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ROSA RASURA Tunnel opening, El Paso thinly inhabited to produce many of that description of thieves termed footpads, or highwaymen. They are usually the spawn of great cities; the effect of the spurious desires generated by wealth, rather than the desperate struggles of poverty to escape from misery. Today on the U.S.-Mexico line, the conditions of bygone Sweden and Industrial Revolution England are mirrored a hundredfold. We’ve got desperate struggles galore: El Paso is the poorest major city in America; and across the river, misery is so bad and homely fare so deficient that the majority of Juarez children are malnourished. That’s the old part of the story. What’s new are the dainties, the spurious desires, jumping the border where the richest nation in history, butts up on a country with the lowest minimum wage in the industrialized world. To be honest around here, you have to add El Paso’s 500,000 population to Juarez’s 1.1 million and come up with one big community, not two smaller ones. Truth demands this conflation because the false apartheid of people and culture drawn by a prissy, half-dry river and a strait-laced Border Patrol is constantly blurred by the promiscuity of economy and desire. In particular, for the past 20 years and even more so since the peso devaluation of 1982, the spectacular growth of the “twin plant,” or maquiladora offshore production system, has made of us one great North American city united in growth and decay. Juarez is now host to 240 twin plants, where almost a tenth of the city’s entire popUlation works. Juarez’s gleaming, multi national factories, with their headquarters in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Newark, now employ far more assembly workers than any other Mexican city, and certainly more than many American ones. Maquiladora workers, many of whom are the same age as Manotas’s homeboys, are paid between $3 and $5 a day. With that kind of salary, it takes two days’ pay to buy a kilo of cheese. About the same amount to purchase a bootleg Run DMC or U2 or Bon Jovi cassette from the street vendors who clog the plaza area in downtown Juarez. Maybe four days’ wages to buy some Korean-made jogging shoes piled in the shop windows just north of the international bridges. A nicer pair, like Nikes or Reeboks, cost twice as much time \(that, of course, is over and above what you need to keep to pay for the bus to work, for potato chips and cokes for lunch, and for what you give your mother \(to buy cheese or put aside to eventually install a bathroom or electricity Or how about a stereo, smuggled from Casa de Musica Deluxe or Futurama shopping mall? To buy it will take perhaps a month or more of maquiladora wages. The work itself involves 45 hours a week of repetitive laboring over the seams of designer jeans, the wiring of a Ford, or the circuitry of countless high tech desires that few maquiladora laborers will ever be able to afford. Unless they become footpads and highwaymen. There are other dainties, too drugs the new opiate of the masses. El Paso/Juarez has lately become a major narcotics transport center, and if you can’t afford what’s shootable, there is always cheap airplane glue or paint thinner to be sniffed until you get so crazy and vicious that a nighttime romp with stoned friends could provide the casting for a border remake of “Warriors.” In late August, the El Paso police and Border Patrol began a Manotas cleanup operation, planting undercover agents dressed as “illegal aliens” in West Side neighborhoods. They must have been watching the subway system, too for the two weeks the operation lasted, not one beggar, maid, or hedgetrimmer knocked on my door. It was eerie to see part of the neighborhood missing, but at the end of the sweep, the cops held a press conference and announced they had arrested ten members of the , “new illegal alien” gang. The dragnet is finished for now, but City Council is still talking about installing grates at the end of the tunnels. However, they haven’t figured out how to deal with the possibility that blocked drains could clog up with tumbleweeds, which in the case of a good rain could flash-flood homes in Kern Place and Mesa Hills not to mention flash-drown the neighborhoods’ commuter servants. Meanwhile, a mere day after the cleanup operation ended, Ruben, the 11-year-old who comes by regularly to beg a can of soup, was back at my door. Yesterday two men asked about my hedges, and today I heard the familiar cry, “Limones! Limones!” Manotas still hasn’t been nabbed. But even if he is, the jogging shoes, stereos, Madonna LPs, cocaine, and twin plants will still burgeon, with their Siren song that mocks all borders. As for Manotas, excise him and he’ll no doubt just be replaced by a Hydra of Piernotas, Dedazos, and Cabezotas. Meanwhile, we West Siders will keep thanking the Lord that there are still Mexican craftsmen who know how to give the bars we put on our windows a nice, wrought-iron Spanish Colonial touch. Sitting behind those bars, we can keep bitching in relative safety about the lack of decent bookstores, and how this is probably the biggest city we know where “Last Temptation of Christ” won’t be showing at a theater. So if we’re stuck at home staring at the 10 o’clock news and we catch a glimpse of Manotas’s gang and their mayhem, we might credit them with something. With reminding us, for instance, that we have a subway system. Or that Juarez is part of America. And most comforting and frightening of all that El Paso is, too. complete personal and business insurance ALICE ANDERSON AGENCY 808-A East 46th P.O. Box 4666, Austin 78765 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11