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ALAN POGUE Free Trade Blockade BY PAT LITTLEDOG El Paso/Juarez “To consider mankind otherwise than brethren, to think favors are peculiar to one nation and excludes others plainly supposes a darkness in the understanding.” John Woolman 1720-1772 THERE HAS ALWAYS been something about El Paso del Norte that says home to me, maybe something in the nesting shape of its valley or in the magnetism of all of its rockiness. I see the early morning clouds caressing the tops of the Mexican mountains catching up the valley on its southwestern side and I am struck by some kind of sweet thrill, like I have seen my old mother and father brush each other’s hands with the same kind of love that I hope might have preceded my own conception. Whatever the pull, the city called me to itself when I was still a teenager a firsttimer away from my ever-moving military family. I believe that at the time I arrived I had already moved more than 60 times. Within months, I was married and my first child was conceived. And I did not leave for another 14 years. When I did, I thought it was only going to be for two years of graduate school then I’d be right back. That’s how easy it is to slip off these highflying freeways onto some cloverleaf loop that takes forever getting back in the direction you were aiming for. But just a couple of weeks ago I moved to the foot of Mount Franklin again. I took a room in a downtown hotel, and I’ve been walking around every day, through the plaza and up the mesa as far as the university overlooking the western hills of Juarez. And then south with the crowds, past the many sidewalk vendors and the fantastic beaded dresses and shimmery fabrics and cheap watches in dozens of independent shops that make window shopping here by far the most interesting of all Texas cities. I haven’t been going over the bridge to Juarez because since I’ve been in town the local TV news has flashed nightly pictures of Border Patrol officers in riot gear, lined up and facing south, where angry demonstrators from time to time fire up an Uncle Sam piata or burn an American flag while reporters translate what some of them are Pat LittleDog is a poet and novelist. 8 OCTOBER 29, 1993 saying as “death to gringos,” or perhaps “death to ALL gringos.” Operation Blockade, according to the El Paso Times, will be making a human wall of 450 armed agents, for an indefinite period, to stop undocumented border crossers. And additional funding is being requested. Shopkeepers are complaining in both El Paso and Juarez that business has slowed down drastically, and Mexico’s Foreign Minister Fernando Solano has called on the United States to end the blockade, stating that the operation has “created unnecessary tensions that affect the traditionally good relationship of the communities on both sides of the border.” But I haven’t seen any mention of all of this action on national news. Instead there is only talk of the Free Trade Agreement. I don’t know if the two stories and their different treatments are coordinated by the government in order to make a certain statement; certainly word on both operations comes from the same Washington, D.C direction, and they both have to do with who and what can cross this border when and why and in what way. When I lived in El Paso, I came to Juarez shopping with my friends at least once a week. It was just another neighborhood to us, where we came for fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, which we bought from open-air stalls and carts for only a few cents per kilo, at a time before the peso had become so inflated. Much of the produce had been picked the same morning we bought it. When I have come back over the past few years to visit, I found the prices higher but quite competitive with prices in the United States, and the variety and freshness oftentimes superior, which was no surprise, as half of the fruits and vegetables in U.S. stores in wintertime now come from Mexico. For meat, cheese, beer and soft drinks, I used to shop in the Pronaf-area Super Meleado, which was then one of my husband’s advertising accounts. His independent, El Paso-baed agency also worked for seveial other Juarez businesses that regularly advertised in the El Paso media, including the Juarez Bullring. The agency also placed ads in the Juarez media for accounts like the wrestling matches held in the El Paso Coliseum but popular on both sides of the river. With no documentation, we both worked the Juarez side of these accounts, even though Mexico had its own rules about the employment of non-nationals. We, also shopped without permits, and this freedom to determine our own economic habits meant a fairly sizable amount of the income we earned in Mexico was also spent there. When out-of-town friends came to visit, we always took them over the bridge for a treat a special dinner at Julio’s or Sylvia’s, or at la Fogata, where shrimp paella was eaten while classical guitarists strummed and