Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Esther Chávez Cano died in Juárez on Christmas Day. She was 76 years old. She was a hero, a fronteriza woman who in the early 1990s in Juárez saw the continuing tragedy of women being killed and decided to do something about it. With much help she started Casa Amiga near downtown Juárez. At the time it was one of only six rape crisis centers in Mexico and the only one on the U.S./Mexico Border. She brought international attention the continuing murders of women in Juárez and the uncaring and apathetic response by the Mexican government on all levels--city, state and federal--to these murders. Indeed, as we now know, law enforcement was more concerned with supporting the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S. than it was with investigating and prosecuting the murders of women. If anything, the authorities wanted to keep activists like Esther quiet because she brought attention to the vacuum of justice in Juárez. She has received many awards for her work, as the number of obituaries state, but she never veered from the task at hand--helping the women of Juárez.

In 2002, when Cinco Puntos Press was putting together the anthology PURO BORDER: DISPATCHES, GRAFFITI AND SNAPSHOTS FROM THE U.S./MEXICO BORDER, three of us--novelist Jessica Powers, who worked for us at the time, Lee and I—walked over the bridge and went to visit Esther at Casa Amiga. She was a diminutive and very hospitable woman with a quiet way about her but she had a presence that commanded respect. Her work at Casa Amiga was self-evident--women and children were coming and going, and some were staying, being protected inside the walls of the center from husbands or boyfriends who would harm them if they had the chance. Indeed, in December 2001 her receptionist, who had come to the center as a client, was killed by her husband in front of Casa Amiga. When we asked her why she started Casa Amiga, she replied quietly--

“Because I am a woman, because I felt helpless and because I have a conscience.”

Below I am pasting the mostly unedited notes that Lee took during that visit that I found in our archives (Lee also took the photograph above), and below that I am pasting an article by Tessie Borden that originally appeared in the Arizona Republic and that we republished in PURO BORDER. But first, Casa Amiga as always needs financial help. Those who wish to help may do so by making a donation to their account:

No. Cuenta: 65-50227820-0
CLABE 014164655022782007
1427 Suc. Plaza las Torres
Cd. Juárez, Chih. C.P. 32575

Notes from Esther Chávez Cano Interview, June 24, 2002

There is terrible violence against women right now in Juarez. She will give us her list of the names of murdered women with pleasure. She gathered the list from reading the newspapers. She only includes the names of murdered women, not of children, or of people who have disappeared. We asked if she thought the authorities had a bigger list and she said it will do no good to check with the authorities. The authorities will not give us access to names. Everyone who has a list has gathered their information from the newspapers. But what of the women who never get mentioned in the newspapers?

She said, Here is an example of a girl who has disappeared and of what has happened with the mother.  She shows us a photo of a girl, Brenda Esther Afrara Luna, who disappeared two years ago when she was 15. Several months ago (time is uncertain), the mother was told by the authorities that her daughter has been found. But the mother went and looked and it wasn’t her daughter. Then they told her again they had found her. It was not the body of her daughter, but the body was wearing her daughter’s dress. It was very confusing. Esther said there are many cases like this.  The mother in this case has endured a lot of domestic violence herself.

Casa de Amiga was started on February 9, 1999, about three and a half years ago. Esther is the founder. We asked her why she started it. She said because she’s a woman, because she felt helpless, and because she has a conscience. It was funded initially with $31,000 from FEMAP. Last week they received $25,000 from the U.S. embassy [see article below]. It is earmarked for a project to provide therapy for women who suffered incest, rape or violence as children.

Casa de Amiga is the only center of its kind all along the border, the only one in Juarez. There is nothing for battered women.

She mentioned that there have been two deaths in Chihuahua that have similar M.O.s. Why is it different here, we asked. Why is there more violence? This is the border, she said, with its traffic of drugs, its maquiladoras. Poor people come here to seek opportunities, they want to cross the river to live the American dream. In this city there are 500 gangs. There are no opportunities here, conditions are very poor. Have you been to Anapora? It’s a terrible place.

