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“Chihuahua: Pictures from the Edge (excerpt)”

by Charles Bowden

This is an excerpt from a long essay about Chihuahua, Mexico, and the US-Mexico border. The author, Charles Bowden, believes that the boundaries between countries are false divisions that ignore people’s real lives. He writes: “This is the story of a place that is not on the maps but is under our feet.” Below, he talks of his visit to the dilapidated hacienda of Pancho Villa, the Mexican general who died in 1923 in Parral, Chihuahua.

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“He once told a woman, ’For me the war began when I was born.’”

I walk into General Villa’s room and truly the windows are demolished. The roof too has collapsed and out the door local villagers sit in the shade and lean against the crumbling walls and talk with drunken merriment. I know at this very moment in distant capitals new presidents think they control these men and that they can direct them and that maybe a few French windows will get smashed but in the end, order and civilization will prevail. You see, the border will be shored up—a wall here, a few thousand troops there, heat sensors underfoot, spy satellites overhead, special dogs with exquisitely tuned snouts everywhere—economies will be grown like cannabis in a greenhouse, trade will boom, the environment will be cleansed thanks to new riches, populations will learn various computer languages, loins will go cold with family planning lectures, and all will be well once the minor adjustments of the current unpleasantness are behind us. A bird lands over my head on a rotting beam and I stare up through the collapsed room at the burning blue sky in the ruins of General Villa’s chamber. He once told a woman, “For me the war began when I was born.” Now he is dead and gone, his grave looted, his head stolen. He is a memory, like the haciendas themselves, a phantom to be no doubt easily erased from consciousness by the might of the new order of free trade and factories and special passports and high technology and currency reforms and all the rest of the cybernetic package.