Feature Photo Credit by: Sarah M. Vasquez, Big Bend Sentinel
On an international border of steel walls, surveillance drones, drug smugglers and legions of armed federal agents, a gleeful neighborhood party unfolded Saturday afternoon in the Big Bend.
At a Rio Grande crossing once favored by Comanche raiders and later used by Gen. Black Jack Pershing in his futile pursuit of another notable raider, Pancho Villa, hula hoops whirled, bands played, beer flowed and smoked meats scented the air.
While children frolicked in the river, sane and responsible adults from two countries stood together on the muddy banks, catching up on old news. Around them, joyful family celebrations blossomed among those divided by the border.
“I’m trembling with the emotion. We haven’t seen each other in a long, long time,” said Magdalena de al Cerda, 29, from Coahuila, as she laid eyes on her brother Jose, 41, a welder in Midland, for the first time in eight years.
The bittersweet reunions that unfolded Saturday at an event called “Voices from Both Sides,” came 13 years after the traditional border crossing at Lajitas was abruptly sealed shut.
The May 2002 closures along the border came in the anxious aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9-11, and effectively divided a cohesive bi-national community here that had straddled the Rio Grande.
“This used to be one neighborhood, my neighborhood,” said Collie Ryan, an artist in her early 60s who, with musician Jeff Haislip and friends in San Carlos, Mexico, dreamed up the “fiesta protesta“ events.
“I used to go to Paso Lajitas to shop and I’ve been visiting friends in San Carlos for 20 years. They would have a lovely tourist business if the border were open,” said Ryan, who has lived near Terlingua for about 30 years.
Before the first event, Haislip said he had to get permission from operators of the Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa, and also brief law enforcement officials.
“I called the Border Patrol and the sheriff, and all those guys, and let them know what we were planning to do. It’s an unwritten understanding. They have allowed us to bend things a little bit on this day,” he said.
On Saturday, the third annual “Voices” gathering drew hundreds of people, about equally from Mexico and the United States. Bands took turns playing from both river banks, people socialized freely and everyone was on good behavior.