Thus, I’ve taken the liberty to try and build a resource to help explain the El Pasoan / Paseño story from the perspective of the land, people, and culture. Or at least how I think we've gotten to where we are today ––instead of the traditional narrative we all know. 

This is just the first piece of a much bigger puzzle I’ve spent years writing and desigining, there will be more coming soon.

Before China had a wall, before Giza had pyramids, and even before Stonehenge, humans have walked around the El Paso area. However, many of us don’t know the basic history of our area because it’s not covered in our schools.

Because our home was not part of the foundation of the US or Texas, we're not really mentioned in either of those subjects ––at least not when I was a student. I don’t know what school is like in New Mexico or Juarez, but since “El Paso” is no longer part of Mexico or New Mexico, our shared history with indigenous and Spanish civilizations is kind of edited-out of our education.

®2020 NNWLLC / AJP

Before China had a wall, before Giza had pyramids, and even before Stonehenge, humans have walked around the El Paso area. However, many of us don’t know the basic history of our area because it’s not covered in our schools.

Because our home was not part of the foundation of the US or Texas, we're not really mentioned in either of those subjects ––at least not when I was a student. I don’t know what school is like in New Mexico or Juarez, but since “El Paso” is no longer part of Mexico or New Mexico, our shared history with indigenous and Spanish civilizations is kind of edited-out of our education.

Thus, I’ve taken the liberty to try and build a resource to help explain the El Pasoan / Paseño story from the perspective of the land, people, and culture. Or at least how I think we've gotten to where we are today ––instead of the traditional narrative we all know. 

This is just the first piece of a much bigger puzzle I’ve spent years writing and desigining, there will be more coming soon.

The low mountain desert basin known as Hueco Tanks is made of syenite rock, and is named after the hollow gaps along the boulders. Those huecos have trapped rainwater for inhabitants and travelers for millennia. Despite receiving less than 14” of rain annually, the rocks could hold a year’s supply of water in both permanent and seasonal springs. The syenite rock’s distinct color and textures are the result of thousands of years of exposure to water, sun, and sand.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a place called “the pass” is a natural crossroads. At this historic site in particular, there is evidence to prove humans have visited these rocks for at least 10,000 years. While some archaeological areas are usually inhabited by one type of culture at a time, or see evolution from one migration pattern, Hueco Tanks is centrally located on the continent. Thus, this site has been welcoming visitors from different directions since the very beginning.

The Chichimeca were southern visitors, while the Uto-Aztecan tribes usually arrived from the west-southwest. Clovis, Folsom, and Plainview peoples would normally walk south, as they lived in the north and north east.

The blend of fortification, safety, and sustenance could have been what attracted the first inhabitants to El Paso del Norte. Some ancient pictographs remain visible on cave walls to this day, and why many view this area as sacred ground. In addition to rock art tours, indigenous tribes in the region still use this setting for prayer and gatherings.

The Americas have been home to millions of indigenous peoples for over 20,000 years. Before the “discovery” and naming by Europeans, their continent was likely referred to as Cemanahuac (sem-ah-nao-wok). Meaning “land entirely surrounded by water” in Nahuatl, the indigenous “world” encompassed both North and South America. Over time, climate conditions forced native peoples to develop unique cultures and customs. Geographic differences aside, there are genetic similarities between most humans from this side of the planet. Unlike the rest of the world, it’s believed these people were isolated for much of human history.

While Cemanahuac might be a hard word to pronounce, the English language has adopted Aztec words in the past. In fact, you probably already use some, as indigenous people most likely influence your everyday life. “Tomato,” “avocado,” and “chocolate” are derived from their Nahuatl equivalents: “xitomatl,” “ahuacatl,” “chocolatl.” Those words originate from their language because the people of Cemanahuac cultivated and introduced those crops to the world. Actually, indigenous people contributed to what so many places around the world are now known for.

The indigenous people of our continent are responsible for so much of what we eat, from açaí to zucchini and natural resources like rubber and tobacco. Unfortunately, these people were never able to commoditize or profit from any of their labor and contributions. Spain would use the abundant resources and native slave labor to build one of the largest empires known to man.

While some Mesoamerican cultures have gained historical prominence, people of Aridoamerica are still overlooked. Those who called the El Paso area home were primarily of the Mogollon culture, and could have been part of a number of tribes. Though we may never know how they referred to themselves, we know them as Manso, Suma, Jano, and Jumano.

