Members of the UTEP community greet UTEP Police officers to thank them for their services as custodials of the community's security. (Jesus Sanchez/

The borderland changed forever after 9/11

EL PASO— The tragic attack on America  that happened thousands of miles away 10 years ago rippled through the border region, tightening up security at the checkpoints that divide Ciudad Juárez, México from El Paso, Texas. Students, professors, and faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) gathered at a ceremony remembering and reflecting on the event on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. UTEP student Karina Lopez, who crosses the border often said that ever since that awful day the border checkpoints have been a hassle. “Traveling across the border became irrationally long. Security became so high and people became paranoid about crossing the border, when before it only took 15 minutes, now it takes up to three hours.”

Lopez says that in a sense, El Paso has changed since the 9/11 attacks.

Running from violence, young student finds cultural barriers in her new country

EL PASO — Mariana had always dreamt of her quinceañera party. For several months, she and her family planned the celebration, looked for the nicest dress and the best place, sent the invitations and ordered a big cake. But exactly 15 days before the big day, she was kidnaped from her home by a gang of thugs. On April 1st, 2009, 20 men dressed as Mexican police agents broke into her house in a small town in the state of Chihuahua, beat up her father and threatened him and the rest of the family. They took her away for two days and one night.

ServeSa: Bringing hope to San Antonio’s refugees from across the globe

SAN ANTONIO — After seeing a video online of struggling refugees in need of assistance to assimilate into the San Antonio area where that they have been relocated, Emmanuel Roldan decided to jump in and do something. Roldan, 22 and a full-time student, decided to start an organization, ServeSA, to aid refugees and immigrants of limited means who need help adapting to life in this Southwest U.S. city. “Our main focus is to really empower individuals and different organizations to serve the community they are located in,” Roldan said. When the organization launched in January of 2010, mainly worked with homeless individuals. But after it opened a center, Haven for Hope, in May of last year, its primary focus shifted from the homeless to refugees.

Tackling the pounds—Changes in state policy fight student obesity

EL PASO — Not too many years ago, students eagerly awaited the bell that signals lunchtime, anticipating french fries, a can of Pepsi, and a chocolate chip cookie. Now, however, those same students have been challenged to abandon some of the junk foods they crave. In 2007, revisions were made to the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy to create a weapon to battle obesity in children. Texas public high schools have had to start abiding by laws that mandate healthier lunch foods, as well as changing vending machine products on their campuses. “Our snack bars are all run by the district cafeterias and have to abide by the changes in the law,” says Dr. Carla Gonzales, Chapin High School Principal.

El Paso: Drinking our way to obesity

EL PASO — With more than 20 liquor stores, over 100 convenience stores and the many supermarkets and restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages, it is little wonder that El Pasoans are facing an obesity epidemic. Manuel Colorado, a local exercise specialist and nutritionist, works with overweight clients. “It is easy for people in El Paso to gain weight because of their alcohol consumption,” says Colorado. “With nothing else to do in our city; alcohol seems to fill the void of boredom and too much time on the hands.”

While Colorado’s clients are reducing their prospect of obesity by limiting their alcohol intake and exercising, some El Pasoans are doing nothing to better their chances of dodging obesity. “We see obese people walking around El Paso everyday and not doing anything about it,” says Colorado.

Childhood obesity in El Paso on the rise

EL PASO — At nine years of age and 100 pounds, Jorge can’t wait for the lunch bell to ring. He walks straight to the vending machine, like he does every day, to buy a large bag of chips and a soda. For Jorge, his school’s cafeteria food is not tasty enough and the lunch his mother packed for him is long gone. He is starving, despite having eaten breakfast and lunch a few hours ago. Jorge’s eating behavior is similar to other children in El Paso and across the U.S., and is becoming more prevalent as childhood obesity rates continue to rise.

Behind the scenes of "Annie" at Palmer Auditorium in Brawley, Calif.

Behind the scenes of “Annie” at the Brawley Palmer Auditorium

BRAWLEY, Calif.—The classic Christmastime play, “Annie,” was presented by the North County Coalition for the Arts at Palmer Performing Arts Center here in May, with local lead actors Georg Scott as “Daddy Warbucks,” who shaved his head just for the part, and 11-year-old Molly Wilson as “Annie.”

