Excerpt from my new book, Sí El Paso – a photographic journey through El Paso, Texas. Sí El Paso is published by TCU Press and available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, markpaulda.com as well as your favourite bookseller.
El Paso is like an island except it’s landlocked by Mexico, New Mexico and the rest of Texas. The culture and traditions from each area blend together on a daily basis making El Paso difficult to understand, even for us sometimes. Are we Texan? Mexican? Indian? American?
The answer is we’re El Pasoans. There is no pretense about us. We’re likable, genuine, and hospitable. When you come to visit us, you’ll feel more welcome than any other place you’ll go. El Paso is a big city with a small town heart that will make you feel warm inside.
El Paso is proud, and we have reason to be. Our history reaches back nearly 12,000 years at Hueco Tanks where the first human settlements can be traced. The Spanish established themselves during the mid-1550’s; Old West gunfighters took the law into their own hands on the streets of downtown; and we’ve always lived hand-in-hand with our sister city, Juarez, to our south. There is no other city like El Paso. We’re unique and El Pasoans like that we’re different.
In 1903, Henry Trost moved to El Paso and introduced the Chicago School of Architecture style to the skyline. You could even say Henry Trost created El Paso’s skyline. At the time of Trost’s death in 1933, the El Paso Times wrote, “He was one who let himself be known by his works, rather than his words, one who made a valid and lasting contribution to the development of this region. His was a life of purpose and achievement, and he leaves the Southwest richer for his having lived and worked in it.” Henry Trost’s most revered architectural creations live on today with many restored to their former glory. Trost would be humble seeing his buildings survive into the twenty-first century. El Pasoan’s are proud to show off his architectural creativity.
El Paso is more than our bountiful history. El Pasoans thrive on being an authentic mix of Mexican, American and Western cultures. English and Spanish are spoken concurrently and sometimes the two languages are spoken within the same sentence – that’s normal. We celebrate Dia de los Muertos (All Souls Day) not because Madison Avenue marketers tell us to, but because it’s a genuine way to celebrate the life of our ancestors. Folkloric Dancers flutter across our stages like butterflies in the desert wind; the horns and strings of Mariachis beam melodies through the Franklin Mountains; Luche Libre amuse crowds much better than the movie; and western urban cowboys buck off bulls like bouncing ping pong balls. We also think our Mexican food is the best anywhere in the world – and it is. And yes, we’re proud to celebrate America’s Independence as anyone would in the nation’s heartland.
Our trusted friend, the Franklin Mountains, stretches through the middle of the city. Throughout various times of the day, her moods reveal a feeling as the sun transitions from east to west. The Franklin’s warm blithe spirit display during sunrise or sunset, and her stern formidable nature protects us from natural disaster. She’s reassuring in El Pasoan’s daily lives, and we miss her while we’re away.
We love the clear blue skies that seem never-ending like ocean waves into infinity. There is a sense of freedom that you can’t truly understand until you hit the road in any direction from El Paso. There is a mesmerizing effect mile after mile of desert terrain can have on you. It’s a wonder how nothingness can cleanse your soul. The expansion extends mile after mile forcing your mind to center itself and fill with thoughts you believe to have exited years ago. The world seems right contrary to the twisted reality we face on a daily basis.
I travel around the world often and the same query always arises – “Where are you from?” When my reply is, “El Paso,” I’m met with dumbfounded expressions followed by, “Why El Paso”? The truth is I never have a good verbal answer because El Paso is difficult to explain. So, I take the old adage, “Show me, don’t tell me.” Si El Paso is a pictorial answer many El Pasoans want to offer to anyone curious about the Sun City, but we can’t quite put the feeling into words.