I arrived in El Paso Monday, guest of the Plaza Classic Film Festival, as part of my book tour. The airport was like a ghost town, with not a soul in sight. Families were home, grieving.
It was my first time in this city. A lovely woman, Kathrin Berg, from the El Paso Community Foundation, sponsors of the festival, drove me to my hotel in the heart of downtown. Everywhere around me she pointed out and I saw life – mostly in the many restoration projects, with old buildings from the 1920s and 30s being reimagined and made new, as spearheaded by Beto O’Rourke and other City Council members a few years ago. All give this beautiful city a sense of vitality, growth, purpose – and no doubt a shiny future.
On the drive in, we had talked about people. The shootings of course, but also the influx of immigrants and the happy and constructive lives they have made here, contributing so much to America. We also talked about the children detained 20 miles away in Clint and I learned – not to my surprise – how El Paso residents have been so kind to asylum seekers — providing food, blankets, shelter and friendship — and how they continue to do whatever they can for the children in detention. Sometimes it’s no more – and no less – than kind-hearted people sitting outside the center and singing them songs.
I learned this town is 80% Hispanic and people – all people- live in harmony with a spirit of warmth, friendliness and civic pride. “I don’t know who is Hispanic and who isn’t,” said my host. “We just live together.”
The economy is also good, built on the flow of people back and forth between El Paso and Juarez – sister towns – and that if the two towns were shut off from each other, each would be devastated for no good purpose. I also learned that El Paso is also one of the safest cities in America — at least until Saturday – and I pray will be again.
For me as for you, El Paso reflects the best of America: People caring for one another — helping one another — a community – a family. May it ever be so.
Thank you for welcoming me here..