El Paso del Norte Loteria is a companion to An Introduction of Paseño History, as part of the EP360 Initiative for El Paso Guide.


The mountains, which bisect the modern city of El Paso, are a tilted-block faulting that formed over tens of millions of years. In fact, geologists discovered Precambrian rocks in the area which date back 1.25 billion years, making them the oldest in Texas. The 23-mile range is one in a series that make up the Rio Grande rift zone. Once designated as a state park in 1987, the “Franklin mountains” became the largest urban park within any US city.

las • mohn-tah-nyahs

Las Montañas / The Mountains

A Little Perspective

If we compare our mountain park to Central Park in New York City: The Franklin Mountain State Park is 65% larger than the island of Manhattan!


The Rio Grande or Rio Bravo (as it’s known in Mexico) was referred to as “El Rio del Norte” (northern river) by the Spanish. Not only has the river’s water been enriching the lives of inhabitants for thousands of years, but it also birthed the city’s name.

El Paso, translated as “the pass,” used to be “El Paso del Norte.” El Paso del Norte is just a condensed version of “el paso del rio del norte,” or the passage through the northern river. Our home literally became the doorway to the unexplored north. The nearly 1,900-mile river is one of the longest in the United States and helped direct human migration. This weaving stream is arguably the most important fixture in shaping the “American Southwest.”

el • rree-oh

El Río / The River


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.

los • weh-kohs

Los Huecos / The Huecos


never had cotton.


never had chocolate.



never had vanilla.

never had potatoes.



never had tomatoes.

BeforE The 16th CenturY...

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.
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.

los • nah-tee-vohs

Los Nativos / The Natives

Indigenous Today

Mainstream culture might think of indigenous people as ancient or extinct populations. But, there are indigenous people still living throughout Cemanahuac today. Whether in remote areas or populated towns, natives further away from foreign conquests were able to survive and, in some cases, thrive. Mexico’s large land mass and sometimes arduous terrain offered an insular environment. This separated them enough from central areas of genocide like West Indies and the Trail of Tears. Which might explain why today there are over 25 million indigenous people still living in Mexico. China and India are the only countries to have larger indigenous populations.


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.

el • kohng-kees-tah-dohr

El Conquistador


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.

el • frahn-see-skah-noh

El Franciscano / The Franciscan

Connecting The Dots

Among the first to be baptized and converted into the faith was an indigenous man and his wife from the Cuautitlán (kwou-teet-lan) area of Tenochtitlan. A few years after in December of 1531, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (kwou-tlaa-tot-sing) saw multiple apparitions of the Virgin Mary at the hill of Tepeyac.

    According to Juan Diego, the woman spoke in his native language and asked for a church to be built on the site. This darker-skinned, Nahuatl-speaking, Marian apparition became known as the Virgen de Guadalupe and helped convert waves of indigenous people. To this day the religious icon is synonymous with Mexico and its people. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (near the hill of Tepeyac) receives more visitors than the Vatican.


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.

el • mehs-tee-soh

El Mestizo / The Mestizo

Foundational Racism

The Iberian kingdoms designed a governing social system for these identities known as the “Casta.” As a way to maintain power in the “New World,” Iberians restricted authoritative positions to “Peninsulares” only. Peninsulares 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 Spanish Viceroyalties (jurisdictions that encompassed most of the hemisphere between the 1500-1800s), were still able to live quality lives. Third, fourth, and fifth-class citizens, however, were not as fortunate.

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.

el • kah-mee-noh rreh-ahl

El Camino Real / The Royal Road

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.

el • nah-see-myehn-toh

El Nacimiento / The Birth


The first thing the “Tihua” (which is how the Spanish referred to them) did was build a water irrigation course with other natives. The refugees who once suffered from drought knew their proximity to the river was beneficial. They also began cultivating land to grow vineyards, fruits, and vegetables. Even though other tribes like the Piro,  Tampiro, Thano, and Gemex settled nearby, over time most of them blended into Paseños or migrated further north. But for over three centuries, the people of Ysleta have preserved their identity, tribe, and culture.
Despite unfair and illegal treatment by Texas (who used Eminent Domain to confiscate most of their 36 sq. mile land grant), the Tigua remain a fixture of El Paso del Norte. The Spanish built them the Corpus Christi Church, which became an integral part of their community. Even though floods and fires have damaged the buildings over time, little has changed to the general footprint of the church. Which is why the Ysleta Mission that stands today is regarded as the oldest continuously operated church in Texas. And the land they cultivated upon arriving is the oldest continuous farm in the country.

el • tee-gwah

El Tigua / The Tigua

The image of wild horses and cowboys might seem, “as American as apple pie.” But ironically, none of them originated from the United States. In fact, horses were extinct in this part of the world for thousands of years. The Iberian people reintroduced them during their attempted conquest of the New World. If it wasn’t for their domestication of the species and reign in modern United States territory, there’s a chance those American icons would not be as common.

Today’s cowboy is actually derived from the doma vaquera heritage of the Iberian peninsula. Iberian herders and ranchers were horse-riding wranglers that came from centuries of tradition, before their voyage west. Coincidently, it’s believed that the Iberian people were only introduced to the riding practices through their southern neighbor/enemy, the Islamic Moors.

el • vah-keh-roh

El Vaquero / THe Cowboy


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.

el • vee-syohn-ahry-oh

El Visionario / tHE vISIONARY
Despite the lack of population on the northern side of the river in 1849, the US sanctioned an outpost on Ponce de León’s land. Ironically titled “the post opposite El Paso,” it would only stay in the area for a few years.
It would be almost 50 years later before the current base and location would begin to take shape. Since then Fort Bliss has grown into the second largest Army garrison, claiming over one million acres. Most of the land is reserved for artillery and maneuvering training, making it larger than the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. In fact, Fort Bliss along with neighboring White Sands Missile Range create the largest no-flyzone in the contiguous United States.
However, the heart of the installation and day-to-day operations take place on the fringe of their land. Located on the east side of the Franklin Mountains, Fort Bliss is practically at the center of the larger El Paso del Norte region. Which is fitting, since the armed services have played a major role in shaping the region for generations. With a constant influx of new families to the area, the dispatching of native El Pasoans around the world, and being the largest employer in the county, no institution has made a bigger impact in shaping El Paso.

el • sohl-dah-doh

El Soldado / The Soldier
East to west trails began intersecting with Santa Fe in as early as the 1820’s. But it would take over 30 years before the first east-west trail arrived to El Paso del Norte. The California Gold Rush sent a massive influx of migrants heading west, and plenty ended up in our area before reaching the Pacific.
Former easterners, now living in the west, created a demand for a transcontinental mail system. “Jackass Mail” was the earliest overland stagecoach to operate a line from San Antonio to San Diego. It was taken over by Butterfield Overland Mail for awhile, but discontinued due to the Civil War and Apache attacks.

el • sehn-deh-roh

El Sendero / THe Trail


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.

el • chah-mee-sal

El Chamizal / The Chamizal


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.

el • trehn

El Tren / The Train

Connecting The Dots

It’s important to keep in mind that this all happened at a time when people traveled by horse! Because there’s no denying we’re far, even by today’s standards. El Paso is actually closer to four other state capitals than its own. Which is why faster transportation can completely change our home.

Visitors had been making their way to our area for centuries before the railroad arrived. But, the speed and distance with this new mode of transportation created a new type of visitor. Many travelers would arrive without horses, mules, or transportation of their own.

1890’s El Paso del Norte was tiny in comparison to today. But even just traveling between Sunset Heights, downtown El Paso, the Mission de Guadalupe, or Avenida 16th de Septiembre, is still not efficient by foot. So shortly after the train arrived, El Paso Electric and Railway Company began laying the tracks of the only international streetcar. The original wagon, powered by a mule, would take passengers in a loop over the river then through the growing business and tourism draws. After 20 years Mandy the mule retired, as the operation became powered by electricity.

el • trahm-vee-ah

El Tranvía / The Streetcar
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.

la - es-mehl-dah

La Esmelda / The Smeltertown


In 1883, Mary Irene Stanton moved to El Paso del Norte to join her brothers, whom had been living and working here as attorneys. By 1894, this teacher made some of her personal book collection available for high school boys to start a reading club. Initially based out of the Sheldon Building, this collection would become the foundation of the oldest library in Texas.