The word conquistador is used to define knights, soldiers, or explorers of Spanish and Portuguese (Iberian) empires. The first Spanish explorer to cross this region did not do so by choice. What began as an expedition to Florida with 300 men, ended nine years later with only four surviving.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, a conquistador who survived, wrote about the events in La Relación in 1537. The explorer detailed the journey of hurricanes, crash-landings, interactions with indigenous tribes, and the estimated 2,000 mile journey the men walked throughout Aridoamerica. After coming across Spanish soldiers gathering native slaves, the conquistador was returned to Spanish controlled land. Throughout the remainder of his life, Cabeza de Vaca would advocate for better treatment of indigenous people. This would eventually lead to his banishment from the Americas by disgruntled colonizers.

The most significant Spanish visitor didn’t arrive in our area until the spring of 1598. Referred to as “the last conquistador,” it was Juan de Oñate who presented La Toma, “The Taking,” to the natives. This document, created by the Spanish crown, served a legal declaration to own all territory north of the Rio del Norte.

The Catholic Church is comprised of over 200 orders and societies throughout the world. An Italian named Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone began preaching in the beginning of the 13th century. With a compassion for all living things, he evangelized those around him by stripping himself of all possessions and vowing to a life of poverty. The humble servant spent his life espousing the humanity of the divine. Rather than renounce the world as evil, he lovingly viewed everything as an extension of his creator. Upon his death, he was canonized as St. Francis of Assisi by Pope Gregory IX. The order of Franciscan friars would continue evangelizing people into the faith, based on tenants of St. Francis.

A dozen Franciscans were the first to arrive to Cemanahuac in 1524, and are known as the “Twelve Apostles of Mexico.” Arriving just three years after Hernán Cortés captured the capital city of Tenotchitlan (ten-oh-cheet-lan), the Spanish were greatly outnumbered by the indigenous. Hoping religion would pacify the natives and avoid more confrontation, Iberian people started building churches and baptizing natives. Some of the first churches were built upon land indigenous tribes already viewed as sacred, which might have helped with conversion. However, Franciscans did not have to do the job by themselves. Dominicans and Augustinians joined them soon after their arrival, and the Jesuits would arrive about 50 years later.

In 1598, Juan de Oñate and his caravan were dehydrated and practically on the verge of death before coming across the Rio del Norte. It might have been what prompted the Thanksgiving feast that would happen with local natives after their arrival. San Elizario’s Thanksgiving, which took place on April 30, 1598, happened over 20 years before the presumed meeting, for which the national Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated. After the feast, Oñate would present La Toma to the indigenous hosts, which would begin the occupation of their home.

Oñate and his caravan would show humility to other tribes along the river by present day El Paso and Las Cruces as they moved north. This route would begin paving the way for a new extension of the royal road, known as El Camino Real, “the king’s highway.” Before arriving to the Rio del Norte, El Camino Real stopped about 800 miles north of Tenochtitlan, which the Spanish referred to as “Mexico City.” There was no plan or definite stopping point for the road, but the caravan would not stray too far from water again.

As the journey continued further north, the caravan came across more native tribes who had survived off the river for centuries. However, not all would be as fortunate as the natives in the El Paso del Norte region. After a nearly decade-long trip, the caravan finally ended in 1606 when the settlers began building the last stop on the road, Santa Fe.

Fray Garcia de San Francisco y Zúñiga was not the first Franciscan friar to visit the El Paso area. But, in some ways, he is responsible for the foundation of the city. By erecting the “Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Mansos de El Paso del río del Norte” he turned the passage through the river into a destination of its own. This would give cartographers from around the world an exact location of where “El Paso” is.

The city’s birthplace landmark still exists, but it is now tethered to a “foreign” country due to dividing lines that came about centuries later. After the boundaries started forming, the name El Paso was appropriated on the northern side of the river, and is still used to this day. That is why our city’s name is in Spanish, even though this area is now the United States where English is the common language.

Spanish-named places are not an anomaly. They’re especially common in the southern or western parts of the country. These areas were usually occupied by the Spanish Kingdom and landmarked by missionaries. Which is why the names tend to relate to saints or other religious iconography.

