The suffering of New Orleans has a lesson for El Paso


New Orleans composer Allen Toussaint once said “To get to New Orleans you don’t pass through anywhere else. That geographical location, being aloof, lets it hold onto the ritual of its own pace.” Sound familiar?

As my last semester at UTEP draws to a close, the magnitude of change that has and will come my way has been so palpable that the last few months have become a blur of reflections over my career, what I will be doing in the next five years and wondering how I will ship Hatch chili to Louisiana.

Abandoned St. Roch Market, St. Roch, New Orleans. September 7, 2010 (Natalia Quiroz/ Borderzine)

Abandoned St. Roch Market, St. Roch, New Orleans. (Natalia Quiroz/ Borderzine)

Had someone warned me about this, I probably would have laughed incredulously.  However, less than a year ago, I obtained a public relations position within a local liquor company that will soon branch out to New Orleans, Louisiana. As their previous intern and new employee, I was expected to complete college and prepare to move to Louisiana upon graduation. A blink of an eye later, here I am.

As exciting as this change of scenery is, I can’t help but frown upon the anti-El Paso comments I’ve received after delivering my news. Why do some of us have this much animosity towards a city that is our own?

Wandering around New Orleans this past August, I was suddenly reminded by home. The narrow streets and the noise of all the people in them, the Roman Catholic churches, markets, abandoned homes, homes of those who wish they could come home but can’t.

Even five years after the Katrina devastation, New Orleans is still dealing with a public housing issue that rendered many disabled people homeless, 12,000 homeless, a spike in rent prices, the highest murder rate in the nation at 52 deaths per 100,000 residents, a ongoing federal civil rights trial against NOPD for the death of Henry Glover as well as the aftermath of the largest oil spill ever, amongst many more issues.

Make It Right home under construction, Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans.  (Natalia Quiroz/

Make It Right home under construction, Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans. (Natalia Quiroz/

And yet, the resolve of the people of New Orleans is something that we can adapt and learn from.  As of 2010, there are approximately 360,000 people in the city of New Orleans, compared to 455,000 residents pre-Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers were found guilty of negligence, and many grassroots rebuilding efforts have succeeded in bringing many home. In the past five years, New Orleans has also celebrated the largest Mardi Gras in 25 years this year, the New Orleans Saints won Superbowl XLIV for the first time in 43 years in 2009 and the public school system of NOLA received $1.8 billion from FEMA for school rebuilding earlier this year.

As a city where catastrophe has struck more than once over the past decade, New Orleans exudes an air of resilience and pride wish many of us El Pasoans felt towards El Paso, especially during these violent times.

Crescent City Connection Bridge, New Orleans. (Natalia Quiroz/

Crescent City Connection Bridge, New Orleans. (Natalia Quiroz/

The El Paso-Juarez region has experienced tumultuous violence since the violent drug cartel reaction to Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s attempt to curb organized crime. With a population of 1.5 million, Ciudad Juarez has a homicide rate of 191 per 100,000 residents. According to the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, 160,000 homes have been abandoned. More than 2,600 people have been murdered in our sister city, an increase from 2009’s 2,575 deaths.

El Paso is experiencing rapid economic growth due to the expansion of Ft. Bliss and the influx of Cd. Juarez residents that have moved in hopes to evade rampant violence. With only three homicides this year, El Paso, is the second safest city in the nation. However, the U.S. State Department says approximately 80 American citizens have died in the state of Chihuahua this year. The recent killing of six more citizens within the past two weeks, two of which were UTEP students, should be considered a catalyst for outcry.

As a sister city in far better standing and the new home to many Juarenses, it is our responsibility to have pride in our region, even as a means to acknowledge that this issue affects all of us.

3 thoughts on “The suffering of New Orleans has a lesson for El Paso

  1. Natalia,

    Excellent article, you bring up some very good points. As a UTEP graduate, who recently returned to El Paso after a 13-year career journey in the DFW area; I’d say your preparation for the changes that you are expecting, are right on target.

    Good luck on your journey, enjoy the sites and people you will meet.

  2. Great work Natalia!
    After escaping the facade of Sunny Southern California, I have planted steadfast roots here in our “Paso Del Norte” tri-state region. I love the flavors here the food, the people, the struggling with an emerging identity, and all the while we have relentless killing just minutes away within our sister city. I call on all of us in this region to lend any help possible for Juarez and include them in our prayers.

    You are fully capable of making a strong name for yourself in any endeavor that will come your way!

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