The police hate her. They don’t ignore her. “I would like it if they would ignore me,” she said. They campaign against her. One year and seven months ago, they began their campaign. Governor Patricio doesn’t like her: according to him, she doesn’t do anything right—she’s a terrible director, she steals the money, she herself is a violent woman. And so the stories go. When Esther began talking about the women, Patricio tried to silence her.

In this building, last December 21, 2001, her own receptionist was killed by her husband. This receptionist had four kids, eight years on down, and she was a wonderful worker, good, hard-working, prudent. The husband came to Casa de Amigo to kill her here. From jail, the husband has called for custody of the kids.

When we expressed dismay over this, she said that last week, she had to go rescue a woman who was impregnated by her father. She was 19 and had been raped by him for the last 8 years. She’d had two children. One, a little boy, died of malnourishment. The other, a little girl of 3.5 years, was asked by Esther what had name was. The girl said she had no name. When Esther took the 19 year old woman away, the father went to the Human Rights Agency and demanded that his daughter come back and they agreed to his demands.

There is another girl now who is 11 years old and in the fifth grade. She’s 7 months pregnant. Some woman, a neighbor maybe, took her to a man and he raped her. The father and mother of this girl are separated and she is treated like a puppet.

By Tessie Borden
Arizona Republic Mexico City Bureau
Feb. 26, 2002 12:00:00

JUAREZ, Mexico -- It’s 9:30 a.m., and Esther Chavez Cano’s daily personal war with the unwanted problems of this largest of the border cities has begun.
She rushes into her office at Casa Amiga, the rape crisis center that grew out of the violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 young women here in the past nine years. Close behind is a staff member describing this morning’s emergency: a neighbor found two girls, 8 and 10, wandering in the city’s El Chamizal park the previous night. They told the woman they were running away from their father’s beatings.

Chavez Cano immediately calls the local district attorney’s office, and one gets the feeling she has done this hundreds of times. In a firm but friendly tone, she calls on the attorneys there to take charge of the children and investigate what they say.

“The authorities just don’t do anything,” she whispers while on hold.

Chavez Cano’s Casa Amiga is the only center of its kind on the Mexican side of the 1,950-mile line that separates the country from the United States. Established in February 1999, it receives funding from both U.S. and Mexican organizations.
Chavez Cano, 66, a diminutive, retired accountant whose mild manner causes listeners to lean in just to hear her, is perhaps the most outspoken and militant voice here on violence against women.

In 1993, she noticed a trend among crimes committed in Juarez: dozens of young women were turning up slain in the surrounding desert. The bodies showed evidence of beatings, rape and strangulation. Many of the women fit a distinct profile: tall and thin, with long, dark hair and medium skin, between ages 11 and 25. Often, they came from the ranks of workers who yearly swell Juarez’s population from other parts of rural Mexico to work at border assembly plants, or maquiladoras.

Prodding the police

“They try to pretend these are not serial crimes,” Chavez Cano said of the local authorities. “It just brings your rage out. It makes you boil.”

Chavez Cano and others formed the Liga 8 de Marzo, an awareness group that collected data about the slayings and prodded police to give the murder investigations high priority - often by picketing the police station, holding crosses bearing names of victims.

No one agrees on the exact number of killings that are related. Chavez Cano says about 230 women have been found in the past nine years, the most recent in November when eight bodies were discovered in a shallow pit. Some slayings have been traced to jealous husbands or drug traffickers. But a large number share characteristics that make investigators believe a serial killer and perhaps copycats are at work.

After raising awareness of the problem to a national level, Chavez Cano decided someone should work to prevent the deaths, rather than just clean up after the murderers.

Help from elsewhere

With start-up money from the Maryland-based International Trauma Resource Center, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Mexican Federation of Private Health and Community Development Associations, Chavez Cano opened Casa Amiga near the city center. A paid staff of four and an army of volunteers served 318 clients in Casa Amiga’s first year, providing a 24-hour hotline, counseling and group therapy.

Last year, the center added three staff members and served 5,803 clients, of which 1,172 were new cases.

Chavez Cano now worries about a troubling side issue: child sexual abuse and incest. Fifty-seven of her clients in the first year were raped children. So among her most successful programs is a puppet show that teaches children about “bad” touching and instructs them, in a gentle way, to respect their bodies.
The center takes most of her attention, but Chavez Cano does not let the police off easy when it comes to the slayings of women in the desert. They, in turn, have lashed out at her.