But, as any theater aficionado knows, all the magic begins back stage. Most of the stage crew consists of high school students from the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program under the instruction of Jason Contreras, known fondly as Mr. C by his students and colleagues. The following video is a behind-the-scenes look at the production.

The artist’s life – a tale of love and war

EL PASO — Watercolor paintings of wild horses, wild flowers and cacti in vibrant colors hang on artist Kenge Kobayashi’s walls, but the bucolic scenes tell little of a life that was interrupted by interment in a Japanese-American prison camp during World War II. Kobayashi, who had his first solo art exhibition in March, at the International Museum of Art on Montana. He said the scenes he brings to life are from places he has visited. “It was good, a lot of people came.” He said. He is now seeing what to do next.

Imperial Valley’s cosplaying blacksmith heads to Comic-Con

MEXICALI, Mexico–When the sun rises Edgar Mayoral’s hammer strikes the iron on the anvil, creating an ear-piercing clanging sound that resonates throughout the neighborhood in this border city. The 23-year-old El Centro, Calif. resident has a talent to shape cold, lifeless sheets of iron into fantastical and vibrant wearable armor that would make you believe Mayoral has been transformed into a live-action Japanese anime character. A skill that cosplayers—short for “costume play”—and non-cosplayers alike marvel at. “This character has a higher fan base in Mexico than in the U.S.,” says Jerry Travis, 21, an anime scholar from Brawley, Calif.

(James Smart/

Drought record in El Paso

EL PASO — Lush alfalfa fields. Trees heavy with pecans. White cotton fields. Those sights may diminish next year if this year’s drought doesn’t let up soon. The Greater El Paso area has had more than 110 consecutive days without a trace of rain.

A mural with the most important character of Segundo Barrio can be found at E. Father Rahm Ave. (Azenett Cornejo/

Segundo Barrio: a ‘living history’ lesson

EL PASO — In the heart of El Paso is Segundo Barrio, a port of entry to the United States. It’s the first community people see when they cross the border from Juarez, Mexico. Located on the city’s south side, Segundo Barrio is home to more than 8,000 people, of whom 50.8 percent are U.S. citizens, 13.7 percent are naturalized citizens and 35.5 percent are non-citizens, according to City of El Paso statistics. Yolanda Chávez Leyva, chair of the University of Texas at El Paso history department, calls Segundo Barrio the “heart of the Mexican diaspora.”

“El Segundo Barrio is one of the most historic barrios in the United States,” Chávez Leyva said. “[It] grew out of the migration of mexicanos to the United States going back to the 1880s and it’s been the starting point for thousands of families across the United States.”

The neighborhood is “very important” to El Paso, she said, because it is where the urbanization of the city began.

A Campus Inside A Barrio Wrapped in a Metroplex

EL PASO — The future of Segundo Barrio is not white or brown, but green. Such is the view of Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, a health and human services organization that contends economic power will decide the fate of this historic neighborhood in south central El Paso. It is a decidedly pragmatic approach for a non-profit born in the grassroots movements of the 1960’s and grounded in social justice. A visit to the La Fe “campus” reveals an organization that appears to be thriving. In 1992, La Fe consisted of one health clinic, 65 employees and a budget of $3 million, mostly federal funds.

Brazilian studies add a dash of samba to the salsa

EL PASO — With the sexy swaying of samba rhythms and outrageously mechanical capoeira moves, Brazilians and El Pasoans took over the dance floor while others enjoyed the taste of typical Brazilian meals. Green, blue, and yellow Brazilian colors were displayed in flags, T-shirts, and balloons, splashing the spirit of Brazil onto the Mexican-American border city. The University of Texas at El Paso is known as a very cultural university that celebrates different ethnicities. With Ciudad Juarez as a neighbor, most of the students at UTEP have Mexican backgrounds. But UTEP has a wide variety of international student organizations and study programs like the Brazilian studies program that was implemented three years ago.

