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Home | Opinion | Op-Ed: White Girl in a Brown City
Photo Courtesy City of El Paso

Op-Ed: White Girl in a Brown City

I grew up in El Paso, was born here. As a teenager, I used to walk the streets with my friends at all hours of the night. And sometimes, I walked alone.

I was never afraid, even in a time when gangs were fairly prevalent here, I walked without fear. And though we had gangs at the school, I was never worried about violence.

I went to a high school on the northeast side of town where the pregnancy rate was the 4th highest in the state, yet I didn’t have my first child until I was in my 20s.

The biggest problem I faced was that of not being bilingual. I like to think I’m pretty smart, and while it’s true that I can speak some Spanish, I never fully embraced learning it on a conversational level. This has kept me from getting certain jobs.

You see, El Paso borders Mexico. In fact, the El Paso/Juarez area is one of the biggest border communities in the country, if not the world. Many people come across the border daily to shop at the stores, eat at the restaurants, and go to school.

This influx of people is critical to our economy.

They come legally, and our international bridges are not something you want to cross if you are in a hurry. So many come over that it can take hours to get across. Likewise, people from here go to Mexico to shop at the stores, eat at the restaurants, and even take up less expensive residence. It’s truly a beautiful partnership.

So, I was never bitter about losing out on jobs due to my lack of conversational Spanish speaking ability. I understood the need to communicate with those that visited our city, even though I occasionally receive dirty looks by those that do not speak English. But the dirty looks are the worst thing I’ve ever had to endure.

Our city is more than just English/Spanish, or people from across the border coming over; it’s a diverse community. We house one of the largest military bases in the country, as well: Fort Bliss. Men and women in the service come from all over the country. They bring their families, many of whom are not from America.

Our city has Korean communities, German communities, as well as a Native American community. But I never learned to speak any of those languages, either.

At no point, have I ever felt as though any other culture was infringing on my ability to gain employment (they are NOT taking my jobs away), nor have I felt as though any of them were terrorists, or rapists bringing drugs and crime.

In fact, I’ve always felt at home here because, though I look like a white girl on the outside, my inside is just as diverse as this city I call home.

But I’m glad the title brought you into my fold…if that’s what got you reading this in the first place.

The only place I ever felt targeted for my race was when I was unfortunate enough to visit Kentucky. For some reason, even with my very pale complexion and red hair, I was followed while shopping at a convenience store.

As my discomfort grew, I left, hearing the cashier say as I walked out: “Good riddance, ya dirty Mexican!”

Now, as I watch the news, a thing I do more and more often the older I get, I have to wonder where the current administration is getting their “facts” from. I still live in the same city, on the same side of town and yet I see no crisis along the border.

Keep in mind that when I step outside my house, I can see two countries and three states. But no droves of illegals are anywhere in sight. There is literally no crisis.

Well, save for one.

Just before Christmas, immigration agents took migrants that passed background checks and were awaiting asylum, dropping them off at the bus depot downtown. They were left there, en mass, with little or no money, and only the clothes on their backs or in their packs.

And perhaps some of you think this is what they deserve for coming over here and entering our country: nothing…but our city disagrees.

We have been working together, this diverse and beautiful community, to ensure that these discarded people have food, shelter, and warm clothing.  We handled the ‘crisis.’ And life is back to normal.

We keep them safe, just as our city has always been…safe. In fact, El Paso has ranked among the top ten safest cities in the country for so many years, I’ve lost count.

And despite what the President would have you believe, I can still go out and walk the streets at all hours of the night without fear.

About Amy Cooley

A native El Pasoan, Amy Cooley attended Parkland High School before beginning her studies in physics at EPCC. With her love of dark skies increasing, she transferred to New Mexico Tech University where she earned her degree in Astronomy. Moving back to El Paso in 2008, she now wants to share her love of the cosmos with the city she calls home.

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34 comments

  1. Great article, was inspirational and well written. Great job Amy.

  2. Well said!!! Haters will be haters because they choose to do so. The weight on their shoulders is too heavy, and they need to blame someone else for their own inadequacies.
    Keep on, Amy!!!!

