Today I found an ancient, primitive website from when I moved back to la frontera more than a decade and a half ago. I wrote about aguacates and the Plaza de los Lagartos. About how much I loved being home again, after several years teaching in another city. Some of it has remained the same. And much has changed.
Aguacates are readily available now in supermarkets. The 1990s Operation Hold the Line had limited the supply of aguacates sold door to door by women crossing the border with baskets of the delicious fruit.
The Plaza de los Lagartos (San Jacinto Plaza) has been effectively de-Mexicanized by a partnership between the City of El Paso and a local billionaire. A few years ago the City of El Paso moved the buses south of Paisano. Now the people no longer come to the plaza and the small businesses are gone. The once vibrant plaza, filled with elders and young people hanging out, sitting on the benches and visiting, surrounded by small businesses selling food and drink, has just a few people. Now, it is surrounded by high end restaurants and bars, some owned by the billionaires. There is a "cafe" at the plaza now with small tables. A bottle of water and a cup of corn cost me $6 last Sunday.
Now it is perhaps "prettier" but it is no longer the heart of downtown. The City continues its efforts to de-Mexicanize our city.
A decade ago, the City of El Paso paid a branding firm, Glass Beach, $100,000 to produce a study of El Paso. The firm was affiliated with the Paso del Norte Group, a secretive group of El Paso's elites and their friends on the City Council. They had already introduced the downtown "revitalization" plan that included the demolition of a huge section of El Segundo Barrio, one of the most historic and vibrant Mexican American neighborhoods in the city and, indeed, in the country.
We knew that the City wanted to rid our town of poor Mexicanos but this study made it clear. The slide below, from the study that was approved unanimously by our City Council uses words that have been used against us for almost two centuries, particularly "dirty" and "lazy." Not one of the City Council stood up for our people or culture. One was the son-in-law of the founder of the Paso del Norte Group, Roberto O'Rourke. (He goes by Beto but I won't call him that... it allows some people to consider him "Mexican" and he is not.) He is now a US Representative who is running for the US Senate. People talk about how he "loves Mexicans."
Another supporter of these studies, Susie Byrd is on the School Board. The then Mayor, John Cook, now works as a lobbyist for the wealthy elites he catered to as an elected official. Recently, Cook has been lobbying for the demolition of another historic Mexican American neighborhood and the displacement of a community of mostly older women. Somehow they have been able to maintain their reputation as progressives.
Still, I love la frontera. It is a place I can never imagine leaving. Below, I share below what I wrote when I first returned sixteen years ago.
I was born and raised on the Texas-Chihuahua border, a place that is both beautiful and sad.
I loved growing up here. La frontera is a place where people eat turkey mole on Thanksgiving, where mueblerías, furniture stores, illustrate their annual sales with images of soldaderas, where every morning people cross the river with tortillas and aguacates to sell in middle-class neighbors on the U.S. side.
La frontera is a place where my elementary school mandated compulsory Spanish lessons beginning in first grade while my primos on the southside were spanked for speaking in that very language on their school grounds.
La frontera is a place where several years ago I was detained by Customs for trying to smuggle a mango, a reddish-golden, sweet-smelling mango, across the border in my purse. I wanted to bring it home with me to remind me of México, that long-lost sweet homeland of my immigrant parents and grandparents.
La frontera is where my identical twin sister, Elisa, and I were born in the mid-fifties in a small medical clinic near downtown Juárez. She stayed with our mother in Juárez and died of an intestinal virus, still the biggest killer of Mexican children on the border. I was taken to the U.S. side where I grew up. Elisa is buried in an unmarked grave in the municipal cemetery in Juárez. Because of her, I know a part of me will always be on the other side, el otro lado.
In downtown El Paso there is a plaza. Poor children from Juárez cross each day and hide in the underground bathrooms there, selling sex for survival. No one sees them unless they know to look. They are invisible, like so much of what happens in the place where two nations and many different groups of people meet. We have to look below the surface to see what is really happening.
The border is a beautiful and sad place. Because of this, I have spent a decade studying it and a lifetime learning the stories of its people.