The miscegenation, or cross-culture breeding, of Iberian people and indigenous Americans gave birth to a new ethnicity. The mestizo was originally characterized as a 50/50 split of one Iberian parent and one indigenous parent. Today, however, the mestizaje represents a broader ethnic mix that celebrates the blended origin of Mexican identity as a whole. The term is also used to differentiate from the entirely indigenous population that still exists in Mexico. Yet, it’s important to remember this type of blending was prevalent throughout all colonies of the Spanish Empire, not just the modern day country of Mexico.

It’s also significant to keep in mind that the 50/50 split was not the only mixture which called this place home. African slaves brought by the Iberians also contributed to the blending of ethnicity. That is why there is a spectrum of people who have been part of Cemanahuac for centuries.

The Iberian kingdoms designed a government social system for these identities known as the “Casta.” As a way to maintain power in the “New World,” Iberians gave authoritative positions to “Pennisulares” only. Pennisulares were those who were born on Spanish/Portuguese soil. Entirely Spanish children born in this hemisphere, known as Criollos, were secondary to the imported population. These second class citizens in New Spain (an area that encompasses most of North America between the 1500-1800s) were still able to live quality lives. Third, fourth, and fifth class citizens, however, were not as fortunate.

A church might have been what put our city on the map, but the exact location of present day El Paso is thanks to a Mestizo vaquero named Juan María Ponce de León.

In 1827, Juan María petitioned the nascent regional government for land on the northern/eastern side of the Rio del Norte. For $80, Ponce de León would buy his first of two, tracts of land –– eventually giving him ownership of over 600 acres of the future US side. The first thing he would do is channel irrigation and build a ranch just a stones throw from the Mission of Guadalupe. As is the case with much of this region’s history, the river would flood and change course over the first decade. Most of his early efforts were washed away and he started inching further north.

Being one the most successful individuals in the region, Ponce De León would need to wear many hats. Spain had set up military presidios throughout the region during their 223-year reign. But the new government of Mexico was still in its infancy and barely finding its footing. So Ponce De León would not only take on roles as a boss and politician, but also as the leader of the local militia.

Even though the first steam engine lost a race with a horse in 1830, it was clear that there was potential. Yet, at the time, only 23 miles of track existed in United States.

The “golden age” of railroads didn’t kick in until after the civil war in 1865. In roughly 50 years the United States went from 30,000 miles of track, pre-war, to over 250,000 miles in 1916. However, El Paso del Norte was in a prime location to also capitalize on the roughly 16,000 miles of tracks in Mexico too.
In 1880, when the train tracks arrived in El Paso del Norte for the first time, our region would be forever changed. But it wasn’t because something new came to the area –– that had happened before. What was different now was Paseños ability to influence. The railroad was a two-way street to culture and we were now connected.

Many of the first industrialists in the region were already in Chihuahua, which began flourishing during the Spanish era. Thus, new industries in this region literally came with the railroad tracks themselves. Such is the case with Robert Towne’s interest in the northern expansion of the railroad. Not only did he help bring the tracks, he brought his mining interests and Mexican Ore Company with him. Coincidently, his original smelting operation was situated near the site of today’s historic train station in the Union Plaza district.

After a few years, Towne secured financing to scale up the operation and bought nearly 1,200 acres along the Rio Grande. In a matter of months, a 100-foot chimney with roughly 250 workers began processing high-grade Mexican ore. The company was vital to the bustling industrial revolution happening in the area. At it’s peak, almost 60% of all train traffic was deliveries to the smelter.

Most of the workers and their families lived within the company’s land. The area became known as Smeltertown, or “La Esmelda” to the Spanish-speaking inhabitants. Within a decade of coming to the area, part of Towne’s assets were sold to a reorganizing trust known as the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). ASARCO was responsible for practically all U.S. lead production. Absorbing a fixture of Mexico’s mining operation gave ASARCO the stronghold to skyrocket growth. At its peak, El Paso would be home to the largest smelting operation in world, despite any longterm costs to the region.

Despite being partly based in the United States, El Paso del Norte played a major role in the Mexican Revolution. This is where José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, better known as Pancho Villa, would spend some of his time as the commander of the Division del Norte of the Constitutionalist Army.