  3. Great read with some good insights. Hope you can your goal of teaching / sharing your knowledge of astronomy.

  4. I agree there is no crisis on the border. I am also pale skinned with green eyes and have failed at my attempts to become bilingual. El Paso is home and there is no other place like it. When I interact with people who speak Spanish they are warm and engaging and always go the extra mile to help me communicate. The people of El Paso and your sister city are what make our community amazing. We all want our community to continue to prosper. Taking care of others is a huge part of who we are. I Love my City.

  5. Thank you, Amy! I too am a white child of the border. I love my multi-lingual, multi-cultural city, and wish those far away, fed on hate and fear, could see it as we do.

  6. Wow!!! I was seriously just thinking the same exact things the other day! You hit every note, from: walking at all times, to being the safest city. It does not make sense and they are spreading lies. Even after dropping off families in the middle of uncertainty, we’ve remained safe. This was well written, and great food for thought!!

  7. I also am white and grew up in Northeast El Paso. But not in the Parkland district. No….I grew up next to Devil’s Triangle. Where drive-bys happened often, where if I visited my friends in their housing community ie the projects, I had to have a ‘chaperone’ to walk with me to and from the gated entrance for my protection. School stabbings happened often. Since I didn’t speak much Spanish I was ridiculed, picked on for being this blonde blue eyed girl, and had them say inconsiderate things about me in Spanish right in front of me. I knew who the gang members and the drug dealers were. Most of us did on this side of NE. I knew the parts of northeast to avoid. Parkland school area was considered the safer area. I moved from there to Castner Heights. My point of this is that every one has different experiences here. Some good, some not. Just because the OP didn’t have issues here doesn’t mean that others didn’t. Others were assaulted, harrassed, had been threatened that they’d be taken over the border to never be heard from again. This actually happened to my best friend’s father. Taken from El Paso and murdered in Juarez. Again, some may have loved growing up here and had no issues but for some of us it was hell.

    • Always told my family we are lucky to live in a city where people are people first and respect each other and Amy you proved my point. God bless

    • It was not a great experience for me either and I did not feel safe walking the streets after dark. Hated having bars on the windows in our home.

    • Agreed. Facts need to be checked before trying to convince everyone otherwise. I grew up in East El Paso and it was the same, I was ridiculed each and every day because I was white and didn’t know Spanish. I always hated here. When cross others who only know Spanish, most of the time I am given dirty looks and ridiculed. Very few have ever been nice, warm and sweet despite the language barrier, by very few I mean a handful. Most military and their families are American citizens. Yes we have a small German community on post but they are from the German military and here training. I was in the military, was stationed at Fort Bliss which is where I felt most comfortable, most welcomed of anywhere in El Paso. As far as the crime rates, the only reason El Paso is ranked so safe is because of the fact it is a border town. Crime statistics are done differently here. Any crime that is related to drug cartels, mafias and Mexico are done through the FBI database, not the local database so it is not taken into consideration when cities are ranked based on safety. So many times we have heard the terrifying stories of people being kidnapped and taken from their home in broad daylight, sometimes in front of school busses filled with children and found dead in Mexico. Often times we heard about girls and women taken to be trafficked or prostitued in Mexico or in the NE. Now that the debate is over a border wall we hear nothing of the sorts even though it is still going on, even though government employees and officials are banned from traveling to or visiting Mexico. Wonder why no one mentioned that or talks about it. Why do people think we make Mexico’s government officials come to the US? The last time we had a government official travel to Mexico she was slaughtered along with her escorts. The economy is being drained because people that are not citizens come here illegally, have their babies on our dimes just to live in and raise them in Mexico, sending them across the border into our school system while we foot the bill. They don’t pay taxes into the system, most of the time they don’t even buy supplies or anything. Those that come across the border to work but are not citizens, only have work permits, they are able to file tax returns and get everything back plus some, they are able to claim the child tax credits and so forth. Drugs are still being smuggled across, human trafficking is still happening, it is not as safe as people are making it out to be, nor is it anywhere as welcoming as people want us to believe. Farmers face great issues here because of illegal immigration. People are crossing illegally using farmers properties as meet up points, border patrol ravage through our fields and there is no compensation. We do not argue to much because we understand they are just trying to do their jobs but it still hurts. Those that don’t make it, that drown, dehydrate and so forth, God reset their souls, again who foots the bills on all of that, the medical for all to get them back to a healthy state, the rescue operations, to send their bodies to their loved ones, it is all on us and our economy. Our veterans cannot get the care they deserve, are homeless, are struggling because the VA is backlogged and there just isn’t enough doctors, they can’t even get their benefits approved, it can take 7 years or more to process claims all while immigrants are able to get our resources and be taken care of fully right away. You can’t tell me there is nothing wrong with this. I am one of the veterans struggling, waiting for my VA hearing for 3 years now with no end in sight, I am among the thousands that can’t get the help I need because all of our resources are going else where. It is difficult, extremely difficult living here and seeing this stuff happen each and every day and all anyone cares about is not our own citizens, it’s heartbreaking. Let’s actually look at the statistics, including the FBI stats, let’s actually go out and talk to the people, do some research about military and whether they are US citizens or not before going around trying to convince otherwise. There is so much more to it than just how one person feels, or how several feel, it’s not even just about how people feel but about the actual facts of it all to. But then again, if we actually look at the facts it would hurt the Agenda of fake news, the democratic agenda that the border is completely safe and we don’t need any security, any agents or anything because after all it is the “safest city”. That’s why all the violent news stopped, it’s all a political push against the Republican Party.