An attitude of disdain

Arturo Chavez Rascón, Chihuahua state’s former attorney general, came in for some of her sharpest barbs because of his comments implying the victims contributed to their own deaths through their dress or lifestyle. It’s an attitude shared by police officers on the beat, who Chavez Cano says discourage families from associating with Casa Amiga.

The center used to receive about $3,000 a month from Juarez for rent and salaries, but that stipend has been cut, Cano said. Now, the center relies on money it gets from donations and showings around Mexico of the hit play The Vagina Monologues.

Tragedy close to home

Recently, the center suffered a blow of a different kind.

In December, Maria Luisa Carsoli Berumen, an abused mother who had become a client and then a staff member at the center, was killed in front of Casa Amiga, witnesses say, by her husband, Ricardo Medina Acosta. The two had had a long and violent history that led to Carsoli Berumen leaving him. A court granted custody of their four children to Medina Acosta. She stayed in town, planning to wait until after the Christmas holidays to resume the custody fight.

On the morning of Dec. 21, the pair argued and struggled outside the center, and she was stabbed twice in the chest as she tried to flee. A black bow at the door expresses the staff’s grief. No one has been in arrested in Carsoli Berumen’s death.

Fighting for respect

“The death of Maria Luisa forces us to work more intensely to instill respect in children, men and women, and to sensitize the authorities to the grave risk for families and all of society that domestic violence represents,” Chavez Cano wrote in a column in the local newspaper.

“Rest in peace, Maria Luisa, and watch over your children so they remain united and sheltered by your loved ones who lament your absence.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

FELIZ NAVIDAD! A Christmas Card, #2

Dear Friends and Fans of Cinco Puntos,

Just a little bit more Christmas greetings. We wanted to share snapshots of the folks who work here at Cinco Puntos. The first is from our Christmas Party. It was the only time our two great interns--Amanda Mata and Sergio Rosales--have been at our office at the same time. Both grew up in El Paso and both knew about Cinco Puntos and our books before applying for internships.

Sergio was a student at UTEP when he applied, but his dream was to transfer to New York University, where he wished to pursue a career in publishing. And the first step of his plan has worked. He's off to NYU the first week of January. We wish him well. Amanda has just been with us for a month. She's a student of Dartmouth and is in El Paso while her plans for studying abroad get finalized. In June she heads to Prague. Both Amanda and Sergio have been wonderful assets to the Cinco Puntos family. We ask interns to do all and everything, the same stuff that we do, but we also make it our business that they learn all they can about the publishing industry, especially from an "independent press" point of view. They get to attend meetings, read books being considered for publication and learn about all the nuts and bolts of what we do to keep the boat afloat. We believe they get good experience in this strange business. By the way, the goofy guy on the right is me, Booby Byrd, co-publisher of Cinco Puntos. The beverage we are drinking is not champagne, but a delicious carbonated apple juice that Cactus Mary brought to the party.

These are the folks who make Cinco Puntos get from one day to the next. Starting from the right is Rose Hill. Rose is our IT Manager, doing all the website and newsletter hocus-pocus, but like the rest of us, she puts on all sorts of hats during a single day. Mary Fountaine is next in line. Mary is our Order Fulfillment Manager. That means she manages the warehouse, and she also manages the retail space, plus other bits and pieces of the biz. And the handsome man on the left is Michael Drapes, our accountant. He visits us once a week, usually Friday, bringing us his remarkable head for numbers, his good spirits and, when we're very lucky, some delicacy that he's cooked up at home. The reason they are all here in this snapshot is yesterday was INVENTORY DAY. Mary, Rose and Michael have been counting books all day. The year is ending.

And finally, here's Lee Byrd and son Johnny Byrd. They seem so at ease and at peace in this photograph, huh? John is our Business Manager, or CFO, but really he's involved in every nook and cranny of Cinco Puntos. Without his steady presence over the last few years, Cinco Puntos would not have continued. Lee of course is Co-Publisher and serves as Acquisitions Editor and Managing Editor. No CPP book leaves the building without Lee having read it at least five or six times.

