Capture El Paso
By R.J. Jimenez
24 Aug 2009
The area of El Paso, Texas, has been much maligned. The self deprecating jokes among us are many. "How do you know you're from El Paso?" When you don't associate clouds with rain, rivers with water, bridges with water. When your left arm is waaay more sunburnt than your right. You've actually cooked an egg on the sidewalk. You know there are only two seasons: Summer and the other two months.
The truth is we are probably America's largest small town (or at least it feels that way to us), and most of us like it that way. At more than 700,000 people, El Paso is the 5th largest city in Texas and the 23rd largest in the US, larger as a stand-alone city than Denver, Oakland, or Miami. With Juarez, Mexico, just over the border, the sister cities form a metroplex of more than 2 million people, the largest border community in the US, and the largest community in the world where a 1st world city borders a 3rd world country. And even though Juarez is suffering from rampant crime due to an ongoing drug war, making it one of the most dangerous cities in the world, El Paso has been in the top 5 safest cities in the US for the past decade.
We are home to UTEP, the University of Texas at El Paso, which continually is ranked among the top universities to graduate Hispanics and is a major Engineering, Education, and Nursing college. Its Sun Bowl football stadium is the second oldest continuous Bowl game, second only to the Rose Bowl. The movie "Glory Road" , about the first all black NCAA line-up and championship, was about UTEP and its legendary coach, Don Haskins.
It is home to Ft. Bliss/Biggs Air Field. Along with White Sands Missile Range with which shares a border, it forms the largest Army base in the world. It continues to be instrumental in training soldiers from around the world in the ongoing Middle East wars in part due to our 100 degree summer weather. I, personally, don't start feeling really comfortable until it hits 80-85 degrees, usually by March/April.
Chamizal National Park is famous for being one of the very few areas where a border dispute between two modern countries was settled amicably, with no bloodshed.
Our Star on the Mountain is the largest illuminated star in the world and can be seen more than 40 miles away. We use it as our nighttime landmark, both in El Paso and Juarez.
Mt. Christo Rey is home to one of the largest sculpted Christ figures in the world (almost 30 feet tall, having needed a year to be created). The base of the small mountain is understood to be the corner of Sunland Park (New Mexico), Juarez (Mexico), and El Paso (Texas).
Our mission trail, consisting of the San Elizario, Socorro, and Ysleta missions forms one of the oldest continuously populated areas in North America. In fact, the church at San Elizario lays claim to the oldest thanksgiving celebration in North America, older than the celebration at Plymouth Rock by more than 20 years.
We have been home to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (first female Supreme Court Justice), Nolan Richardson (Arkansas coach), Eddie and Chavo Guerrero (WWE wrestling stars), Dr. Ricardo Sanchez (author, educator, poet, activist), Sam Donaldson (News anchor), Gene Rodenberry (Star Trek creator), and Danny Olivas (one of two El Paso astronauts currently serving in NASA's Space Shuttle program).
The point? We El Pasoans are used to the idea that you probably have never heard of us. And we're ok with it. Comments abound. When we travel, we know we are going to be asked "Y'all got indoor plumbing, right?" (Yes, we do, thank you AND electricity) "Y'all got horses?" (No, we drive cars.) "Y'all in Mexico, ain't ya?" (No, we're the western tip of Texas....U.S.A) "Now, how DO you pronounce your name? (...first name: Ricky...Rick-ee, last name: Car-ah-sko. And yes, I'm American born and bred. I speak two languages AND teach English...without an accent.)
"Hunh, you sure? Cuz I ain't never heard of Ell-pass-oh." (Yes, I'm sure.)
So, if you do pass through our pass (El Paso's original name, in Spanish, is The Pass of the North), spend some time in our little corner of the world. We may surprise you. And no, we won't make fun of you if you can't say the names correctly, and if our food or sun burns you, we understand because we've been there before.
All the pictures (or versions of those pictures) in this story were taken for our hometown photography contest, Capture El Paso, which accepts entries into a coffee table book of the same name. If you found your way here, you can find your way there and maybe vote for my photos. I hope you find my town as beautiful as I've tried to portray it. All you need is an email and a password, and no, there is no language test at the end.
and btw, while I'm here, ximenace, my screen-name here, at Deviantarts.com, and Capture El Paso, refers to my Grandfather's last name, Jimenez, just modified to reflect its original spelling and changed by one of my first students to reflect his opinion that as a teacher, I was dangerous, a "menace".