    • Truth…that’s why I left ElPaso in 1985…

  8. Wow. That really is a brave article to write, but I believe it shows an bigger truth. I have German, white and black friends and there is no tension between them. I have German, white and black friends who look forward to eating menudo, tamarindo and all sorts of spicy Mexican foods. We take it as granted, but that’s the beauty of El Paso!

  9. The only thing really bad about El Paso is the lack of well paying jobs. Although it will always be my hometown, it will never be my home again. Boy do I miss the sunshine though.

  10. El Paso has had a wall for years, which has been deemed effective by government officials. If it didn’t, I’m not so sure you’d be walking alone at night

    • El Paso had a very low crime rate BEFORE the fence was installed. If you do a little research, you will learn that the crime rate has actually INCREASED since the installation of the fence.

  11. Susan Boykin Gonzalez

    Well said, Amy. I grew up there as well and continue visiting family at least once a month. Love the city. Still go to Juarez to grab a beer at the Kentucky Club. People who are willing to pay and insist on a wall should buy a plane ticket and see this peaceful community for themselves. Texas doesn’t need a wall, we have a natural border, the Rio Grande river. Border security is a concern for all North Americans. Hire more border and immigration agents and invest in better surveillance v equipment. And give those who protect us a raise. They deserve it. A silly wall is just… well, silly.

    • Miguel Rivera Gonzales

      I guess you completely missed the higher crime rates and burglaries in EP (70s-90s) before BP Chief Silvester Reyes started operation hold the line and had additional fencing and walls built by Congress. BP agents often state to this very day that those silly walls allow them additional time to respond. But what do they know right? That natural barrier you call it -the Rio Grande is often ankle deep. Not much of a barrier, and they have these things in Mexico called boats that float, some even have engines. Even then crossings are rare now because of all the cameras along the line , then they have to get over two large fence and wall barriers with BP agents patrolling in between and north of . So where do the cross? East of EP in the Rio Grande Sector, no walls or double fences, less BP and they still cross that natural barrier called a river.

  12. Amy thank you for your article and it’s great that you’ve had a great experience there. But I do agree with Lynder, I was born and raised in El Paso, Tx and I too had a different experience, yet I’m Hispanic. Living in different locations of the city will give you different a perspective and that’s what the media needs to show. I suggest to watch Telemundo and Univisión to obtain a greater perspective of what a Border Patrol Agent has to deal with and what Border Security can mean for the agency. Safety for the border towns mean more tourism, which means more jobs and revenue. What’s important is to hear the opinions of the citizens that are fighting for jobs against illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants get paid in cash and receive government assistance, government assistance that should first got to the citizens of the state. The downtown area near the Puente Libre had such potential and is now a ghost town. We want more stories like yours and not because they live in better neighborhoods but because they live in their neighborhood.

