Dias in Juárez

The X is located in La Plaza de la Mexicanidad in Chamizal, Ciudad Juárez, México. It’s popularly known as “La Equis” but its official name is, “El Monumento a la Mexicanidad.” The X is a bright red 197-ft. monument built in 2013 weighing 800 tons and costing 2.8 million dollars. It was designed by Mexican sculptor, Enrique Carbajal Gonzalez. He claims The X was inspired by the Nahui Olin or el Quinto Sol, the fifth sun in the Aztec calendar. Precisely, The X stands between the Juárez – El Paso Borderplex, also known as El Paso del Norte, where the Rio Grande sits. What I came to learn while there was that The X is full of meanings. 

In talking to some Juarenses it was clear they were aware of the significance of the La Equis. Generally, The X is a representation of the merging of two principal cultures in Mexico: the indigenous and the Spanish – an idea born from Benito Juárez who was the first indigenous president in México. In changing the “J” in Mejico to an “X,” Benito Juárez wanted to reconcile the two races and unify the country. The center area in La Equis that unifies the middle of the two towers is shaped as an eye – allowing visitors to look into El Paso.

Enrique Carbajal Gonzalez goes on to add how The X honors the blood of those sacrificed in Aztec rituals in order to extol the electrical phenomenon of an aurora.

Gustavo “Gus” Martinez, a local politician from the Partido Verde (Green Party) who I met at La Fragua – a small lively bar found a 15-minute walk south of The X assured me it also meant something else.

For Gus, and for many others, the monument was also an honor to the 60,000 people who were murdered during the city’s drug wars in the early 2000’s. Drug traffickers hunted down politicians too – especially local leaders like Gus. But despite the city’s dark past, Gus told me, “Juárez is changing, and that is what the ‘X’ means.”

Gus Martinez, a local Green Party politician sits at La Fragua bar to meet with friends in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua Mexico. Photo by Alma Campos.

 

Nora Cruz Perez (bartender) and Sergio Soto (Manager) of La Fragua bar. Photo by Alma Campos.

But not everyone is a fan of La Equis. During its construction, many Juarenses complained about the cost. Some said The X was not necessarily a work of art, but more of a “hook” to attract tourists. Others, those who were worried about the perceptions that outsiders have of Juárez and Mexico in general, argued that The Equis stigmatizes. In reality, the stigma had been there long before The X was built or even before anyone actually knew anything about The X. Take for instance the comments friends and family told me when I had shared with them my travel plans:

“Be safe.” 

“Don’t leave your hotel unless absolutely necessary.”

“Don’t walk around alone.” 

“Don’t talk to strangers.” 

“Aren’t you scared?”

While these were well-meaning comments, they had already been polluted by something else. It wasn’t The X, or the drug cartels, but the mere idea of going to México causes alarm; that is unless you are visiting places like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, where the general assumption is that you were safe. But at least for me, on the other side of the Rio Grande, far from Gus and over two thousand miles away from La Fragua, The X, and far from the Chihuahuan desert was where I had lived in fear – in America. It was not in Juárez. But it was back “home” where mass murderers killed scores of school children in their classrooms and hallways, and it was in the United States where the threat of gun violence was a daily concern. It was not in Chihuahua – the “Murder City Capital of the World.” In the United States, just a couple miles north of The X was where there were internment camps for children – separating them from their parents.  In the U.S., the government wields their political might by criminalizing millions of people.

The open space in La Plaza de La Mexicanidad where The X stands is typically used for festivals and cultural events. But on the days when it is not, like on the day when I was there, dozens of parents and their children flew colorful kites. With just enough moderate winds, the park, beside The X, gave them the open space to enjoy. The parents and their kids smiled with the thrill of getting their kites into the air, sending me the message that everything was okay. 

Everything was fine just south of The X in Parque Xtremo too – a skate park where children and teens didn’t mind the pains of falling down the paved ramps on their skateboards and scooters. Although I could not see any green grass next to Parque Xtremo, a family still played softball on the dirt – taking my attention away from what I had heard from people in the U.S. about the drug wars in Juárez ten years earlier.

A boy bikes down the ramps in Parque Extremo in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Photo by Alma Campos.

How did Juárez do it?

The X, La Equis, or El Monumento de La Mexicanidad is important for Juarenses. It was a long time ago that Mexicans had accepted that their veins carry both Spanish and indigenous blood. So much as to have erected the idea that “It transcends the past,” like Enrique Carbajal Gonzalez said in a conference he spoke at in 2013 when he finally finished La Equis. He said, “Juárez remembers the pain but the people use it to build a better future.” Enrique Carbajal Gonzalez created a monument that defines Juárez’s present aspirations.

Juárez is a misunderstood city. But, I know I had only been there a few days. It could have been that being somewhere new and mysterious caused me to fall in love hard. A week earlier, I had taken a 15-minute taxi drive from the parking lot at El Paso Airport to my hotel in Juárez. And here I was – in the country where I was born. Whether it was this, the people, the places or a mix of all, I was certain that Ciudad Juárez was rebuilding, and I was also certain how necessary it was for me to see more. And I understood then that it was perhaps the border between these two countries which creates this misunderstanding and an indifference too.