Demand grew so rapidly that by the following year women would also be given access the collection. The El Paso Public Library Association would be formed in the same year, with Stanton as president. In 1899, before the Sheldon offices would be renovated into a hotel, thousands of books were moved into the newly constructed City Hall building (on Myrtle and San Antonio). Even though this move was thought to be a more permanent home for the collection, it was clear there was not enough room. Stanton’s library would need a building of its own.

In 1902, as part of the Carnegie Libraries initiative, the librarian received funding for the city’s first library building. The site chosen is the same location as our present day Main Library in downtown El Paso. Ironically, in the same way Mary only came to join her brothers, the construction of her library would bring in another important set of siblings.

la • bee-blyoh-teh-kah-ryah

La Bibliotecaria / The Librarian
In 1903, Gustavus “Gus” Trost, an architectural draftsman for Mauran Russell and Garden of St. Louis, was sent to El Paso del Norte to oversee the construction of a new Carnegie library.

Before the building was finished, Gus was convinced of the area’s potential and decided to stay permanently. He wanted to start his own operation and would reach out to his older brother, Henry, a prominent architect. Based in Tucson, Arizona at the time, Gus compelled his older brother to move his talents a quick “day’s train ride” over. Convinced, Henry, along with his sister and nephew who lived with him, moved to El Paso. The brothers began the Trost & Trost firm in 1904. Gus’ twin brother Adolphus, a structural engineer, would join his siblings in 1908.

la • bee-blyoh-teh-kah-ryah

El Arquitecto / The Architect
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.

las • lah-gahr-tohs

Los Lagartos / The Alligators


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.

el • rreh-behl-deh

El Rebelde / The Rebel


If horses and cowboys are a direct result of Iberian people and Spain’s conquest of North America, it should be no surprise that modern boots also originate from the Spanish world. In fact, León, Guanajuato, Mexico –– considered by some to be the shoe capital of the world –– can trace shoemaking as part of their economy since 1645!

Waves of new residents with that rich history might have helped convince Tony Lama to stay in El Paso in 1911. Originally specializing on repairs for soldiers, the cobbler turned to boot-making. In his first year, he was able to create 20 pairs of custom boots with just one assistant.

Five years later he married a local music teacher and pianist, Ester Hernandez, and the couple began their family. Lama taught his children boot making skills and his six children would later play roles in his company. By the 1930’s, Tony Lama Boots were producing nearly 40 pairs a day.

Because of western wear in the north and vaquero culture in the south, El Paso del Norte has remained the epicenter for an array of boot makers. Today there are dozens of craftsmen and companies keeping centuries of tradition alive. From production factories stocking shelves, to custom artists making one-of-a-kind pieces, El Paso del Norte boots can be found in all corners of the world. It also makes our home a cultural retail destination. Actors, musicians, CEOs, politicians, and even the Pope, can visit our home and leave with one of our signature exports.

las • boh-tahs

Las Botas / The Boots

Fun Fact

One pair that won’t be leaving the El Paso showroom, is the giant-sized 328D set at Rocketbuster Boots. In 1999, the Guinness Book of World Records certified this local creation as the largest pair of western boots in the world! San Antonio might show off some big sculptures, but –– like their Spanish history –– if you’re looking for the real thing, you’ll find it in El Paso del Norte. These genuine leather, hand-made boots, were stretched over a giant shoe mold (known as a last) and tacked onto a real leather sole. The side panels feature a classic cut-and-sew vintage design that mirror one of Rocketbuster’s original styles. If Paul Bunyan were real, this is where he’d be heading.

El Paso del Norte has been home to many prolific painters and artisans, but few have the broad range of success as Tom Lea. The son of the former mayor found success at an early age through his training at Chicago’s Art Institute. After joining the military during WWII, he became a war correspondent, writer, and historian. Though some of his most notable work relates to soldiers and the battlefield, it’s abundantly clear how much El Paso del Norte and the Aridoamerica region shaped the artist.
In 1949, Lea wrote his first novel titled The Brave Bulls, based on a bull ranch for matadors set in Mexico. The book’s popularity led it to be adapted into a movie starring Mexican-American icon, and El Pasoan, Anthony Quinn. Can you guess where it premiered?

el • ahr-tees-tah

El Artista / The Artist
The Brave Bulls was not the first, or the last, premiere housed at the historic Plaza Theatre. Situated on the Pioneer Plaza, the theater began construction in 1928. It was intended as a gift to the city of El Paso, which contributed to the success of businessman Louis Dent. The Dallas native owned a chain of theaters across the state, including local establishments like the Ellanay, Palace, Wigwam, and Grecian.

Realizing the potential of the emerging “talking pictures,”  Dent wanted to make a new vision of a theater that “[the people of El Paso] will be proud of.” He began the project in 1927 after he bought out his business partner. However, Louis Dent would not be involved by the time the theater opened its doors.
The same year his business became a single-owner operation, the El Paso Times projected the Pioneer Plaza reconstruction to be valued at one million dollars. In the midst of the great depression, it might have been too big of an undertaking for one man. In 1929 Dent sold his theaters, including his under-construction masterpiece, to the Paramount Famous Pictures Corporation.

In 1930, when the theater officially made its debut, it became known as “The Greatest Showplace in the Southwest.” It wasn’t just because of the architectural extravagance, but the lavish details as well. The valuable oil paintings, antiques, and twinkling stars across the ceiling were a few reasons patrons were amazed.

el • teh-ah-troh

El Teatro / The Theatre
Little is known about the individual person responsible for the star on the mountain. Like whether or not they were inspired by the Star of Bethlehem. Or what exactly was said to El Paso Electric to convince the utility to undertake the project. One could think the ambitious company wanted to prove that not even the sky was a limit.

Regardless of the specifics, in December of 1940, the star on the mountain was lit for the first time. It was meant to greet returning Fort Bliss soldiers coming home from the war. But, at only 50 feet wide, it was barely visible beyond a couple miles.
By 1946, El Paso Electric had reworked the idea enough and created the larger icon we’re familiar with today. Sitting at a 30 degree angle, the star is almost 10 times bigger than the first and faces the intersection of Texas and Alameda. From then on, lighting the 459 bulbs became a Christmas season tradition.

In 1993, Jack Maxon of the Chamber of Commerce spearheaded an initiative to keep the star lit year-round. In April of that year, it became a permanent fixture of El Paso’s skyline. Maintenance of the “world’s largest illuminated man-made star” was officially turned over to the chamber in 2000.

la • ehs-treh-yah

La Estrella / The Star
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.

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.

el • brah-seh-roh

El Bracero / The Bracero


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.

los • tah-kohs

Los Tacos / The Tacos

Fun Fact

To millions of Mexican-food eating families, our home is literally synonymous. In 1873, when the Texas part of our home was officially incorporated, they named themselves El Paso after the legacy created by the Spanish. At the time, much of the appeal of the new city was its proximity to El Paso del Norte. But using the same name on both sides of the river lead to confusion. That’s partially what motivated the southern “El Paso” to change their name in 1888. Despite northern El Paso’s efforts to market Ciudad Juárez as “Old Mexico,” both cities would develop their own identities. But, because the region’s cultural heritage was so influential, a food manufacturer was able to build a brand around the legacy. That’s why today, “Old El Paso” can still be found in supermarkets throughout the world.

Others have tried to take credit, but those in El Paso del Norte know what really happened. It was our own Francisco “Pancho” Morales who invented this world-famous cocktail while working in Juarez.