Recycling is one bin too far for most El Paso businesses

EL PASO — For most El Paso residents recycling has become a part of their daily lives. City householders own a blue container used for recycling purposes only, but this differs from commercial recycling thus making the process more complex. “Business recycling is handled by each individual business hires a private hauler that will come and pick up their trash and recycling,” said City of El Paso, Recycling Program manager, Eloisa Portillo. The City of El Paso Environmental Services Department is responsible for residential recycling, but El Paso businesses must make an extra effort in order to have their paper and plastic material recycled. A business must personally call a private hauler to have a special truck pick up their recyclables.

Imperial Valley has its first film and art festival

EL CENTRO, Calif.–A new and different kind of life was breathed into the abandoned Anchor Blue store in the Imperial Valley Mall over the weekend. Where teen togs once filled the retail space, the Imperial Valley’s first-ever film and art festival took place. The Inaugural Imperial Valley Film Festival & Artist Showcase featured works by artists who live in or were raised in the Imperial Valley. All films were produced by valley residents or were shot in the valley by independent directors. Most of the art was heavily influenced by the experiences of living near a depressed border.

Mom and daughter graduate together into a new awareness

EL PASO – Ambar Calvillo told her mother over dinner she was madly in love with another woman. Although Irma Calvillo was shocked, she accepted her daughter to the fullest and then had to suffer through strong criticism from her family for that acceptance. “Nobody is going to tell me how to raise them,” she said. Irma, 46, majoring in human resources and Ambar, 22, majoring in public relations will graduate together with BA degrees in May from the University of Texas at El Paso. “College has given me that confidence I never had, and I think I have become more humble and open to this generation now than before” said Irma.

Artist Rigoberto A. Gonzalez paints Mexico drug violence baroque-style

El Paso — Dark colors and shadows transform the canvas into excruciatingly vivid scenes – a severed head laying on the ground, soldiers restraining an angry man in front of a crowd – of the bloody drug war raging along the U.S.-Mexico border, illustrating every disturbing emotion on the faces of the subjects while employing the classic beauty of 17th century Baroque-style paintings. Rigoberto A. Gonzalez ( 37, the artist of these deeply disturbing and meticulously painted images, is bringing his exhibition, titled Baroque on the Border/Barocco en la Frontera, to The University of Texas at El Paso at the Stanlee & Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Art of from May 26 to September 24, 2011. He was born in Reynosa, in the border state of Tamaulipas, Mexico and moved with his family to the border city of San Juan, TX when he was 9 years old. As a child, his mother and older brother inspired him to become an artist. This inspiration led him to obtain a bachelor’s degree in art from The University of Texas-Pan American in 1999 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from the New York Academy of Art in 2004.

Students go barefooted to shoe the shoeless

EL PASO — Bare feet slapped the polished floors in the halls of learning and blistered on the hot sidewalks of the desert campus of the University of Texas at El Paso, until by day’s end they made their point – alleviate the real plight of barefooted children in third world countries. Students abandoned the luxury of wearing shoes emulating the shoeless poverty of Ethiopia and Zambia in the TOMS event, “One Day Without Shoes,” a worldwide effort on April 5 to bring awareness to the importance of providing shoes for children. TOMS is a brand of shoes known for the motto – “With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for one.” Every pair of shoes that an individual buys guarantees that a pair of shoes is made for a child in need somewhere in the world. Students from TOMS Campus Club (TOMSCC) and ONE (OCC) gathered at Leech Grove on the University of Texas at El Paso’s campus to help bring awareness to what TOMS does and to provide information about this day.

Posters call for trolleys to unite border cities instead of more fences

EL PASO – A multimedia artist from New York City is on a mission to revive the historic trolley system that once breached the borderline joining Ciudad Juarez to the Sun City. “I’m a firm believer that we should build trolleys, not walls,” said native El Pasoan Peter Svarzbein. His one-man ad campaign – the El Paso Transnational Trolley Project, – is provoking talk about a future connection between the sister cities. Public transportation in El Paso and Juarez began with that trolley service in 1881. They were not electric streetcars, but rather horse and mule-drawn trolleys.

With poverty still a way of life, Segundo Barrio remembers Cesar Chavez

EL PASO – On a warm, windy March afternoon, the inhabitants of one of El Paso’s most rustic and historic neighborhoods gathered for a carnival held in honor of Cesar Chavez. Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe held a carnival for the famed social justice leader on the grounds of La Fe Preparatory School on Saturday the 26th of March. Hundreds were in attendance, many of them residents of the Segundo Barrio, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. “We need to keep the legacy of Cesar Chavez alive,” says John Estrada, who is a member of the board of directors at La Fe. “And this is one of the ways we do it, through Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe.”

