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Jay Koester: El Paso is…

El Paso is something different every day of the week. The city offers a diversity of experiences that is truly amazing.

On one day, my young nieces and nephews drop by. I’m shown a lot of memes on their iPhones, and I hear a lot of jokes, some cheesy, some ribald.

Then part of the joy of El Paso is, after spending the day with the rough-and-tumble, irreverent, Internet-savvy young folks, I can spend the next day peacefully swapping stories on the porch with mi suegra. After being run ragged by kids with so much energy, I can sit down and learn the family menudo recipe from those kids’ great-grandma.

After regaining my energy, I can head out for a day of hiking through our Franklin Mountains. There are so many great trails and beautiful sights, all in the middle of our city, just a short drive away.

The city boasts a vibrant Downtown, where during baseball season you can catch an El Paso Chihuahuas game. Any other month, there are plenty of clubs, restaurants and shopping to keep anybody happy.

Not far from Downtown, you can show off your UTEP pride and head over to campus to watch a game. Whether you join the rowdy, large crowd watching Sean Kugler’s football team, or head over to Don Haskins’ arena to watch a game at the home of “the ONLY national basketball champions in the state of Texas,” you’re sure to have a great time.

El Paso is the type of place where you can spend a day surrounded by patriotism and service on Fort Bliss, where — even in 2015 — it’s not considered gauche to utter the phrase, “America, love it or leave it.”

Then, after spending a day on Fort Bliss, loving America, you can leave it, if only for a few hours. A day after visiting the museums of Fort Bliss, you can spend the day visiting museums and shopping in a foreign country only minutes away. The Kentucky Club on Avenida Juarez welcomes everybody, buzzcuts and longhairs, and everybody gets along.

As a recent column from Esther Cepeda of the Washington Post Writers Group said, El Paso is “a fully integrated, bilingual, bicultural milieu,” where everybody finds a way to communicate with ease and friendliness. I have met all three types of folks in El Paso: those who speak only Spanish, those who speak only English, and those who are bilingual.

What’s great about El Paso is all three of those groups get along and communicate so smoothly. There are no nativists demanding “English only!” in El Paso. And, whether in El Paso or Juarez, no one is ostracized or looked at askance for their lack of Spanish ability. To each his own; we figure out a way to get things done.

Not to say there aren’t a few old-school segregationists in El Paso who complain about hearing either too much English or too much Spanish, depending on which side they’re on. I’ve certainly heard some comments that old white men with limited Spanish ability like me don’t belong here. But, luckily, those voices are pretty much laughed out of the discussion.

El Pasoans have seen the joy of accepting everybody, and we’re not going back.

Having lived in some great places in Kansas, Oregon and California, there are still days I feel the wanderlust creeping in. But then I look up at those Franklin Mountains and think how much I would miss all the great hikes in El Paso and nearby. And then I look over the border and think how much I would miss the opportunity to visit a foreign country whenever I get the urge. Just a walk across the bridge, and I’m enjoying a culture unlike any other.

And I look around at my family and friends, from infant to elderly, and know there is no other place I could experience the diversity of thoughts and experiences I can in El Paso.

About Jay Koester

Jay’s Journal Since graduating from the University of Kansas in 1994, Jay Koester has been a journalist in San Diego, Calif., Salem, Ore., and, finally, El Paso. FULL BIO

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