© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fronteras: ‘Downtown Juárez’ argues against one-dimensional view of violence, abuse and exploitation in the Mexican border city

Mexican cities that sit on the U.S.-Mexico border are often branded as dangerous and violent.

Cuidad Juárez — the sister city that lies across the border from El Paso, Texas — had once been dubbed the “murder capital of the world.”

Hundreds of women have been murdered or have disappeared in Juárez since 2013, and ongoing drug wars contribute to a high murder rate.

Downtown Juárez once drew many Americans across the border to engage in a variety of vices. It also became a hub of addiction, trafficking, and abuse.

Howard Campbell, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso, spent over three decades conducting fieldwork in Juárez.

His account is published in the 2021 book, Downtown Juárez: Underworlds of Violence & Abuse.

Campbell examined the misguided policies, corruption, and economic disparities that contribute to an ongoing cycle of violence in Juárez.

He said the violence in the city is often misinterpreted across news media outlets.

“The journalistic coverage … tends to reduce Juárez to just a myth,” he said. “It’s sort of like this Wild West movie understanding of Juárez that got in the way of us understanding why thousands of people were being killed there.”

The book discusses what Campbell calls synergistic violence — a combination of several factors that contribute to the state of Juárez. This includes economic disparities and the U.S. role in the drug and gun trade.

“My point is, let’s not look at these things individually in isolation,” he said. “Let’s look at their complex intersection. That’s what I call synergistic violence.”

Hear the second part of the conversation about Downtown Juarez on March 15.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1