EL PASO – Although El Paso and Juárez are sister cities, they are divided by differences and obstacles that present real-life challenges to unmarried couples whose relationships straddle the border.
Three couples, all in their 20s, discuss their transnational relationships, explaining how they wish they could live in the same city with their partners and even though they speak the same language they still clash over differences in lifestyle. However, these committed relationships seem to be strong.
Gina Nuñez-Mchiri, associate professor of sociology at UTEP, said, “I would say that love knows no boundaries, but boundaries are real, right? But it’s love that makes you resilient and hopeful, and people find ways.”
The testimony of these three couples lovingly expresses the adage “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Mirel & Reinaldo
“When I met him, I was like, ‘Oh my God. He’s so cute; he’s so nice,’” Mirel Dalí Argueta, 27, said about her boyfriend Reinaldo Sanchez, 27.
Argueta is from Juárez, Mexico, and Sanchez is from Colombia.
They met in a restaurant in February of last year at a mutual friend’s party. Argueta had already graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a master’s in Latin American and border studies, and Sanchez was pursuing a doctorate degree for applied math at UTEP, which he expects to obtain this May.
“She’s a very cute girl, very friendly, and loyal,” Sanchez said about Argueta. “One thing that really got me is that she cares about her family. She’s hardworking, and she’s a very good friend.”
After dating for less than a month, they officially became a couple. At first, they were seeing each other daily because Argueta had been living in El Paso at the time with a student visa.
Five months later, her visa expired. So she returned to Juárez to live with her mother and is working as a communication professor at Monterrey Tech College at Juarez.
Now, Argueta and Sanchez see each other on a weekly basis. But they, mostly in Spanish, communicate everyday through text messaging, phone calls, Skype, Facebook, and email. She goes to El Paso in the weekends or he goes to Juárez.
“Imagine a Colombian crossing over to Juárez and going back to El Paso,” Argueta said. “With all that’s going on with the drug cartels, people keep asking him, ‘What were you doing in Juárez?’ I never thought I’d have a Colombian boyfriend.”
Argueta said that she acknowledges that their relationship is not long distance, but finding time to see each other can be complicated, and the Border Patrol does not make it easy.
“Sometimes, I had to cross through the regular bridge and they [Border Patrol] were pretty rude,” Argueta said. “They were like, ‘why are you crossing so frequently? Do you work here? Do you do business here?’ They were really rude.”
Sanchez said that he has also had his share of Border Patrol frustrations. Because of his Colombian citizenship, the Border Patrol tends to question him more intensely, Sanchez said. They ask him what he was doing in Juárez, and then they call in another officer to double check his papers.
By crossing on foot, he has had to wait from 15 minutes to three hours, depending on the number of people crossing.
Argueta said that she has tried to find work in El Paso, but her citizenship status has been an obstacle.
“They [employers] ask me, ‘what makes you so special that an American citizen doesn’t have? Why should we sponsor you when we have some [work] candidates with your same profile, but are U.S. citizens?’” Argueta said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, obtaining a green card for an employee is a multi-step process that requires legal fees and several approvals from the government. Also, there’s a quota, and the employer must confirm that no U.S. citizen qualifies for the position.
After graduating, Sanchez will be conducting post-doctorate research at UTEP. This means that he and Argueta will have to continue to cross the border to see each other.
“This kind of relationship makes you appreciate more of what you have with that person,” Argueta said. “When you’re together, you have to enjoy the day because you don’t know when you’re going to see him again.”
“If you’re willing to do it, then you’ll figure it out,” Sanchez said. “If you have to cross the border, then that’s fine. I wasn’t going to Juárez regularly before I met Mirel. Now I go frequently to see her.”
Vanessa & José
“People have told me that long-distance relationships don’t work, but I’ve been with Vanessa for eight years, and we still have a good relationship,” José Hurtado, 28, said.
Hurtado was born and raised here and his girlfriend Vanessa Mercadante, 28, was born and raised in Sonora, Mexico. Hurtado said that he met Mercadante at a nightclub in Juárez when they accidentally bumped into each other.
“What attracted me the most about Vanessa was her eyes, and I also liked her smile. It was love at first sight,” Hurtado said. “She was on her way to the restroom. I invited her to join me afterwards for drinks, and she did.”
Hurtado, a customer service representative, said that it took three months to become a couple. When she was living in Juárez, Hurtado would spend a few days each week with Mercadante. But a couple of years ago, Mercadante started to work in different cities throughout Mexico as a medical apprentice. Now, she’s a medical doctor in Tijuana, Mexico.
Hurtado said that he spends $100 to $300 a month on his relationship with Mercadante, buying international calling cards, a monthly $20 unlimited text messaging phone plan, fuel costs for when he drives to see her in Mexico, and dining and entertainment bills.
When apart, Hurtado said that they communicate daily, mostly in English through text messaging, email and phone calls, once or twice a week. Because she works 32-hour shifts at a hospital, their free time to talk doesn’t coincide easily. So, Hurtado said that he always sends her an “I love you” message and tries to make her laugh everyday.
Having a long-distance relationship usually involves thoughts of infidelity, but Hurtado isn’t worried.
