Story: Juarez, Mexico

By Mariana Carmona

A border city is more than a place of passage for millions of immigrants, it’s a cultural hub, exposing the best of both worlds.

When I tell people I was born and raised in Juarez, Mexico, they usually have this fabricated idea of what the city is like. People assume it’s a city ruled by drug lords where we speak pocho and drink tequila. But lemme tell you, it’s far more than that. It’s actually a booming city that was once an exporter of the best cotton in the world, the main exporter of whiskey in Mexico, and there are even rumors that Al Capone made some visits to this border town (kinda cool if you ask me).

People tend to forget that the border is not just one more stop to get to the ultimate destination (aka the US), for some it’s the actual dream. This area is the largest binational region in the world, and starting in the late 60’s (way before NAFTA), Juarez became a major manufacturing center. Companies from all around the world, especially the US, moved their factories (maquiladoras) there and started fabricating all sorts of things: from cartridges to medical supplies. Juarez was peaking, and even during historical recessions in Mexico, the city was financially untouched. People in executive positions earned dollars and paisanos moved to Juarez aspiring for opportunities, including my dad. He came with nothing, just his college degree and many dreams, and ended up marrying my mama and providing the best possible life to my brother and me. To this day, if you ask my dad where he’s from, he’ll proudly say “Juaritos”.

Juarez was home, and I can’t imagine a better childhood. I was exposed to the best from the US and Mexico. We celebrated Dia de la Independencia (Sep. 16th, NOT May 5th) and Thanksgiving. Santa brought gifts as well as the Tres Reyes Magos. If there was hype for a new movie, we would cross to El Paso and watch it instead of waiting for the premiere in Mexico. I turned on the TV, and I could watch American and Mexican stations. There was no need for an American Dream because I was living one that was way better than that. I was able to have access to all things America, while still living in my beloved Mexico.

Juarez-El Paso, at least for me, feels like the same city. They depend on each other, culturally and financially. Starting junior high, I attended school in the United States. Every day, Monday through Friday, was a 45 minute drive from my house, including crossing the international bridge. I went to school in El Paso, and over half of my classmates were people from Juarez in the same situation. While we all dealt with the usual tween drama, we also faced a drastic cultural change in our town.

2009 was a year full of turmoil for everyone in Juarez. With 2,658 homicides, the city went from being defined by dreams and opportunities to being the most dangerous city in the world. There was a War on Drugs and many criminals saw this as an opportunity for kidnapping and extortions, keeping everyone on their toes. How could Juarez be so dangerous while El Paso was ranked the safest city in the States? You could smell fear in the streets of Juarez, and the people that were able to leave fled, just like my family did. My dad got a job offer in Houston; we got our visas approved, and we moved without thinking twice. I can still vividly picture being in the back of the car crying my eyes out as we drove off, leaving our house and lives behind. The place I once called home became a distant reality.

A lot of change has come to Juarez since I left in 2009, but one thing I can tell you is that the people have never given up. Despite the rough patches, for lack of a better phrase, there is still hope that the situation will improve. I am extremely proud of my roots, and I know young Juarenses and El Pasoans feel the same way. These border towns not only blessed the world with the creation of the burrito and the margarita, but also have given many hardworking people the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. I can’t wait to someday go back and do something good to the place that shaped me into the person I am today.


La leyenda de cómo México abasteció a Al Capone con whisky de Ciudad Juárez (Spanish)

Prohibition Stimulated Economies of El Paso, Juárez

Brilla historia del algodón en nuevo video por Juárez (Spanish)

La Industria Maquiladora de Ciudad Juárez

After years of violence and death, 'life is back' in Juarez

El Paso and Juarez know what happens when a wall divides two cities

Cd. Juárez, por segundo año consecutivo, la ciudad más violenta del mundo (Spanish)