Juárez colonia residents suffer in winter, summer

Joe Olvera

Joe Olvera is a long-time journalist whose latest book is - Chicano Sin Fin: Memoirs of a Chicano Journalist

© 2011

So, you say you had it rough during the 2011 El Paso Freeze? You say your water pipes froze, leaving you without drinking water, that you couldn’t take a shower, couldn’t wash dishes, couldn’t wash your dirty car, couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t? You say the lights went out in your house, you resorted to flashlights or candles, couldn’t turn on your television, your stereo, your computer, your refrigerator went sour. You say you were without gas for several days at a time, you were cold, miserable – but you did have blankets to keep you warm, you did have a bed to sleep on?

Well, folks, count your blessings that you don’t live in one of the Juárez colonias, where amenities are nowhere to be found and where people live like this every year, every winter. Count your blessings that your house, at least, has cinder blocks or red bricks, or other means of support. And, oh yes, a roof. Count your blessings that your home is weather tight, or as tight as you can make it. Try living in a shack made out of cardboard, chicken wire, and a hope and a prayer.

This, my good friends, is how people often live in a Juarez colonia – take your pick, there are plenty of colonias from which to choose. These good people don’t have to worry about their water pipes freezing – what pipes? More often than not, the water they use for cooking, drinking, cleaning themselves, is stored in a large garbage can that has seen better days. More often than not, a large family lives in one room without any means of heat. No rolling blackouts in these Juárez colonias because, of course, no electricity.

A family lucky enough to have a bed and blankets can spend an entire day without rising, except to take care of the necessities of life. Yes, they spend their entire day smothered in blankets, because it is so cold. Have you seen them? These Juárez colonias? Have you visited them? As a longtime journalist in El Paso, I’ve seen them up close. These living conditions don’t exist because of some freaky weather. No, they live like this all the time.

In the summer, the conditions are reversed. It is so hot inside one of these make-shift, so-called homes. What air-conditioning? What refrigerated air? In fact, what refrigerator? Of course, I’m not blaming El Pasoans, who have certainly worked hard enough to provide the basic amenities for their families. We’re not to blame. On the contrary, many El Pasoans try to alleviate such living conditions. It’s a small gesture, perhaps, but, it is an important one. Some people provide blankets, some people provide fuel for those who do have some sort of heating apparatus.

So, who’s to blame? The Mexican government? Juarez City Hall? President Felipe Calderón? The people themselves? Well, certainly, there is plenty of blame to go around, plenty of blame to share. People must live somewhere – at least, one can say, they are not homeless. What a blessing!

So the next time a frigid storm comes our way, let’s try to remember those less fortunate, who must endure nature’s cruel conditions. Don’t be so whiny. Don’t be so weak. Think about those poor people in Juárez colonias. At least we have options, don’t we? But, what options do they have? It’s a tough row to hoe no matter how you look at it. Buckle up, my good man, my good woman. So, you’ll be out of water for a few days, out of heat and out of electricity for short spells of time. Think, instead, of the residents of a Juarez colonia. What options do they have? Not many.

Sin Fin

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