  13. I praise you for standing up for El Paso through your words people will love our community. I now live in Denver Colorado I am of Mexican decent and Alt Denver has a large Hispanic community I have felt nothing short of an immigrant here. I truly miss the warm feeling of home I just love to hear stories like yours right on the dot with everything bout our beautiful West Texas City

  14. Maria Elena Gordon

    El Paso may be safe in many aspects but Ciudad Juatez is not a safe place. El Paso has great potential with outstanding leadership in all areas of Infastructure Politics, and Educational opportunities in place. A strong workforce and a strong Economy. The Wall is needed to deter illigal immigration from taking place without accountability. Thank you for sharing your story it is very well written.

  15. Hey white girl in an American city…For one thing the title of your article itself is racist. The only reason this city should be considered brown is because of the desert landscape not because of the melanin levels in it’s residents. You don’t see a crisis because we do have a fence in El Paso and many CBP, Border Patrol and DHS employees are protecting you, currently for free. If you see them you should thank them…maybe you should also aim your nighttime telescopes at the border sometimes instead of just at the stars, you’ll discover many new things that may make you change your whole narrative.

  16. Miguel Rivera Gonzales

    Amy, maybe you have forgotten that before the wall and double fences and increased BP presence between El Paso and Juarez the crime rate was much higher. Security Bars were common in almost all parts of EP and burglaries were much higher than today. Remember the beatings and robberies of citizens along the border road between chihuahua and chamizal? Criminals would cross, beat up an innocent citizen, rob them, then cross back over the shallow river, or how bout the trains being burglarized as they stopped near Sunland, or how Indian mothers would beg for spare change while sitting at the entrance of stores with their babies in tow only to be brought back to the port of entry by BP; and return the next day. That’s how easy it was to cross to include those who crossed to commit crimes. I remember El Paso of the 70s 80s and early 90s and its alot safer now because of that wall fence what ever people want to call it and increase of security. Now I live in a part of AZ where that luxury doesnt exist. We have no wall, fences and a thin line of BP support. Out here we dont walk outside at night without being armed like you safely walk the streets of El Paso. So you see, you and that CNN reporter claim there’s not a crisis where they have physical barriers and a law enforcement presence yet your not living in a part of the border where that security is non existant. El Paso wasn’t as safe as it is now. A barrier is a deterrent for many and provides additional time for BP agents to respond. Maybe your much younger than me and you havent seen how EP has became safer because of those holding the line, but I have. I’m a 5th generation EP native and still have relatives in Chihuahua and Juarez. I miss EP and the security that those down by the river provide, at this part of the border we provide our own. Our dogs bark at night at those cutting our fences to cross our property, leave tons of trash that our animals eat and get sick or die from, have stolen property and burglarized our home. Often we are woken up by DHS helicopters tracking groups of illegal crossers , so you may not think there is a Crisis but your ignorant of the reality of what is happening at other parts of the border and the negative impact it has in our communities. Just recently one of the so called asylum seekers tried to rape a fellow immigrant while being provided hotel accommodations here in EP. In Nov we lost one of our finest, a EP school teacher ran over by an illegal alien previously removed from the US. Your story about EP and it being safe is only half the story, maybe you should educate yourself on how it became one of the safest large cities on the border.

    • I know your bitter about an article not feeding your nativist self-hating rhetoric, but you’re missing the point. She is expressing her experiences and feelings of growing up here. Like it or not it disproves many of the blatant racist talking points being pushed by some politicians and national gasbag commentators who are no smarter than a gumball machine. I actually do remember when Operation Hold the Line was initiated and it did lead to reduced instances of petty crime around the downtown area, but your attempt to somehow link this to the overall crime rate in El Paso at that time is clearly erroneous. Murder, gang activity, rape, etc., were not confined to just illegal immigrants. These felonies were being committed by US citizens-civilian and military alike. Either way EPPD back then as it is now actively arrests anyone who commits a crime. That’s also why we have a low crime rate. There’s also trust and many other factors on why El Paso is a safe city. Stop drinking the Daily Caller kool-aid bro’ and try to look in the mirror more often. Just saying…

  17. I too grew up as the white girl in a brown city. I know that my acceptance of every human being I meet (and some I haven’t yet) is because of that upbringing. I am constantly telling people that I really Mexican on the inside. This is a wonderful piece that calls out the lies being passed off as fact by the people in charge. Live at the border for a while, and you will see the truth.

