As Ciudad Juarez lurches ahead in an uncertain recovery from years of extreme violence and economic decline, signs of renewed night life are stirring in the northern Mexican border city. Especially in the Pronaf and Gomez Morin zones, new bars and clubs, known as antros in Mexican lingo, are open for business. And across the street from the Rio Grande Mall near the Pronaf area, a different option now exists for people interested in more than just bouts of mindless drinking and dancing.
Open since August, Bumps Café Trilce proposes to be a center for creative connection, cultural revival and collective healing in a city traumatized by multiple crises. Housed in a former billiard joint, the new establishment is refurnished with comfy couches, several tables, a long liquor bar and decent space for artistic exhibitions and performances. A message on the wall behind the bar proclaims, “Life is Too Short for a Bad Coffee.” Fine cheeses, cold cuts and sandwiches round out the menu.
In its first weeks of existence Bumps Café Trilce has hosted a rock band, an evening of Latin American New Song, movie nights and a reading of women’s literary works as part of the “100,000 Poets for Change” global event.
“We’re open to what people want to do,” said Beatriz Lozoya, one of the four café partners. In an interview with FNS, Lozoya said an important goal of the business is to provide a central space for Ciudad Juarez’s numerous but scattered artists, writers, musicians and performance artists. Virtually missed by the international and even national press that’s focused on the guts and gore of the so-called drug war, a creative boom of sorts has ironically surged in the city during the bad times, according to Lozoya.
“In the last few years, there has been artistic production by youth, collectives and people not so young, who are worried about the situation of violence the city is undergoing,” Lozoya said. But the new cultural wave, she said, often stays walled up within the confines of far-flung neighborhoods where creators are isolated not only due to the lack of appropriate public venues and mobility restrictions imposed by the violence, but also by limited public transportation to and from the outlying quarters of the sprawling city.
A psychologist by profession, Lozoya has first-hand knowledge of the emotional wounds inflicted on her neighbors. The damage to young people, she stressed, has been particularly profound. The youth, Lozoya said, distrust adults and lack of hope, prompting many to view the future with a bleak lens. “They live for the moment, and with this outlook they make their decisions,” she added.
On hand to read for Bumps Café Trilce’s edition of “100,000 Poets for Change,” Elizabeth Flores agreed that the long-term damage to Ciudad Juarez’s soul and psyche has been deep, though the full dimensions of the emotional damage are still unknown. Flores, who serves as director of the local Catholic Church’s social justice ministry, told FNS that the thousands of orphans and countless children who grew up seeing people executed in the streets are now a significant part of the city’s future.
And full recovery from the violent upheaval, she ventured, is problematic for young people who might have been employed by gangs as killers or body dumpers but now could be looking for alternatives to the criminal lifestyle. “People don’t leave this work like any other to get a job in a factory or an office,” Flores said. “It’s like: ‘I killed or counted bodies and now I am going to go to work in an office?’”
Flores contended that art and culture can be important remedies in the city’s recovery. “This is a way we can express ourselves if we cannot say it,” she continued. “We don’t have other spaces or trust. We don’t have the possibility of doing it with family, because there are families and communities, groups, where the issue isn’t discussed. They’ve been affected so much, that they say it is better for us not to talk about violence.”
For Flores, retaining a historical frame of reference as well as a cultural identity is critical for the collective sense of community. But Flores said Ciudad Juarez’s popular culture is challenged by the power of money and market forces that could wind up erasing the city’s history, further stripping the population of its memory and identify while keeping it subjugated in a colonial state. On one front, Flores and many other residents are supporting a movement to save downtown Ciudad Juarez’s Café Central from the bulldozers.
A decades-old eatery and hangout for Juarenses of all stripes, Café Central sits in the path of the downtown revitalization project that is demolishing old buildings and businesses to make way for a convention center, an expanded public plaza and new commercial outlets. Flores said the locals have not seen a master plan for the project or been given the chance to discuss the government’s plans in a public forum. Asked if Ciudad Juarez’s crisis did nothing to change old ways of governing that preceded the sharp escalation of violence in 2008, Flores responded that the question was the answer.
Documenting Ciudad Juarez’s history and culture is the mission of a magazine that is distributed at Bumps Café Trilce. Founded three years ago, Paso del Rio Grande del Norte is a high quality, eclectic publication that showcases poetry, fiction, essays, plays and art work. “It’s an independent project, and the intention is to publish the works of the creative artists of Juarez,” said Margarita Salazar, the magazine’s director.
Until now, Salazar said many local writers have not had outlets for their works. “One reason they aren’t known is they have nowhere to publish,” she said. Published quarterly, Paso del Rio Grande del Norte’s current issue contains poems, short stories, an essay by Xose Manuel Blanco Gil on Valle-Inclan, a play by Virignia Ordonez Hernandez entitled “El Grito,” and the ashen, ghostly faces of hometown artist Cecilia “La Catrina” Briones.
An innovative section of the magazine devoted to “microfiction” features short stories the length of paragraphs. A piece by Haydee S.M. called “Charly” depicts a downtown character who could be among thousands in a dualistic city where public personae and private life are frequently like night and day. Salazar said the magazine has limited circulation in the U.S., but should be available at public libraries in El Paso, in addition to the community college and University of Texas branch in the neighboring city. She said the upcoming issue will be devoted to themes specific to Ciudad Juarez.
Whether for artistic events, music, a good read or just plain conversation over coffee, Bumps Café Trilce is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 5 pm to midnight, or perhaps later depending on the crowd, co-owner Lozoya said. A Facebook page with the address and phone number of the new venue can be found at: