Culture Shift: Looking at Identity in the Borderland Bubble

In this episode of Our Border Life we talk about those moments when people realize they’re in a culture shift – that something fundamentally has changed about their identity. Specifically, the growing awareness of the multi-layered identities among people living in the U.S-Mexico borderland region of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

We meet with Gustavo Reveles, who was born in El Paso and spent the first 15 years of his life living on both sides of the border. In a conversation with a friend, Martin Bartlett, Reveles talks about how he didn’t realize he lived in a culture bubble until he moved away for a job after college.  


“You grew up thinking you’re both Mexican and American.

New Latinx generation embraces the code-switching identity once derided as ‘pocho’

EL PASO –For some young borderlanders, pocho is a word that unites two cultures. “El Paso and Juarez is its own culture. We are neither entirely American and we are neither entirely Mexican so pochismo would be somewhat some of our language,” said Antonio Villaseñor, 23, a University of Texas graduate student and editor of the online magazine Con Safos. With outlets like Buzzfeed and we are mitú featuring videos on Youtube describing the experience of being a pocho in the United States and new clothing lines like the L.A-based Pocho wear, the term is being embraced by a new generation of Mexican-Americans. “I see it as something positive.

Mexicano, Chicano, or Pocho. Who am I?

I didn’t start to question my identity until my first year of college. Before that I thought I was an American citizen attending kindergarten in Ciudad Juarez. Then in third grade I realized that I was Mexican when I crossed the border to attend Houston Elementary School in El Paso. The first day of school a classmate asked me in Spanish – not English – why I was wearing black polished shoes. I remember I looked around and saw that all the other boys and girls were wearing sporty tennis shoes.

Mexican or American or what? Straddling the border can make it hard to bring identity into focus

As a child of the U.S., Mexico border, I’ve recently found myself lost between languages, cultures and racial terms like Latino, Hispanic and Mexican-American. Do I know who I am and where I belong to? No. Many children born in the U.S. whose parents were born in other countries grow up with the opportunity of learning two languages and the history of two countries—but at what cost does this come with? A couple of weeks after I was born in Denver my mother brought me to her hometown of Ciudad Juarez Mexico, where I would spend the first seven years of my life.

The Mextasy of William Nericcio dashes stereotypes and builds ‘mexicanidad’

EL PASO— The Mexican experience in America, presented with verve as a celebration of the culture and and as a bulwark against negative stereotypes in popular art and media was dubbed Mextasy by Dr. William Anthony Nericcio. “This anti-Mexican fervor needs to be met with a kind of invocation of mexicanidad that needs to be equally strong,” Nericcio says. “You got to attack it with the same power with the same fervor, with the same dynamic focus.”

Nericcio captivated a room of faculty members and students when he came to the University of Texas at El Paso recently to discuss and present his travelling art show,

TheMextasypop-up exposition contains objects that Nericcio has collected over the years, Ranging from dolls to posters that harken back to the 1950’s representing and satirizing the Mexican experience in the United States, representing an analysis of Hollywood’s contribution to perceptions of Mexican ethnic identities. Nericcio gets serious when addressing how consumers should fight the negative commentary on Mexicans that some commentators in media like Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter advocate. Ectasy healing

For Nericcio, Mextasy can be seen as a form of defense and cure against those Mexican stereotypes and tropes.

Ruben Salazar questioned his own ethnic identity and the role of journalism in American society

EL PASO — Writing in his personal journal shortly before newsman Ruben Salazar was killed by cops during a 1970 Chicano Anti War march in Los Angeles, the now legendary Mexican-American journalists asks:  “Why do I always have to apologize to Americans for Mexicans and to Mexicans for Americans?”   

His question sounds almost innocent against the turbulent anti-establishment tone of the times. Yet it still resonates for most U.S. journalists with hyphenated identities, myself included. As I watched the PBS documentary, “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle,” a few weeks ago at a packed auditorium on the University of Texas El Paso campus, it felt like I was looking into a mirror and witnessing my own ambiguity about my Cuban and U.S. identities. It seems to me that ambiguity about identity frames the existential experience of most immigrants to this country. Where do we belong?

