A Soccer Team Mirrors Juarez’s Decline


A version of this story ran in the September 2012 issue.

In This Love Is Not For Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juarez, Robert Andrew Powell chronicles the downward spiral of a Mexican professional soccer team, Club Indios de Ciudad Juárez, into the minor leagues. The team’s decline becomes a metaphor for Juarez’s descent into violence and lawlessness.

Powell’s statistical research and vivid details about the murders and drug and human trafficking that permeate the city make this work of nonfiction difficult to put down. Powell is at his best when he lets the people of the border speak for themselves. An assistant coach of the Indios says about his country’s blindness to the murders, “Juarez doesn’t exist … To the rest of the country, what goes on up here doesn’t even happen.” A conversation with an Indios fan, Saul Luna, who lives in El Paso, captures the fluidity of the border. “They call us frontchis … [A perjorative term El Pasoans use for people from Juarez]. I wanted to stay in Juarez, but my parents were caught up in the American Dream and all that.”

Of the book’s 23 chapters, the best is “The Dead Women,” in which Powell offers a new perspective on the murders of women in Juarez. Nearly 700 women have been killed in the city since 1993, according to international media. Powell interviews Molly Molloy, a New Mexico State University librarian, who works to dispel the femicide myth. “What is happening in Juarez is much more than femicide. It’s a human-rights disaster,” Molloy argues in the book, noting that 10 times as many men have been killed as women since 1993. The chapter could have been a book in itself.

Many of the other chapters read like journal entries, and are sprinkled with over-the-top soccer metaphors. The battles among cartel bosses for control of the streets are rendered trite with lines such as this: “Chapo Guzman stepped up his pursuit of Juarez, the World Cup trophy of drug routes.” However, these flaws can be overlooked in favor of the book’s greatest merit: Unlike other books about violence along the border, This Love Is Not For Cowards presents the daily lives of border residents in their own words.

Christine Granados is a mother, wife and writer, although not always in that order. Her writings have appeared in anthologies, journals, magazines and newspapers. She teaches at the University of Houston-Victoria.