At least four times a week, I cross the border between Texas and Mexico. It's part of my job: I'm a professor at the University of Texas-El Paso, and I also teach and research at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. (Article continued below...)
El Paso and Juárez have long been considered a single community, one divided by a borderline but united by everything else. Our economies depend on each other. Our languages blend into each other. We have the same culture and values. But the brutal drug war taking place in Juárez during the past 18 months, which has claimed more than 2,500 lives, is slowly dividing these two cities.
Residents in El Paso now advise one other not to go to Juárez. Many have stopped making trips to see friends and relatives. Others no longer cross to visit doctors and pharmacists. Wealthy residents of Juárez, fearful of the violence, have fled to El Paso; those who can't afford to do the same resent what they see as their neighbors' abandonment.
When I mention my trips across the border to friends and colleagues in El Paso, I'm often asked, "Aren't you afraid?" My answer was always no, but even I have begun to feel uneasy in Juárez. One brisk morning not too long ago, I was followed by a beat-up, white pickup truck while on my way to campus. I was followed so closely, and through so many streets, that I wondered if I was going to be the next carjacking victim. The car eventually disappeared, but I couldn't relax until I crossed back over the border. Ironically, El Paso is one of the safest American cities—and it now lies alongside the unsafest city in Mexico.
Our politicians, and the bureaucrats who work for them, come and go along the border, making grandiose statements about how we are winning the war on drugs even as the situation deteriorates. The binational community is never asked about what we're seeing and what we're experiencing. We know we can defend ourselves—we can patrol the streets, we can take back our communities—but it's hard to know exactly how to solve our problems when our leaders are misrepresenting their very nature.
Before this eruption of violence, my identity as a borderlander is not something I actively thought about; it was just who I was. But more and more, I have to ask myself, are we still a single community? I can't help but think that the drug violence is doing what centuries-old nationalisms never accomplished: driving a wedge between us.