My name is Esperanza Chairez and I am very excited to announce that I just started my internship at the Chamizal National Memorial as the Segundo Barrio Outreach Coordinator!
Upon flying into El Paso, Texas from Amherst, Massachusetts the warm, dry air, and clear blue skies greeted me welcomingly. I am currently studying environmental studies and statistics at Amherst College, but I am originally from Las Cruces, NM, so the El Paso airport always makes me feel close to home. Being close to the borderlands, and gaining experience doing community outreach work are the two of the main reasons I decided to come down here.
The day after flying in, I attended an outreach event on the east side of El Paso with Gina, and Saul, two of the park’s interpretive rangers. We drove out to the TECH2O center, a water desalinization plant and education facility, where El Paso Water Utilities organized an community event. Dozens of different organizations had their tables set up, all centering around the theme of water.
The Chamizal National Memorial set up a model river to narrate the park’s story to the public. Kids who came to the demonstration could see how the Rio Grande was originally shaped in 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo defined the river as the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
By manipulating the flow of water and moving the sand around, we showed visitors how the river shifted over time. This created an almost century-long border dispute until finally the Chamizal Convention settled the dispute peacefully in 1963. We also had a table promoting the park’s summer events, Junior Ranger Club, and Camp Arrowhead, which you will hear a lot more about soon.
I absolutely loved getting my feet wet doing interpretive work, but I must say that the highlight of my first day was talking to Enrique, the park’s custodian. Enrique, an old man in overalls with a no-nonsense attitude, shared a little bit of what it was like growing up in the segundo barrio with me. He remembered having no running water or refrigeration, and the days when there was a more visible immigrant presence in El Paso. He remembered the rolas (Pachuco slang for songs) he would play as a teenager growing up in the 70s. He remembered the river channel, and national memorial being built after the Chamizal Convention was signed. This man is living history, a treasure trove of invaluable information, and I felt honored to meet him. I hope to do an oral history with him during my time here. What are some of the best interview question you have asked/been asked? If you think of any interview questions I should ask Enrique, please send them my way! I will also be interviewing a muralist from El Paso soon, so stay tuned for that as well.