Tag Archives: New Mexico

LSS: Mexican border a harsh reality

Living with the Mexican border in sight from my kitchen window changed me.
In 2001, after six years of living in El Paso, Texas, my family and I moved to Lafayette. Before living in El Paso, I thought of the border one dimensionally — a line drawn in the sand delineating one country from another. I didn’t realize how interconnected the lives, economies and cultures the two sides of that line were.
One experience reinforced that insight for me more than any other. On the day school started one fall, I unexpectedly ended up filling in for a third-grade teacher in one of El Paso’s small parochial schools. The school asked if I would help until they found a permanent replacement.
When I walked in the class and realized five of the nine students lived in Juarez and crossed the border every morning and afternoon, I was amazed. Even back then, crossing the border on a daily basis was not for the faint of heart.
Falling in love with that class didn’t take long. As these things happen, I happily completed the school year.
In the last decade, I lost touch with all but one of those third graders. As I’ve learned about the horrors of Juarez and its climb to become the most dangerous city in the world, I’ve thought of those sweet children.
Listening to radio stories about massacres at children’s birthday parties or the Juarez symphony playing on in the midst of so much terror, I’ve sat in my car and cried wondering about those students and their wonderful families.
I’ve comforted myself with this thought, “Surely, their families have gotten out of Juarez by now,” — without much contemplation of the fates and fear the other 1.5 million of the city must be experiencing.
Last week, via the miracle of facebook, I re-connected with all seven girls from the class. They’re all in college on this side of the border. To my shock, only one of their families has left Juarez.
For certain, at 20 years old, these girls have known more fear and heartache than I can comprehend. Here is what they have written to me this week.
In response to my sadness over Juarez, one wrote, “We have had to change our way of life quite a bit, but we are OK. It is still livable over here, so please don’t cry anymore.”
Another who attends college on the East Coast was more descriptive.
“I wouldn’t say the news is exaggerating. If I truly acknowledge how much fear is in my surroundings, I would never leave my house. …Even though our city is falling apart (because that is what is really happening), we still manage to do our daily chores.”
Some have not learned to drive because of the dangers cars pose. They rarely, if ever, answer the phone because of fake and real kidnapping threats. Fear is a part of every day existence.
“I am not saying this fear is present all the time,” one wrote. “I forget a lot when I am there, but little sounds around the house or outside still make me panic and remember that fear.”
My former students and their families have endured threats of kidnappings, homes broken into and the deaths of friends and family members at the wrong place at the wrong time.
They simply live scared and scarred these days, unsure how to proceed.
“So,” as one wrote, “that is life in Juarez.”