Life Stories

Thursday, June 17, 2010 8:39 PM

“WHY ME?”: THE FACE OF VIOLENCE IN JUÁREZ
Centro de Pastoral Obrera de Cd. Juárez
María Elizabeth Flores

Erika is a survivor and a fighter. She loves her hometown of Juárez, the birthplace of
her father and his two sisters. She is the eldest child. Her mother, Carmen, is from the
state of Chihuahua: Parral.

Growing up, Erika learned English, played basketball with a championship team and
practiced karate. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the National College of
Professional Technical Education, CONALEP. This is where she met the love of her
life, Eduardo. He was studying industrial maintenance. And soon, he became her
husband and the father of her children.

Erika was a working mother. She worked for the maquila, like so many young women,
and started creating a successful career. She put in the extra hours to become a
bilingual secretary — even winning a best secretary trophy. Then she landed a dream
opportunity with a local TV station. She got the chance to interview a young artist from
Albuquerque, Lorenzo Antonio. And from that day forward, she became a true fan of
the singer.

Erika and Eduardo were maquiladora workers. They were focused on building a better
life for their two children, April and Eduardo Junior. They worked hard and saved
every paycheck — so they could eventually afford to buy, on credit, a small house at
Villas de Salvacar.

Erika’s world revolved around her kids. She served as president of the parentteachers
association and volunteered in the community. She was well known and
respected by all her neighbors.

Meanwhile, living on Eduardo’s salary as a maquiladora technician was a huge
challenge. Every day was a struggle to make ends meet. So, the couple decided to
launch a business that made the most of their skills in the kitchen.

Together, they put their plans into action. Erika began making burritos every morning,
so Eduardo could sell them in the afternoon. There was only one problem. Although
the burritos were popular, the couple ended up giving too many away on credit. And
they had a hard time collecting when they already knew their customers had no extra
cash.

Erika then had another brainstorm. She figured that they could build a stand outside
their home and easily sell “chilindrinas” — candy, potato chips, refreshments, and
other sundries. It would be an ideal way to earn the extra income that they so
desperately needed. Within a matter of days, their stand was in place and their business began to take off. But their world was about to be forever changed.

On January 30, 2010, the day began like any other. It was a Saturday filled with
routine tasks, ongoing projects and lots of work at the new candy shop. But it would
also be a life-changing day for Erika, her husband, their children, as well as her
parents and sisters.

That Saturday, Erika and Eduardo decided to close the shop a little later since there
was a party in the neighborhood, just two houses down from theirs. It was a teen’s
birthday party. With the violence happening across the city, the house had seemed
like the perfect place for a celebration — where everyone could relax, have fun, and
feel safe and secure.

April and Junior were already asleep, while Erika and Eduardo worked at the shop.
Two young men entered the store. As Eduardo went to deliver more refreshments
to the party, a couple of trucks pulled up and people started to get out. Erika first
assumed that these were more party guests, until she suddenly realized that they
were all wearing dark masks on their faces. That’s when the shots rang out. Erika
watched as her husband and the two customers fell to the ground. As she ran to the
back of the store, she felt a fiery, hot pain in her back and the whole world went black.
She woke up in the hospital, the victim of three gunshot wounds. A wife without a
husband. And a witness to one of the latest senseless acts of violence in the city of
Juárez.

Erika and her husband were victims of the massacre in Villas de Salvacar, where a
total of 16 people were killed. Some neighbors had heard the initial gunshots and
came running over to help. All of them died. Most of the victims were the young guests
at the party. A few were able to survive by hiding underneath the bodies of their
murdered friends. These teens are still in recovery.

Today, Erika is still struggling to recover from the tragedy. She was hospitalized for
almost two months. And she must still attend physical therapy sessions every day to
recover what the violence in Juárez has taken from her — her memory, her ability
to speak, and the ability to move her right arm and leg. The one thing she will never
recover is her one true love, Eduardo. Her children will grow up without their father.
And she will miss out on achieving her dreams with her husband. Erika was shot three times. One bullet entered her brain through her left ear, and it still remains there. This bullet was simply too risky to remove. The second bullet entered her lower back and caused serious damage to her internal organs. The third one injured her right leg. Hospital personnel named her “Milagritos,” since it is truly a miracle that she is even alive.

At only age 29, Erika is slowly recovering from her injuries, thanks to the constant
care of her parents. She now lives at home, and her mother helps take care of her
basic needs. Her father quit his job so he could take her to the daily therapy sessions,
doctors’ appointments and related office visits. Her sister also lives with them and
brings home the only paycheck in the family — a meager $70 dollars per week for the
four adults and two children.

Erika and her family are just one of the casualties of the violence in Juárez. While
the government has declared war on the cartels, it’s the citizens who suffer the most.
They are the ones who must focus on keeping their children safe, work hard at their
low-paying jobs, and dream of a better future for their families.

The story is the same across Ciudad Juárez. For victims of the violence like Erika,
the pain runs deeper than the flesh. It’s a pain that crushes their spirit. The violence
tears a hole in their lives — resulting in the loss of husbands and wives, mothers and
fathers, children and dear friends. There’s an environment of fear in Juárez. Everyone
must live their lives, constantly looking over their shoulders. Because in a moment,
everything can change. And right now, there is no end in sight. The war seems to
keep going on and on. And the only question left for the thousands of victims like Erika
is, “Why me?”

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