The great Charles Bowden passed away last year. He wrote a great many articles and books about the border; the one we share with Mexico. In the years since NAFTA passed there have been hundred upon hundreds of women murdered in and around Juarez–a great many of them maquiladora workers. A maquiladora is an assembly plant, or factory which hired thousands of women and paid them stoop labor wages to do piecework–sewing, circuit boards, and other close work that required small, deft hands.
A great many women from as far away as Central America flocked to the border for jobs. So NAFTA managed to impoverish two cultures. The women of the maquiladora plants and the American union worker, and some big American companies outsourced jobs here to avoid paying a living wage to union workers: Levi’s, Motorola, IBM, Black & Decker, GM, Cooper Tire, among others.
The murders started after the flood of new workers settled in and around Juarez. The powerful and ruthless Juarez cartel was blamed, as well as gangs like Los Rebeldes and La Linea Juarez. Bowden’s books, The Blood Orchid and Murder City; Ciudad Juarez, are visceral, heart-breaking testaments to a world where sanity has unraveled at a frightening pace. Still the murders are unsolved. One wonders what would happen if hundreds of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Suzy cream-cheese types were slaughtered and left for carrion birds in the desert. The cable series, The Bridge, did a brilliant job underlining the insanity of the drug war and the culture of death endemic to both sides of the border; where traffic in drugs, humans, and cheap labor have created a culture of nihilism and despair.
It almost certainly had to be based on some of Bowden’s writings, which were poetic, and hard to read, as they were blanched of hope. This piece is about this part of the world: The border that we share and the trust we do not.