White Girl in a Brown City
By Amy R. Babcock
Originally published as Amy Cooley on January 12, 2019 in the El Paso Herald-Post
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. 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. And though we had gangs at the school, I was never worried about violence.
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!”
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. The agents of ICE have been taking immigrants that passed background checks and are awaiting asylum and dropping them off at the bus depot downtown. They leave them there, in mass, with 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 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.