Known for his love of sweets and modern technology, it would not be unusual to see him around town buying cameras, motorcycles, strawberry soda, or peanut brittle. The international boundary didn’t render Villa a tourist. By some accounts he even worked at ASARCO during an explosion that killed several coworkers. Unsafe conditions taking Smeltertown lives possibly fueled some of his animosity for the industrialized exploitation of Mexico. Folklore aside, this is where Mexican Revolutionaries would conduct business meetings, plan attacks, and even take the decorative canons of San Jacinto Plaza to use in battle.

Villa’s presence in El Paso was limited during the height of the war, but the northern side of the river was a constant fixture of the revolution. It was a vital propaganda center for multiple perspectives. Dozens of Spanish newspapers and publishers operated from El Paso and usually focused on southern distribution. While English publishers helped sway northern sentiments. US officials brought in General John Pershing to try and capture the foreign leader, as Mexico’s Revolution was detrimental to US interests. Lawyer and new mayor of El Paso, Thomas Lea, declared Villa, “an enemy who would be arrested on sight.” After his wife and friend were apprehended, Pancho placed a bounty on the city leader’s life.

The US Calvary ultimately failed to capture Villa, but their presence had a lasting impact. Since a majority of the Spanish-speaking locals at the time were empathetic to the cause, racial tensions soared to new heights in El Paso. Conflicts between Anglos and Hispanics in the region had been going on since the first Anglos arrived in the middle of the 1800’s. But in 1917, Mayor Lea, General Pershing, and the US armed forces, began the permanent fracturing of El Paso del Norte.

Major wars can have consequences that present themselves far away from the battlefield. During WWII, men became a rare commodity in the United States and added to a massive labor shortage back home. This might sound familiar and stir up images of Rosie the Riveter or the 1992 film A League of Their Own. However, women were not the only people to help the country from collapsing. Mexican laborers, known as Braceros, were fundamental in keeping major American industries productive.

In 1942, three years after WWII began, US agribusiness was struggling to stay alive. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers had recently been “repatriated” to Mexico, along with over a million birthright US citizens. At the time, nearly a quarter of the US population lived on farms and many were not being tended to. The harvesting process was especially arduous and needed strong hands to work in difficult settings. That’s what prompted the US to turn to its southern neighbor for help.

Over the next 22 years, Mexico and the United States engaged in the first guest worker program. Prompted by a promise of decent wages and living conditions, close to 5 million Mexican nationals (or removed US citizens) accepted an invitation to the United States. Unfortunately, these braceros were exploited by both sides of the deal.

The Mexican government kept 10% of the worker’s earnings in an “account” meant for them upon return. Few would ever receive those earnings. In the north, the US left the agribusiness in charge to self-regulate the program. It didn’t take long for the foreign workers to get exploited and deprived of the basic standards which were agreed upon. By the time service members began returning from the war, things went from bad to worse.

Fueled by racism and feelings that their jobs had been “stolen,” many in the US began tormenting the workers. The problem was especially bad in Texas, where they were spearheading the removal of Mexicans –– before the war even started. Despite housing facilities that processed and organized arriving workers, Mexican officials had to temporarily ban the state from receiving bracero labor –– fearing workers were in danger from violent racist attacks.
That racism was formalized in 1954, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) initiated “Operation Wetback.” It was named after the derogatory term suggesting people had illegally swam into the country via the Rio Grande. Their massive sweeps gathered as many Mexicans as possible and deported them to the nearest border. Over a million people were rounded up in the first year alone. Again, US-born Mexican-Americans and legal residents were often displaced to Mexico without warning or their belongings.

By 1964, the US stopped The Bracero Program and passed the Hart-Celler Act the following year. It removed the National Origins Formula, which was deemed to favor Protestant Northwestern European immigrants. While the Hart-Cellar Act was meant to improve the nation’s immigration system, it also limited entries from the “western hemisphere” for the first time. Generations of contributors who had been in the country for decades, even US citizens, were being forcibly removed and essentially locked out.
Simultaneously, Mexico began the Border Industrialization Program. The program lowered restrictions and duties for factories along its northern border. Mexico would trade one exploitative work agreement for another. This time though, it would be on the side of the border where INS was dropping off the rounded up Hispanics.

There is no doubt The Bracero Program would forever change El Paso del Norte. This area was vital in processing and transporting millions of Mexican workers. The lasting impacts to Border Patrol, the Chicano movement, Juarez maquilas, and NAFTA, all trace back to this point of our story.

