The largest crowd for an event on the Paso del Norte border (El Paso, TX/Juárez, MX/southern NM) in the 7 years I’ve lived in the region was Saturday night’s concert by Latin music legend and Juárez native son Juan Gabriel. The reported crowd of 100,000-plus that jammed into the X park area in central Juárez tops any event staged in El Paso and the surrounding area in the time I’ve lived and worked on the border, and the fact an event this size and magnitude occurred in Juarez is both notable and impressive.
For the past 6 months I’ve commuted from my home in El Paso to work with the employees of Norte, an influential daily newspaper company in the city, and have found my daily commute a pleasant adventure for discovery about a city I had only known largely by what my own newspaper reported in 2009, 2010, 2011, and from what I could see and hear about from El Paso.
The Juan Gabriel event for me demonstrates the normalcy of Juárez. I drive by the X and the surrounding park area every weekday, and I know the route well. I first questioned reporters whether the X park area could handle 100,000 as authorities projected. It’s always hard to judge sizes of crowds in open public spaces. I’m not surprised the park could handle that many people, given what I see when I’ve driven by it frequently. The estimates for Saturday’s crowd was 130,000 http://nortedigital.mx/a-punto-de-inaugurar-mural-de-juan-gabriel/ and as impressive was the fact the singer was on stage from 8:40 p.m. to 12:4o a.m.
My eyes are fresh — some might argue green, meaning without experience in Mexico, without knowledge of the past, and too new to understand. And all of this may be true. It’s also true I live in the moment, not in the past. For sure the past can provide important context, but not always. Otherwise there would be no new beginnings, and it is a new beginning we can possibly be seeing for Juárez.
The large crowd that attended Saturday’s Juan Gabriel concert speaks to the potential for transformation in the city, and certainly reverses the notion of insecurity and instability in Juárez. To the outside world Juárez largely remains associated with violence. The crowd Saturday evening demonstrated how normal and alive the city is, hardly a populace still recoiling from violence.
This is not to diminish the outrageous violence that continues largely on the outskirts and in the colonias of the area, and more urgently doesn’t disregard the tremendous amount of poverty in the Juárez area. But it is to say the Juárez that has been in the news as a violent, inhabitable city is no longer an accurate label for life in Juárez. It is a normally functioning city of 1.5 million and residents seeks better roads, better infrastructure all around, better opportunities. Plus it wants its tourism back, but that is a different subject for a different day.
The Juan Gabriel concert showed a normal Juarez, people proud of their city, proud of their hometown hero, and proud of their comeback.