Looking South from El Paso, Texas into Cd. Juarez, Mexico.

Don’t Write a Bias View of the Border, Write an Authentic One

What questions do people ask you again and again about the border? I would rephrase this question as: What questions must people ask about the border, so they can see what the U.S./Mexico border is and what it isn’t?

The border is not a movie or a television series. It is a multicultural, multilingual place with histories of families, friends, but also economics and politics. All these ingredients (families, friends, economics and politics) are mixed together like a capirotada (Lenten bread pudding).

What stereotypes or misconceptions do you think people have about the U.S./Mexico border? I would rephrase this question as what stereotypes exist about the border because they are outdated and not particularly true?

Branding has always played a role in defining the border. Historically, the notion of the West, lawlessness, etc. was created by boosters who wanted to frame the border as an adventure, like a movie. Those days are long gone. But those ideas have been replaced by Hollywood re-framing the border as the land of the cartels and heroes are drug enforcement agents, the FBI and wealthy drug lords. The border needs to be defined by the people who live there from North to South and South to North, as well as by the people who are in between, as best as possible.

There is a notion that the border is dangerous, but this idea is more about ignorance. To know the border, you must understand it. Historically, the border has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by others who do not live here.

What questions should people ask about border residents? I would rephrase this question as what questions should be asked about any place people live where they feel safe and secure and where they can blossom based in their interests and skills?

I think many people like living in the border. Where else can you speak in more than one language? Where else can you be authentic in two countries, three states and where many people look and act, think and speak like you?

How long must you live in the border to be considered a border resident or a fronterizo?

Journalists have been notorious for going into the border and becoming border experts — this is called “parachute journalism” — as a communicator you must find the stories which are unique to the border and tell those stories because they matter to you and will matter to your viewers and readers.

What do you think is unique about the border?

There is no uniqueness, only authenticity. Borders are universal. No fake stories. No fake border news.

How do you believe you have been shaped by your experience of living on the border?

You can best see the border by leaving it and seeing it from afar. For those who have never left, it is just home. My experience on the U.S./Mexico border has been shaped by family, friends, economics and politics. For me, education played a large role in providing opportunities my parents never had. Communications helped me understand how I can write about the border in multiple contexts and for numerous formats. The humanities helped me learn that the border goes through cycles. It also taught me how I could play a part in telling the stories and histories that have not been told.

The scholar Oscar Martinez in his book “Border People” identifies four types of borders: Alienated border, Coexistent border, Interdependent border, Integrated border. What type of border are we and why you think this is so.

I think the El Paso/Cd. Juárez is all these borders, not just one. Some people feel alienated and don’t venture away from themselves. Others have families and friends on each side and they live in a coexistent border. Others live in an Interdependent border where they depend on families, resources, economics and politics on each side. An Integrated border is a work in progress, some people are more integrated than others, people, like borders are a work in progress.

A mosaic mural tiled “Señor Sol” by the late Fronteriza American Artist Mago Orona.

We lost one authentic border person this week on Sunday, February 18th. Her name was Mago Orona. She was a bilingual, bi-cultural artist of the border. Mago was like the Georgia O’Keeffe of El Paso and Cd. Juárez. Like O’Keeffe, Mago was an important American artist who painted the border that she loved. She epitomizes what people should know about the border, that there is a rich history here and that its stories must be known by all people whatever age they are — this is the challenge of presenting our border to the rest of the world.

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