While Braceros and early Mexican pioneers have not seen much notoriety, Mexican cuisine has clearly influenced the United States. Whether you like them street-style and soft, with a fried tortilla shell, or rolled in sauce, tacos have reached icon status in the US. While it’s attributed to Mexican cuisine as a whole, it’s important to realize the regional importance our home plays.

A lot of what we consider Mexican food is more “border cuisine” and not common place throughout all of Mexico. A thousand years ago indigenous people of Cemanahuac were probably already enjoying tacos with a side of beans. But when the Spanish showed up with short-grain rice from Asia, the world learned that all it was missing was a little salsa de tomate. All kidding aside, there’s a chance plenty of the food served in El Paso del Norte have origins that date back at least 500 years!

As we’ve already discussed, Spanish-speaking populations whether indigenous natives, Spanish castes, Mexican nationals, or American citizens had been in the region for hundreds of years. The waves of immigrants (from the 1880’s to the 1920’s to the braceros in the 1940’s) weren’t introducing “Mexican food” to the US, they were creating a demand for it. Thus, a surge of products and restaurants started appearing. But, unlike the aristocratic fine-dining experiences known in Mexico City, border cuisine became informal and patronage was blue collar. Rather than exclusively offer time-consuming dishes like the Puebla-staple chiles en nogada, El Paso del Norte focused on quick and easy favorites.

A lot of those dishes have become classics throughout the US and some of our establishments have become world-famous institutions. One such place has been a fixture of our community for nearly 70 years. It was in 1953, boxing promoter Joe Mora, his wife Emma, and some friends ventured on a new restaurant business. From the very beginning it prompted debates on whether the rolled flauta-style tacos served in a paper boat filled with tomato sauce were even tacos at all. The marketing and promotion-savvy Mora would say “they’re not ‘tacos,’ they’re Chico’s Tacos.” Though their friends were skeptical and left the business after a few months, the Moras carried on.

To this day, the business still operates the same way as when the couple began. The menu is limited, cash is the only form of payment accepted, and some employees have been working for the small-business for decades. However, Chico’s Tacos popularity has evolved over the years, and in a sense, has a life of its own.

The iconic dish has been seen by millions, as it’s been a featured topic on countless TV and web shows. In 2009, when comedian Gabriel Iglesias filmed his comedy special I’m Not Fat... I’m Fluffy at the Plaza Theatre, he dedicated part of his show to explaining the local staple to audiences around the world. The restaurant’s presence has multiplied throughout the city, but the original location at the corner of Washington Park still stands as a landmark of our region’s influence.

When the river became the international boundary, residents closest to the water were in an inconsistently defined area for over 100 years. Land closest to the stream was usually marshy or filled with vegetation. The epicenter of confusion was a roughly 600-acre span of land that was riddled with four-wing saltbushes, also known as chamizas. For decades residents from both sides argued that new residents were encroaching on land, which each side believed was theirs.

The arguments were so extreme and without a clear path forward, the presidents of both countries had to personally get involved. The United States and Mexico came to a peaceful resolution in 1963, with the enactment of the Chamizal Convention. This pact declared an official boundary which would split the territory of both nations. Today there are over 300 acres of federal park land, referred to as the Chamizal, split by an international boundary. Named for the bush which once filled the area, these neutral territories are a reminder of peaceful conflict resolution and how intertwined our foundation is.

While there is no definite answer to explain how all subcultures of Native / Hispanic / Latino-American originated, the atmosphere of the early-mid 20th century could have provided a need for micro-identities and recognition. Some local histories pinpoint “Chicano” being used in the 1920’s as an insult to newly arriving “Mexicanos” living in the “Chihuahuita” neighborhood. By the 30’s and 40’s, “Pachucos” in El Paso del Norte and Chihuahua began wearing zoot suits and the movement would spread all the way to Los Angeles. A local Juarez entertainer known as Tin-Tan became an icon for the subculture after appearing in films and using the border slang known as Caló. Was this pre-Revolution Mexican-American’s attempt to differentiate themselves from the repatriated groups and newly arriving Braceros? Maybe. There are similarities to the flapper movement of the 20’s, which might suggest a previous cross-culture proximity.

Around the same time, across the border in New Mexico, even English-speaking Hispanic residents were seen as second-class citizens to the growing Anglo population. Paradoxically, Hispanics in that area could have been descendants who hadn’t moved anywhere for over 200 years! During World War II, many with Hispanic backgrounds sought to “prove” their citizenship and loyalty by enlisting to serve. Unfortunately, many returned demoralized that discrimination never subsided. In one such case, a serviceman killed in combat was denied chapel use from a funeral home in Texas, because of his Mexican-American heritage.

