Thursday, March 22, 2007

From Behind the Camera, To Grandmother's House We Go!

I crossed into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, riding in the captain seat of a blue minivan, crunching the remnants of a month’s worth of snacks beneath my feet, which were no doubt used to keep a car full of kids happy. There were toys strewn from front to back, and a Disney movie blaring from the drop-down screen in front. It was a scene from any other family road trip, but this trip I was going with the Rueda family to visit their grandmother. Most of us go to Grandma’s for a big, hot meal and an onslaught of hugs and kisses. But for little Athena and Amelia Rueda, they have to pass through a checkpoint run by border patrol and present their passports just to see their Abuelita.
Driving through Juarez was just what I thought it would be, but that didn’t help to alleviate the surprise of seeing it firsthand. Tortillerias are on every corner, dogs run through the streets. I saw kids walking down the sidewalks, no parents in sight. People walked just feet in front of moving cars expecting the driver to always notice. And let me just say, we have such a thing as “defensive driving” in the U.S. In Mexico? Oh no, no. There is no such thing as defense on the roads. Driving is very much an activity for those who like to play offense. Colorful dress shops and roadside stands selling flautas and Coca-Cola flew by one after the other. And for every brightly-painted Mom and Pop shop there was a Burger King or even and Applebee’s. The city was definitely a hybrid of Mexican and American culture. So were my thoughts at that point, too. What would “Abuelita’s” house be like? Would it be a safe neighborhood? Would I be able to understand what they were saying? Let’s hope the ‘ole Spanish minor would pay off.
Once we arrived, I felt dumb for even worrying about those things. Yes, there was a barred gate separating the street from the front door and the token dog panting like crazy out front. But once I saw Monica greet her mom and Athena and Amelia be swung up onto their Abuelita’s hips, I knew this family was just like any other. It was a pretty standard visit to Grandma’s: big family dinner and laughing around the table long after the meal was over. Sisters and cousins stopped by for leftovers and joined in the storytelling. They poked fun at each other and every now and then gave the obligatory eye roll to their mother.
I realized that this family was just like any other. They ate tacos and chile colorado at family gatherings rather than hotdogs and hamburgers, but when you get right down to it, they’re the same as you and me. They laugh, argue, and cram in as many hugs as they can when they say their goodbyes.
I went to Juarez looking for the differences in this Mexican-American family compared to American families, but I found more similarities than anything. I left realizing that languages may vary and cultures may collide, but there are certain innate human characteristics that transcend even the most highly-guarded international borders.
That’s what I learned from behind the camera on Wednesday, March 21, 2007.

(By the way, the Spanish minor did pay off. Mom and Dad should be proud!)

From Behind the Camera, To Grandmother's House We Go!

I crossed into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, riding in the captain seat of a blue minivan, crunching the remnants of a month’s worth of snacks beneath my feet, which were no doubt used to keep a car full of kids happy. There were toys strewn from front to back, and a Disney movie blaring from the drop-down screen in front. It was a scene from any other family road trip, but this trip I was going with the Rueda family to visit their grandmother. Most of us go to Grandma’s for a big, hot meal and an onslaught of hugs and kisses. But for little Athena and Amelia Rueda, they have to pass through a checkpoint run by border patrol and present their passports just to see their Abuelita.
Driving through Juarez was just what I thought it would be, but that didn’t help to alleviate the surprise of seeing it firsthand. Tortillerias are on every corner, dogs run through the streets. I saw kids walking down the sidewalks, no parents in sight. People walked just feet in front of moving cars expecting the driver to always notice. And let me just say, we have such a thing as “defensive driving” in the U.S. In Mexico? Oh no, no. There is no such thing as defense on the roads. Driving is very much an activity for those who like to play offense. Colorful dress shops and roadside stands selling flautas and Coca-Cola flew by one after the other. And for every brightly-painted Mom and Pop shop there was a Burger King or even and Applebee’s. The city was definitely a hybrid of Mexican and American culture. So were my thoughts at that point, too. What would “Abuelita’s” house be like? Would it be a safe neighborhood? Would I be able to understand what they were saying? Let’s hope the ‘ole Spanish minor would pay off.
Once we arrived, I felt dumb for even worrying about those things. Yes, there was a barred gate separating the street from the front door and the token dog panting like crazy out front. But once I saw Monica greet her mom and Athena and Amelia be swung up onto their Abuelita’s hips, I knew this family was just like any other. It was a pretty standard visit to Grandma’s: big family dinner and laughing around the table long after the meal was over. Sisters and cousins stopped by for leftovers and joined in the storytelling. They poked fun at each other and every now and then gave the obligatory eye roll to their mother.
I realized that this family was just like any other. They ate tacos and chile colorado at family gatherings rather than hotdogs and hamburgers, but when you get right down to it, they’re the same as you and me. They laugh, argue, and cram in as many hugs as they can when they say their goodbyes.
I went to Juarez looking for the differences in this Mexican-American family compared to American families, but I found more similarities than anything. I left realizing that languages may vary and cultures may collide, but there are certain innate human characteristics that transcend even the most highly-guarded international borders.
That’s what I learned from behind the camera on Wednesday, March 21, 2007.

