When it comes to myths, and maybe even our fears, it may be best to educate ourselves in order to separate fact from fiction.
The Border Community Alliance helps to do just that. It brings retirees, students and anyone who is curious to see the Arizona-Mexico border and shows them the Sonoran frontier. It’s more than the saga of drug violence and people jumping the “fence.”
The organization, which originated in 2013, offers five different tours: There is a Nogales cross-border tour, the Gastronomic Tour of Nogales, the Magdalena Then and Now tour, the Beautiful Rio Sonora tour and Surprising Hermosillo: The Capital of Sonora tour, according to the alliance website.
All participants travel in a van and listen to a tour guide as they learn about the history of Mexico and are informed on current events along the border.
The tours include visiting churches, eating authentic Sonoran food and getting to know more about the thriving parts of the region. Some of the tours include staying in a hotel and experiencing the city on your own.
Alex La Pierre, the alliance’s program director and the main tour guide, said he enjoys educating people on the history of the region.
“I always see at least one person or more in the group have a shift of consciousness. People have this preconceived notion of what Mexico is, especially border towns, and it shatters the myths that they carry with them,” La Pierre said. “We are a nonprofit, we are in the business of breaking the myths of the border and kind of stereotypes as well.”
They wanted to tell the untold story of the area and educate people so they can see what was really happening there, executive director Jerry Haas said while at his Green Valley home.
The organization is tearing down the preconceived notions of what people may think is going on and trying to get people to connect with our Mexican neighbors Haas said.
The alliance is dedicated to educating cross-border awareness, and all the history that comes with the border. It also gives people a chance to see thriving businesses .
The tours fill up fast because of their growing popularity and the knowledge they provide during the tours, Haas said.
In fact, all February and March tours were full according to the alliance website.
Haas enjoys talking about the passion he has for the program and what it has to offer. He says he loves attending as many tours as he can and enjoys connecting with his fellow Green Valley retirees. He shows that the Mexican border communities welcome them by interacting with one another and trying food that the border offers.
He says that a lot of the time, the media talks about drug violence and illegal immigration, but never the positive aspects of the border life. They ignore the reality of trade and the intimate relationship around product sharing.
After each tour, everyone is asked to take a survey rating the experience one to five, with five being the highest.
Everyone has put a five, according to BCA records.
La Pierre tries to get the word out on the alliance as much as possible because of the passion he has of educating people on the border.
His passion is obvious when talking about the alliance, and he enjoys being able to connect with people from all around the country. He runs the alliance’s social media and most tours because of his border knowledge.
“Alex is great, he talks the whole time during the tour, he knows so much history about the Mexico side,” said Cecelia Quade, a retiree and a winter resident of Rio Rico.
Quade, who also lives in Indiana, shared her experience with the program, saying, “It is a unique opportunity to see the real border lands, not just the American side, but the Mexican side as well.
“It is not a tourist tour; it is more of an educational experience, it really opens your eyes to what the real Mexico is like.”
She always wanted to go to Mexico and see the beauty of it with her husband, but never knew the best way to do so. She found out about the alliance and thought it would be the best and safest way to learn.
“We didn’t see any of those negative things. We didn’t want to go alone because of what we heard on the media, but we are glad we found BCA, and now it has come to that point where my husband is crossing the border to go to the dentist,” she said.
The organization is not only accomplishing this by changing people’s perceptions, but changing their everyday lives.
After going on a tour, Quade was inspired and enjoyed the nonprofit so much she decided to volunteer with it.
Said Haas: “What often gets overlooked is the history and their (Mexican) culture and just simply helping people relate to each other and the good things people are doing across the border.”