Dallas, TX –
The sky yawns wide and sunny over the Franklin mountains. People shop, walk their dogs or eat at Chico's Tacos. El Paso is home; half of it, anyway. My heart pulls toward the other half in Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande.
My mother lives in El Paso and my father in Juarez with my two siblings from his second marriage.
I left El Paso in the mid-80s, but return several times a year. This spring, however, my homecoming is filled with heartache. Will I have the courage to visit family in Juarez, a city where nearly 2000 people have been murdered in the drug war since the beginning of 2008?
President Barack Obama is pumping resources into border areas to protect Americans and help Mexico. He's cracking down on guns shipped from our country to theirs. Mexican president Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of military troops to patrol Juarez.
I feel invaded. Criminals and military forces are trampling my childhood memories.
Juarez is where in the early 70s, my cousin Lety and I played on our grandfather's patio.
One New Year's Eve as a teen, I met two cousins at our grandfather's house. From there we went to a dance hall and rang in the new year with polkas, corridos and cambias. Afterward, we walked home, and in an alley one of my primas stripped off her ruined nylons while the rest of us doubled over in laughter.
In 1980, as my grandfather lay dying in Juarez, I finished my first semester at the University of Texas at El Paso. One day after class, I drove to the clinic where my family held vigil. I traveled alone, an 18-year-old feeling sad but perfectly safe.
Impossible to imagine I could still come and go as I pleased without anything happening to me.
Just a year ago, my brother and I visited Juarez. An uncle and aunt were recently deceased and we wanted to pay respects. Already, the war was escalating. Mexican police shot by drug traffickers had been rushed to El Paso for treatment, and the county hospital was in lockdown. We left Juarez before dark.
After a family death several months later, few of us in the U.S. went to the funeral. The narcotraficantes had paralyzed us with acts of fear: Journalists shot dead. Informants beheaded. Mutilated bodies left for children to find.
Border folk weep at these stories. We live in one country or the other, but our lives transcend the river. To see Juarez under siege injures part of my soul.
On this trip home, my father met me in El Paso. I asked if the Juarez violence had abated with the military presence. Things are quieter, he said. My Mexican siblings are in high school and university. They go shopping, they go to parties. Life goes on.
So I decided on a brief visit to Juarez. Just to reclaim the freedom that has been stolen from me. But then my dad said that last December he was in a store that was robbed in broad daylight. He was shoved into a back room while armed men emptied the cash register. No one was injured.
And just like that, my courage vanished. Much as I long to visit Juarez, I cannot. Not even to walk once more through my grandfather's house and be enveloped by the ghosts of meals past and hear the laughter embedded in the walls.
Instead, I remain in El Paso, longing for a return to safer times.
Beatriz Terrazas is a writer from Dallas.
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