Steeling for Juarez

There’s good news and bad news about Ciudad Juarez, the closer one gets. I learned today that there have not been bus jackings in Juarez to date, so I should be fine taking a city bus tomorrow. But I also learned, at dinner with a group of El Paso Times reporters, about Molly Molloy’s Frontera List which tallied 13 murders in Juarez on Tuesday, including another beheading. Then I got a mixed reaction on my farewell Facebook post, with some commenters buying into the media hype about Mexico being super-peligroso, others attempting to debunk it and one former Texan issuing a level-headed analysis of his recent return visit to the border, saying it’s gotten ugly and he hopes it won’t spill over into the states.

There are two things easing my fears about heading across the Rio Grande tomorrow. One is the profusion of taco stands to which I am going to be exposed for the next three weeks. The second, and more serious factor, is the bravery of the couples I am going to interview.

I am going to Juarez because aside from being the murder capital of the world, it is also the locus of the largest US Consulate in the world. That means thousands of Mexicans with deep, deep ties to the United States must go there to apply for any number of tourist, work or, the cases in which I am most interested: marriage visas.

Thousands of bi-national couples pass time at the hotels in downtown Juarez every year, braving the mall, maybe venturing out to the ice rink or the movies, but mostly hunkering down and waiting for American officials to decide their fate. If they can brave life in Juarez for weeks, months, sometimes years, putting life plans and career plans and the relative security of the U.S. on hold, then I can handle it for a few days.

I am about a mile from the border, still in El Paso, typing this from a mediocre hotel room, and there is another thing drawing me south of the border. Even though I had a decent time at a bar called Tap and really enjoyed reminiscing my newspaper days with some young, eager reporters, downtown El Paso seems pretty dead. I’ll let you know if there is more life across the border.