“That’s the Torres house, that’s Martinez, that’s Garciahe’s in the serviceand that’s Telles, the one they named the street over there for,” says Carrillo on a ride through town. He waves at the driver of a passing truck. “And there goes my brother.” This part of San Elizario began as a rough colonia, unimproved lots where families have seen water come to houses only in the last few years, although many, like Carrillo’s mother, don’t have gas yet, and sewage systems are still a dream. That means part of Camaron’s business is modifying the trucks that go around cleaning septic tanks. He sweeps an arm to take in concrete brick houses rising among the nopales and pink tunas, and a developer’s sign that announces: Coming Soon Mission Style, 31 Lots. Progress in making colonias a decent place to live has come hard, but now people are scared. Households have always been a mix of citizens, legal residents, and undocumented relatives, but the war on terror is changing lives. Take a ride around other colonias east of El PasoAgua Dulce, Sparks, around Horizon and Montana Vistaand you hear more. For weeks during the Linebacker stops, neighbors brought food and diapers to houses where fathers had been taken by authorities and mothers didn’t dare go into the streets. Priests reported churches vacant. A clinic usually bursting with the uninsured stood empty of families, the sick unattended. Today those who are undocumented, and relatives, remain uneasy. Around San Elizario the occasional Lazy Boy or old sofa in a yard sits empty. “People used to walk around more, used to walk down along the edge of the cotton field over there along the river for exercise, late in the day,” says mechanic Jessie Rubio, 46, a friend of Camaron’s. On a July morning, as Rubio spoke under a shade tree outside the family’s trailer home, his 11-year-old son, Jose Luis, tinkered with a car engine, and a lone, white egret was the only other creature visible in the expanse between Rubio’s yard and the line that marks the border. “What if a Minuteman mistakes me and shoots me?” he asks. Then there’s the Guard. “They can make a mistake with somebody taking a stroll, because now there’s too many guns and too many people. Somebody will say, ‘I’m an American, you can’t tell me what to do: and there’ll be trouble. Sometimes you get mad when you get asked so much for papers. You feel racism starting to climb. You can feel the tension.” Being asked for papers to go to the store “felt like those countries you hear about where soldiers and police are taking over and can search you,” says Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Chihuahua when he was six. He votes, and like other residents, is pleased when he reads the Border Patrol has busted drug runners. “They could hurt my son,” he says. But Rubio feels less ownership of his neigh borhood now, questions why it’s feeling like a front line, and senses danger. “In a war situation you’re looking at people and asking, ‘Friend or foe?’ Well, now you’re getting people coming in from different parts, the Guard and Minutemen, and here we all look the same. In a war zone they don’t know who is who:’ Guard spokesmen reiterate that soldiers have authority only to call in the Border Patrol, not to arrest suspicious persons. Yet on the ground, fear of running into a soldier and being challenged is far greater than running into a Border Patrol agent. Partly this is because agents are familiar, but the soldiers are not. Partly it’s because residents see soldiers at war on TV every day, pictured amid explosions and in combat, then, disconcertingly, see them behind their back yards. And partly fear rises because residents know soldiers who are trained for war, or recently returned from war, may have a mind-set that doesn’t belong in the neighborhood. It’s not an outlandish concern: Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson told The Washington Post in October 2005 that 12 percent of returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan seen at Veterans Administration facilities suffered from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. But Suzanne Dennis, an Air Force veteran of Desert Storm who returned six months ago from Baghdad deployment as a public affairs specialist with the Texas National Guard, dismissed anxiety about stressedout soldiers on the line. “They just switch gears:’ Dennis says, from the battlefield to assisting the Border Patrol. “If you can’t switch, you don’t belong there.” Nevertheless, for those in houses near the line, living in the zone now brings a sensation of the ground shifting under their feet. For Ray Carrillo, it also comes with a hunch his role in life is changing, because what is experienced as repres SEPTEMBER 8, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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