I am often asked what it is like to travel to Juarez, Mexico, which I go to often for business. A lot of people who used to travel across the border frequently are now reluctant or outright scared to travel to this northern-Mexico border city because of the drug wars and reported violence.
It’s easy to perceive Juarez as a scary place where bad things can happen. However, we can tend to lose sight of the fact that this city has residents who do live normal lives, and face the same challenges that we do on the U.S. side of the border. In order to provide people who will not travel into Mexico the opportunity to live vicariously through my visits to Juarez, I will provide a play-by-play of my latest visit to that city for business.
I leave my office accompanied by two of my colleagues, headed east on I-10 intending to take the offramp to the Americas/Cordova bridge, which goes into Juarez from central El Paso. I forget that the offramp is closed for repairs, and have to perform a series of redundant moves on the freeway to bypass the offramp, and queue in the line at the bridge headed into Mexico. The lines south on the U.S. side are not too long, but cars start to bunch up on top of the bridge as cars ahead of them pass through a stoplight in Mexico, indicating green (proceed to your destination) or red (pull out of line for inspection by Mexican officials). We luckily get the green light and start driving into Juarez. In the park immediately south of the bridge are multiple tents, housing families that I am told are predominantly Mexican, which are seeking asylum in the U.S. This is a new development, because as of late, northbound asylum seekers have been dominated by people from Central America.
I drive us through the old PRONAF district of Juarez to our appointment south of Avenida 16 de Septiembre. The business is in a half-residential/half-commercial district. Parking is scarce and I have to park a block away on a narrow street. Many businesses in Juarez have installed bars on their front doors, along with an intercom, to verify that you are not there to cause harm to the inhabitants. We get buzzed in and proceed to have our meeting. Upon leaving, I notice that clouds are gathering and start to get a little concerned. Cloudbursts can wreak havoc in certain Juarez neighborhoods due to drainage problems. I have seen major streets turn into lakes in a very short period of time.
We need to stop at a supermarket to pick up some things for an event we are having later in the month. We find an S-Mart store, which is a major chain in northern Mexico. Inside, we are surrounded by rows of food vendors, tucked inside alcoves. Older men are playing chess in the food court. Families and shoppers are everywhere. I love going down the different aisles looking at the exotic foods and observing what people are purchasing. My senses are inundated by the smells of freshly-made tortillas, homemade Mexican tacos and flautas, and the waves of people coming in and leaving. The store, which rivals any U.S. supermarket, is neatly arranged in a modern sense, with attractive fresh produce, meat, seafood, and prepared food sections. Everything looks delicious and it’s hard to tell that I am not in a modern U.S. supermarket, save for the uniquely Mexican touches. My companions insist on getting a couple of orders of papitas (chips), one with cheese and spices and the other “loco,” or loaded with avocados, other vegetables, cream, and even peanuts. We snack on these as we watch young rockers, grandmothers, and couples shopping in the store.