I am in El Paso, Texas, for a conference entitled “The Border: A Region of Promise.” It’s being hosted by the Border Philanthropy Partnership and the Frontera Asset Building Network.
From my hotel window I can see the border fence with Ciudad Juarez, and a residential neighborhood that starts shortly behind it and ascends the slope of a mountain. On the side of the mountain are painted, in big white letters and in Spanish, the words: “Ciudad Juarez. The Bible is the truth. Read it.”
The words are a bit disconcerting, considering that beneath them sprawls the city that holds the inglorious distinction of being Mexico’s murder capital. Drug violence has been the cause of more than 3,000 deaths there since the start of last year.
And there’s the fence itself. This is the first border town I’ve visited outside of San Diego. I flew a long way to get here, and the desert was vast. Looking out the window it’s baffling that the rusted fence I see is the same one I wrote about a couple of months ago in San Diego, more than 700 miles away.
So there are those images, which are certainly powerful and unsettling ones, and which have come to define the perception of the borderlands in San Diego and the rest of the Southwest for many Americans.
But then there are the ones that I heard so eloquently expressed today, during the first day of the conference that has convened leaders of civil society both in the United States and Mexico’s border regions. They are trying to promote opportunity for trans-border exchanges of language, community, commerce, ideas, and innovation.
I have met people from California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas who believe in the words “hopeful,” “culture” and “beauty,” and who think you have to believe in those words if you are to create good out of a region often feared, and convince skeptics that it’s possible.
There are grant makers, community health promoters, education advocates, housing providers, and even a few journalists who want to dwell on the border’s untold stories. I’m coming away with some interesting future story ideas of my own.
What are your thoughts on the untold stories of San Diego’s border? What should I be asking about while I’m here, among people who believe there’s more to the border than a rusted fence meant to keep weapons, drugs, and people out?
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