Page 4 of 8
"Of course, everyone stays inside," says Clara Jusidman, president of Incide Social, a Mexico City-based social research and advocacy organization, who for years has been studying violence in Juárez. "The city is in the middle of a civil war. If you're inside, you believe you're less likely to be collateral damage."
Some kids stop going to school, although Alfonso says he never left. The day after Pablo's death, his homeroom teacher saw the boy crying alone in a corner of the schoolyard. He felt a mix of rage and despair, the sixth-grader remembers. Alfonso confided in the teacher, and she took him to the school's psychologist, one of a fleet of professionals stationed on campuses across the city who deal frequently with trauma, though they often have no specialized training. Alfonso began regularly visiting the shrink. "That helped," he says, nodding his head in apparent sincerity, but he no longer goes to his appointments.
More than anything else, he finds solace in his family — a close-knit group, most of whom live within a few blocks of each other. Alfonso says he has nine cousins, though it's not clear whether Pablo is still included in that count. They all recently came together for a Father's Day celebration. "That was a hard day," Laura says. Such gatherings are likely to be harsh reminders of their loss for a long time to come.
Laura says keeping Alfonso inside is her only choice, though she admits it's no way to raise kids. "We have to put up with that for now," says the 40-something hairstylist. "It's got to change at some point, but the solution is not going to come from the politicians. All they do is send more Federales, and look where that's gotten us."
It's a post-lunch sugar rush. A dozen wired 4-year-olds climb on top of each other in the front classroom of the Independent Popular Organization (OPI), a day-care center in Juárez's poor Poniente neighborhood. Face paint smears as the youngsters jostle for position, and by the time they settle into a circle, Spider-Man looks more like a ripe strawberry than a superhero.
The question put to the group is universal: What do you want to be when you grow up? The answers are stingingly Juárez: "A soldier!" The boy barely finishes his thought before another chimes in. "Me too!" the second boy yelps, throwing his hand into the air as if offering to enlist right then. A third takes a different slant. "I want to be a policeman in El Paso," he states, lips pursed with seriousness. The rest take their time to think about their responses but eventually fall into line. By the time the circle is done, it's clear that every male kid — if childhood dreams were fulfilled — would be packing heat daily.
Juárez's Federales and soldiers are ubiquitous. The former are dressed in dark blue, the latter in green. They respond at crime scenes and man checkpoints. But mainly, they circle the city, stuffed into the back of pickup trucks, masked and standing erect with rifles pointing outward. On an average day, residents cross paths with more than a dozen patrols. For adults, they inspire rage and fear. But in the eyes of a child, these men are life-size G.I. Joes; Juárez is a videogame turned reality.
Mikaela Castillo, who's been the director of the day-care center for years and has heard this chorus a thousand times, shrugs: "At least they didn't say assassins."