Life along the Rio Grande
From a distance, the U.S.-Mexico border is often imagined as a single place, one rife with hardship and violence. Up close, it’s a swath of almost 2,000 miles, home to dozens of cities and towns and more than 12 million people. Heading east from El Paso, lingering in small towns like Eagle Pass, Texas, photographers Carolyn Drake and Andres Gonzalez set out to show a more nuanced view. Drake and Gonzalez are a couple, and they made their pictures side by side, asking their subjects to pose and sometimes act out scenarios. Along the way, they encountered love stories and coming-of-age stories, stories of ambition and stories of competing identities.
CIUDAD ACUÑA, MEXICO
My husband was a singer. When the kids were little, we moved to Houston because he was getting a lot of work at nightclubs there. We lived in America for seven years, but I never adjusted. I like to walk around, talk to people. In Houston, every time I talked to someone, I felt like I was accosting them. Also, old people have to work there. We had six children, all of them grown now, and three of them fell in love with America and still live there. The other three are more like me, and they like Mexico more, where it’s more relaxed. I like visiting America but would never live there again. From Acuña, it’s just a few hours to cross over to America and see my children and grandchildren. One of my granddaughters is a singer, just like her grandfather. One time, she sang the national anthem at a New Orleans Pelicans game. She was on television! Like out of a dream.
— ERNESTINA HERNANDEZ, 70
DEL RIO, TEXAS
I work in security at a bar called Doc Holliday’s. I’ve been there for three months, and we haven’t had any trouble yet. It’s not a good job, but it’s temporary. I want to join the infantry. Not a lot of people join the military where I’m from. Maybe it’s because a lot of people don’t have high school diplomas and the Army doesn’t accept GEDs anymore. Border Patrol has a lot of the same benefits as the military, but I can’t see myself stopping the people crossing. My mom, who came from Mexico, says you shouldn’t work for an organization if you don’t feel it’s right, if money is the only reason you do it.
— AHBRAM LIRA, 20
PIEDRAS NEGRAS, MEXICO
EAGLE PASS, TEXAS
There are five Masses every weekend, four in Spanish and one in English. Each Mass has its own choir. The 12 o’clock choir, Coro de Dulce [pictured], is mostly ladies. It’s one of the biggest choirs. There’s another one that’s all men and another one for younger people. I was born in India, but I’ve lived on the border for seven years, and I have learned enough Spanish to get by. At the church, we have a place where people who are crossing the border can take a shower and call their families in the States. They usually stay two or three days, and we provide food and clothing. Border Patrol is happy that we do it. They know that politics is different from a religious viewpoint and that if there are people in need, we will help them.
— FATHER LAWRENCE MARIASOOSAI, 54
When I was really little, I wanted to be a YouTuber. Now, I make videos for Eagle Pass Public Radio. I’m getting ready to interview the new mayor. He’s also a counselor at my school. He’s intimidating, but I know he’s still human. One of my friends is going with me so she can do my hair, because my natural hair is crazy. I’m going to ask him about his intentions for the town and why we don’t get city water where I live. My house is on a hill just outside city limits, and we get our water from a fire hydrant. My grandfather has a huge tank on a trailer and a hose, and he connects it to the fire hydrant. Sometimes, I’ll be shampooing my hair and the water will run out. I’m killing it in Eagle Pass, but I want to get out of here one day. I just want to conquer everything around me.
— LARISSA VALDEZ, 16
I met my wife, Antonia, in high school, when she was a freshman and I was a sophomore. I was popular because I was really good at soccer, and she was really quiet. She didn’t even speak English then. We would spend all of our days talking. We would get on the phone and keep our earbuds on while we were in school, and then we’d talk at night after school. She lived on the other side of town, 8 miles away. At 7 at night, we’d be on the phone, and I would tell her, “I want to see you.” And I’d just start walking and get to her house around 10 at night. Sometimes, if I’d skipped soccer practice, I’d jog to her house. There’s a freight train that runs through town, and I would jump on and jump off when I got to her neighborhood. It was risky, but that’s how I got Antonia to fall in love with me. Now, we have a daughter who’s 2, and I play soccer with her.
— GENARO BAEZ, 21
There’s not much going on in Eagle Pass other than a casino run by the Kickapoo Tribe. I’m Kickapoo, but I grew up in Colorado, and although it’s very beautiful there, I wasn’t raised around our traditions. I didn’t know the rituals of our culture. I want my kids [including 14-year-old Tecumseh, pictured above, and Nadine, pictured below] to learn all the traditions when they’re young. My children go to school with kids who are Hispanic and white, and the school excuses them for tribal periods whenever we have religious ceremonies. Twice a year, we build a traditional home made of cattails in our backyard, and I’ve taught them how to clean the cattails, cut them, trim them, and sew them together. It takes about two weeks.
— TINA GONZALEZ, 35
I’m in ninth grade, and most of my friends at school aren’t members of the tribe. They don’t ask about it much. I guess they feel like they have to mind their own business. We’ll go to the mall or the lake and just hang out there and talk about anime and stuff. Eagle Pass isn’t a bad town, but I love to travel. I want to model one day. That’s why I change my hair color. I want it to stick out. I don’t want it to be clean like other people’s.
— NADINE TREVIÑO, 16
CIUDAD MIGUEL ALEMÁN, MEXICO
In 1945, my father opened this watch-repair store, and I learned the business from him. I failed my physical for the Vietnam War, and I ended up fixing up the clocks and panels on the fighter jets. Years ago, the store was busy, but now business is very slow. My customers come by to say hi, and sometimes I’ll have them help me fix watches since I’m all alone.
— ARTURO SÁNCHEZ, 78