Legend has it that on July 4th, 1942, a woman at Tommy’s Bar asked Pancho for a “Magnolia,” for which he was not entirely sure how to make. Rather than admit this to the customer, the proud bartender mixed together his own version with similar ingredients. In classic Mexican fashion, he used tequila rather than bourbon. When the woman received the drink and reiterated that she wanted a “Magnolia,” Pancho played it off by saying, “Oh, I thought you said Margarita. This is not a Magnolia, but it’s very good.” The cleverness of it all was not simply because of the similar letters, but that a magnolia is a flower and “margarita” is the Spanish word for daisy.

la • mahr-gah-ree-tah

La Margarita / The Margarita
El Paso del Norte has been a “bar” town ever since the Spanish started making some of the “best wines of the kingdom” here in the 1700’s. A couple centuries later, a Santa Fe newspaper reported the town had “one saloon for every two and a half residents.” It might have been hyperbolic, but this was “the wild west” after all; where it was written law for all establishments to have a spittoon (for chewing tobacco).

Local lore has it that Wyatt Earp once refused the job of city marshal because he thought it was too dangerous –– presumably with all the drunkenness. Throughout the 20th century this mythical wild west legacy would be revived, thanks to one of the top western songs of all time.  

Marty Robbins’ El Paso describes the tale of a bar patron who falls in love with a local Mexican girl, named Feleena, and kills her lover before fleeing to New Mexico. Alone and refusing to be without his “love,” he returns to El Paso, though he knows it means his ultimate demise.

The story takes place in the real life bar of Rosa’s Cantina, to which the success of the song can still be felt today. Vince Gilligan, the creator of the television show Breaking Bad, titled the finale of the hit series “Felina,” as an homage to the song, which can be heard in the episode.

la • kahn-tee-nah

La Cantina / The Cantina
It didn’t take long for Mary Frances Reynolds of El Paso to win a Burbank beauty contest and catch the eye of competing talent scouts who were in attendance. Even though the decision of who can offer her the contract was determined by a coin toss, both studios would have a huge impact on this native El Pasoan.

Warner Bros. originally signed Reynolds in 1948, giving her the stage name of “Debbie” after winning the coin toss. But it was MGM who gave her the iconic starring-role in Singing in the Rain, opposite Gene Kelly. After its breakout success in 1954, the starlet’s life would never be the same. As an A-List celebrity, her face and voice would be featured in countless films, TV shows, music recordings, and tabloids.

As an actress, singer, and businesswoman, Debbie Reynold’s career spanned nearly 70 years. Her daughter, whom she had with singer and actor Eddie Fisher, would follow in her mother’s footsteps. Carrie would become the icon of another generation in her role as Princess Leia.

The mother and daughter’s famously close-knit relationship was evident until the very end, and the subject of a 2016 documentary. Weeks before it’s premiere, Carrie suffered from an unexpected heart-attack and died after a four day battle. The following day her mother would suffer from a brain hemorrhage and also pass. When asked about the timing of his mother’s and sister’s death, Todd Fisher said of Debbie, “she didn’t die of a broken heart... she just left to be with Carrie.”

la • ahk-trees

La Acrtiz / The Actress
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.

el • chee-kah-noh

El Chicano / The Chicano
Affectionately nicknamed “the bear” for his brusque court side demeanor, Don Haskins is best known for his role in the integration of black athletes. At the time, it had been over a decade since a landmark supreme court decision helped outlaw segregation in Brown vs Board of Education. Yet, it was still common to find all-white sports teams in college athletics, especially in the South.

In 1966, the Miners of Texas Western were heading into the championship against a favored Kentucky team. This was only four years into Haskins reign as head coach, and already his second appearance in a NCAA Tournament. In the historic moment, coach Haskins’ starting lineup at the game was comprised entirely of black athletes. He has often been quoted saying this was not motivated by race or scandal, and that he was simply acting in the best interest of the game. “Anyone who played for me can tell you I treated everyone the same, that race was not a factor in how I coached the team.”

The 1966 team would give the coach his only championship title, despite a dozen tournament appearances throughout his career. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Disney produced a feature film about coach Haskins and the team titled Glory Road. It might have been the diversity and history of El Paso del Norte that contributed to the watershed moment in collegiate sports. Either way, there is no denying the legacy of our university and our basketball coach changed forever after that day.

el • oh-soh

El Oso / The Bear
In 1933, nearly three centuries after the Mission of Guadalupe got started, another Franciscan had a vision for a new landmark. Lourdes Costa was a Smeltertown priest who imagined a shrine atop the summit of the mountains known as the Cerro de los Muleros (“Mule Driver Hill”). Armed with nothing more than his idea and the blessing of Bishop A.J. Schuler, the priest would spend the next few years of his life dedicated to making it a reality.

On the eve of lent, after the Diocese of El Paso purchased the land from New Mexico, parishioners from San José del Río Grande trekked along the mountain carrying a temporary wooden monument. A couple of years later, Father Costa would commission his friend to construct a permanent fixture for the mountain.

Following an approved model, it would take the Spanish-born sculptor, Urbici Soler, over a year to create the monument with his team. The material of the statue was gathered on a trip to Austin’s limestone quarry, which was regarded as some of the most pure lime in this part of the world. On October 29th 1939, the landmark welcomed hundreds of El Paso del Norte residents for the first Cristo Rey pilgrimage.

Since it’s first day at the summit, the 42.5 ft tall sculpture has become a key fixture of our home’s skyline. It’s significance continues to evolve as it’s at the pinnacle of volatile boundaries. In 2016, the adjacent ASARCO smokestacks, which dominated the horizon, were demolished. The land that was home to thousands of Spanish-speaking inhabitants for over a century has all but vanished. Besides the tombstones of the hidden Smeltertown cemetery, Mount Cristo Rey is the only reminder we have of the community, and company, that was vital to El Paso’s formation.

el • krees-toh rrey

El Cristo Rey / cHRIST tHE King
The sun shines nearly 10 months out of the year in El Paso, about a third more than the average US city. So it’s no wonder that the sun has always been a selling point for tourism. Even in the 1920’s it was baked into our slogan on roadsigns: “El Paso, where sunshine spends the winter.” These billboards were normally spread along the Texas highway, encouraging motorists to stop and stay at Hotel Paso del Norte, considered the nicest and most popular hotel at the time. However, the real selling point for tourism has always been El Paso del Norte’s history and culture. This is why most marketing back then usually illustrated a sombrero-wearing stereotyped Mexican, and our proximity to Juarez or “Old Mexico.”

Along the way, those two things became so synonymous that by the 1970’s the convention center and visitors bureau officially adopted a new mascot, the Amigo man. A more friendly (and less racist) marketing effort to highlight our culture, weather, and hospitality.

el • sohl

El Sol / The Sun
El Paso was quick to market its proximity to Hispanic culture, but pretty slow on embracing it as its own. Which is why Rosa Guerrero has been a pioneer for our region’s culture and art.

The native El Pasoan, like so many others, was often disciplined as a child for speaking Spanish in school. Although she felt persecuted for her heritage, Guerrero did not succumb to the intolerance and pressure. Instead, she dedicated her life to cultural arts, education, and faith.

The life-long dancer has often said that she knew from an early age that she wanted to become an educator. Making sure students did not feel punished for racial or cultural differences was her priority. After receiving her degree in education, she returned to the district where she was a student, and began her 20-year career.

In 1970, Guerrero made an even larger impact by creating the first ballet folklórico group in El Paso. In her documentary film Tapestry, released four years later, the educator shared her longing for cultural harmony and understanding. “The world must unite as a tapestry of cultures, each lending itself to better the other.”

In 1993, despite 400 years of Spanish history in El Paso, Rosa Guerrero became the first Hispanic woman to have a school named after her. Even in retirement, this cultural ambassador remains a vibrant fixture of our community. Just by virtue of being present, Rosa Guerrero is a living testament of how recent our community’s tolerances evolved.

la • bai-lah-reen-ah

La Bailarina / The Dancer
Tom Lea might have been the first El Paso writer to have his story turned into a movie, but he was not the last or most influential. That recognition can most likely be handed to Eugene Roddenberry, who was born in El Paso in 1921.

The Air Force veteran-turned-Los Angeles policeman began producing his own television show once he started working as a freelance writer. In 1964, the writer created a science fiction series titled Star Trek, which made its television debut in 1966. However, the show only ran for three seasons before getting canceled.

