Always Listen to the Blind Woman Sing
By Bobby Byrd
Posted on November 30, 2003
AUTHOR'S NOTE. This imaginary letter to Don Flores, the Executive VP/ Editor of The El Paso Times, originally appeared in the December 2002 issue of the late great El Bridge. Because a number of people from the city, the region and the country have asked for an on-line copy of the piece, newspapertree.com has been kind enough to reprint it.
Here in El Paso (approx pop. 600,000) we sit across the Río Grande from Juárez, Chihuahua (approx. pop. 1,600,000). If you look at these cities from the air, you'd assume that the two cities are one, with a river running through. But the ruling elite of El Paso -- predominantly gringo, although the majority of the population is Chicano and Mexican -- has for the last 50 years largely ignored our Siamese-twin sister city. Especially its social issues. This is nowhere more evident than with the El Paso Times, which serves as a "company paper" in our "company town." During the 1990s and into this decade, the Times studiously ignored the on-going saga of the billion-dollar drug trade in Juárez and the attendant corruption of city, state and federal police and government bureaucracies. The paper likewise ignored the desaparecidos and the organization with headquarters in El Paso that lobbied U.S. and Mexican governments for action. And the paper was a Donny-come-lately in reporting about the continuing murders of women in Juárez. (Not until 2002 did the Times publish the articles by Diana Washington Valdez about the murdered women.)
During these truly historic times, El Pasoans had to had to read El Diario, the New York Times, La Jornada from Mexico City or other sources to learn about Juárez and its dilemmas. The reason for the Times hands-off policy, according to Dionicio "Don" Flores in a 2002 interview with John Keller, was that these were "regional" issues with no immediate impact on the life of El Paso. He even questioned the veracity of news reports about the murdered women and about the citizens of both Juárez and El Paso who were disappeared.
I wrote this open letter to Flores in frustration. Since I'm a poet by trade, my letters tend to navigate toward the land of the imagination, which is the place where we can first understand. According to one insider, when Don Flores read this piece, he made two editorial comments -- one, that I had misspelled his name (Dionicio, not Dionisio), and, two, that his suits cost $1500 and not $500 as I had originally reported.
* * *
Today is one of those gray cool days of October, clouds hanging over us like we're in the shade of a garden and the flowers are protecting us from the desert sun and that mean wind that makes rags of our hearts. October is the best time to be in El Paso, no? The desert summer seems to measure us perfectly. It knows the precise time to let go. I'm 60 years old, and the dry summer heat wears me down. I get tired like the plants and the animals get tired. But I don't think you feel this way because you stay inside your building. You hardly notice the passing of the seasons, the men and women that wander by outside your window.
I want you to do me a favor. Some Saturday or Sunday afternoon, take off your handsome $1500 suit and your starched shirt, put on the work clothes you wear around the house and walk across the El Paso Street Bridge. When you cross the river, which has become so ugly in its concrete trough, try to leave behind all the answers that you carry in your briefcase.
Simply walk down Avenida Juárez. Walk past the kids and the taxi drivers and the hawkers and the tiny Tarahumara women, babies wrapped to their breasts, the older kids surrounding them, everybody with their brown hands asking for money. Maybe you should reach inside your pockets for the Tarahumara women. Give them some change, a couple of dollar bills. They have lost so many sacred places in the mountains, their people are starving from the drought, the narcotraficantes and the ricos are stealing what they have left.
Don't worry if the streets are dirty or if the young women are wrapped too tightly in jeans and black blouses and their makeup and lipstick make them like hookers. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. This is none of your business. I want you to keep walking to Avenida Diez y Seis, I want you to cross at the light until you get into the shade of the buildings on the other side.
There, if you're lucky, you will witness a true miracle, a miracle so regular-everyday-Mexican that many people walk by without even noticing. But I promise you it's a miracle. A woman is singing corridos. Her husband is playing the guitar. They are a tiny pair, dumpy and shabby, their clothes stained with wear and tear, paisanos who must have grown up in some dirt-poor ejido lost in the emptiness of the Chihuahua Desert. One of those many places in the world where the 21st century exists only in Coca-Cola bottles and iced cold beer and the telenovelas that ornament the empty nights.
The woman cannot watch the telenovelas. She is blind. Her eyeballs no longer reside in her head. When she sings, she keeps blinking, and the empty sockets of her eyes open wide like the mouths of baby birds hungry for food. Her husband plays on his cheap beat-up guitar. He wears dark glasses under his tattered cowboy hat and he, like his wife, has a white cane, a foolish disguise because he wears a watch. He strums on his guitar, she rattles a can of change, her head rolls back on her tiny round body and she begins to sing. She sings about sorrow. The sorrow of being poor. The sorrow of broken hearts. The sorrow of San Pancho Villa, the Saint of the Fucked Over and Shit On Forever and Ever World without End Amen.
And she sings about Pablo Acosta, the drug lord who died in the shootout in beautiful Santa Elena on the Rio Bravo, armed helicopters dropping like giant mosquitoes out of the American blue sky.
And she sings about how Amado Carrillo Fuentes ruled the heavens with his armada of airplanes, bringing our White Lady of Hundred-Dollar Bills to the gringos of the north. Her songs will tell you that Don Amado had so much money in his warehouses that the rats and mice were eating thousands and thousands of dollars every day of our Lord of the Skies. He killed thousands of men, Dionicio, because for him only the dead are innocent.
And the blind woman sings about the mojados crossing the river and going north to make a few dollars in the grapes and the lettuce and chilies and in the fabulous cities of Cibola, all the many ways that fate discovers for them to die -- dying by gunshots, dying by drowning, dying by thirst and hunger and heat in boxcars and trucks, dying at the hands of vigilantes while the coyotes spend their money in the bars telling stories and drinking tequila and beer.
But Dionicio, you must ask the blind woman to sing to you about the murdered women of Juárez. She will not sing these songs without your asking. You must give her money, lots of money. $20 is lots of money for her. When you give her a crisp $20 bill, she sings to you the news of the women of Juárez.
Her husband spits on the ground, he crosses himself and looks up and down the street to make sure no one is listening, and then he strums on his guitar.
The blind woman begins to sing. She blinks the empty sockets of her eyes and she sings about the pretty girls who go off on Friday mornings to work in the maquilas and never come home again. She sings about the girlfriends of jealous lovers and about the wives of angry men who disappear from their homes and their children. These women are the women of our brave new world. Their bodies sprout like flowers of evil in the desert, the hot wind ripping away at their flesh and bones. Nothing is left. Nothing. And their killers go off to eat their breakfast in the songs of this new world and the blind woman sings because nobody cares -- the police don't care, the Church doesn't care, the government doesn't care, the gringos on the other side don't care.
The blind woman sings and her husband strums the guitar.
Dionicio, you must look carefully into the holes which are the blind woman's eyes. She sees what you cannot see. She is singing these songs to you, songs which are the news of realities you do not know. Realities which inhabit the same space you live in. We all live in. This is not a metaphor, this is not an allegory, this is not your conception of "myth." This is for real. News you cannot fathom unless you listen to her sing.
Listen to this woman. Forget about the statistics and the rules and the facts and the way you think the world should be. Forget the secrets and promises that George has whispered in your ear, his hand upon your back like a lover.
Be still inside yourself and listen.
* * *
©2002 by Bobby Byrd / firstname.lastname@example.org
Bobby Byrd is co-publisher, with his wife Lee, of Cinco Puntos Press. He is a co-editor of the anthology of non-fiction Puro Border: Dispatches, Snapshots and Graffiti from La Frontera. And he is a poet.
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