After hearing a great intervew of journalist Charles Bowden on the radio show On the Media, (the weekly podcast is one I can’t recommend enough) talking about his soon-to-be published book, Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, I put in an advance order for it via Amazon. The book came out just a month ago, and I’m finally getting into it. The book offers fragmentary views of life in El Paso, Texas, and its companion city across the US/Mexico, Ciudad Juarez. Each page has striking and often distrubing line drawings by Alica Leora Briggs that are loosely connected to the text on the page.
In his interview, Bowden notes that the shocking reality of what’s going on along the Mexico/Texas border hasn’t drawn the attention it deserves in the mainstream media:
Part of what you’re seeing on the border is a mutual fantasy or fraud perpetrated by both governments. On the U.S. side and these agencies are slowly being corrupted, and they’re being corrupted because the money’s so big. I’ve interviewed gang leaders in Juarez, and I’d say, how do you move drugs to El Paso? And they’d say, well, we use the Border Patrol and the U.S. Army. I’ve interviewed cartel members, and I said, don’t you ever worry about DEA and the FBI? And they’d say, no, we have people in there.
Now, I don’t think these stories are false, and certainly nobody in DEA has any trouble believing them. But they are buried. Nobody will talk about them out loud.
It’s not exactly beach reading but it is compelling in its own, dark way. Here is Bowden in his book contrasting the vision promoted by Ciudad Juarez boosters, which spotlights the city’s manufacturing output, with his own view of the city based on years his news reporting on the drug trade and the life of those at the bottom rungs:
The noise of all this work is so great that no one ever hears it. They do not hear the screams, the gunshots, the knives sliding into flesh. They do not even notice the work. Instead, everyone says the city is about producing various objects for export–car parts, vacuum cleaners, things like that. Of course, such products are tiny compared to the real production line, the one nobody speaks of, the one slamming out human beings, a factory line of drill presses and lathes and huge stamping devices and intricate wiring and instant delivery. No one on the line gets a bathroom break or any other time off from this conveyor belt of flesh. (p. 25)