By the 1930’s bilingual Mexican-Americans on the border were beginning to realize the injustices and hypocrisies of the United States. So organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) started to form. When multi-generational families from the US were trying to smuggle their way back in, or taking exploitative jobs to try and return, Mexican-Americans developed a new strategy: assimilation. Believing the hardships and discrimination was caused by racism and not political or economic injustices, the “cholo” class (derived from the 16th century Spanish caste) and the pachucos became the problem. Mexican-American communities began promoting the path toward acceptance was the adaptation of European-American culture. The belief was that through hard work, individualism, plus disavowing Mexico and their language, everyone’s social economic profile would improve. Those who were reluctant, refused, or too attached to their culture were deemed “un-American,” and rarely assisted.

Fearing the long-term affects of being second-class citizens in the eyes of the United States (following the 1930 Census), LULAC and other groups successfully petitioned the US government to classify all Mexican-Americans as “White.” From then on, “language-spoken in the home” or “native tongue” would not be taken into consideration or a basis of citizenship. Unfortunately, this was 92 years too late for a majority of the US citizens of the southwest. And speaking Spanish would still be controversial in some Mexican-American communities.

By the 60’s and 70’s, the first generations of Mexican-Americans who were barred from being “too Mexican” but still not accepted as “American” began gravitating around the Chicano Movement. Though it is largely synonymous with the farm workers union, the era also saw a rise in Tejano identity, Mexican-American education, and a women’s commission known as Comisión Femenil Mexicana Nacional. These groups would simultaneously push-back on the immigrants (threating their jobs and contributing to the identity confusion) while also drawing inspiration from the ongoing civil rights movement.

This shift in awareness would result in the United States Census Bureau creating the “Hispanic” and “Latino” classifications in the 80’s, for the first time. So while not all Chicanos are Pachucos, it’s safe to say all Pachucos are Chicanos. In a lot of ways, the Pachuco era was a precursor to the later movement. It’s when Mexican-Americans have the first self-assigned identity to juxtapose themselves from people who are entirely Mexican or American. Unfortunately, Spanish speaking communities have often been marginalized or even written out of history all together –– independent from them of being American citizens, legally seeking refuge, or being invited to work.

At one point throughout history, there was a good chance pants being worn in the United States were handcrafted in El Paso. Levi’s, Lee, Calvin Klein, Haggar, and of course Farah, are some of the brands who depended on our region’s skilled labor force.

Mansour Farah, a Lebanese immigrant by way of Canada, came to El Paso after learning clothing design and production in New York. In 1920, he opened Farah Shirt Manufacturing Company, which was able to produce shirts priced at 37 cents. However, in the years that followed, it would be pants that would define his business.  

After his death, his wife and sons took over the operation, which would produce military uniforms during WWII. Once the war was over, the company shifted back to consumer fashion and focused on an emerging casual wear market. With the opening of a new plant in 1961, and almost half a million square feet of production space, this local brand grew into a domestic powerhouse. It was supplying JC Penny and Montgomery Wards stores across the country.  

By the late 1960’s, the one-time small business became a publicly traded company, and Farah would soon be known around the world. After opening up their first UK store, Farah became an international fashion icon. Production demands would spike to all-time highs.

The El Paso Farah factories, comprised almost exclusively of local Chicanas, were reaching their breaking point. At the time, the Farah Manufacturing Company controlled 14% of the local workforce and had grown into the largest employer in the city (second-largest in the state). However, they would soon become infamous for their exploitative work environment.  

The newest Farah patriarch had aggressively fought his employees’ attempts to unionize. He cited that pay was 10 cents above minimum wage, employees were provided a bus to work, free sweet bread, coffee, and an on-site clinic. While it was true the company equipped the women with hundreds of pairs of glasses every month, most employees couldn’t otherwise afford them and needed corrective lenses for work. At the on-site clinic, the company’s doctor was known for over-issuing birth control to prevent pregnancy from interfering with the women’s work quotas. Which, by at least one account, had gone up nearly 700% during her time at the company. Regardless, most employees were more concerned with long-term benefits, as no retirement package had been honored to any employee despite over 50 years in operation.

