Eric Huelsman and Jorge Ruiz weren’t instant friends, but they slowly bonded over their mutual love of music and being Boy Scouts.
The biggest obstacle in their friendship is that Huelsman lives in Tucson and Ruiz lives 15 hours away, in Monterrey, Mexico — about 140 miles across the border from Laredo, Texas. The two never would have crossed paths if it weren’t for Pimaree, a cross-border campout held every two years between the Asociación de Scouts de México and the Boy Scouts of America.
Huelsman, a psychology sophomore at the University of Arizona, and Ruiz, 23, met during a Pimaree on Mount Lemmon in 2009, then saw each other again when the camp was held in 2011. Now the two message each other weekly. When Ruiz visited Tucson two years ago, the two had lunch and caught up.
“It’s a unique bond that you don’t necessarily get to see or even have with some of your friends here in Tucson or around the U.S.,” Huelsman said. “I personally think that Jorge and I are going to be lifelong friends.”
Ruiz is almost fluent in English, so communicationduring the campout wasn’t an issue. The two also traded ideas on how to improve Huelsman’s Spanish and Ruiz’s English, and at the closing campfire, they even jumped onstage to sing a Pimaree song together.
For Ruiz, the Pimaree was his first opportunity to interact with American Boy Scouts.
“It did teach me a lot about getting along with people you don’t know and trying to get them to work together, especially people from different cultures and languages,” he said. “I personally think that knowing people from all around the world helps you understand the world better. You realize these people are just like you, even though they look different and behave differently from you.”
Huelsman will work as a staff member at the upcoming Pimaree in July, the first to be held in Mexico since 2000. Though Ruiz has a job, he said he hopes to join Huelsman for another campout.
The bond Huelsman and Ruiz made is one that camp organizers hope to see develop every year that Pimaree is held. The event’s name is a combination of the word Pima, the collective name for a group of indigenous peoples in Arizona and Sonora, and “camporee,” the Boy Scouts’ name for an extended campout bringing many people together.
“Hopefully, if these Scouts have a good experience and they tell their families and their friends about it, we can get a little more understanding and well-deserved friendship in between our two nations in spite of the difficulties we have,” said William Mills, chairman of the Pimaree committeeand a registered Boy Scouts of America volunteer leader. “Communities have troubles, states have troubles, nations have troubles, but there needs to be at least a flooring and understanding basically that people are worthwhile wherever you go.”
A major challenge for the upcoming Pimaree in Mexico is that some parents on the U.S. side have concerns about safety there. The camp was planned for Mexico in 2011, but was moved to Sierra Vista over fears related to drug cartels and violence.
This year’s weeklong event will be held just east of Nogales, Sonora, at Mascarenas, a private ranch. So far, a little more than a dozen Scouts have signed up, and organizers have set a goal of 50.
“There’s no perfect place no matter where you are. It’s just unfair to say all of Mexico is dangerous and you can’t go there,” Mills said. “Things are as safe there as they are here, at least where we’re going.”
This year, Mexican organizers are in charge of the event. The program will feature Scout skills, sports, team games, relay races, crafts and learning about indigenous peoples’ traditions.
The purpose of the trip is to have an exchange about the language, culture and customs of each country, which dovetails with what many of Arizona’s leaders are setting out to accomplish on a larger scale.
“It is doing in a microcosm what we’re trying to do in a much larger way now,” Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said. “Bringing people from both sides of the border together to learn about what each do and strengthen each other.”
While Ruiz said he could understand that parents would be concerned about danger in Mexico, he added that he felt it would ultimately prove beneficial to hold Pimaree across the border.
“I think it would be a great experience for kids and adults alike to come over and live Mexican culture from first-person,” said Ruiz, who lived on the border for 18 years before moving to Monterrey. “I think if these people come over and see that it’s safe, this is the first step of many more to come.”