The board of directors of La Fe have supported this event for over 10 years, with the event taking place on the elementary school grounds for the past three years.

The need for pet adoptions increases as the economy worsens

EL PASO — Walking into the animal shelter it seems to me that most of the dogs are saying, “I’m excited there is a new face here today — maybe one will take me to a nice warm home, and maybe I will meet new friends too! Oh, please pick me. I promise I will be a good dog.”

They stare at visitors and wag their tails in eagerness to be touched.  They probably came from a home where they once were loved and played with every day. They are not used to sitting in a cage, lonely. Especially two beautiful Golden Retrievers I saw outside — two really big adult dogs that seemed so close to each other, as if they were brother and sister, and who knows maybe they are.

It’s not your mom’s military anymore – Women in the service seek a combat role

EL PASO – A military advisory panel recently recommended that the Pentagon do away with a policy that bans women from serving in combat, dismantling the last major area of discrimination in the armed forces. In the past, the U. S. armed forces have had to overcome the barriers of racial prejudice and rules against gays serving openly in the military. The call by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) to let women serve in the front lines of combat could set in motion another wave of changes in military culture. This newest proposal was sent by the  MLDC to Congress and to President Barak Obama. “It’s not that women aren’t ready – we are ready.

Texans protest proposed anti-immigrant laws

AUSTIN  – More than 1,000 persons gathered Tuesday at the Texas Capitol in hopes that legislators would hear and consider their plea for respect and equality when passing immigration laws. “Texas Can Do Better,” was chanted, overpowering the downtown streets of Austin from Waterloo Park to the Texas Capitol. Texas legislators have proposed 60 anti-immigration bills at the federal and state level.  Some of this proposed legislation would allow law enforcement agents to deport immigrants without establishing a reasonable doubt of the legality of their immigration status. The new laws could take education away from immigrant children, depriving them from a shot at the American dream.

Thousands raced toward a cure for breast cancer

EL PASO — Breast cancer killed her mother, hit her sister 15 years ago and five years ago Nancy Hansen was diagnosed with the illness. A theatre and speech teacher at Irvin High School, Nancy Hansen walks in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure every year, in memory of her mother and to participate in the battle against the illness that has affecter her and her family for so long. Taking part in Race for the Cure was always something that Hansen took part in before becoming a survivor. Her mother died of breast cancer that spread into her liver and bones 35 ½ years ago. “Cancer sucks,” Hansen said, “and I want to do what I can.

January’s freeze still has the Sun City shivering

EL PASO—Last month El Paso experienced freezing temperatures that led the city to understand that it is not prepared for this kind of weather. On February 3rd, temperatures in the Sun City went below zero for the first time since 1990. For over twenty years El Paso had not had to worry about any snowstorms or freeze complications, but this year the cold blasted the city leaving unprepared El Pasoans freezing and disappointed and unhappy suffering from rolling power outages, broken water pipes, and loss of school and workdays. “The weather situation has been unbearable. Not only can I not stay in my own home, but I have to rely on the graciousness of others to help me while this issue is being resolved.

Napolitano promises an ‘overwhelming response’ to any spillover of drug-war violence

“We have strengthened the Southwest Border in ways that many did not think possible.”
– Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
EL PASO, Texas – The Obama administration has strengthened the U.S.-Mexico partnership along the southwest border, increasing security and safeguarding the U.S. against a spillover of drug-war violence, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. On the second stop of a national tour designed to explain President Obama’s border security strategy, Napolitano told an audience at the University of Texas at El Paso Monday that their approach to border security is working. “We are almost two years into that strategy and the verdict is in,” said Napolitano. “We have strengthened the southwest border in ways that many did not think possible.”

Napolitano did mention that challenges still exist, such as dealing with the drug-cartel violence taking place in Mexico and remaining on guard against a possible spillover effect into the United States. Any incursion of drug-war violence into the U.S. will face an “overwhelming response,” she said.