One ordinary day in The Sun City I took out on foot into the belly of Las Tienditas near the heart of downtown El Paso, Texas. Aptly named for hundreds of street vendors, mercados, jewelers, and other sellers of everything a person could possibly need, this “Little Stores” region is the last American plot of land before crossing into the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Also known as The Golden Horseshoe, one local characterized it as Korean merchants selling products from China to Mexican shoppers in the USA.
The smell of beans, rice, spiced papas, hot peppers, huevos rancheros and corn tortillas was in the air. Fresh fruit juices and cinnamon dulce pastries were there for the taking and I was in Heaven. Still holding onto my taco, I walked right into it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was the something I had heard about, but it looked nothing like what I had imagined. I stopped, speechless.
Before that point, I hadn’t bothered looking at my GPS. But then I double-checked myself. It was confirmed. Ciudad Juárez. I was staring at the border of Mexico’s 20th most homicidal city, known for drug violence and not recommended for American tourists.
At the foot of the wall near Paso Del Norte Port of Entry into America, I could look over the fence and see hundreds of Mexican legals waiting in line to enter El Paso for the workday. The look on every single face upon entry told me that they had been waiting in line for hours under high security alert and would not appreciate pictures one little bit. So…I stood there.
“Is this what I think it is?” I asked one local business owner.
“Yes,” he said in English. “They come, some of them at three in the morning before the lines are long. Some drive in, park, and sleep before work.”
“The wall keeps Las Tienditas and El Paso safe, but the recent lines are hard on business.” He put his head down and quietly said, “I voted for Trump. Many of us business owners did,” not wanting his clientele to hear our discussion.
Some other locals’ sentiment seemed to be more apathetic toward building the wall in the unsecured border regions. “If they are going to come in, they will find a way,” expressed one Las Tienditas jeweler.
In general, the vibe of this blue city in a red state seemed to be a joyful one where the food is the freshest on planet earth, a city that sticks its name in the hat on the controversial discussion of who actually invented the margarita. This discussion can cause more trouble than wearing a MAGA hat at an El Paso Locomotive Professional Soccer Game where locals snack on sliced cucumber and pineapples doused in chili powder.
The next morning, I was back in Las Tienditas standing on the corner of Overland and El Paso St. where the historic announcement of Beto O’Rourke’s Presidential campaign was taking place.
A couple of blocks north, the Trump counter rally was forming. Before there were even ten people to hear, I figured the Latina troll who was marching and shouting vociferously surely must have been paid by the other team since no one else in the crowd knew who she was and her message was so blatantly obnoxious to all. The vitriol caused a discomforting feeling to the majority of the Trump supporters as people shrugged their shoulders and asked one another where she came from, yet she would not be stopped. El Pasoan Beto supporters were forced to enter his rally by way of the Trump counter rally and it was a sad sight to see a grown adult yelling at little children wearing the wrong color T-shirt. America was not great that day.
There is no doubt that the bi-national city of El Paso was an appropriate choice for Beto O’Rourke to make his big announcement, yet the rally seemed to be geared toward him running for Presidenté of El Paso which he would have won. I witnessed something I will never forget that day. The placement of Beto’s stage was on the very edge of America, the closest to not being in America that one can possibly be, relatively speaking. The positioning of the national media and his platform was perfectly set up for optimal crowd filler by blocking the passage and corralling the Mexican legals who historically cross the Paso del Norte Port of Entry by the thousands. The masses had little other choice but to flood the rally. They were Mexican nationals overflowing the streets in a big American media lie.
For the presidential election of 2020 and the ongoing immigration discussion, El Paso will always have significance; but for me, I will remember it for the people, their smiles, and hospitality, amazing foods and unique culture. They live as if they neither realize nor acknowledge the world stage beneath their feet and seem to enjoy life with all of its pleasures, yet the world has made them the face of immigration acrimoniousness.
But most of all, I think every American who joins the immigration discussion would do well to first make the pilgrimage to the Paso del Norte. Just stand there to understand the place I now call my favorite, El Paso, Texas. The safest city in the United States of America.