It was clear mainstream audiences and studio executives were not ready for the science-fiction genre at the time. But as the show entered syndication, a subculture of “Trekkies” rallied around the limited series. This growing interest paved the way for George Lucas and Star Wars in the 70’s, which would catapult science-fiction themes into the forefront. That momentum returned to the TV writer, which led to a feature film franchise and sequel television series over 20 years following the original.
In 1985, Roddenberry became the first TV writer to have a star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame. Upon his death, he was the recipient of the first public memorial spaceflight, which took his remains around the Earth’s orbit.

el • ehs-kree-tohr

El Escritor / The Writer
He was born Alberto Aguilera Valadez, but the world knew him as Juan Gabriel. To many in El Paso del Norte, he’s lovingly referred to as Juanga. The flamboyant pop icon is considered to be the most important Mexican composer and singer of all time. Selling over 100 million records in his 45-year career, he is in a class amongst the world’s most successful artists. The prolific singer and songwriter is estimated to have contributed to nearly 2,000 compositions in his life.

Despite his incredible success, the mega star never lost touch with his humble roots. Referred to as El Divo de Juarez, the singer even founded an orphanage and music school in his home town. Following his untimely death in 2016 in California, his remains returned to the borderland. His El Paso del Norte home has since become a museum and shrine to the legendary musician.

el • hwahn-gha

El Juanga / The Juanga


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.

la • oh-breh-rah

La Obrera / The Worker

Connecting The Dots

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 just 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 just 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 began producing 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, which added almost half a million square feet of production space, this local brand grew into a domestic powerhouse. Farah began supplying JC Penny and Montgomery Ward stores across the country.

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

In the age of the Internet and social media, it’s not unusual for normal people to become viral or larger-than-life personalities. But in the 70’s that was a rare phenomenon. Yet, that’s precisely what happened to El Paso native Julian Armas, known to many as Jay J. Armes.

In 1943, at only 11 years old, Julian lost both of his hands following an explosion caused by railway torpedoes. Even then, the double amputee would not allow his new “disability” to keep him from living the life he always envisioned. Following a brief attempt at acting, the lower valley resident returned to his hometown with a new moniker and goal: private investigation.

In 1958, Jay opened up a now legendary agency “The Investigators” in central El Paso, where he was surrounded by Bond-level spy gear. This gun-wielding P.I. didn’t just prove himself capable with his hook prosthetics, he thrived. His reputation soared so much that in 1972, when a teenaged Christian Brando was kidnapped, Jay J. Armes and his investigators were on the case. Armes rescued the child and returned him to his Hollywood icon father, Marlon Brando.

The following year, in a full-circle moment, Armes was asked to play a revenge-seeking villain on the season six premiere of Hawaii Five-O. With that episode titled, “The Hookman” and his success with the Brando case, Jay’s fame catapulted to a new level.

Following the release of his autobiography in ‘76, the Ideal Toy Company turned the El Pasoan into a line of action figures. The Jay J. Armes Toy Line featured the famed investigator with detachable prosthetics, spy gadgets, and a Mobile Investigation Unit vehicle. Not only were children around the country playing with a double-amputee figure, but it was also the first Mexican-American protagonist by a US toy company. In the years that followed, Ideal Toys and Armes began the Investigative Course for kids to learn about private investigation. An adult training course also began, called The Investigators Training Academy. For his contributions to the field, he is considered one of the most important investigators of the 20th century.

el • een-vehs-tee-gah-dohr

El Investigador / The Investigator
Mining operations in this part of the world doesn’t just predate The University of Texas, but also the state of Texas, and the United States entirely. It was Spain’s hunt for gold and silver that brought their colonization efforts this far north in the 1600’s. But it wasn’t until 1913 that our region officially had an educational institution dedicated to the vocation.

With just 27 students, the State School of Mines and Metallurgy opened up near the original Fort Bliss military site. At that time, the institution even offered students a practice mineshaft. The school would eventually change its name several times, from the Department of Mines and Metallurgy, to the College of Mines and Metallurgy of the University of Texas, to Texas Western College. It finally incorporated the city’s name in 1967 and became known as UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso). 13 years later, to celebrate the evolution, the school created a new fight song, called “Miner’s Fight.” The anthem, which is still used,  is an adaptation of Marty Robbin’s famous El Paso record.

Today the school is one of 131 research universities to receive the highest “R1” rating. The campus is also home to the second-oldest college bowl game and anchors the region as the largest university in nearly a 500-mile radius. It continues to produce countless standouts and professionals in academia, business, entertainment, and athletics.

el • mee-neh-roh

El Minero / The Miner
Plenty of movies have been filmed in El Paso. A couple of El Pasoans have written stories that were turned into motion pictures. As in the case of Glory Road, our locals can even be the subject of a major feature film. However, not only did our very own Ron Stallworth become the subject of the 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, he also wrote the book which inspired the movie.

In 2014, the Austin High School alum penned an account of his now legendary 1979 run-in with the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth, a Colorado Springs police officer at the time, was able to infiltrate and investigate the notorious white supremacist hate group from within the organization. What would be considered a commendable feat by any law enforcement official was amplified by the fact that he did it as a black man.

The stranger-than-fiction tale caught the attention of Hollywood producers, who turned the native El Pasoan’s story into the basis of an Academy Award-winning film. It was released 50+ years after the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and 40 years after the actual events took place. However, most reviewers chimed in on the film's relevance in 2018 America. Today, the Austin High School graduate is back in El Paso, but can often be found making appearances and lectures around the country. In 2019, he was the Honorary Grand Marshall of the annual Sun Bowl Parade.

el • een-feel-trah-doh

El Infiltrado / The Infiltrator
What started as the Rubin’s family-owned beauty supply store would eventually become anything but. All because the eldest son, Gerald, had a knack for growth and wanted more. Once their successful wig business expanded to 40 stores along the border and over 400 wig concessions in department stores along the US, this natural-born salesman knew there was still more to achieve.

Rubin first pivoted his brand, Helen of Troy (named after the most beautiful woman in Greek mythology) into a broader range of hair-related products. The company added appliances like curling irons, hairdryers, and commercial salon equipment. Despite a few good years, the long-term forecast was bleak, which meant he’d have to pivot once more. That’s what motivated Gerald to pitch his company to the British hair icon Vidal Sassoon.

In 1980, the famous stylist and his business executives were looking to license his name. The hair legend who invented the “bob cut” was taking on partners around the world, and accepting bids in the US. Despite being the smallest company with the least amount of capital, and no retail experience, Rubin’s Helen of Troy landed the contract. Since then this global corporation, which still has offices in El Paso, has been a parent to some of the most famous health and home brands including: OXO, Revlon, Sure, Brut, PUR, Pert, Honeywell, Vicks, and more.

el • vehn-deh-dohr

El Vendedor / The Salesman
Today in the United States, it’s evident there is still more that needs to be done to end gender inequality. However, women in this country have made strides since the suffrage movement began. One of the biggest benchmarks has a connection to our home.

On September 25th, 1981, El Paso native Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Appointed by President Reagan, this lawyer-turned-Attorney General of Arizona-turned-State Senator, broke the glass ceiling of our country’s judiciary. A proper bit of justice for a woman who only 30 years prior wasn’t able to find a paying job –– despite a stellar performance at Stanford Law School.

While justice, the conservative Republican would often strengthen the influence of the court by basing her decisions on the merits of the case rather than political influence. Despite a lifetime appointment, O’Connor announced her retirement after 25 years, at the age of 75. Inspired by her husband’s declining health as he battled Alzheimer’s, she’s spent much of her retirement away from the spotlight. After her husband’s death, she founded a nonprofit focused on civic education, discourse, and engagement. O’Connor has written several books about her experiences. Not just about her time on the Supreme Court, but also children’s books about animals on her farm.

In 2009, President Obama awarded the retired justice with the Presidential Medal of Freedom citing she had, “foraged a new trail and built a bridge behind her for all young women to follow.” In October of 2018, Sandra Day O’Connor revealed in a public letter that she had been dealing with her own battle against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, the Austin High School graduate stepped away from public roles entirely, but assured her “friends and fellow Americans” that, “nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life.”

la • hoos-tee-syah

La Justicia / The Justice
It was here in El Paso that a young Don Bluth would ride on a horse to see his first Disney films. The now legendary animator has credited his early exposure to animated films as the spark that ignited his career. After a few family relocations, Bluth found himself at just 17 becoming an assistant at the Disney company. However, the aspiring animator would take time off to complete a religious mission in Argentina two years later, and finish his academic career at BYU.

