As a Dane I have had the privilege – since 1978 – to visit the US maybe 30 times. Often I write articles about America along the way. I love and respect America.
A couple of weeks ago I visited El Paso for the first time. It turned out to be a great experience. I stayed at the Gardener hotel – next to John Dillinger’s room – visited the most interesting art museum and I saw the Magoffin Home. I bicycled all over town enjoying the kindness and safety of this great city.
Visiting Duranguito, however, I was surprised- not to say shocked – to learn that the most interesting part of this neighborhood is going to be demolished. The idea seems to be to build a sports arena on the ruins of that neighborhood. A sports arena sounds like a great idea. But it seems to me the location chosen is so wrong.
I have studied the history of Duranguito and here is what I found out:
Duranguito is El Paso’s oldest platted neighborhood and tells the story of the origins of this border community like few other places. It’s roots go back to indigenous peoples including Apache, Pueblo and Manso Indians. It is the site of the Ponce de Leon ranch in 1827 and was located right down the middle of major trails that traversed this gateway city from the four cardinal directions. Including the Camino Real Trail and the Butterfield Overland Wagon Trail. The homes that are currently standing include 130-year-old structures and sites of memory from the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the first major social revolution in the twentieth century. Duranguito and other South El Paso neighborhoods has been called the Ellis Island of the border because immigrants from all over the world lived here. The Chinese laundry constructed in 1901 is one of the last remaining landmarks to El Paso’s Chinatown from the early twentieth century. La Morena Grocery was run by Syrian immigrants in the 1920s. Many other buildings in this historic neighborhood were the residences of Italian chefs, German-Jewish merchants, Mexican writers, Japanese immigrants, etc.
In this sense Duranguito represents not only local and regional history, but world history as well.
I am convinced that people from Europe and other parts would rather come to learn about this history if it were highlighted and explained in historical museums, small gift shops, bookstores, traditional mercado and performance spaces rather than a big box arena that isn’t at all unique to the area.
For this reason but first and foremost because the people of El Paso have a right to their own history, I kindly suggest that the plans to tear down Duranguito are being reconsidered and hopefylly skipped. Instead this beautiful and interesting neighborhood should be restored to its former glorry days.
Erik Boel, Danish Tourist
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