So in May of 1972, nearly 4,000 obreras walked out of work and initiated a 2-year strike. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America represented the locals, and called for a world-wide boycott of the brand. Despite the company employing one out of every seven workers in El Paso, the local community and media was hostile to the group. Many companies had relocated to the southwest from the northeast because there were no unions. Plus, there was an abundance of cheap American labor in Hispanic neighborhoods. So the workers who were seeking better conditions were often arrested and fined despite free speech and assembly laws. Media usually vilified the women as “unreasonable” and showed their support of Farah. Farah even used his influence as a board member of a local bank to deny loan requests by strikers.

Once the boycott started gathering national, and international attention, public opinion started to sway. The company’s stock was taking a hit and demand started declining, as retailers began removing their slacks from shelves as a sign of support. Despite spending $8 million dollars to fight the obreras, the company would inevitably cave to the pressure. In 1974, Farah instituted a union contract which included job security, a health plan, and a grievance system. But it might have been too little, too late. The strike was just the beginning of the end for the dwindling garment manufacturer. Denim jeans had become more fashionable than the slacks that made the Farah brand an icon. Soon jean manufactures came into the area to capitalize on the skilled labor which helped build the famous El Paso label. But after NAFTA opened up the doors to international manufacturing, even the new successful companies left the area.

In 1981, the women of the Farah strike and other Chicana activists opened up the local nonprofit organization, La Mujer Obrera. Their experience during the 2-year strike lead them to develop longterm support systems which aimed to put marginalized voices in positions to elevate themselves. “We must see ourselves as being at the forefront of defining progress within our community.” The organization still serves El Paso del Norte with educational programs and social enterprises that keep the Chicana culture alive.

Since 2013, a new landmark has shaped the El Paso del Norte skyline. A nearly 18-story “X” towers over the international border, situated on Juárez’s “Plaza de la Mexicanidad.” As the name suggests, the monument and plaza celebrate the Mexican identity and the cross-culture blending of Spanish and indigenous peoples.  It was designed by sculptor Enrique Carbajal González, also know as “Sebastian.”

The intersecting towers are also meant to be reminiscent of the Aztec symbol “Nahui Ollin.” According to indigenous Mesoamericans, there are four fundamental tenets of motion. The symbol that represents the generation, congregation, displacement, and integration of all things serves as a testament to the indigenous Sun God. The fifth age of creation (in which all humans exist) only began when the small humble god Nanahuatzin (na-nao-wat-sing) sacrificed himself. By jumping into a fire, the god initiated the sun’s movement and thus, time. In some ways, it’s a perfect tribute to Benito Juárez for which the city is named. The temporary resident of El Paso del Norte was Mexico’s first indigenous president, and help set in motion the country’s acknowledgment of indigenous people.

The giant X is also a fitting landmark for the region which it centers. It is a physical representation of the mestizaje blend, synonymous with Mexican ethnicity. Like the monument, which towers over the river, Mexican heritage can be seen far beyond the international boundary line. In fact, over 83% of El Paso county claims Hispanic ancestry –– often times the shared origin story as people in our sister city.
Our community might seem “multi-cultural,” but it’s not. It’s merely bi-national. We should just consider Mexican citizens “Hispanic.” From that perspective, within a 25-mile radius of “La X” lives over 2.2 million Hispanics. Most likely the highest concentration of an ancestral Mexican population outside of Mexico City.

By the late 1800’s, modern downtown El Paso was taking shape on what was once Ponce de León’s land. People from all walks of life would gather in Public Square, a roughly two-acre area designated by the parks and streets commissioner.

The land featured Chinese elm trees, a gazebo, and a central walled pond with live alligators. It was normal for El Pasoans to gather there on nights when musicians would bring their instruments, and beer, to play for anyone who wanted to enjoy the music and have a drink.

In the early 1900’s, possibly motivated by racial tensions between Anglos and Spanish-speaking locals, the city council decided to name the park after the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution: San Jacinto. After which, cannons were brought in and used as a decoration on the park grounds.

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, the main attraction of San Jacinto plaza dealt with attacks by vandals and pranksters, which resulted in the death of a few alligators. Ultimately, in 1974, the pond was closed and the animals were permanently removed. Nearly 20 years later, a fiberglass sculpture by local artist Luis Jimenez was erected to honor the amphibious history of the plaza.