Yol-Itzma Aguirre: El Paso Is…

El Paso Is…

Home. It is the central core to my existence. My heart.

I now travel across the country, but when I am sitting in an airport and long for something, I close my eyes and  I see my grandmother hanging clothes out to dry, I can smell the fresh linen scent of Jabon Zote or Roma laundry detergent.

My mother and father were both born in Chihuahua, Mexico and eventually became a U.S. citizens, my sister and I were first-born Mexican-Americans, on U.S. soil. So we grew up like most El Pasoans, with a blend of both worlds.

El Paso is a very special, niche place – a hidden bloom in the desert. We share an international border with Cd. Juarez, therefore many of us carry the traditions and customs from our Mexican heritage, and all the modern lingo and lifestyle from the United States.

I remember as a child every Sunday, abuelita and abuelito would pick us up and we would attend church in Juarez. Afterwards, it was tradition to pay a visit to the family members that lived there and we would make the rounds to visit each relative’s house, then start making our way back to “the bridge / el puente” around sunset to begin the great wait “en la linea” for the next three to four hours.

You wouldn’t believe how vivid my memories are of smelling exhaust fumes all along that bridge, but we did it every weekend, because keeping the family connected (even across borders) is a crucial part of El Paso culture.

With this dual-identity comes great rewards, especially in regards to cuisine. I have to tell you, I have been all across the states and I have yet to find great authentic Mexican cuisine that can compares to El Paso’s.

Again El Paso is different in the sense that, although we are Texans (and believe me we love our country music) but being a part of the border-town synergy allows us to retain authentic styles of cooking. Therefore our tacos are real tacos, not “taco shells,” our salsas are made with freshly picked chile’s then blended to perfection, usually not from a jar; no offense to our Tex-Mex kin, but it just simply isn’t the way we do things around here. Every trip home I make sure to break my diet long enough to enjoy some enchiladas, simply the best!

That air of authenticity carries over to all things. El Paso has a rich and beautiful place in history, we were the crossing point for commerce and trade for all cultures, when the United States was first forming on Mexican and Native American lands. El Paso’s name derives from “El Paseo Del Norte” the pathway to the North, so in essence, we were the gateway to the future.

The Tigua Reservation is located in the area I grew up in, so we El Pasoans are exposed to history lessons even in our everyday living, whether it’s a festival or concert near the reservation, a tour of the historic Spanish missions, or go a little further west and visit “the real” tomb of famed wild west gunslinger, Billy the Kid.

But as I previously said, we began as the gateway of the future, and as a proud El Pasoan, it is awesome to see the city is currently in the midst of an evolution.

As I have heard it, a few years ago a group of hopefuls had a brilliant idea to catch bands on their way back from Coachella, (since everyone passes through El Paso on their way to and from California) thus was born the Sun City Neon Desert music fest.  We also acquired a minor-league baseball franchise, the El Paso Chihuahuas, which has attracted a new wave of commerce and excitement.

And that’s the thing about El Paso: this is the place where people still value quality time, whether it’s spending cool summer nights hosting a discada, going to a kermes, or gathering everyone to watch a sporting event, at the end of the day it’s about the creating a strong sense of unity within your people, a beautiful trait often lost in a city of our size.

The Sun City is a shared experience, everyone is a part of the music, food, arts and culture. El Paso has a big city life but with all the comforts and old world gentility of a small town. I love people watching when I go back home, people are so different; in the rest of the world, in a large city, you can walk in and out of places and forever go unnoticed, but in El Paso you still hear a random stranger greet you with “Hello, good morning” or an elderly man holding the door open for everyone. We still say “excuse me, con permiso.”

In El Paso, we are taught at a very early age that along with love thy mother and father, there is also: pride for thy family name and city. El Pasoans very much have a pack mentality, you will never find a stronger group of supporters, we are fiercely loyal, if you doubt me just wait until football season!

We have a special, hidden gem in the desert, and I hope El Paso never becomes pretentious; we have managed to retain our own identity clear back to the days when we were Native American lands being fought over by two countries. We speak Spanish, English and Spanglish, we have the influence of many cultures, and have managed to weave them into something of our own.

I feel like El Paso is the “Katniss Everdeen” of the Texas Cities Hunger Games, because we make our own rules and write our own story.

El Paso is a place unlike any other.