Blurring the Borders: El Paso and the Return of the Lost Jews
The wall of rust-colored slats topped with curls of razor wire flashed with shadows as the tour bus sped by.
I’d seen it on the news, of course, but something about seeing it in person made me shudder. Maybe because I’d only thought about it in the abstract, this hardline symbol of American divisiveness. But here was The Wall in person, the physical barrier separating West Texas from Mexico, the rush of the Rio Grande River contained in a concrete culvert just on the other side.
“Welcome to the Borderlands, the largest bi-lingual, bi-governmental crossroads in the world,” intoned tour guide and El Paso native David Varela as our air-conditioned bus passed under the massive eye of the giant red “X” sculpture La Equis, the public art monument in Ciudad Juarez visible for miles from both the U.S. and Mexico.
An ebullient historian in his early 30s, David briefly filled us in the history of this scenic mountain pass once claimed as New Spain, its two largest settlements sprawling on both banks of the river that are now modern sister cities delineated by its ancient flow, and more recently, the wall.
“Here’s the thing, though,” he explained as we traversed the highway on the American side, the rusty slats continuing into the distance.
“Many of us who live here and have grown up in both places don’t see them as separate. The histories—and our families—go beyond these borders.”
They’re also part of a grander, complicated story that has barely begun to be told.
I’d come to El Paso for the 33rd annual conference of the Society of Crypto Judaic Studies (SCJS), a scholarly organization dedicated to uncovering the historical, religious, and cultural origins of a growing subcommunity in the American Southwest and Mexico.
Now, this can be confusing if you’ve never heard the term “crypto Jews” before, and given the times, some of y’all are either offended or looking around nervously for the space lasers. But this has nothing to do with the blockchain or Majorie Taylor Green’s favorite QAnon conspiracy.
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