Growing up in El Paso meant taking certain things for granted, like speaking two languages and living in two cultures. It was simply a way of life.
My grandfather, born to a mining family in New Mexico, at some point returned to Mexico, where he grew up, got married and had my mother (along with nine other children).
I was born across the border in Juárez. When I was 8, my father moved us al otro lado to El Paso in search of better opportunities.
My husband was born in El Paso but raised in Juárez, learning English by listening to oldies and watching cartoons.
My family’s story is not unique. Most of us straddle the border, not feeling foreign on either side.
To us, it is not Juárez and El Paso — it’s one big city where people cross from one side to the other to shop or eat out. Where families like my own keep a home in each place. The cities are intertwined, and so are the people. And that makes us better; it makes us stronger.
People in El Paso switch from English to Spanish, sometimes in the same sentence; we can have a carne asada one day and cook hot dogs the next. Families celebrate the Fourth of July and el 16 de septiembre, Mexico’s independence day. Neither makes you less American or less Mexican.
As I read the four pages of the so-called manifesto posted by the accused El Paso shooter, I realized that the seamless blending of two cultures and ethnicities that El Paso represents was the very quality that he feared the most. The “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” as he called it.
He was against race mixing, he said, and cultural diversity. His solution was the physical separation of the races, which would in his view, “improve social unity by granting each race self-determination within their respective territory(s).”
He was afraid of people like me. Brown. He recoiled from a connection that my community embraced.
I found this jarring. Spending most of my childhood and teenage years in El Paso meant seeing others who looked like me, sounded like me. Judges. Teachers. Doctors. I was not the “other.”
It wasn’t until I moved to Tennessee in 2007 that I realized I was actually seen as a foreigner. It was the first time people questioned whether I belonged. The first time I was told to go back to where I came from.
In El Paso we live in a sort of bubble where we are generally shielded from racism and discrimination.
This doesn’t mean El Pasoans don’t have their own issues with immigration. I’ve heard plenty of conversations — including in my family’s kitchen — about Central Americans arriving and how Juárez has its own problems and how local governments should help those in need first, instead of people coming from elsewhere. About how their numbers are overwhelming the border cities. About how you don’t know who they are and what their intentions might be.
And of course, El Paso could benefit from better-paying jobs, better school equity, more voter participation and engagement.
Somehow, El Paso continues to have that small-community feel in an ever-sprawling city. It’s still the place where my parents can leave the house without locking the door and not worry about it (even though I continue to advise against it). Where you run into people you know when you’re out shopping — including at Walmart. Where people show up for each other, as we’ve seen these last few days.
When I talked to my Dad on Sunday, he said he had to go to Walmart later that day.
Do you feel weird about it? I asked him in Spanish.
You can’t live in fear, he responded. Life must go on.
And if more of Texas becomes like El Paso, I say there’s nothing to be afraid of. Quite the opposite: We should embrace it.