In 1971, the artist was back at Disney after spending almost five years working for another studio that was not as satisfying. During his tenure he would contribute to a number of films including; Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, and The Rescuers. Bluth even served as animation director on the live-action film, Pete’s Dragon in 1977. Unfortunately, Walt Disney passed away in-between his two phases at the company. This gave Don firsthand experience on how different a corporately-run studio was. So Don, along with some coworkers, began collecting animation equipment in a garage in hopes to branch out on their own. On his 42nd birthday in 1979, they took a leap of faith and opened up Don Bluth Productions.

Their first feature-length film The Secret of NIMH became a cult classic years later, but didn’t put their new company on the right track. The moderate success of the release, along with a profit-sharing contract, meant Don and his 160 animators would need to shutter the business. Two years later, the original three ex-Disney employees re-banded with Rick Dyer to create a groundbreaking animated arcade game, Dragon’s Lair.

But Don was not done with animated films. He eventually teamed up with Steven Spielberg and went on to create An American Tale in 1986. At the time, it became the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film in history. The duo would go on to release more iconic films including The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and Thumbelina. In 1997, Fox Animation used Bluth’s artistic direction to create their hit, Anastasia.

el • ah-nee-mah-dohr

El Animador / The Animator
Coincidentally, on July 7th, 1981, when President Reagan announced his historic nomination for Supreme Court, one of the reporters breaking the story would also be an El Pasoan. Television journalist Sam Donaldson served as a White House correspondent with ABC news from 1977-1988. Though the four-time Emmy winner got his start at NBC in the 1960’s, ABC was the network where Donaldson would become a household name.

Sam knew he wanted to broadcast the news at the age of seven. That was the year his mom bought a radio for their Chamberino farm to stay up-to-date on the Pearl Harbor attack, which happened the day before. He eventually got his wish by the time he was studying at UTEP. Sam began reporting local news for radio station KEPO, which later became KHEY and then KTSM.

Within a decade, the aspiring newsman would find himself moving up the ranks in Dallas and then New York, before settling in Washington D.C. With a passion for politics, Donaldson would become a panelist and later co-host of ABC’s This Week, Primetime Live, and even their iconic 20/20. During his over 50-year career, Donaldson would cover countless wars, politicians, scandals, and impressively only missed one political convention. In 2002, his alma mater established the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies. The UTEP facility gives communication majors, and students from across the region, hands-on preparation for careers in media.

el • peh-ryoh-dees-tah

El Periodista / The Reporter
The historic legacy of El Pasoans in the early days of cinema set an incredibly high bar for aspiring actors. Luckily, Murray Abraham reinvigorated El Paso del Norte’s presence in the industry for a new generation. Before adding the “F.” to his stage name –– in honor of his father, Fahrid –– Murray was simply the best actor of El Paso High School. After studying at UTEP, UT Austin, and the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York, Abraham got his on-screen debut in 1971’s They Might Be Giants.

He spent the next few years jumping between small roles, and even had an uncredited appearance next to Al Pacino in the classic film, Serpico. Frustrated with the lack of substantial work afterwards, he’d have to start turning to commercials and voice-overs to make money. That’s when Abraham decided to step away from the industry altogether.

After taking a break to become a “house husband” while his wife supported the family, Abraham returned five years later, reinvigorated. In a full-circle twist of fate, Abraham’s first role back would again involve Al Pacino. But rather than be an unnamed extra, F. Murray would stand along side him as the supporting role. Abraham’s portrayal of Omar Suárez in 1983’s Scarface boosted his notoriety to a level he had not reached before.

Almost as if he were a man on a mission, he followed-up his role the very next year with a legendary performance as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus. While it’s uncertain if he was drawing from experience –– playing a talented-yet-jealous composer who had to compete with a colleague’s fame and notoriety –– it’s undeniable the role made him a star. The following year, this El Pasoan took home both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actor.

el • ahk-tohr

El Actor / The Actor
Even though he was born and raised in California, Alfredo Loya came to El Paso by way of Chihuahua. In the early 70’s the price of cattle crashed, affecting his family’s ranch. When he made his way here, an insurance agent friend convinced the former cattle buyer to start selling insurance. By 1975, Loya had become a successful insurance agent who decided to open up his own operation. During his first decade in business, he began to identify a multi-layered problem. All drivers needed insurance, but big insurance companies did not really serve poor or less-affluent communities. Premiums based on income or credit-rating usually led to higher rates for those who couldn’t afford it.

With the help of his children, Fred Loya Insurance began to offer their own coverage focused on under-served communities. The business grew along the southwest and became one of the largest Hispanic-owned companies in the United States. The company is still based in El Paso and even though the man who started the business is no longer involved, his presence is still felt in the community.

For over a decade the retired insurer has opened up his home to the public for a new Christmas tradition. The annual Christmas Light Show is so grand it was featured on, and won, ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight in 2014.

el • ah-seh-goo-rah-dohr

El Asegurador / The Insurer
What started as hand puppets grew into life-sized swimming instructors for our region. In 1979, the Aqua Puppets made their debut. They were developed by El Paso’s Director of Aquatics, William Cowan and Aquatics Program Coordinator, Gayle Vokes.

The cast of “fish kids” were meant to better communicate with children who didn’t really engage with safety rules or abstract concepts like “Learn to Swim.” Even though there was a handful of original characters, the stars were obvious. Gus, described as a “scrappy little blue guppy,” and Goldie, the “cute gold-and-orange sunfish with valentine lips” became the central focus of El Paso’s Learn-To-Swim program.

Enrollment spiked in the first year the characters were introduced, and attendance to public pools doubled within five years of the program. The success of the mascot advocates lead to a licensing opportunity for the City of El Paso. Soon other municipalities in the region started implementing their own Gus & Goldie programs. The El Paso fish started popping up as far away as Shreveport, Louisiana. Though their popularity has subsided in recent years, many generations are still swimming thanks to these felted fish.

los • pehs

Los Pez / The Fish
Of all the accolades or praises given to Paseños, the most consistent and long-lasting has been our humility and kindness to visitors. Some may view our distance from the hustle and bustle of major metropolitan centers as a weakness. Yet, there are plenty of people who recognize it as a strength. At least that’s what motivated one of our most famous neighbors to call this place home.

After his “deluxe apartment in the sky” and historic career in Hollywood, Sherman Hemsley had his eyes set on a more remote life in retirement. Contrary to his on-screen persona as George Jefferson, Hemsley was an introvert who enjoyed blending into his environment. East El Paso was the ideal place for the television icon to live an undisturbed life. To El Pasoans, he was not the larger-than-life person from TV, he was a neighbor who was proud to call El Paso his home. Even though he was not born here, he made this his forever resting place. In 2012, the actor died from complications related to lung cancer, and is now interred at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.

el • veh-see-noh

El Vecino / The Neighbor
In the early 90’s, the emerging El Paso punk music scene was relegated to hotel ballrooms or school auditoriums. But it’s how a couple teenagers would meet and decide to put together a band of their own –– while one was still in high school. After graduating from El Paso High, the self-taught guitarist Jim Ward would use his college savings account to pay for the band’s first recording. The 7-inch vinyl EP titled Hell Paso, featured three songs and was the first official release by At The Drive In (ATDI).

Fueled mainly by their love of performing, the young group spent most of their early years on the road. Whether in a sanctioned venue or small room, the band would play for anyone who would listen. With a contagious performance energy, the band developed an underground fan base across much of the southwest. By the time ATDI recorded their first full-length album in 1996, Jim and co-founding lead vocalist Cedric Bixler were the only original members of the group. Even though their drummer Tony Hajjar and bass player Omar Rodriguez would be lasting fixtures, the roster wasn’t cemented until 1997. That’s when Omar transitioned into guitar and Paul Hinojos would fill the void on bass.

