Life in a border city can be like a relationship status on social media. It’s complicated.
More than 1 million people live in the El Paso-southern New Mexico region. Another 1.3 million live across the border in Juarez, Mexico. We are separated by an international boundary set along the path of a formerly meandering river. Not everyone speaks the same language, not everyone shares the same cultural heritage. Yet, our cities and our people are more closely tied than most people in the rest of the nation realize.
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, reflects its complex history of European and indigenous cultures. It is notorious for years of drug war violence and deep poverty. But is also a place where a growing middle class is among the majority of people who are working, raising families, enjoying festivals, going to school and finding beauty in art and new economic opportunities.
Residents on the U.S. side share a Southwest pioneering spirit. They are resilient amid the challenges of a modest-income community in a harsh desert landscape. They are U.S. citizens and hopeful immigrants of all stripes – educators, ranchers, soldiers, entrepreneurs, health care workers, artists and more. Many have family and friends on both sides of the border.
More than sister cities, El Paso-Juarez are conjoined twins connected by the veins of six bridges along a 52-mile stretch of land from Santa Teresa, N.M. to Tornillo in eastern El Paso county. Customs estimates 100,000 vehicles and pedestrians cross each day at the El Paso Bridge of the Americas port of entry alone. Commuters cross for shopping, for school, for work and for entertainment. Large trucks move billions of dollars in trade in both directions each year.
And, at the same time it is simple. Normal.
Ask a borderlander about their experience living here and they’ll say it is just like living anywhere else – except maybe the people are friendlier or the food is a little spicier or you hear more Spanish being spoken. But other than that, it’s just like anywhere else, they’ll say. That’s why it is so surprising to find that people who don’t live here, particularly those who live outside of the Southwest United States, think this is a strange and perhaps even threatening place.
Lately, with the national spotlight on the border and political rhetoric feeding misconceptions, journalists and others have been trying to convey a truer sense of the area and its issues than what is seen in TV shows and movies.
In June, media production company Youth Radio teamed up with Borderzine to look at life on the border through the eyes of the young people living and working here. The Youth Radio crew produced several stories from their first visit. One on what its like for two Midwest college students to work at a migrant shelter in El Paso and others on what its like for a college student who crosses the border daily and how young people are adapting to changing life at the border
Borderzine reporters did a story on how the Youth Radio crew experienced the border and another story on how a shelter helps migrants going through the immigration process. Both groups were also able to talk with a Brazilian teenager who had been separated from his mother by the U.S. government for nine months.