I recently visited El Paso, to attend a UnidosUS affiliate meeting designed to work on training “resilient leaders.” At the sessions facilitated by four local non-profit agencies, there was an air of sadness, and emotions ran high as presenters from these organizations sought to understand and somehow explain the White supremacist massacre that took so many lives.
On the evening of the first day, there was a reception organized on the third floor terrace of the Project Vida Health Center where the lights of Ciudad Juarez were clearly on display across the river. It made me think of the scene in the movie Sicario where the protagonists in El Paso looked across to Juarez and saw the light of tracer bullets illuminating the skyline.
I was born in a ranch called Los Ebanos a few miles from Mercedes, Texas where my birth certificate was issued. Mercedes is less than 10 miles from the border with Mexico.
I was too young to recall our time there, but I do remember Weslaco, a city nearby where my father bought a home for 300 hundred dollars. The house had four walls, a roof and a high wire fence around the yard.
The reason for the fence was that there was a cousin that liked to come over and beat on me. We sold the house when we entered the migrant stream to work the fields of the Midwest.
I remember coming back to the Rio Grand Valley again and again over the years. Once the family stayed across the border in the city of Reynosa overnight.
For some reason, I had a dollar in my pocket and used it to buy cooked “barbacoa” meat from a street vendor. He was carrying a large pot of meat and gave it all to me for the dollar.
Can you imagine a 7-year old with with a full pot of meat and not knowing what to do with it? Fortunately, my parents came to the rescue and after a good laugh, relieved me of the pot.
When I was in graduate school, we decided to visit my mother who was living in Mercedes at the time. On the way to her house, we saw an advertisement promoting a round trip from Matamoros to Mexico City for $89 on Aerovias, an airline that later became Aeromexico.
After spending time with mom, we took advantage of the special and asked my grandfather to drive us across the border to the airport. I could tell that grandfather wanted to go with us, and have always regretted not giving him the only opportunity he ever got to go to the Mexican capital.
It was 1970 and my first time in Mexico City. I found the place fascinating.
During my stay, I visited Teotihuacan and its great Pyramid of the Sun that started a love affair with the pre-Columbian world of Mesoamerica that continues today.
As I watch the news about our southern border and listen to pundits and politicians describing its reality, I can not help but wonder why it is portrayed much like a plastic cut-out rather than an organic place full of people going about their business, working, dreaming and looking to improve their lives.
The border that I know is an economic and cultural enclave that speaks to a unique way of life for the residents on both sides. I see very little difference in the character and outlook of its people other than one side is Mexican and the other American.