Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Trip To Two Laredos

by Jeff Turner

This piece is from Mr. Turner's upcoming book "Notes To Stephanie: Days Remembered".  His web site is

Laredo, Texas seemed to be your favorite place on earth. For most of your adult years you visited it and the border town, Nuevo Laredo (New Laredo), across the Rio Grande. You were enthralled with the city and its Mexican sister. However, I was not so enthralled with it but I went there with you because you liked the atmosphere.

 I should not be critical of the place because, like all cities and towns, it had something that drew folks. Some natives had been there for their entire lives. Some returned at some point to live there again. Like many border areas it certainly had a split personality. One side of the river, was a pretty typical American town with an interstate, green well-cared for road medians, flowers, a mall, well-stocked grocery stores, churches, and nice homes. However, across the Rio Grande, which is not so big or grand, you had the usual squalor of a Mexican border town. It was filled with sidewalk merchants, small jewelry and rock shops, butcher shops with window displays of newly butchered goats and typical tourist shops trying to sell souvenirs. There were also many pharmacies most of which preyed on the unwary Gringos who went looking for cheap medicine or medical treatments. Thus, the area truly had two opposite sides.

Preferring the American way of doing things,  comfortable was not something I felt across the river and certainly did not enjoy being over there. You were bilingual and certainly were able to communicate there. But you, too, were wary of possible miscreants around us.

But what really made me think about never going there again was the day the Ejercito Mexicana lined the main street. Do you remember me asking the soldier in my bad Spanish if he was regular army or not? He said he was, as he had his assault rifle slung over his shoulder. The Mexican Army was there, with Hummers and “Deuce and a Half’s”, as a result of the drug cartel wars. Murder and mayhem had spilled into the streets of Nuevo Laredo. The Mexican government brought in their Army and Federal Police, the Federales, to calm down the situation. Gunfire, or the threat of it, is bad for tourism. Regardless of the effects,  if Mexicans wanted business on the mercado, light infantry forces on Main Street was not a good thing for “Norte Americanos” to see.

As we wandered through the streets shopping, do you remember looking at the US Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter hovering on the US side with its front pointed to the Mexican side? That was not some helo that just flew around, but was the type with a “spy ball” on top of the rotor with targeting lasers that would have been used to paint a vehicle so it could be blasted by some guided munitions like a 155MM Copperhead artillery round or Hellfire missile. It seemed the US was sending an unofficial message to the folks on the Mexican side by its presence. Their military knew what was hovering across the river, don’t think they didn’t.

The whole situation that day did not make me feel like returning there for another visit. You did not think it was that major especially since your family friend, Dr. Rubio, told us it was not that big of a deal. Well regardless of what the good and respected doctor said, having military on the streets to help police a town was not a good thing. And don’t forget the “Federales”, in their grey uniforms, were riding around in black pickups with their military grade rifles visible.

In short, there were some interesting and good things about Laredo and even Nuevo Laredo but I never felt at ease when we were across the river. Certainly that shows that a place can be interesting and even beautiful to one person but the complete opposite to someone else. This proves the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Indeed the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo area, called El Dos Laredos by some there, was a place that you thought had beauty and art. You saw this in its streets, neighborhoods, and people. Even the poverty and squalor on the Mexican side had some intrinsic quality that appealed to you. I, of course, had mostly the opposite view, even though Laredo, Texas itself is not a bad place to visit.

I guess that told the story of who we both were didn’t it? You saw one thing in a place and I saw something totally different. You saw something positive in the decay and poverty and I saw the squalor itself without some redeeming, artistic quality. In other words, you saw a rainbow and I saw the black and white.

This dichotomy also confirms another old saying. The one that says it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. And so it does and so it was with us on the streets of Laredo that spring day.  


Susie said...

I understand Mr Tuner's description of the two Laredo's. My husband is from El Paso, another border town sharing the boundary with its Mexican sister city, Juarez. As many may have read in the headlines over the last 18 months, the streets of Juarez, Mexico have become a battle zone between the Mexican government and the feuding drug cartels, killing over 20,000 people (including innocent bystanders) in the process.
For years before, my husband returned to El Paso often to visit family and friends, and never had a second thought about crossing the border to enjoy the city. Fluent in both English and Spanish, he never felt uneasy about his surroundings, and was very comfortable visiting his Mexican friends across the border.
On our most recent visit back to El Paso, even his closest friends in Juarez told him not to come across the border. They were targeting any Caucasians to hold for ransom. Not to mention, one of his friends and their wife and child had been murdered a few weeks before in a gun-down after attending a children's birthday party at the US Embassy. This truly threw my husband for a loop, realizing the once before "sister-city" of his birth and many friends who still lived there were now off-limits.
I completely understand Mr Turner's depiction of Laredo, TX. It seems to be the same story across every border town on the southern edge of our country.

Anonymous said...

I visited the Two Laredos several years ago and Mr. Turner's description of Nueva Laredo is right on. Didn't see anything there except a big catholic church. I was very glad to get back across the border and smell some confederate jasmine at my hotel.

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