Ode to El Paso

I’m from El Paso. It’s my hometown. Yes, I’ve lived in other parts of Texas, including Austin, and Dallas. I have family in San Antonio, and in Oregon, in Louisiana and other places, I’m sure, but we all came from El Paso.

My mother’s dad exited the military while he was stationed at Fort Bliss and they just stayed. It’s where my mother grew up, where she went to high school (the same one I would later attend), met my father and got married before they eventually moved to Dallas. It’s where she brought us (briefly) after my parents divorced a few years later while she figured out what to do next.

My grandparents lived in a makeshift double-wide trailer (they put two trailers together to make their own) at the end of a dusty farm road in a place called Socorro, Texas for years and years and years. Technically, Socorro is called “a city in El Paso,” but that’s quite the stretch. The population in 2010 was 32,013 and I guarantee it was a third of that back when I lived there in the late 1980s. There were like, no neighbors. There was literally an alfalfa field next door. The road wasn’t even paved until years later and that “road” dead-ended into a field of cotton. Socorro is a speck of spit on a cracked, dusty dune. And that’s where I spent my high school years.

This is literally a current photo for a property listing on the exact road in Socorro where I grew up.

It has taken me a very long time to claim El Paso as my hometown. I used to always say “My hometown is Austin,” or ““I was raised in El Paso, but my hometown is Austin,” mainly because Austin was where I lived before my final move to Washington D.C. and, well, everybody knows Austin, but (at least at the time) very few people knew anything about El Paso.

The other reason I never used to claim El Paso as my hometown is because I actually hated it growing up. Absolutely despised it. Couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I moved there under duress right around sixth grade, I think. We moved around all the time for the first 12 years of my life and I had a really hard time making friends. But right before El Paso, we had been living in Huntsville and I had finally made a group of friends. These girls, who were somehow related to each other and were probably a little bit older than me, were a little wild. They were already hanging out with older boys and drinking and smoking, which just made them even cooler in my eyes, so I really wanted them to like me.

But, for various reasons involving lousy men and even worse life choices, my mom up and decided that we were moving to El Paso.

I hated El Paso from the get go. In my pre-teen eyes, El Paso was big and sprawling and yet there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. I was crowded in by the Franklin Mountains on one side and the vast, scrubby desert on the other. I didn’t like the desert landscape, which was the opposite of the lush, piney greenery in Huntsville.

Everything was new and foreign, I didn’t understand the food or the culture. Everybody was laid back and not at all in a hurry. El Paso is where I learned the concept of “manana syndrome.” El Paso people spoke a different language that was a mix of English and Spanish and border slang and I could not keep up with it at all. Plus, everyone was way too Catholic for my anti-religious self.

Socorro Mission

Worse yet, people seemed to want to stay there or return to El Paso after college. They just didn’t leave. They wanted to stay close to their families, which was a totally foreign concept for me. I could not wait to leave. I wanted to get as far away from my family and El Paso as I could, as quickly as I could.

We first settled in a trailer park near Fort Bliss and I did not make friends. Nobody looked like me, nobody talked like me. I felt like an outcast. My new school (Basset Middle School) was especially tough….there were fights there on the daily, usually breaking out in between classes between the main school building and the portables. A lot of times those fights involved lengths of large metal chains the students had brought to school. Random locker searches were the norm. I got in a few fights myself and soon found out the hard way that my scrappy style was no match for these military and Mexican kids.

I retreated even further into myself and my hatred of El Paso–this horrible place my mother had dragged me to—grew. I spent all my time reading books as a form of escape and hiding in the library so I wouldn’t say something that would get me into another fight.

For whatever reason (again, involving a no-good boyfriend), we soon were on the move again, this time, down I-10 to Socorro. Things got moderately better by the time we moved to my grandparents’ abandoned trailer, but by then, my hatred had hardened and coupled with just general pre-teen/teenager surliness, I continued to hold out to the charms of El Paso.

In fact, it wasn’t until much, much later—like, when I was in my late 30s—that I could finally admit that El Paso was, in fact, a unique and wonderful place.

Dancers at Chamizal

I can now admit that the Franklin Mountains are a nice place to go for an evening drive and the giant lighted star is really something special. I slowly embraced the fact that the desert landscape that I had so detested, was actually incredibly beautiful and calming. I appreciate (in hindsight) that in the desert, you can smell the rain before it comes and when the sky finally does split open, it’s a miraculous, powerful thing. I’ve come around to (even if I don’t always practice) “manana syndrome,” because, really, can’t most things wait?