We wish you all a Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year. And we also send out our wishes and prayers for peace and justice for our friends and neighbors in the City of Juarez just five minutes from our business. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

FELIZ NAVIDAD! A Christmas Card, #1

Dear Friends and Fans of Cinco Puntos Press,
Oh, Christmas keeps happening in El Paso. Yesterday we received this wonderful photograph from our friend Ray Caballero (past mayor of El Paso, currently enjoying life as a photographer and historian in Portland with his wife Mary). The photograph is our building at 701 Texas Avenue, must be sometime in the 1920s. Cool, huh? Holmes Dry Cleaning in its first life. Even did some:


Whatever that means. The street is dirt, the warehouse next door (now a lawyer's office) is not there. Ray found it in the incredibly rich archives of the downtown El Paso Library . Below is a photograph I took this morning. It's raining outside, wintry and cold. The solstice is cracking open the dark days, the New Year is at hand. We wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Bobby and Lee Merrill Byrd

Friday, December 11, 2009


Happy Holidays!

The Cinco Puntos Press store is full of wonderful books--and some very unique gifts--to give for Hanukkah and Christmas or simply for some special un-birthday party (we are great believers in the wisdom of Alice's White Rabbit). We are located in downtown El Paso on 701 Texas Avenue and are open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5 through the holidays. If you live in El Paso or Juárez or Las Cruces or are driving through, drop by and visit with us and look through our bookshelves the old-fashioned way. We'll keep the coffee fresh and buy some biscochos from Gussie's.


Gather the family around the radio on Saturday, December 19 at 1:30 pm, tune in to KTEP, 88.5 FM, and you’ll be able to listen to Benjamin Sáenz reading The Dog Who Loved Tortillas. To see the book itself, or any of our other great books, come on downtown. We hope that KTEP will keep the link live so you can enjoy Ben's reading anytime. By the way, because Ben is a paseño and will be spending most of the season at home, if you want one of his many Cinco Puntos Press books personalized for a special friend, there's a great chance you can get that done. His new novel LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER has received all sorts of national accolades and continues to be considered for some of the year's top prizes.


Cesar Ivan (artist and downtown pioneer) just brought us a batch of his hand-carved, wooden calaca marionets to sell. These dancing skeletons are a delight. Cesar said folks have been asking for them and finally he got some spare time to make a bunch of them. They won't last. You better hurry.

And of course and as always, our office is perfumed by the lovely smells coming from the Cactus Mary Soap display. Her soaps and lotions are all-natural and feature the scents of the desert we call home. Cactus Mary also doubles as Mary Fountaine, the Manager of our Order Fulfillment Department. Thus, you can get personal attention when you're making decisions about buying soap. How could life get better, huh?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EVE TAL's Speech at the NCTE in Philly (November 24, 2009)

(Publisher's note: Below is the text of Eve's very well received speech at the ALAN Strand Workshop of the National Council of Teachers of English Convention on November 4, 2009, in Philadelphia. The picture above is taken at her kibbutz in Israel, and those below are of her signing books after her speech and Eve with CPP publisher Lee Merrill Byrd and Walter Mayes, aka Walter the Giant.)

I’ve come a long way for these five minutes. I’ve come all the way from the kibbutz in Israel where I live. I’ve come through countless unsold manuscripts. And I’ve come through years of work on my two YA novels, Double Crossing and Cursing Columbus. I’d like to tell you a bit about them, but first I want to tell you a story.

When I was growing up in Rockville Centre, Long Island in the 1950s, my favorite place in the whole world was the town library. The children’s library was downstairs in basement room. Except for science books, I think I read everything in that library and if I had more time, I could tell you about some of my favorite books.

And then one day it happened. I must have been about eleven or twelve. I approached the librarian for recommendations and she told me with a smile, that it was time for me to go upstairs to the adult section of the library. I had read everything there was to read in the children’s section.

I remember climbing the stairs to the adult library. It seemed huge to my eyes. But what could I read there? The librarian upstairs was bewildered by my question. “Why anything you like, dear,” she answered. What could a twelve year old find to read in the adult library?