The quintet’s first album together was 1998’s In/Casino/Out –– which in 2016 Rolling Stone named #20 of the “Greatest Emo Albums of All Time.” But it wasn’t until the release of Relationship of Command, two years later, that the world started to open up. The post hardcore band managed to toe the line between critical acclaim and mainstream interest –– without selling out their sound. By the time their hard-hitting single “One Armed Scissor” was frequented on radio stations, the band started making appearances on late night television. Their performances over the years had given them a loyal fan base, but when the larger music world started witnessing their energy first-hand, they became a must-see act of the era.

Despite music aficionados juxtaposing this El Paso band’s quick (public) rise to the likes of Nirvana, the members of ATDI had enough. In 2001, the band went on an “indefinite hiatus” citing personal differences and relentless schedules –– amongst other things –– as reasons to reevaluate. In the years that followed, the musicians would reorganize into two factions and try to pick up where they left off.

la • bahn-dah

La Banda / The Band
There are different leagues and variations of wrestling around the world. Which is why if you’re from El Paso del Norte, your idea of wrestling might be determined by the language you speak. Lucha Libre, as it’s known in Mexico, is older and synonymous with masks and high-flying stunts. In the US, performers are over-the-top characters with personalities bigger than their muscles. For Mexican-American wrestling fans, allegiance to one style over the other might be contentious. But in the case of El Paso’s Los Guerreros, there’s no need to choose.

Salvador Guerrero Quesada was born in Arizona in 1921, but moved nine years later. His father got a job in Guadalajara, and it was there a young Salvador’s life would change. After joining a gym to learn boxing, he crossed paths with a new trainer/luchador named Diablo Velaso. Diablo didn’t know it at the time, but Salvador would be the first of many notable students he would train.

By the 40’s Salvador made it to the Mexico City leagues and had adopted the name Gory, alluding to his bloody battles in the ring. It didn’t take long for him to standout and become a national welterweight and middleweight champion. He spent the next few decades performing in different leagues around Mexico and southwestern United States. Which might explain why he and his wife made El Paso their home base after getting married in 1947.

The couple had six children, and all four of their boys followed in Salvador’s footsteps. The youngest of the group, Eddie, would grow up to be a Chicano icon for millions of Mexican-Americans.

The Mexican / Latin / Hispanic influence of wrestling has been evident around the world and even in US companies. Leagues like WCW, WWF, and WWE have maintained a roster which usually includes at least one masked luchador, or more blatant arcs like Latin World Order. However, most of these characters usually play the heel or “rudo” as it’s known in lucha libre. This is the antagonist, or “bad guy,” of the play. Eddie was no exception to this, but that didn’t keep him from being a crowd favorite.

In 2004, the lowrider-driving wrestler with a theme song titled “Viva La Raza” ended up beating superstar Brock Lesnar to become the first Mexican-American champion of the WWE. The following year, he and the mask-wearing partner, Rey Mysterio, would also win the tag team championship. However, just a few months later in November, the El Paso native died, ending a historic career in its prime.

el • loo-chah-dohr

El Luchador / The Wrestler
The architecture of UTEP is a testament to the relationship between the university and the remote Himalayan country of Bhutan. This connection has lasted over 100 years and it’s all thanks to a fire, an issue of National Geographic, and architecture firm Trost & Trost.

Just two years after the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy opened its doors, a fire destroyed the main building forcing some classes to the first floor of the dormitories. Meanwhile, Fort Bliss (who owned the land of the campus) was ramping up operations in wake of WWI and the Mexican Revolution. Thus, when planning their replacement building, the university moved a little further away from the military outpost and closer to ASARCO.

When the first dean, Stephen Worrell, was considering buildings for the new campus, he leaned on his wife Kathleen for help. A 1914 National Geographic photo essay titled, “Castles in the Air” caught Mrs. Worrell’s attention. It documented the dzong architecture of Buddhist monasteries in the Kingdom of Bhutan, and where she noticed the similarities of the new landscape. Mrs. Worrell would go on to convince officials and her husband to incorporate the high-sloped walls, inset windows, mandalas, and red-brick friezes.

After securing $100,000 from the state legislature, the Worrell’s approached Trost & Trost to carry out the vision. Armed with only black and white photographs, the architecture firm completed the Main Building in 1918. Since then, the architecture stylings have carried on to this day. El Paso is most likely home to the highest concentration of dzong architecture in the world, outside of Bhutan. Because of this, the Kingdom and the university have a unique bond. In addition to student exchange programs, the traditional craftsmen of Bhutan have even left their mark on the campus.

In 2008, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival showcased the Kingdom of Bhutan in Washington DC. Bhutanese carpenters, painters, and artisans constructed an authentic lhakhang (luh-kang) temple on the Nation Mall as a gift to the United States. After the festival, its permanent home became the Centennial Plaza of the University of Texas El Paso.

el • tehm-ploh

El Templo / The Temple
Not only does our local university have ties to the other side of the world, they have connections that are entirely beyond our planet. It was at UTEP where a local El Pasoan named John “Danny” Olivas began his academic career in mechanical engineering. This future astronaut would become the first Mexican-American to perform an Extravehicular activity (EVA), more commonly known as a “spacewalk.”

Born in North Hollywood in the 60’s, his family relocated to El Paso from California when he was just a child. Being in Texas, the Olivas family set out to visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston. That’s where a young Danny’s fascination with space began. After getting his first degree in 1989, he went on to receive his master’s and PhD from other Texas schools. In 1998, Olivas was chosen as an astronaut candidate by NASA.

Danny may have had an early interest in space, but his career actually began underwater. Between 1999 and 2006, Olivas had a number of roles in NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO). The underwater Aquarius laboratory is situated on the ocean floor, four miles off the Florida coast. The hostile, alien environment of the deep sea makes it an ideal testing ground for NASA. Mission crew members, known as aquanauts, can sometimes spend up to three weeks underwater to prepare for space missions.

After years of successful projects and preparation, Danny boarded the Atlantis space shuttle in June of 2007 and left our atmosphere. During his time in space, Olivas would have to perform the first EVA repair on the Atlantis shuttle, in addition to completing the 21st mission to the International Space Station. The astronaut accumulated 14 hours of spacewalk time and would return after just over 11 days in space. But his time outside of Earth was not over. In 2009, as part of the Discovery STS-128 mission, he would perform three more EVAs.

With over 34 hours of spacewalks under his belt, this retired astronaut is still raising the bar for El Paso del Norte. 25 years after graduating, the UTEP alum returned to help lead the university’s new space research initiative. The Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research (CASSMAR) is part of a global public / private effort to fill knowledge gaps and reduce the risk of space flights.

el • ahs-troh-now-tah

El Astronauta / The Astronaut
Long before they were carried in designer handbags of celebrity owners, the spokes-animal for a fast-food restaurant, or even a baseball team mascot, this tiny breed of dog has called our region home. In fact, a likely ancestor of the Chihuahua, known as the Techichi, can be referenced back almost 2,000 years!
There are many myths and theories about how the dog came to be or what purpose they served to indigenous cultures of Cemanahuac. But their place of origin is perfectly clear and known throughout the world –– it’s in their name. That’s why “chihuahua“ is probably the most recognized non-food Nahuatl word known to rest of the world.

el • chee-wah-wah

El Chihuahua / The Chihuahua
Aaron Sanchez comes from a lineage of passionate home cooks that began with his grandparents on a cattle ranch in Chihuahua. Before his mother Zarela Martinez would dive into culinary arts professionally, she had made her way north, where she was a local social worker. That’s what set the stage for Aaron and his twin brother Rodrigo to be born in El Paso. When Zarela made the decision to pursue her catering business called “El Paso,” she enrolled in a cooking class in New Orleans. It didn’t take long for her talents to be recognized by celebrity creole chef, Paul Prudhomme, who took her under his wing.

Once the family moved to New York in the 80’s, Zarela became a pioneer by opening up a Mexican restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. She has since said, that her goal and “life’s mission was simply to make [her] culture known,” and acknowledges her success through her children. “My pride in life is that my kids are proud to be Mexican.”

