Photo: City of El Paso

Op-Ed: An open letter to El Pasoans and their beautiful town

One of the first serious conversations I remember having with my mother as a young child followed the question, “What country did we come from?”

She provided a very brief explanation of the political situation in Ireland that turned deadly for my grandfather’s family. They had to leave or be killed. A complete lack of records as to how they came into the country suggests that they may have come here illegally.

Regardless, they became members of their local community, worked HARD, and started what became a very successful business. Many of their descendants have fought for this country in multiple wars and are the kind of people who do their very best to make it one of love and acceptance of others.

I see so much of my own family in the people of El Paso. There’s no way to know how or when people came to be in this country (and, quite frankly, I don’t ask or care), but I see them working hard every day and growing and contributing to our culture and society and economy.

I see families and communities that absolutely love this country and one another.

And let me tell you – no one does the Fourth of July like the people of El Paso. Never have my husband or I seen so many displays of American patriotism leading up to and well after holiday.

On our first 4th here, we sat on our rooftop and watched the unbelievable fireworks display hosted privately by neighbors in every direction. There were fireworks as far as we could see everywhere we turned and it nearly brought us both to tears – to witness so much love and enthusiasm for our country.

Our country was an continues to be built on the dreams and sweat of immigrants. The people of El Paso, however long they’ve individually been here (and let’s be real – many have been here as long if not longer than my own family), are an incredible example of the American Dream done right.

Last year, we left our families and familiar coastlines and moved halfway across the country to this new duty station in El Paso – to a place and environment we’d never had the pleasure of visiting, let alone living in.

Even as a long-time military family, it was initially a little daunting for the both of us. But the people here welcomed our family and made us feel immediately at home in a way we have never experienced.

When strangers kindly smiled, initiated conversation, and found out that we were new, they would stand and talk with us at length about the city and where we could find the best places to eat or go for date nights and where to steer clear from. They’d ask us how we were settling in, how we were doing with the move, and how the kids were handling it.

Local moms who had never met me took time out of their busy days to send me small booklets-worth of information over text about resources and events for myself and children. Neighbors brought over big plates of Texas BBQ and sides as we struggled to unpack in a fixer-upper with two small children.

My father died shortly after we moved to the area and the first (and perhaps only person outside of my husband) to see me really lose it was an unsuspecting employee of a local gas station – she gave me the BIGGEST hug and just let me be human.

Another time, my husband was deployed and every single of one of my children and I were sick and completely exhausted. They really started losing it in the pharmacy line and I just didn’t have the hands or energy to contain them both.

Then, an older couple behind us offered to help. The gentleman picked up my youngest son and played with him – snotty nose and all. His wife and I spoke in broken English and broken Spanish about our families and her grown daughters and how they’d always wanted a son.

That day – when I was totally alone and felt like death and had two hysterical children who felt awful too, they saved my sanity and gave me their empathy.

These are just a couple of the multitude of examples of kindness we experience every day in this city. I could go on and on and on about the kind of people the people of El Paso are.

To me, they’re everything you hope to find in an American community and truly embody the American dream.

What happened is absolutely gutting: to see this amazing group of Americans and immigrants who so thoroughly embody everything it is to BE American and HOPE for the American dream attacked so senselessly – it’s not something that will ever make sense.

It speaks to a horrific level of ignorance some people have about this incredible border town, about how deranged and insecure some people in this country still are about the “other,” and the hard work we have yet to do.

But I’m not sitting here writing to convey some poli-cultural message: I started writing to tell anyone who would listen about how amazing the people of this city are and wanted to finish with a final note to the people of El Paso:

Dear neighbors,

I love you. My family loves you. We are so grateful for you and your culture and your kindness and the way you made us feel so welcome in a place so far from what we once considered home.

Because of you, we have a different and better idea now of what that means. YOU are a testimony of what makes this country great. I’ve seen you and how you embody the spirit of the American Dream.

For generations upon generations, you have and continue to achieve the same thing my family came to this country for: hope, hard work, and success.

And somehow, in that process, you have built the most loving and kind community of people my family has ever been lucky enough to know.

No one ever deserved to be attacked like you were attacked (especially not you), but I know if there’s a people in this country who can come back better and stronger – it’s you.

The child-man who did this speaks only for a small group of very sick, deranged people who have no concept of what being an American means.

His voice will not be the voice that has the last word.

Your hope, love, and resiliency will.

We are with you.


An Army Wife in El Paso