Fortunes have changed in Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico, a tiny little village just a stone’s throw over the Rio Grande River from Big Bend National Park.
It’s been two years since the popular crossing from the park to Boquillas reopened to tourists. Friday, both sides celebrated the cooperation it took to get the crossing back open. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and her Mexican counterpart, Juan José Guerra Abud, Mexico’s secretary of the environment and natural resources, flew in for twin ceremonies on both sides of the border.
“We have the opportunity with Boquillas to encourage thoughtful ecological tourism,” Jewell said.
The border crossing closed in 2002, just eight months after 9/11, cutting off the remote town from its livelihood – U.S. park visitors who wanted to cross the Rio Grande for a couple of dollars and get a taste of Mexico.
Lucia Orosco Oreste, 27, who runs Boquillas Restaurant, smiled wide when asked what the reopening has done for the town. “We have business. We have money now,” she said. “Life has changed a lot. We are very content.” Her husband, Adrian Valdez, rows the small ferry boat across the Rio Grande. They and their two children have lived in Boquillas all their lives.
Orosco and many of the women in the town sell embroidered and quilted bags, as well as animal sculptures shaped out of copper wire and beads.
Many Boquillas residents left when the border closed and they couldn’t make a living. Now they are coming back. There were 90 residents two years ago; now there are 140. Before, there was only an elementary school. Now a secondary school has opened.
In addition to improving conditions in Boquillas, the two governments are collaborating on environmental issues in Big Bend and Mexico’s adjacent Rio Bravo region.
“The park is a symbol for what the border can be – a place that brings us together, not one that divides us,” said U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Earl Wayne, who also took part in the ceremonies. After the event at Big Bend’s new Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry building, the celebration moved across the river to Boquillas.