Of course, I found books to read, bookworms always do. But they weren’t anything like the feast of YA fiction available to today’s teens. Perhaps that’s why I love reading YA fiction. It fills this gap for me. And why I love writing it.  The trauma never goes away: facing a library full of books and having nothing to read.

I live on a kibbutz in Israel where I’ve lived more or less since graduating from college. I raised my kids there and published picture books in Hebrew. Frankly, I wouldn’t dare to write something set in present day America. I would feel like an imposter. I haven’t been inside a school in America for many many years. I can’t keep up with the proliferation of technological gadgets, social media, virtual media or the language. The teenagers I know and raised speak a different language, both literally and culturally. So I’m drawn to historical fiction, times and places where both my reader and I are outsiders.

Double Crossing and my newest book Cursing Columbus are about immigrants, probably the ultimate outsider group, and my teenage protagonists Raizel and Lemmel are outsiders by nature. Raizel is shy and struggles with her shyness through both books. Lemmel has a learning disability. He ultimately runs away from his family to live on the streets of NYC. We’re talking 1908 here and life on the streets could be harsh and desperate and dangerous.

Life on the Lower East Side of New York was far from the rosy nostalgic memory the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original immigrants have today. In a way children’s book are partly to blame for this. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor was one of my favorite books as a child and became a classic. But the picture it painted of immigrant life was far from reality and in my books I wanted to dispel that romantic nostalgia.

In Double Crossing I told a story based on my own grandfather, the story of an immigrant rejected at Ellis Island and forced to give up his religious beliefs, the very core of his being, to gain acceptance into America. Researching Cursing Columbus, I learned about Jewish gangsters and murderers, white slavery, and the life of street children, many of whom were homeless newspaper boys who ultimately died on the streets. All these found a place in my novel.

You might ask, because I certainly do: is historical fiction relevant for today’s teens? Although Cursing Columbus is set at the turn of the 20th century, the choices Raizel and Lemmel face are choices confronting immigrants in America today. On the one hand there is the need for connection to family and community, which provides a sense of belonging and security. On the other is the need to break free and mount a struggle for individual success and fulfillment in a strange new world.

Sound familiar? It should. In a nutshell I think this is the conflict adolescents face between the safety and familiarity of childhood and the family, and the desire for freedom and individual expression. Both groups perform a balancing act and for both the price can be high, but I believe that it’s a price worth paying.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eve Tal, Ben Saenz & CPP at NCTE 2009 IN Philly

Cinco Puntos Press had a booth at the annual conference for the National Council of Teachers of English in Philly the weekend before Thanksgiving. It was a great event--English teachers, excited about good books and the teaching of  good books to young people--sharing their ideas and enthusiasm with each other. One particular scene said it all for us. Seeing our edition of Joe Hayes telling the Hispanic legend La Llorona/The Weeping Woman, a young teacher from Illinois began telling us how she teaches the story and how she then will move her class into a discussion of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Another teacher from North Carolina overheard the discussion and asked her a question, and for the next 20 minutes these two teachers stood at our booth discussing books and how and why to use them and what the kids say. It was fun just to listen.

And it got better after the main conference and the exhibit booths closed up shop and the various professional "strands" separated into their own workshops. We were there for the ALAN strand (aka NCTE/Assembly on Literature for Adolescents). The ALAN invited two of our authors EVE TAL (Eve came all the way from her kibbutz in Israel to promote her new historical novel Cursing Columbus about a Russian Jewish immigrant family in NYC's Lower East Side during the early years of last century) and Benjamin Alire Saenz to speak and sign books. It's an interesting concept: 500 teachers of English in a single room listening as a very impressive list of important Young Adult writers give talks ranging from five to 20 minutes. For their attendance, the publishers like CPP give attendees books, and after each writer's talk the teachers line up at autograph tables for the writers to sign their books. The energy for books and literature never flagged. NCTE is an important event and a true testimony to good teachers of literature everywhere.

Be sure to check our blog tomorrow: We'll have a photo of Eve Tal with Walter the Giant (aka Walter Mayes) and the moving speech she gave to the assembled teachers.