El Paso/Ciudad Juarez as Ciudades Hermanas/Sister Cities? It’s push me, pull you
By Joe Olvera ©, 2011
Can El Paso-Juarez really be considered to be Ciudades Hermanas/Sister Cities when miles of steel fencing have been built to keep the two sisters apart? Hasn’t enough been done already to keep the two sisters cities separated – one is the murder capital of the world, while the other is the safest city in the United States? Or so, it would seem. Already more than 100,000 Mexicans from Juarez have migrated to El Paso, where the living is easier, but the corruption is almost as high as it is on the Mexican side of the border. Yet, compared to Juarez, El Paso is safe.
Although some unthinking people are wondering if the designation of Juarez-El Paso as sister cities should be dropped, how can it be, when Juarez and El Paso are joined at the hip? Aren’t there El Pasoans who have family members in Juarez, and don’t Juarenses have family members in El Paso? Separate the twain? Why the audacity. This so-called sister city designation has been an ongoing affair for 33 years. And, yes, there was a time when El Paso proudly promoted its ties to Juarez. What else could it do, when there was nothing to attract tourists to the Sun City?
Rather than highlighting El Paso’s own Mexican population, and Mexican culture, city leaders opted to ignore that reality and to promote El Paso as the Gateway to Mexico – the Gateway to Ciudad Juarez. What would happen to El Paso if Juarez falls? The picture would not be pretty. Times were when El Paso promoted Juarez as the Divorce Capital of the World, where stars like Elizabeth Taylor could obtain a “quickie” divorce, with very little hassle if she decided to get married on the same day. And, of course, she wasn’t the only one. There were always willing legal personnel like judges and the like to perform those ceremonies – for a hefty price, I’m sure.
Time was when the La Fiesta Restaurant could attract top-name singes like Nat King Cole, when El Paso moaned and complained because tourists often by-passed El Paso on their way to Juarez to make that city their stomping grounds and take in the many sights and activities that city presented. But, that was then, this is now. Juarez has become the murder capital of the world, while El Paso has become the “safest city” in the U.S. That’s quite a paradox. Two Ciudades Hermanas pulling and tugging against each other, yet, longing for the days when the sister cities designation meant something.
Would eliminating the sister cities symbolism help El Paso appeal to new businesses, to attract conventions and conferences? Not really, some postulate. After all, what does El Paso have to offer? There are no major attractions, it hasn’t promoted itself effectively as an All-American City, nor has it sung its own praises as the safest city in America, nor has it promoted itself as a convention city for other than bowling tournaments. While that’s good, and the Men’s Bowling Tournament, it is predicted, should bring about $75 million to the city, yet, is that all? Besides, that won’t happen until 2015 – four long years from now. Seattle, Washington recently garnered $60 million for holding the Lion’s Club Convention. Has El Paso done the same? El Paso is an international city, and the Lion’s Clubs are international, so, where’s the interest?
What El Paso is doing is asking everybody what it can do to crawl out of its doldrums, not trusting its own leaders, or its own people, to tell it what to do, after all, what do the local yokels know? Not much, I’ll gather. El Paso crawls along, at a snail’s pace, putting together a piece-meal strategy in attracting big-money events to the city. What would happen to El Paso, some wonder, if it drops Juarez as its sister city, and, miracle of miracles, Juarez suddenly ends its reputation for violence and pulls itself up from the ashes, like the Phoenix, from the violence that has engulfed the city. Would El Paso try to get back in the good graces of Juarez – a city it wants to abandon? A city official was quoted in a recent story that El Paso plans to “enhance El Paso’s image,” and to develop a “brand” for the city.
What is amazing is that El Paso has always had a unique brand, an image that of a city replete with Mexicans and the Mexican culture, only city leaders in the past refused to promote El Paso in that light. They opted to highlight the city as the Gateway to Mexico, totally ignoring the Mexican people, the Mexican culture, the Spanish language, and other realities that make El Paso unique. Instead, the city was promoted as a low-wage town, with a low-wage mentality. So, what would happen if, suddenly, Juarez pulls itself out of the doldrums and, itself, chooses to not accept El Paso as a sister city? The problem that has remained for city leaders is that the Mexican and Mexican American population in El Paso isn’t going anywhere. It remains steadfast, it’s here to stay, despite efforts to denigrate their presence. It’s sad, but true, that the city pays others to come tell us how the city should behave. Remove Juarez as El Paso’s sister city? What would that gain? Go figure!