  18. It’s easy to write a “nice” article when you leave out the reality of the bad that exists in this city. I was born and raised in El Paso and I love this place. But I am not ignorant of the issues we have here, nor do I try to ignore the fact that our problems are getting worse. We cannot take care of the world, but we can help our community and this includes our citizens, our veterans, our youth. Its not wrong or racist to want this, nor is it right to judge those who care about our laws. Like yourself, I received my higher education elsewhere and returned to El Paso to make a living. Why haven’t people made such an uproar about helping our homeless, or our veterans, or our abused children?? Have we just gotten immune to these issues? Or is ILLEGAL immigrants the “trendy” issue to be a part of right now??

    • I’ve often seen this argument “let’s take care of our own first…”, but what I’ve found is that these are the same folks who talk smack about people on public assistance, have issues with the government funding medical and mental healthcare plus public housing. Many of these programs also benefit veterans, homeless and abused children. When these get cut the latter get affected too, so maybe you should support these programs. Luckily there’s also many charities that help these groups, so give them support too. Actions speak louder than words, so put your money where your mouth is!

    • Spot on Mari!

  19. I worked for the City of El Paso for nearly ten years before I moved to the Phoenix Metro area nearly three years ago. While I love my home city, I also know it has many flaws. You see, I am latino and fluent in English and Spanish, I remember people talking in Spanish when non-Hispanics were present because typically, they were talking about about them. El Paso is a large city with a small town mentality that keeps its work force from being able to improve their life, which is why El Paso is the leading city of people who leave for better opportunities. I have walked/driven every street in El Paso, met many people of all colors, from doctors to MS13 gang memebers, I have seen and heard many stories that don’t make the news. I’ve been “threatened” by residents, and politicians over things that really shouldn’t have been a big deal. One thing I realized when I left El Paso is how much we are lied to about our situation, wages/cost of living. I love the sun city, and it will always be home, which is why it hurts to see how the local government takes advantage take of the situation.

  20. Articles like this make me want to go, “Hey Amy, why don’t you throw your article in the face of the families of Kate Steinle, Molly Tibbets, Officer Singh and thousands of others who weren’t so “safe”.” Maybe El Paso is safe because there is a WALL. Let me guess ..you voted for Beto and jumped on the “Oh I Am White See How Tolerant I Am” Bandwagon. The mere fact you had to state you are white proves my point. SMH

  21. Amy, have you ever walked by a school and looked to see if anyone was holding up a sign saying they were going inside the school with a gun? Have you ever walked in your neighborhood and seen someone holding a sign they were going inside a house to rob it? Have you ever seen a human smuggler or drug smuggler or illegal alien at the border holding a sign saying they were going to cross the border? Yes, El Paso is a friendly city to live in and like you, I am Anglo, meaning a minority in this city. But I know that fences/walls are kept around schools, homes, and our border to keep us safe. Bringing the current political situation into you article only diminished what should have been an emphasis on how people in this city get along. I enjoyed your article up until that point, where I felt the need to respond that this city has beautiful walls and fences that help keep us safe.

  22. As an Anglo in Northeast El Paso, I constantly feel the weight of disapproval for my skin color (pale pink with light freckles) and light eyes. I moved here from back East, and never managed to learn Spanish despite spending time and effort and money on multiple attempts. Seems that I’m too pale, speak the ‘wrong’ language, and should *just leave* despite nearly 30 years of trying to fit in. Perhaps Amy was lucky, or is pretty young, since I remember the days of iron window bars and being told “I can’t hire you, I already have a token Anglo on my staff and LULAC would close me down,” and how dangerous El Paso was before Syvestre Reyes beefed up the Border Patrol. Glad for Amy, but I look forward to retiring somewhere that’s friendlier to Americans without Hispanic heritage.

  23. I truly have a hard time believing you experienced someone calling you a “dirty Mexican “ despite your complexion and admitted inability to speak Spanish (from ep and live near Kentucky now, yet my pale complexion and black hair are still labeled as “white” even though I speak fluent Spanish, but I guess you needed a bit for your article 🤷🏻‍♀️). Nice try, but maybe come up with a better lie next time.

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