IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIO GRANDE — In the rural border areas of Texas, seven so-called ‘informal crossings’ were shut down following Sept. 11. These were border villages and rural economies that thrived on their interdependence. The actual border was invisible. But the shutdown destroyed that connection. Recently, two border villages were reunited briefly for a single day celebration.
For one glorious moment, real world geopolitics was forgotten. Paso Lajitas, Mexico and Lajitas, Texas were again united — not cut off from one another as they’ve been in a post-Sept. 11 world.
With good wishes from law enforcement in both countries — and advice that no laws would be broken if people met on and literally in the river — the Rio Grande was crowded after a separation of 11 years.
Ramon Garcia, the county chief on the Mexican side, said the notion that the United States is more secure in rural areas because the border is sealed is incorrect.
"The U.S. supposedly closed this informal crossing because they feared terrorists would come in through this area," Garcia said in Spanish. "But I don’t believe terrorists would come through an area that’s under constant surveillance and where there are so few people. Strangers stand out here."
The U.S. agrees, at least partially. It just opened a formal border crossing linking the once-vibrant pueblo of Boquillas, Mexico with Big Bend National Park in Texas. It’s a signal the U.S. no longer believes the threat is worthy of maintaining a sealed border here.
"We love playing for our neighbors, lemme tell ya’ somethin’...” Jeff Haislip of Terlingua, Texas said right before he serenaded Mexicans looking into the U.S. from feet away. He lobbied politicians and law enforcement in two countries to make sure the day did not become an international incident.
While the music played, people in jeans and cowboy boots stood knee-deep in the river. Alejandro Lujan waded in from Mexico to the river’s midpoint, where Americans and Mexicans met at the exact international boundary.
“We’re just regular people. We also don’t want nothing else to happen. We don’t want terrorists to pass. I mean obviously the United States is our neighboring country. We don’t want nothing to happen, to attack us or attack them," Lujan said. "We just want to see our families, you know, that’s what we need to see — our families. Our number one priority is to see our families, always, always."
People here — where voices from one side echo on the other — accept the way the sun set on a different world after Sept. 11, 2001.
But on this day Isabel Rodriguez saw her brother and sister, who live legally in Texas, for the first time in a decade.
Isabel’s sister Rita says the last ten years have been ugly. The population of Paso Lajitas has dwindled to a handful of people.
What unfolded here does not imply an imminent relaxing of border restrictions. But it does signal an awareness that rural Texas is not like San Diego/Tijuana or El Paso/Juárez, and that for a few hours, in the middle of this part of the river, there’s little risk if friends and families get together.