For some, separate lives on both sides of the border


EL PASO — With a Mexican drug war that seems to be worsening every day as measured by the rising death toll, many border residents find that their daily lives are also split by the Rio Grande.

Many Juarenses leave much of their family behind in Mexico to start a new life in El Paso, but some such as UTEP art student Luis Porras, who endures a difficult daily commute to school, says he can never really settle in either city.

UTEP student Luis Porras at his studio. (Cynthia Romero/

UTEP student Luis Porras at his studio. (Cynthia Romero/

“Even though I go to school here and work here and I live in Juárez, I know that I never really feel like I’m at home,” Porras said. “I mean, I have all my friends and family in Juárez but I have my work here.” Porras, 23, who has been attending UTEP since 2003 said he was living in El Paso with roommates in 2006 but had to move back to Juárez for financial reasons. “I want to dedicate myself to school, to painting. I need to be doing it all the time, so I’ve chosen to maybe move to El Paso so that I can be closer to school.”

Porras admits he has become desensitized by the onslaught of media coverage, but he said there are reminders of the constant wave of violence looming over the city he loves. “I love Juparez, there is no other place in the world like Juárez,” he said. “But it simply isn’t safe. For example, just three blocks from my house is where they killed the professor from UACJ. I walk past where he was killed almost everyday.”

A painter with big goals, Porras said the decision to move to the United States does not imply an absolute disconnection from his birthplace “When I finally settle wherever I settle, I won’t stop going to Juárez,” he said. “It means so much for me that I can’t just let it go. I think everyone wants to escape and I’m sure that if there was a way for them to do so they would, but I think until then, one learns to manage.”

UTEP Associate Political Science Professor, Irasema Coronado said she doesn’t believe that the number of students coming to live in El Paso will increase much. “Juárez is attractive. It’s cheaper anyway,” Coronado said. “Many students don’t have the luxury of living here; it’s just easier to live with their families.”

Sara Chavez, a UTEP communications student, is one of those students. Chavez said she lives in Juárez under a constant cloud of fear but hopes the violence will mitigate. “I’ve been crossing the border for the past four years, and it is always a pain. There is always fear,” Chavez said. “I don’t even go out anymore really into the streets like I used to.

Everything has changed.” Living in El Paso is not an option for her, she said. The rent is too expensive and all her family lives in Juarez. “I don’t think that I would live here in El Paso even if I could afford it,” she said. “I would miss all my family too much and I don’t think it’d be too fair for me to leave them in an unsafe place just so that I can be safe too.”

Chavez said that while commuting has been the hardest thing yet, she knows that it is essential for her future plans.” I eventually want to work in a digital media production company somewhere and I know I’ll have to move to California or somewhere like that,” she said. “But for right now, I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be, I just have to be a lot more cautious.”

Assistant Anthropology Professor Nina Núñez-Mchiri said the decision to move to El Paso isn’t always black and white. Núñez said that several of her students have tried to move from Juárez to El Paso. “I’ve seen it first hand. There’s always a lot of stigma about the people who come from Juárez to El Paso but in talking and dealing with my students, I’ve seen how hard their struggle is,” she said.

Núñez-Mchiri said that she teaches students who commute back between both cities on a daily basis. “One of my recent students was married to a maquiladora worker and she was desperately trying to bring him over to El Paso,” she said. “She said she felt it wasn’t safe for both of them and she was able to get the support of the church behind them, financially and spiritually. For her, it was a constant struggle, but she finally did it.”

Porras, who plans to graduate in May 2010, said that while he may never find the perfect balance between work and family, he is never going to let that take him away from Juárez. “The fact that I’ve been assaulted before in Juárez and had my car taken away or the fact that I live just a few blocks from where murder has occurred makes me aware but it doesn’t make me fearful to the point where I’ll stop,” he said. “For me, it’s a fact of life I have to deal with and continue to live.”

One thought on “For some, separate lives on both sides of the border

  1. muy buena historia. como estudiante de juarez, yo paso por la misma situacion cada dia que paso. a veces no se dan cuento el esfuerzo que ponemos los estudiantes de juarez para estudiar aqui. buena historia!

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