The lost border

For many of us old timers, the border has been a special place.

One of the cool things about Tucson is being so close to a completely different world…Mexico.

Not that border towns like Nogales are really Mexico…but they are way different than American cities.

Do you remember the first time you crossed the border into Mexico?

Interesting how over the years the border “experience” has changed.

Back in the days before turning 21, the border was where college kids could go to drink.

One of the primary growth spurts of border cities came as a result of Prohibition…Mexico being seen as a place where one could violate US laws.

That brought an aura to the border towns….a haven for illicit pleasures.

In the 1960’s illegal drugs turned up on the scene…Mexican marijuana. Remember Acapulco Gold?

Nogales, Sonora started out mainly as a place where American bought booze cheap and brought their exempt one quart quota across, which fueled to popularity of Bacardi and Tequila Anejo in the US. But it evolved into a much broader-based tourist economy by the 1980s.

The arts and crafts and tile and furniture for sale in Nogales, Sonora went from cheap trinket stuff to really high quality goods.

Many Tucsonans decorated their homes with craft work from Mexico, and even started buying bigger stuff like entire rooms full of furniture. I have a pigskin table and chair set that is spectacular.

Then came the soaring price of prescription drugs and health care. Border area residents figured out the quality of prescription drugs and health care services across the line was equal to that being provided in the US, at a fraction of the cost. This in spite of US drug companies claiming Mexican prescription drugs were inferior. OK…the same companies made the same drugs in Mexico. And we use a lot of good quality stuff made in Mexico…like Fords.

For those who couldn’t afford US health care and dental services and prescription drugs, Nogales, Sonora was a life saver.Maybe it was still illegal to buy prescription drugs across the line, but when you life depended on those medicines, life won.

A whole new generation of border crossers emerged. Bus loads of senior citizens from Green Valley started making their drug runs to Mexico. The 1960’s crowd that first crossed to buy booze now cross to buy heart medicine.

Another favorite pastime was going over the line for lunch or dinner at the Cavern or La Rocaoro Elvira’s or other restaurants. In the old days we could do lunch in Mexico and still get back to work at a reasonable time in Nogales, Arizona.

Few American ventured beyond the tourist section of Nogales, Sonora and didn’t realize that there was a much bigger city emerging fueled by maquiladora jobs. Today the population of Nogales, Sonora is estimated to be somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people.

Going across the line also had a lot to do with vacation experiences.

Rocky Point was a lot closer than San Diego, and many Tucsonans made regular pilgrimages to Puerto Penasco for beach and great Mexican food. The first starfish many of us saw was in a tidal pool in Rocky Point.

Watching Rocky Point evolve from a sleepy little beach town dominated by a shrimp boat fleet into rows of high rise condominiums was disconcerting for those of us who loved old port and Cholla Bay and don’t care to hear the whine of ATVs racing on the beach all day and night.

San Carlos also boomed from a nothing place famous for being the site of filming Catch 22 to another hot tourist resort community.

But all that has changed now due to the drug cartel violence south of the line and extremely enhanced border security coming north.

Fewer and fewer Americans are willing to cross the line and take the risk of being caught in the cross-fire of dueling drug cartel gangs. Whether the danger to tourists is actually real, the reality is Mexico’s tourist oriented economic sector is taking a beating. Curio shops, restaurants and other stores are closing.

The days of being able to cross for lunch are also over. It usually takes longer to get back into the US than to have lunch.

Dinner across the line disappeared when the violence first started.

We have lost the border.

Nogales, Sonora merchants are trying to lure Americans back

A New York Times commentary on losing the border

Arizona Daily Star article about Rocky Point

Wall Street Journal “is it safe to go to Mexico?”

Bloomberg News March 18, 2010 on drug violence and Spring Break tourism

Los Angeles Times Excellent series of articles on Mexico’s Drug Wars



About Hugh Holub

Attorney and writer.
This entry was posted in border issues. Bookmark the permalink.

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