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Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition

Interview with Ricardo Ainslie

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


Ruiz calls himself a cholo at one point.

He was gangbanging when he was 13, 14, 15-years-old. As I spent more time there and went through these neighborhoods and saw how most of Juárez actually lived, I saw neighborhoods without paved streets, without lights, some without running water. There's a whole culture of poverty that characterizes a lot of Juárez. I was fascinated by these two people because they came out of that same reality but took very different paths.
Raymundo, I mean, this guy has images that have traveled all over the world. He's had a picture on the front page of The New York Times, for god's sake. Some photographers would do anything for that. So it's very telling, the brute power of his talent. He had no formal training. He just had some innate talent and guts. I came to really know him well, I came to really love the guy. He's just struggling against all odds. He basically lives in poverty, real poverty. He loves his children, he loves his family, and he risks his life every day he walks out the door. He knows the journalist situation in Mexico. He was adamant about me not using a pseudonym for him. And I went around that with him numerous times. When I had a fairly advanced draft of the book, I came down, I read all of the passages with him in it, and I said, 'look, this is what's coming out. I take on a lot of people.' And he said, “Fuck it, I want my name in it. I want people to know that this is me.” That's just the way he is. And to this day I hope I made the right decision in honoring that. I still worry about it.

Elena seems to represent one of the victims.

I'm glad that comes through. She is a young woman who grows up in a horrendous family environment with just nothing available to her. She's got potential, but there's' nothing that helped shape that except for the brutality of this environment. I found her very compelling, very tragic, and I felt I really lucked out in meeting her. The story that she tells is one that very few people get to hear.

What's the impact of this shock-and-awe type of violence? You write about cartels rolling severed heads out into the middle of club dance floors. You describe the Villas de Salvarcar massacre in painful, vivid detail. What does it do to a society when this type of brutality is a common experience?

I'm really glad you ask that, because I think that's a question that people often don't think about or fully grasp, or don't think about at all. What I was as really impressed with from the first day is how immediate and how present that violence is in Juárez. It's ever present. There's no place to hide from it. You can't go to a fancy country club neighborhood and live in a golden cage. There's nothing you can do to escape it. It's everywhere. Everyone knows it. Everybody feels. Everybody has to think about it every time they leave the house, every time their kids leave the house, every time they're ready to come home from work. Always.
Tragedy and the anxiety permeate everything. When I was interviewing this principle at an elementary school, she talked to me about the anxiety of her children. They just had an execution in front of the school some weeks before. She said for all of these children, their stories, the things they draw in class, the things they tell their teachers about, the things they overhear them talking about with other students, these kids are really preoccupied with violence.
At the same time – and this is what's particularly odd about it – there's this odd numbing in that place. You can't be raw to this kind of violence all the time. There's no way that you'd survive, psychically. So there's this sort of contradictory set of impulses. One is trying to protect you from it by numbing yourself from it, by denying it. But the violence is so pervasive that those defenses eventually break down. They can't absorb everything that's taking place.
I've never been anywhere where I felt that as I did in that city. And, you know, it was palpable.

Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition
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  • Interview with Hipolito Acosta The Shadow Catcher: A U.S. Agent Infiltrates Mexico’s Deadly Crime Cartels | 4/10/2013
  • Interview with Ricardo Ainslie Ricardo Ainslie frequented Juárez during its most violent years, as war between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels raged and soaked the city in blood. | 4/10/2013
  • Interview with Laurie Ann Guerrero Laurie Ann Guerrero’s collection Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying won the 2012 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and was published February 15 by University of... | 4/10/2013
  • Interview with Nan Cuba You Can’t Go Home Again: Fiction about Family Secrets with Nan Cuba and Andrew Porter | 4/10/2013
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