Road through San Judas
102 pages

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102 pages

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Perched on a dry desert mesa, San Judas is a home of last resort for landless peasants who build makeshift homes and a vibrant community on “worthless” land that no one else wants. Or so it seems. Until suddenly, and tragically, everyone wants it for their own. The Road Through San Judas chronicles from the inside the colorful characters struggling to save their village from NAFTA regulations, local Juárez developers, terrifying drug cartels, violent cholo gangs, and corrupt politicians on both sides of the border.

All those interested in the culture and contradictions of modern Mexico—including activists involved in struggles for land, democracy, and justice under international capitalism—will delight in this novel’s revolutionary humor and compassion.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 août 2019
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781629636689
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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The Road Through San Judas
Robert Fraga
2019 PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be transmitted by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-649-8
Library of Congress Control Number: 2018949083
Cover image by Gavin Snider
Cover by John Yates /
Interior design by briandesign
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
PM Press
PO Box 23912
Oakland, CA 94623
Printed in the USA.

This book grew out of a stint working as a volunteer on a construction project designed to provide affordable and environmentally sensitive insulation for a humble restaurant located to the west of Ciudad Ju rez in the north of Mexico. The work on its insulation is the focus of the first chapter of the book. On my last day on the job, I met the intrepid priest on whom my character Father Joe is loosely based. With his allies, this man struggled month after month to save the homes of his parishioners from being destroyed by a rich and avaricious family of land developers.
Ultimately wealth and influence prevailed, but this book is a testament to the valor of the combatants. Recording their struggle is, I feel, their historical and literary victory.
To the north lay Texas and New Mexico. Those states lay beyond the wall separating Old Mexico from the U.S.
In the foreground: a grid of unpaved streets and what looked like sheds. People actually lived in these sheds.
Wood pallet fences enclosed dust-caked yards. Even the gates were made of wood pallets taken from the loading docks of American-owned factories strung along the border. Past the shell of an abandoned school bus, its white paint peeling, its wheels half-buried in sand, we looked across the plain of Anapra, beyond a razor-thin sliver of New Mexico, to the Franklin Mountains of West Texas. This was to be our home for the next two weeks. This was one of the poorest neighborhoods of Ciudad Ju rez. Its horizontality was punctured irregularly by eucalyptus and scrub oak. The trees rose like eruptions from the desert below.
To the west lay a soccer pitch. No grass, just sand. Just like the rest of Anapra. The local teams, kitted out in white shorts and red and blue shirts, played on Sundays. They yelled and raised sprays of dust as they kicked the ball back and forth across the sand. Beyond the pitch rose a stone-ribbed butte. As flat as Anapra itself but higher, one hundred feet above the colonia . This was the mesa where it stood: San Judas, the barrio that is the focus of this book, a region buffeted by strong winds that we would experience later during our stay.
To the east, there was nothing to see. That side of the house was built of rock and cement. To the south, it abutted a north facing hill. During the day, light seeped through clerestory windows above a sink and kitchen counters. Our (indoor) bathroom lay just to the west of the dormitory space. There were hot-water showers-a luxury in Anapra-and ordinary sinks, but the toilets were dry pits. After a dump or a leak, we would take a tin can that stood beside each of the toilets and toss a mixture of sand and lime down the hole. A series of stick-figure graphics, captioned in Spanish ( Si lo usas, usalo bi en) and tacked to the wall, illustrated the dos and don ts of dry toilet etiquette.
This would be our home for the next two weeks. Casa Emaus: an elongated one-room building, partitioned at both ends into smaller cubicles, where we slept amidst a jumble of shelving units. The whole building was tucked into a hillside. On the north side-the side that faced the U.S.-a concrete porch ran the length of the house. The ridgepole, supported by square sectioned brick columns, was home to a pair of sparrows. There the birds had built a nest under the corrugated steel roof. We shared our home with birds. Amicably: no territorial squabbles; no dispute over space. The sparrows had as much right to be there as we did. The birds darted in and out of their nest. They seemed to shoot us quizzical looks when they alighted on their aerie. Were they asking themselves what the hell we were doing there? At night, we stood on the porch and watched the car lights stream silently along the I-10 in Texas. On our side of the border-on our side of the wall-we could hear the nonstop barking of dogs. We could smell the roasted elotes , ears of corn. Peddlers who roamed the streets sold them from their pushcarts.
The sparrows were asking the right question: What were we doing there? Not that there were many of us. For the entire two weeks, there were only our group leader-Alfred von Bachmayr, commonly called Von -an American despite his aristocratic German name, Jos Bernal-a construction worker from California, two volunteers-myself and a young woman whose name was Erin Campbell, and two old hands-Dean Coil and Gary Aitkin. A total of six.
Erin, a pixie blonde from a Catholic convent in eastern Kentucky, was a skilled and experienced builder. Very handy with construction tools was she. So were Dean and Gary. Dean Coil had the physique and complexion of a Viking. He hailed from Minnesota and was about to marry and settle down in Chihuahua. His second marriage, this one was to a local woman who worked as the principal of a Chihuahua school. He was a kind of on-site manager of the project and the only one of us who actually lived in Mexico.
Jos Bernal was a dark-skinned, lean man. His eyes were grey, almost colorless. People first meeting Jos sometimes thought that he suffered from glaucoma. His friends had nicknamed him Wolf Eyes, Ojos del Lobo. He was a Mexican American, a man in his thirties, who had been born in Chiapas, in the south of Mexico. His father, a peasant farmer, had gone bankrupt and migrated north. So Jos had grown up in the barrio of San Judas, where we were living. Somehow the family had scraped together the money to send him to high school and college. He came back regularly to Mexico, although he worked mostly on construction projects in California and other Western states.
Gary Aitkin, the last to show up, had the body and coloring of a greyhound, a two-legged greyhound at that, thin to the point of emaciation and bushy bearded. He had come by bus from Guatemala where he had wintered, holed up on a sailboat. Now he was en route back to his home in Montana. Anapra was like the halfway point on his homeward journey. Gary Aitkin invariably shortened our group leader s last name to Von. Other volunteers from Santa Fe and Las Cruces worked with us but not for the duration of the project. In addition, we had two Mexican laborers. These guys were actually paid.
Paid for what? Volunteering for what? Our job was to do a straw wrap of a cinderblock building. Von reckoned packing straw against the cinder blocks to be an ecologically sensitive and inexpensive way to insulate the building against summer s heat and the cold of winter. Almost all the materials were secured locally: Straw from farms to the east of Ju rez. Wood pallets from factories and markets of the city itself. The restaurant that the building housed was scheduled to open the day after our arrival.
Von Bachmayr was an architect whose passion was sustainable building. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he once built a house for an eighty-four-year-old great grandmother living on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Von s volunteers erected a straw bale house for the woman in two weeks. She now had-for the first time in her life-electricity generated by a photovoltaic array and a roof cistern to catch water for her and, if the rains were plentiful, for her sheep.
The straw wrap was not the first of von Bachmayr s projects in Ciudad Ju rez: three years earlier he had directed a project to build a house from shipping pallets. This was similar in concept to what we would be doing in 2008. Land for the earlier project had been secured by a priest of the Columban Order: Father Joe Borelli, a man who plays a crucial role in the story of San Judas.
Von s group was called the World Hands Project. It was an offshoot of Builders Without Borders (BWB), an organization he cofounded in 2002. The architect s interest lay in straw bale structures like the one he had built on the Navajo reservation, but he had also been exploring ways to make trusses out of wood pallets. His work with BWB brought him to the attention of a missionary group called Casa de la Cruz. This group was involved in constructing low-cost housing along the U.S.-Mexican border. This was how Von Bachmayr came to Ciudad Ju rez.
A raucous choir of cocks woke us up that first day. To get to the worksite, we squeezed into Alfred s truck, a Toyota with a topper over its bed. To thwart thieves, we carried our tools back and forth between the worksite and Casa Emaus, hauling heavy chests and electric saws and a blue plastic water canteen down from the house to the alley where the van was parked. At the end of the day, we repeated the procedure in reverse. The routine never varied, even in its details, step by step, Monday through Friday. More often than not, on the drive itself I sat in the rear, my feet dangling over the lowered tailgate of the truck, with the rocks and the sand of the side streets, then the macadam of the main highway through Anapra, slipping beneath them. We bounced over the speed bumps, gripping every available protuberance of the Toyota for fear of being pitched out into the road. These kamikaze runs would have been illegal north of the border. In Anapra, it was the only way to commute if we were to avoid a time- and fuel-wasting shuttle service. Our destination lay half a mile away. The restaurant stood at the northwest corner of a yard where we parked and unloaded the van. And that wa

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