(By the way, the Spanish minor did pay off. Mom and Dad should be proud!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

El Paso: English first, Español primera.


When we first drove around El Paso, I immediately thought of my seventh grade Texas history class. In the course we learned about the different regions across our vast state. So, before this trip I knew that El Paso was located in the “mountains and basins” region, but for some reason I always viewed this border town as dry, flat and uneventful. I never imagined El Paso to look like this.

This city is anything but flat. It’s full of life, a hybrid cross of American and Mexican culture, as if there’s a tug-o-war competition between three borders: Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. I also didn’t realize how close El Paso is located to Ciudad Juarez. Both expanding cities run directly adjacent to each other. There’s no wide gap of desert to separate the two. Just a couple of fences, an ironically narrow Rio Grande and a few green and white border patrol cars. Looking out at both cities from the mountainous UTEP campus, it’s hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.

Yesterday I went down to El Centro de los Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos (The Border Farmworker Center). The Centro is a safe haven, an education facility, a community center and a recruiting ground all in one. I’ve learned that some workers choose to stay at the Centro because they can’t afford a home in El Paso or Ciudad Juarez. Every day, farm owners in Southern New Mexico and the Texas valleys send buses around 3 a.m. requesting a certain amount of workers. So every day, workers arrive to the center at 2 a.m. to prepare for their commute. Most now are traveling to Deming, NM, an hour and a half drive away. They are paid servants to the fields and once their day is complete they ride home, arriving back to the Centro as late as 6 or 7 p.m.

Walking around the Centro, waiting to talk to an employee, I began to understand just how important it is to know the Spanish language. Sure, we’ve heard it time and again: English first, Spanish second. The El Paso culture suggests something different. English and Spanish here go hand in hand. Here, the distinction between the U.S. and Mexico is blurred. El Paso relies on Ciudad Juarez and Ciudad Juarez relies on El Paso.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Far East meets Southwest

Southwestern architecture is nothing new to us, being from Dallas. We expected to see it showcased, in all its adobe grandeur at the University of Texas El Paso. Imagine our surprise, then, when we laid eyes on the campus for the first time.

Trying to place the style? If you guessed Japanese, you're close. If you guessed Chinese, you're even closer.

Would you have guessed Bhutanese?

A little bit of history: UTEP was founded in 1913 as the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy. In 1916 the main classroom building burned to the ground and the university was forced to start from scratch. Moving to a new site, the Dean's wife Kathleen pushed for a new architectural style.


If you think about it, their decision makes sense. The country of Bhutan is nestled into the Himalayas in much the same way UTEP grows out of the (slightly less impressive) Franklin mountain range. Sandwiched between India and China, the Bhutanese built Dzongs - square or rectangular castle-like structures that sprang out of the stone in narrow valleys and along important cliff faces. They feature walls that slope inward and roofs like pagodas. The red stripe along the top symbolizes Buddhism.

The UTEP campus is one of only a handful of examples of Dzongs outside of the Himalayas. It is thought to be the only major Dzong site in the U.S.

Fortunately for UTEP students, the University diverged from typical Dzong construction techniques - they used blueprints. In Bhutan, Dzong builders used no architectural plans. A holy Lama simply divined the dimensions spiritually.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Welcome to Border Lines

The Things They Carried

Its amazing how much stuff it takes to do a shoot like this in another city.


We learned this the hard way as we tried to negotiate the airport and the drive to our hotel with everything we will need for the week. It's a pretty long list:
3 Cameras

3 Tripods

1 Light Kit

3 Packs of Mini-DV Tapes

1 Case bottled water (for Mexico)

3 Laptops

3 Wired Mics

1 Wireless Mic

Supplies from Target and, yes, clothes. Lots and lots of clothes. Trying to look respectable after driving and walking around all day in 85 degree heat takes some changes throughout the day...


Now that its all laid out in our hotel rooms the time has come to go exploring. More later.


-Garrett