And, I am now oh-so-grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in a border town, crossing easily back and forth over the bridge to enjoy all the best of both cultures—everything from late night rolled tacos at Chico’s Tacos in El Paso to dancing the night away and drinking 25 cent Colorado Bulldogs at the Kentucky Club in Juarez.

But most of all, I am now proud to call myself an El Pasoan because of the wonderful people that live there. El Pasoans are generally – with the exception of a few classmates early on — very welcoming and friendly. Those traits and that openness was wasted on my surly teenaged self, but slowly my walls have melted. I now appreciate El Pasoans’ focus on family and friends, the willingness to help out a neighbor or your daughter’s best friend, without expecting or asking for anything in return.

So, of course, the news that someone from outside the El Paso community would come in and kill innocent families out shopping for back-to-school supplies is just devastating. It would be—and is—devastating that such senseless violence happens in any community. But for it to happen in the El Paso community—which is so diverse and so warm and so open and so welcoming—it is especially galling and just egregious. It’s the last place you would expect something like this to happen. But we all know, it won’t be the last place that something like this happens.

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Some Advice for a Shoplifting Beauty Queen

Ay Lorena. Ven pa’ca, my little El Paso beauty queen. I know, I know,  former Miss El Paso 2008, but you will always be my sullied desert flower. We need to have a little talk.

Guuurrl. What are you doing? You are 21. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You got this whole modeling thing going. You got this little er, production (?) company. You were attending Harvard of the Southwest, UTEP. You were doing well.

Then you had to get picked up for shoplifting? Honey, I do not understand.

Listen, I’m from El Paso. I know how boring it can get. I do. And a trip to Sunland Park Mall is certainly a good time, right up there with Chico’s Tacos. But stealing a $69 shirt from Dillard’s? Tell me chica, was it this one? Kinda busy, no? Somehow I bet it was this one. It seems very dramatic, but the fabric looks a bit cheap to me. Too bad you weren’t wearing your new blouse in the mug shot. I’m pretty curious.

I also know the pressures that come with the prestigious Miss El Paso crown and all its amazing and overwhelming duties. It must have been so exciting to ride on floats in parades and flip the switch on the El Paso Christmas lights.

Regardless, back to my point—shoplifting—it’s not a good road to go down. And two outstanding traffic warrants? Adios mios!

Lemme ask, since you are a pretty girl, did you try to talk your way out of getting arrested AT ALL? Like maybe with the employees who turned you in or with the arresting officer? Turn on some waterworks, mija!

I understand you told a local reporter that details of the incident were “misconstrued, it’s twisted.” Which part is misconstrued? Was the blouse worth much more than $69? Because I gotta say, if you’re going to shoplift, you could go a lot bigger. I have certainly eyeballed a pair of Louboutins in my time and thought about “liberating” them in my purse. I’m just saying.

But don’t worry. You can turn this around. Listen, if I got out of El Paso, you can too. You just gotta focus. And stay away from tacky blouses.

Your mug shot is honestly, striking. You look great. You’ll definitely get some modeling offers just off that alone. I’m thinking Playboy pictorial featuring you as a cop. It’s irony, get it? Oh wait. What’s that? A former Playboy Playmate was arrested this week for trying to board a plane with a concealed weapon? Hmmm. Maybe you shouldn’t hang out with those girls either. They are packing heat!

The story was reported far and wide – even getting some play in Ghana! If you really play your cards right, you can parlay this into an Angelina Jolie-starred vehicle. You look a lot like her. Or, at the very least, a Lifetime movie. Even that Amanda Knox chick got her own movie on that channel, so I think you should aim high and get one too! But, the awesome title “Falsely Accused” is already taken, so bummer there. Maybe we can call your “Misconstrued and Twisted?”

Also, don’t beat yourself up too much because you’re not even the first beauty pageant winner to be arrested by El Paso police. Raelene Aguilar, Miss New Mexico USA 2008, was arrested on drunk driving charges in April 2009. And her case got dropped eight months later because of “insufficient evidence.”

So see? Don’t worry, mi cara!

In an update of an earlier crime story: Fairfax County police now confirm that there have been NINE victims of the infamous Serial Butt Stabber! When will this crime spree end? When will women’s bottoms be safe again??