Fear of being ‘unliked’ in social media makes us forget who we really are

EL PASO – In recent years throughout high school and college, I have seen the use of Facebook and other social media sites such as Instagram associated with negative feelings of insecurity in many of the girls I know and am close to. This topic struck interest in me when I had to write a research paper about a year ago regarding something along the lines of a communication topic. The topic I decided to research was on how social media affects young adults. One interesting fact I found while doing my research was that women spend a lot more time using the internet and other means of social media than men do. It’s because media is everywhere.

Mexican flag inside an American flag

Remembering my bully and the wounds to my ethnic pride

Editor’s note: This blog is part of a series of first person essays about identity written by UTEP Liberal Arts Honors students during the spring 2013 semester. EL PASO – I still remember the name of my middle school bully and what he looked like. I might have been an insignificant part of his life but for me he was not. His behavior when I was a teenager produced fear, self-hate and an identity crisis that haunts me to this day. A native of Ciudad Juarez, I have always considered myself Mexican and I have been proud of my background.

Mike Martinez, my grandfather. (Courtesy of Rebecca Guerrero)

When Alzheimer’s strikes, a granddaughter’s memories keep his spirit alive

Editor’s note: This blog is part of a series of first person essays about identity written by UTEP Liberal Arts Honors students during the spring 2013 semester. EL PASO – Life was beautiful until the year my grandpa started forgetting. The first time I noticed his memory loss I was 15 years old and he was 75. Grandpa walked through the front door, sweaty and breathing hard. “Mickey, ¿qué pasó?

Writing out my future then and now

Editor’s note: This blog is part of a series of first person essays about identity written by UTEP Liberal Arts Honors students during the spring 2013 semester. EL PASO – When I told my Mom I was going to be a published writer, she said to make sure my stories were on audio-tape so she wouldn’t have to do any actual reading. Dad then joked that she’d have to learn how to read first. Whether or no they knew how serious I was, my parents always told me to do what I loved, even if it meant not studying a “safe” major like business or nursing. Neither of my parents, or anyone else in my family, has ever shown an interest in writing, creatively or otherwise.

A Mexican-born, ethnic Arab/German with an American passport reflects on his cultural identity while in Berlin

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series of first person essays about identity written by UTEP honors students during the Spring 2013 semester. 

The cold air penetrated the visible skin between my gloves and my jacket as I hurried up a long flight of stairs to catch the train to work in direction Alexanderplatz. My breath, warm and visible, was seeping through my scarf and mixing with the melting delicate snowflakes that were coming down from the heavens. It was a cold winter morning, typical Berlin. Once inside the train, I found a seat and rapidly put on my headphones to have “my 15-minute concert” of the usual British Rock bands that make me wish I had a similar accent so I could use words like “daft” or “trousers” and the occasional “Oi!” without people looking at me weird for having an American accent. Two stations away from my destination, a young couple with a child sat next to me.

Mexicans at Night duo playing at M's Lips Lounge in downtown El Paso. (Annette Baca/

Mexicans at Night – The soul of the borderland is an indelible note in their musical scale

EL PASO – Steel walls cut and scar the border, while robotic eyes search for movement like predators for prey and border agents patrol the line in choreographed patterns raising clouds of dust, but none of this can keep out the music. This fixed fence prevents illegal migration and keeps America less subject to foreign influence, but it cannot stop a constant transfusion of Mexican culture from becoming ingrained in the U.S. lifestyle, especially in the borderland. “If we’re from El Paso, we often have U.S.-American tastes…but we also have the Mexican culture in the background somewhere. And I think people from Juarez and elsewhere have the same thing,” said Roberto Avant-Mier, a professor of Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso. He added that the people in the border have two languages, two cultures, several identities, and numerous musical influences, which according to him can come from at least two orientations.

Typical Parisian Women

In fact, it only takes a simple metro ride to get a sense that the idea of “a typical” Parisian woman—or man, for that matter—seems more of a fiction than a reality. If, for instance, you ride the metro from Odeon to Chatelet—two central and important metro exchanges—you will probably see a number of Parisian women who would not match the “typical” description: from college students wearing chador to women wearing Benetton garb, from girls in military fatigues to women in Senegalese kaftans.