, too nutsy-boltsy, for my tastes. But I often leave with some interesting purchase I've made, or warmed by some conversation I've had.

"This place is one of the last remaining places of pure Americana!" said one vendor enthusiastically.

I can't decide whether it's the un-border or if it is the border.

 

 

Violent Revelation

 

On a much more somber note, here is some news that has come out recently more loudly in the press, at least online. It is about what may be the largest massacre in the history of the drug violence in Mexico.

It happened in early 2011 in a town named Allende about half an hour south of the Texas border, in the state of Coahuila. It hasn't been reported until now because of the fear of the people in the region. It's been understood that there was a blackout on news in northeast Mexico — Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon — for a few years because of extreme violence against journalists.

But it's being reported that at least 300 people were killed there. In revenge for the actions of a couple of narcos in their ranks, the Zetas set about to kill people with those men's names in Allende. Many were women and children in these families; others were cooks or gardeners. They were incinerated in big industrial drums.

The point of mentioning this is not just to commemorate one of the most nightmarish events in the drug war. But in relation to this event, a former mayor in a town in Nuevo Leon was quoted in an article in Vice News (July 10) as saying that possibly a quarter of a million people have died in the drug conflict, not the 50,000 figure that many reporters use.

He has heard many stories of unreported violence, and claims that the great majority of victims' families are too afraid to report the deaths of their relatives. This supports what NMSU librarian Molly Molloy has said for a few years.

If these estimates come close to the truth, then the drug war may be far more devastating than most people realize.

Hunger continues unabated in Palomas. Please contribute to the organizations listed near the bottom of the Desert Exposure online home page under "Collections."

 

 


Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.

 



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