As a child Aaron was intrigued with cooking and would often help his mother with her catering business. By 16, he began spending his summers in New Orleans with his mother’s former mentor. After graduating from high school, he started a two-year stint working for the Cajun icon full-time. Despite his mother sometimes being referred to as the “Mexican Martha Stewart” –– who even had a line of products and cookbooks –– success did not come easily for Aaron.

In fact, when Sanchez returned to New York (following years of working and learning from the Caribbean to San Francisco) he entered the market with “a shoestring [budget].” Paladar was an independent endeavor started by a New York bartender, who was an acquaintance of Aaron’s, Eamon Furlong. When Eamon presented his plans for the Lower East Side concept and asked Aaron if he could consult in finding a chef, he turned him down and offered to take on the role. The following year, Time Out New York named the restaurant the “Best New Restaurant” in the neighborhood and the “Best Latin American Restaurant” in their annual guide.

Even though Aaron was making a name for himself as a restaurateur, his notoriety didn’t begin to peak until he began making appearances on television. With hundreds of contributions, to over a dozen shows on a handful of networks, this El Pasoan has become one of the most recognizable Mexican-American chefs in the world. But he hasn’t forgotten where it all started.

In the debut season of Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” the influential chef shared his admiration for our local staple, Chico’s Tacos. After spending several years being a judge on Food Network’s Chopped, he can now be seen along side Gordon Ramsay as the co-host of Fox’s hit show, MasterChef. In 2019, the proud El Pasoan released a memoir titled, Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef.

el • shehf

El Chef / The Chef
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.

la • eh-kees

La Equis / The X
At first glance, boxing might seem like an individual sport, as there is no relief bench if a fighter gets tired. But anyone familiar with the journey before the ring, knows the importance a trainer and support team can play. Luckily for Jennifer Han, her first trainer’s lifetime of fighting experiences were not segregated to the corner of the ring. She had his talents flowing through her DNA.

It was Jennifer’s father, Master Bae Han, and his excellence in martial arts that brought him to the United States in the first place. While growing up in South Korea, a young Bae Han began his training as preparation for the republic’s military service. Under the guidance of prominent grandmasters, he soon became a commanding presence in his own right. The student did in fact become the teacher, to many American soldiers in his homeland. Setting up a sequence of events which would inevitably bring him to El Paso in 1978. After falling in love and marrying his wife, Joyce, the Han’s began a new dynasty in the southwest. Jennifer is the eldest of five children who have all been trained by their father. Over time the close-knit group has relied on themselves to be in each other’s corner, while also contributing to the family’s martial arts academy.

The first-born Han began her martial arts training at just five years old. Throughout her childhood, her education evolved and her skills compounded. Even though unranked by the time she made her first appearance at the AAU Junior Olympic Games, she emerged with a gold medal. By the time Jennifer was 15, she had already been exposed to Hoi Jeon Moo Sool, Tae Kwon do, and kick boxing, but started gravitating toward traditional boxing. It’s unclear if the Sydney summer games or the cinematic portrayals of female boxers influenced her subconscious, but around the turn of the century her vision became focused on Olympic gold. There was just one problem, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) didn’t recognize women’s boxing.

Convinced that change was on the horizon, the trailblazer didn’t back down. In 2001, she won the USA Boxing Nation Championship which was only one of handful of amateur titles she would claim over the next few years. Unfortunately, the 2004 Olympic games came and went, as well as the 2008 tournament. This presented the fighting phenom with a difficult choice: continue spending prime years in the amateur leagues (in hopes for the Olympics) or enter the professional boxing world. On July 31, 2009, the 26-year old boxer lost her professional debut by a majority decision. Two weeks later, the IOC announced the inclusion of women’s boxing into the 2012 London Olympics.

Rather than be demoralized, Jennifer Han remained determined. She doubled down on her goals by participating in two fights every year, in an effort to work her way up the professional ranks. By 2014, she was given the opportunity to challenge the South Korean International Female Boxing Association featherweight champion, Ji-Hye Woo, in her home country. Despite being four years younger than Han, Woo had a professional career that was five years longer. Plus she had already successfully thwarted a competitor’s challenge to unseat her. Throughout the nationally-televised contest, Han gave the performance of a lifetime, but lost in a judge’s decision.

Even though she was discouraged, her performance gained attention and opened the door for her to compete for the more-coveted, and vacant, IBF World Championship title. But this time the fight would take place in Jennifer’s own backyard, the Don Haskins Center. In front of a packed hometown crowd chanting “Jen-ny!” (in  the same rhythm of the 1993 film Rudy) the El Paso native won her first world championship belt. Knowing many in attendance had witnessed her 15-year climb to the top, the overwhelmed boxer proclaimed, “I didn’t win this, we all won this.”

la • kahm-peh-oh-nah

La Campeona / The Champion


In 2015, a high school junior found out that he would not be graduating with the friends or in the setting he had spent the last few years getting comfortable with. Instead, he would be driving across the country to a new life – a byproduct of the military life he knew well. But unlike the bases in Germany, Kentucky, and New York that he had been bouncing around, this new environment came attached with a hodgepodge of subcultures and a heritage he was completely unfamiliar with. Rather than be seen as an outsider or view the situation as isolating, Khalid accepted it as his own. The speed in which this newcomer embraced the location, people, and culture as an adopted “hometown,” is what started making his story different.

The new found comfort and sense of belonging allowed Khalid to grow his confidence and talent. As a self-described “awkward creative kid,” singing was not a new part of his life. But in his newly adopted hometown, he wasn’t demeaned for his ambitions. Khalid was uplifted for his talents by friends who had welcomed him, irrespective of them. That comfort allowed him to take it to the next level; pursue recording as a means to share the perspectives he and his friends shared.

The second time speed would play a vital role, was not the actions of any one person. By the end of the year, the aspiring singer began recording and distributing his own music on the streaming platform, Soundcloud. Technology allowed for access and speed to the recording process. The real-time nature of being able to make a song and distribute it to the world, is how an El Paso teen was able to find new collaborators in Atlanta. During the semester break from his senior year, the aspiring performer was able to travel and lay the groundwork for several songs. Even though they weren’t complete and ready to distribute, he would have the opportunity for his hometown to influence the process.

During his spring break, his collaborators came to El Paso to finish the songs in the singer’s home court. Thanks to his friends, family, and environment, Khalid was able to work diligently with an instant feedback loop. When the sessions were complete, the high school student was able to post his new song, Location, online –– just weeks before his senior prom. By the time he was crowned prom king and friends were spreading his music, his belief that his life had a purpose beyond the traditional-route, was reaffirmed. The high school senior had replaced college applications with pursuits of passion. The new free time after graduation allowed him to double-down on his ambitions, and his new song began to spread around the world. Khalid Robinson didn’t just prove El Paso del Norte was no longer isolated from the world, he introduced us to virality.

By the end of the summer, the local’s song was spreading like wildfire on social media, making him a highly-sought after act. After choosing a record label to partner with, he came back home to shoot a music video with the friends and hometown that made it all possible. In preparation for his debut album, the teen spent the remainder of 2016 back in the nomadic lifestyle he was originally accustomed to. But he’d return to El Paso at the beginning of the new year, as part of a sold-out 25-show tour. The speed of Khalid’s rise was cemented a couple months later in March. Almost exactly a year after finishing his hit single in El Paso, the Americas Trailblazer made his television debut on the Tonight Show.

His album, American Teen, debuted on the Billboard 200 charts at number 9. In less than seven months, the Recording Industry Association of America, certified the album had accumulated over one million sales, giving the 19-year old singer his first platinum album. When speaking on the project Khalid said, “I feel like a lot of my personal life is on this record, but a lot of my friends’ stories are [also]. When I’m given this talent to make a song, why not write about the situation they’re going through? I feel like it was necessary to tell their story, because I don’t feel like there is anyone else they would’ve known, that would’ve stepped up to tell their story.”

