El Paso Is…
El Paso is a true melting pot. Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese, German, Black, Jewish, Catholic, Yankee, Southern, Spanish, Indian – all those qualifiers have roiled around in this region for hundreds of years, baking in the desert sun and becoming what we are today. We are a town of family, tradition, and religion.
We have accepted all the different flavors of all the different travelers who stumbled upon this town and, after finding it to their liking, stayed on and made it their own.
You can see the influence of all those cultures and beliefs that have shaped our town just by looking around. Every type of architecture has taken up residence in our streets, and every era has left its mark. We taste the influence of those cultures in the amazing foods that can be found all over town.
Ask anyone who has the best Mexican food in town, and you’ll get dozens of different answers, and each restaurant named will bring a smile of recognition of your favorite dish from that establishment. Need God? We have Him, too, in this City of the Pass. Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Buddist, Wiccan, they’re all here, and all ready to show you the light.
What we seem to be lacking lately, however, is tolerance for those very differences that have made us such a unique city. ‘Not Hispanic enough’, ‘White-Washed’, ‘Austin Wanna-Be’.
It seems the very differences that made El Paso what it is, are threatening to tear it apart. Like it or not, a city is shaped most dramatically by it’s politics and it’s politicians. Political factions are nothing new in a city, but the factions in El Paso have much more to deal with than just which street gets a stop sign, they have to deal with hundreds of years of border history.
Hispanic politicians these days can’t just shake hands and kiss babies, they need to prove that they not only celebrate their culture, they have to be fluent in Spanish or risk getting called a ‘coconut’, brown on the outside, white on the inside. Anglo politicians need to be able to withstand the ‘you can’t understand our struggle because you live on the Westside’ grenades that are lobbed at them.
And anyone who wants to try to gentrify anything is going to have a chorus of ‘we aren’t Austin’ to shout over.
El Paso has always been The City of the Pass, but it seems, right now, we are at a crossroads. We have to decide if we are going to be slaves to our culture and history, or figure out a way to celebrate them while building on them. We have to decide if we are going to be a city that is solely our own, or if we are going to try and bring outsiders in by making ourselves more attractive than other communities in this region.
We have to decide if we can all truly march under the banner of ‘El Pasoans’ or if we are going to qualify that moniker with ‘Hispanic El Pasoans’, ‘Anglo El Pasoans’, ‘Hipster El Pasoans’, and so on, and so on.
When my Lebanese great-grandparents arrived in El Paso in the early 1900s, they spoke only Arabic. They learned English and Spanish because they wanted to assimilate and blend into their new home. They worked, raised their children, and even saw their sons fight in World War II as American citizens. They lost none of their culture or history, yet, became El Pasoans.
My hope is that that spirit will continue in our city, and we will find a way to continue to live and work under one banner – El Pasoans.