La Frontera/Borderlands: Observations in El Paso, TX.

In Sina's Posts, Trips on May 27, 2012 by SN

Before we post more on our Hawai’ian dream getaway, let me quickly wrap up the last stop on my Texas Trail. El Paso is the Western-most part of Texas, squeezed between the cactus-littered Franklin Mountains, the state of New Mexico, and the country of Mexico. Poor El Paso! Indeed, the 650,000 people city does not really feel like Texas or at times even the United States for that matter. The landscape looks like it was taken from a Western movie, the language and the street signs are predominantly Spanish, and almost all of the residents are Hispanics. The desert city is certainly a lot different from the Metroplex Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, but also San Antonio.

“Western Landscape”: Franklin Mountains.

The border was the most defining spacial marker during my stay in this sprawling desert city. When I met up with my dear friend Beth’s brother Kevin and his wife Vicky for dinner in the northwestern part, the bus drove on the I-10, which runs along the cute Rio Bravo/Rio Grande, the river that marks the U.S.-Mexican border. It is amazing to see how close the border is while it keeps people apart at the same time. The 1.3-million city Cuidad Juárez right across the border basically forms the other half of this giant sprawling ocean of low-rise houses sparkling in the sun.

Borderlands: El Paso (lower left) and Ciudad Juárez (upper right) Divided By the Concrete Channel of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande.

El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are like urban desert twins separated by a huge concrete channel aka. the border. Although they appear to be from the same family, they are radically different in their characters: The former is one of the safest cities in the United States, the latter is one of the most violent and dangerous cities in Mexico.

Highrises of Downtown El Paso, Ciudad Juárez in the Background.

The drug war, which has violently erupted in 2008 after newly elected Mexican President Calderón had declared to fight the drug cartels, has pretty much put an end to the endless flows across the border. While in early 2000s, the border constituted this constant ebb and flow of locals, workers, military personnel, and tourists going back and forth between the two countries, this stream has pretty much dried out in the wake of the drug war.

Crossing Over? Friendship Bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

Nobody I spoke to prior to my trip recommended me to go there. In fact, one of the business men I met on the airplane to ELP even urged me: “I REQUIRE you not to go across the border.” My Austin host Ariam explained it would be difficult for me as a White person going over because of the kidnapping industry in addition to the countless shootings and senseless killings. The Border Patrol which can be distinguished from other police cars by its signature white and green-colored SUVs is lined up every hundred meters on the border to ensure that the drug war does not spill over to the U.S. It is shocking to see what happened to the great country that I traveled to in 2002.

Border Patrol SUVs at Good Neighbor International Bridge, El Paso.

Although I could not cross the border, Mexico was everywhere in El Paso: In the shops that sell Mexican soccer shirts, on the streets where the dusty and rusty cars have predominantly Mexican license plates, and at the El Paso Museum of Art which had an exhibit on Mexican Modernism. Reading on the recent U.S. Census in the Dallas Morning News which announced the historic shift that White births are in the minority for the first time in U.S. history, El Paso already foreshadows how the US will continue to transform towards the latter part of the 21st century.


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