Like most of Ziemba’s body of work, her new video for “El Paso” is dense and significant. The track comes from her 2016 record, Hope Is Never, which she spoke with me extensively about last year. She explained how the city impacted her life as a borderlander, or more specifically as a “child of NAFTA,” which instigated her family’s move to Texas in the first place; all this personal history she describes in the clip via yellow text scrawled across the screen. The video complements the song with bold colors and quick cuts, with editing help from Bridget Johnson, and also serves to educate us about a place that most of us never think about despite its likely pivotal role in many of our lives.
We begin on the bridge connecting the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, where Ziemba and a group of friends hang off the inside of the overpass fence. This bridge has a global significance, ferrying commerce that reaches every corner of the contiguous United States, and the two cities have an intertwined history, having been one and the same before the Texas border bisected them. Despite their overlap, there are serious disparities between them as well. Ziemba doesn’t sugarcoat the atrocities that spurned Juarez’s reputation as the most dangerous city in the world, explaining the epidemic of femicide plaguing the city. Nor does she make light of the humiliating and horrific quarantine policy upheld by US border crossing agents for decades, where anyone wishing to come north from Mexico would be forcibly bathed in chemicals; riots broke out when women refused the treatment.
The video is comprehensive, and strikes me most of all for its commitment to tell womens’ stories. So often history silences women, but Ziemba shines a light on these injustices and gives us a reason to care. In her own words:
“El Paso del Norte, the Pass of the North, is unlike anywhere else on earth.
It contains within it all the extremes of humanity, the walls and the bridges separating and connecting people at the same time.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like it, by telling you about the darkness in its history, but I love the border so much.
I wanted to share this place with you so that you’ll remember that it’s there. That perhaps some of the money or products or people you touch have crossed that bridge. That you are connected to it.”
words: Zoë Elaine