It’s the nature of the album –– and it’s success –– that introduces the last remarkable “speed” aspect to Khalid Robinson’s story. The tropes of Khalid’s narrative are familiar and classic Hollywood staples. The “unattached military brat,” “the awkward creative,” “the unlikely band of misfits,” “the rejects,” “the lonely,” “the humble,” “the disenfranchised.” It’s the same characters that have been in teen movies for generations and established John Hughes’ career. But, the 80’s and 90’s also gave birth to an era of films where “greed is good” and reiterated the social superiority of athletics and fraternal organizations in high school. Mainly because 20th century education was largely developed to promote, or at least be easier for, Type-A extroverts to navigate.

For the past 20 years, the accessibility of technology, and lack of media gatekeepers, have given birth to more diverse and nuanced perspectives. Generation Z, who have only known a world where anyone can share their story, doesn’t cling onto the traditional preconditioned ideals of the past. Thus, Khalid’s isolated and introverted band of marginalized perspectives became the voice of a generation across the country. Today the world famous talent is known more for his humility than his flash. The speed in which El Paso sentiments were not just heard, but resonated around the globe is a significant turning point for our home. After centuries of our own isolation and identity struggle, we are now in a world where we can facilitate, contribute and even define the experience of an American teen.

el • kahn-tahn-teh

El Cantante / The Singer

Connecting The Dots

Military service disrupting a traditional family life is an ancient concept. Within the past few centuries, conflicts and diplomacy have become more global than ever before. Thus, a disrupted home life became so common, the British Regiment Attached Traveler started giving this culture an identity. These BRAT titles were given to families who were able to travel abroad with service members. Over time, the “military brat” descriptor has evolved to specifically describe children of service members, who often live a modern nomadic lifestyle. 

This culture and subculture can have reciprocal affects, especially during formative years. Which is why social psychologists have made it a point to study these children. On one side, they’re usually more resilient, adaptable, and worldly than non-brat children. But on the other side, they often struggle with self-identity, belonging, and reverberated consequences from a lack of stability. More commonly than not, they usually never feel as if they have a hometown.

Home to a garrison which serves more family members and retirees than active military personnel, the narrative of a “military brat” entering an El Paso school seems fairly unremarkable. Even adding agreeable Paseños as a major supporting role, does little to make a chronicle unique. For centuries this humble setting and hospitable group have greeted conquistadors and presidents, they’ve welcomed migrants and comedic actors as their own. But the variable that repeatedly makes Khalid Robinson’s story truly extraordinary is speed.

When our progressive city council member was years ahead of the rest of the country on controversial topics like marriage equality and reversing Tom Lea’s marijuana prohibition, many felt as if he were destined for something beyond local politics. But it’s safe to assume that no one could have imagined what that would look like, even him.

Throughout his lifetime the 16th Congressional district of Texas had always been occupied by legacy politicians. 1964 was the last time an incumbent had lost a reelection –– and that was when voters replaced the first (and only) republican congressman from the district. Since then, retirement was the way to leave office: Richard White, 18 years in office, retired. His successor, Ron Coleman, 14 years in office, retired. So when the former city rep challenged the 16-year incumbent, it was ambitious to say the least.

After winning and serving El Pasoans in congress, he took that ambition to the state. When the rest of Texas started meeting him for the first time, he was puzzling voters and getting attention for more than just his lofty goal of becoming senator. Most of it revolved around things that had been long overlooked from the eyes of Paseños. Like how someone named Robert Francis with a famously Irish surname of O’Rourke could go by “Beto.” Or how he could speak the same “decent” Spanish like multi-generational pochos who were forced to assimilate. Or how a former punk-rock musician, hacker, and father of three could even be a skateboarding, cursing, politician in the first place. A liberal, democratic politician from Texas, no less. A candidate who would talk to voters on runs, and used technology to build a viral community. But to El Paso none of that was ever part of his lure or hard to comprehend. It all made sense because he was Pat’s son.

Even though he might have been born Patrick Francis O'Rourke, everyone referred to him as 'Pat.' That subtle informality was a telling characteristic of Beto’s father, who had been a fixture in the community for almost as long as he could remember. The larger than life personality was an El Paso del Norte native who had grown up speaking Spanish and felt comfortable in the hybrid environment. By the time Pat was campaigning to be county commissioner, the charismatic candidate started accentuating his heritage, and having fun with the community. On St. Patrick’s day in 1978, he got publicity for his campaign by inviting his friends to join him for a festive 20k jog along Transmountain –– something that would become a tradition of sorts.

Pat O’Rouke won that race to become commissioner, and eventually served a term as county judge too. The boisterous personality known to string-together a few swearwords from time to time, made him a distinctive presence in local politics. Despite his wife being a life-long republican, Pat helped Jesse Jackson make two consecutive bids for president throughout the 80’s. During his transformative campaign, the Democratic candidate was the first national platform to speak on a “Rainbow Coalition.” The first presidential campaign to acknowledge Indian, Muslim, Asian, Hispanic, and other marginalized races are equally American.

In June of that year, Jackson expressed his admiration for El Paso during a visit, with Pat at his side, he said, “it’s a Rainbow City where love abounds... You represent the dream that we fight to realize.” Later when asked why he supported Jackson, O’Rourke said “I like the guy. He’s entertaining, and he has some magic in him... [he] brought more people into the voting booth, an I don’t care who you are –– the more people that vote, the better off this country is.”

That attention-grabbing charisma was something Pat related to and had tried to instill in his son. But it all  chagrined a more reserved and developing Beto. So like any teenager filled with angst, in El Paso, in the 80’s and 90’s, looking for a community, there were only so many ways to turn: gangs, an emerging (but small) punk scene, or –– if you had the means –– an even more nascent environment; the Internet. Beto gravitated to the last two. But when even that wasn’t enough, he’d have to resort to the age old El Paso del Norte trick: leaving. Like so many who did it before him, he left without any intention to return.

However, the local brain-drain reached unprecedented levels near the end of the century and Beto found himself back home, helping his mom with the family’s furniture store. After a decade of important life experiences away from his hometown, he began to look at it from a new perspective. Rather than simply see it as the antiquated town he tried so desperately to leave, he began to notice its potential. With a skill set that included a love of writing and knowledge about computers, his next step was obvious. Perhaps the emerging Internet would be able to foster the local community he was unable to find before. Maybe he could help build a virtual or surrogate social infrastructure, which would evolve the culture of El Paso.

So in 2000, he co-founded the Stanton Street Technology Group and the online newspaper Stanton Street. It wasn’t so much a newspaper as much as it was an alternative, subculture publication. Rather than focus on exposés or breaking headlines, the website featured restaurant reviews, stories on arts and entertainment, opinion articles, insights on the local music scene and events. It didn’t make the company money, that happened behind the scenes when the company would build websites for local businesses and organizations. But Beto’s heart and soul was dedicated to the cultural, creative side of the business.

That became an important turning point, where he would find allies and like-minded progressives throughout the city. The group would even do their part by trying to rally support for a mayoral candidate with a transformational agenda, Raymond Caballero. In May of 2001, Caballero won the run-off election by a significant margin ushering in a new era where El Pasoans began to champion their home as a beautiful place. Where they would try to stamp out the corruption that plagued the last half of the 20th century which put corporations and developers ahead of the public interest.

Just a month after Caballero took office, Pat O’Rourke died in a cycling accident. On July 3rd, 2001, O’Rourke was struck and killed while on a recumbent bike just outside the El Paso city limits. The former county judge had not held office in 15 years, which had given him more time to commit to his physical activity. Just the previous summer the cycling enthusiast made a weeks-long  cross country trip on his bike. There was no reason to suspect when he ventured off again, he wouldn’t return.

As most people know by now, a few years later, Beto made the decision to venture from the sidelines at Stanton Street to city council, to  congress, to a run for senate, and even a run for president. While it might have been a huge stretch for people around the country, it wasn't too hard to comprehend for some Paseños. But like Khalid, the real remarkable part of the story is simply how quickly El Paso sentiments and stories were able to resonate and spread. Even though he didn’t win his highly publicized races, like Jesse Jackson’s bids, it was the first time Paseños felt represented on a national level.

el • puh-lih-dih-ko

El Político / The Politician

©2020 NNWLLC / AJP