There has been a lot of complaining lately by El Paso media and others about how the national and international reporting from our border “misrepresents El Paso,” and how “they don’t understand the real El Paso.” Well, looking at this from Juarez, which is where I have been living I find this amusing and a bit ironic.
For the past year or so, the English language El Paso media has been portraying Juarez as nothing more than a bullet riddled graveyard leaving the impression that gun battles are raging everywhere, and that to even enter the city is a form of suicide.
While in no way meaning to diminish the extent of the violence or the very real fear that many Juarenses were feeling, it is important to note that during this time, we in Juarez, and anyone who wanted to join enjoyed extraordinary music, theater, opera, dance and literary events.
For the first time in its 29 year history, the national theater festival came to Juarez bringing exciting theater groups form all over Mexico; the Chihuahua festival brought dancers from Brazil, opera singers from Russia, electronica music from England and the New York production of STOMP, a show enjoyed by an estimated 7,000 people. While El Paso had theater like Annie and Bye Bye Birdie, Juarez brought the edgy John Malcovich directed award winning play el Buen Canario directly from Mexico City with Diego Luna among other well-known actors in the cast The Cultural Center turned its gallery over to street artist collectivos from all over Mexico who turned the walls into a huge mix of colors and designs.
The local media coverage of all of this was virtually zero because people weren’t interested in hearing about anything but how violent dangerous and corrupt Juarez was.
At the opening performance of the Siglo De Oro festival in the beginning of this month, the theater was so full that some of the audience had to sit in the aisles. Young students sat watching in rapt attention for over 90 minutes of a no intermission play from the 16th century. As a representative from the Mayor’s office said at the opening “Events like these show that we are much, much more than a city of delinquents and thieves.”
My problem last night was not the violence, it was deciding between a literary reading by young writers at Sol y Luna cafe, and what turned out to be a standing room only piano recital by internationally recognized Uruguayan-born pianist Edison Quintana.
There is no question that the violence in Juarez is the main story, but if you want people to have a a complete and accurate picture of our border area, and really understand what is going on, then you might do well to examine your own coverage of our “Sister City.’
I am printing a version of a story I submitted for publication which has been either held or rejected for any number of possible reasons, but I want to share it [partly because the people I talked to spent a lot of time with me, and because I think it is important to show a more complete picture of this city. Here is a version of the article:
Juarez Cultural Life Full
While reports of the violence in Juarez continues to dominate the news, it is easy to forget that Juarez also has a full cultural life which continues to bring important theater, music and international festivals and conferences to the city.
As an example, for the first time in its 29 year history, the National Theater Festival met in Juarez last November bringing theater groups from all over Mexico for a week of exciting theater for both audience and participants. Plays ranged from the traditional such as the Importance of Being Earnest by a troupe from the Yucatan playing to a full house at the University of Juarez (UACJ) to experimental productions such as La mujer de Antes which only allowed 100 people to enable an intimate stage setting. All of the programs were free and not only did Juarenses see some extraordinary theater, but many of the participants were visiting Juarez for the first time, and as coordinator Alicia Martinez said, she “considered it a privilege to be in Juarez and to share the city at this particular time”.
Blas Garcia Flores, coordinator at the UACJ Cultural Center, also points to the many artistic events happening in the city which included not only students, but the whole community, mentioning operas such as Payaso and La Traviata.
Flores also explained that musical groups at the University, which include folklorico groups as well as jazz and classical music groups, go outside the University to provide concerts to adults and to children. They are, in fact, planning a children’s orchestra for this coming year.
In April the University is bringing noted author Carlos Fuentes to speak. They also cooperate on bringing dance festivals to the city as well as that theater festival which Flores said they along with the Chihuahuan government took took years of planning to bring to Juarez.
Last September there was the fourth annual Chihuahua Festival held at the Cultural Center Paso del Norte (CCPN). Patricia Arrellano of CCPN said the 1700 plus main theater was sold-out for every performance and the outdoor events attracted anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 people She mentioned that while this past year they featured Brazil and the State of Sinaloa, this coming year they are bringing Spain, so performers from that country will be coming. They have not yet decided on who to invite as a special Mexico State guest. “We had absolutely no problems,” she said in discussing security issues. “People came, enjoyed themselves and were able to leave their worries outside.”
Arellano said that while the Center books a few events like the Chihuahua festival, or the production of award winning playwright Pilo Galindo, to celebrate the Center’s second year, it is mostly available to be rented to various producers who bring performers and playsfrom Mexico City, or elsewhere, like the new John Malkovich directed play La Buen Canario (the good canary) starring Diego Luna, which will be presented Feb 22 as well as recent performances by Veronica Castro and Silvia Pinal, or Susanna Harp. In addition there are productions by local foundations like the Danzon festival or the International day of the Dance which played to a standing room only audience last summer.
Upcoming cultural events this year include contemporary dance troupe Antares, Arpas de America and Ballet Juvenal de Quebec as well as jazz groups and other performances. In addition there are piano recitals and classical music events planned.
The city sponsors festivals like the recent Xll festival of the City which gave students at various arts institutions the chance to perform, and Institute de Bellas Artes (INBA) sponsored a round of guitar recitals by artists such as Latin grammy nominated classical guitarist Roberto Limon, as well as continuing art shows of artists often drawn from all over the Americas.
What is clear is that despite the ongoing violence plaguing the city, there are a huge range of cultural activities available for Juarenses to enjoy. While many Americans have little appetite for going to Juarez, and while many Juarenses have moved to El Paso, many others are enjoying the art theater, book readings and lectures available for both adults and children