“We have a good relationship, but sometimes we do have our jealousy thoughts. Vanessa is a very attractive girl. So I do imagine that other guys hit on her, but I try not to think about that, because there’s nothing that I can do about it,” Hurtado said. “The best thing to do is to keep on trusting her, and hopefully it doesn’t happen.”
With her being in Tijuana, Hurtado goes to see his girlfriend once or twice every three to six months. They take turns traveling; Mercadante comes to the U.S. on a tourist visa.
“We’ve had our problems because we want to see each other more, and unfortunately we’re far apart, and sometimes our schedules don’t work,” Hurtado said. “I want her to come over here [El Paso] because I think the U.S. is better. There’s more to see and do, compared to the places where she’s working in.”
The stalemate of their relationship involves the topic of where to make their future home. Hurtado said that he is unsure of what to do.
“We’re talking about getting married because we really love each other,” Hurtado said. “I made a proposition to live with her in Mexico, but at the same time, I want her to become a U.S. citizen. She can make more money here in the U.S.”
According to Hurtado, his girlfriend wants to work and live in Mexico so that she can stay close to her family and culture. Hurtado said that he can understand that because he, too, has the same reason for staying in the U.S.
Kathya & Gustavo
“The first time I saw him, I thought he was really handsome,” Kathya Lizette Martinez said. “I loved the way he smiles and his deep voice. He was really kind and nice to me.”
Martinez, 21, is a U.S. citizen studying law in Juárez, where she grew up. Her boyfriend Gustavo Aguirre, 24, is a UTEP student studying multimedia journalism. He was born and has been living in El Paso.
They first met at Applebee’s in May 2011. Aguirre was eating with his family, and Martinez was their server.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about her,” Aguirre said. “So I looked her up in Facebook, and we exchanged phone numbers.” Aguirre said it took him awhile to find her on Facebook because he didn’t know her last name – just that it started with an “M,” based on the receipt signature.
After a month of dating, they officially became a couple, and because she was working in El Paso, Aguirre would see her frequently, especially since he didn’t have a passport to cross the border.
Once Martinez stopped working in Applebee’s, Aguirre got his passport to the chagrin of his parents who were worried over his safety in Juárez.
“My parents said that Juárez was extremely dangerous, but I told them that I had to go if my relationship with Martinez was going to become serious,” Aguirre said. And the relationship did become serious. That’s when Aguirre started to go to Juárez every weekend instead of just a few times a month.
“I personally don’t like the city,” Aguirre said. “It’s dangerous. It’s corrupt. The government sucks. And more than half the people [in Mexico] live in extreme poverty.”
Talking about Mexico has been an area of contention between Aguirre and Martinez, especially since Martinez wants to work and live in Mexico, and Aguirre doesn’t. Although Aguirre is Hispanic, he doesn’t see himself as Mexican.
“Mexico is a fun place to visit, but not to live in,” Aguirre said. “There’s a huge difference between Mexico and the U.S. Even though I have Mexican blood, a big accent, and I can speak Spanish very well, I still see myself as one hundred percent American. I always brag about the U.S., saying that it’s the best country in the world.”
Aguirre said that when he says this to her, Martinez laughs and makes fun of him, saying, “how can you say those things about Mexico? You’re Mexican – not American.”
However, Martinez admits that although her boyfriend is Hispanic, she does see cultural differences.
“Due to the fact that we have grown up in different countries,” Martinez said, “we have different perspectives about several aspects, such as holidays, work schedules. Even the way we drive or spend our money is different. So what I try to do is to understand that we think differently. Although El Paso and Juárez are very close, each city is completely different than the other.”
Martinez, who works at a law firm, said that she plans on studying corporate law. She originally planned to finish her academic career in Mexico City, but because of her relationship with Aguirre, she has decided to get her college degree in Juárez. She added that once she’s reached her career goals, she would like to get married and start a family.
“There’s no doubt that we’re committed to this relationship,” Aguirre said. “We’ve been able to make it work, but the problem would be, if we decide to take the relationship further, to try to convince her to come live here in El Paso. Whenever we bring up the topic, we kind of get upset. So we would rather wait to talk about the future.”
Aguirre also said “It’s kind of difficult not being able to talk to her all day or see her until the weekend. I don’t like communicating with her through email. It feels weird.” They speak mostly Spanish with each other.
Before, their main form of communication was through phone calls. Aguirre said that he had been paying $500 a month with T-Mobile’s international calling plan. Meanwhile, Martinez had two cell phones so that she can use one exclusively for calls to the U.S.
Now they rely mostly on email because Martinez works in an office that has poor reception for text messages, according to Aguirre, and Facebook is not allowed in her work place. Aguirre said that they tried Skype, but poor reception discouraged them from continuing that form of communication.
“Another obstacle would be the semi long-distance between us,” Martinez said. “We would love to spend more time with each other, but the long lines at the bridge really make it difficult. Plus, the fact is that we have completely different schedules.”
In spite of all the inconveniences of communication and disagreements about cultures and future plans, Martinez said that her relationship with Aguirre is strong.
“I would say that what has made our relationship last for almost two years is the huge love we have for each other,” Martinez said. “It’s the way we really care about each other, and the fact that we truly believe that this relationship will last forever.”