We’re just getting around to Debbie Nathan‘s excellent essay for n+1 on the evolution of El Paso, Ballroom’s Far West Texas neighbor — and at 200 miles away, still the nearest source for bahn mi sandwiches if Fat Lyle’s is closed. She discusses development in the city from the ’70s to the present, considering the toll of cartel violence, constrictions in cross-border exchange and shifting political allegiances, and then adds deep context with personal stories of trips to Juárez, neighborhood skateboarders and door-to-door fruit vendors. It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the unique landscape of this often overlooked corner of the Southwest. An excerpt:
“Of course, there was already entertainment and shopping in downtown El Paso—the mom-and-pops with their steady customers, the embattled and often comical Border Patrol and ATF agents. But this was not what the pols had in mind. The businesspeople hired a focus group firm to go around asking people: If you could retool the city of El Paso into a person or persons, who would those people be? The answer, according to the firm’s report: Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz. And who, the focus group interviewers also asked, did the current, unrehabbed El Paso seem like? The report visually depicted the response as an anonymous Mexican geezer, a dead ringer for the elderly men in Stetsons over at the placita. The report labeled him “The Old Cowboy,” describing him as “dirty,” “lazy,” “uneducated,” and Spanish speaking.
The Old Cowboy could not have been more downscale and contemptible. The problem, however, was that he looked just like many El Pasoans’ beloved papás y abuelitos. Indignant, many people began organizing against the downtown renewal plan. It eventually died, after courts outlawed use of eminent domain to tear down private buildings in the Old Cowboy’s stomping grounds.”
Keep reading at n+1.