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ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
EPF 2011 Finalist
Dominic Bracco II
Life and Death in the Northern Pass
“There are two ways of thinking about living here; either you go on every day and when it’s your turn to die you die, or you live every day in fear.”
- Daniel Gonzalez, 26, a resident of Ciudad Juarez who later moved to El Paso, Texas.
Sprawled across the tail end of the Rocky Mountains where the starved Rio Bravo pushes mud through a barren desert valley sits Ciudad Juarez, arguably the most violent city in the world — historically known as ‘El Paso del Norte’ or ‘The Northern Pass.’ The last three years the city of 1.5 million has seen over 8,000 murders.
As the drug war rages on violence has become more sporadic and faceless. Random crime has increased. Car jacking, robberies, and assaults are a daily occurrence.In the past five years, over 10,000 businesses have closed in Ciudad Juarez and up to 230,000 people have fled their homes. The economic downturn has exacerbated destabilization.
Drug bosses often offer the equivalent of a factory worker’s weekly wages to perform an execution. The most vulnerable social group is ‘Los Ninis’, young men and women who earned their name from the phrase ‘ni estudian, ni trabajan’ (those who neither work nor study).
According to a recent study by the Colegio de La Frontera Norte, up to 45 percent of all Juarez residents between 14 and 24 fall into this category and make up a quarter of the city’s total homicide victims. Massacres of Juarez’s youth are common – they have been gunned down at parties and targeted at rehab centers. They are killed indiscriminately.
The first mass killing of youths took place in January 2010 when 15 teenagers were gunned down at a party. Another massacre of 14 teenagers took place in October.
Without work or real incentive to work, young people are increasingly turning to the cartels. According to Miguel Parea, a local Juarez journalist, the mentality of many youth is fatalistic: “they say it’s better to die young as a rich man, than to die poor as an old one,” Parea said.
An earlier edit of the project was published on BURN Magazine, sections of the project have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
Dominic Bracco II specializes in documenting the effects of Mexican and North American policies on the border region where he was raised. He has degrees in journalism and Spanish literature from The University of Texas at Arlington. Past clients include The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Dominic is also a founding member of the collective Prime. He is based in Mexico City. His project “Life and Death in The Northern Pass” was a 2011 Alexia Foundation Professional Grant Finalist, won 2nd place in spot news in the 2011 POYi competition, and was a finalist for the 2011 Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography.