The national spotlight was on El Paso Monday. President Trump held his first campaign rally of year, filling the El Paso County Coliseum. At the same time, thousands of border residents held their own counter-rally, right across the street.
Before Trump even touched down in El Paso, local leaders were busy offering a counter-narrative to the President’s. Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants and refugees held a morning press conference, where asylum seekers shared their stories.
Ruben Garcia is director of Annunciation House. “President Trump himself, I really don’t have a lot of hope,” Garcia said. “I think he’s got his agenda and he’s gonna stick to his agenda. I think what his visit is doing is it’s galvanizing many people in El Paso to use their voices, to say you cannot speak about El Paso this way.”
In his State of the Union speech last week, President Trump incorrectly described El Paso as one of the nation’s most violent cities until a border wall was built. Outrage ensued. Many El Pasoans - including the mayor - pushed back against that narrative.
But that didn’t stop long lines of supporters from coming out to see Trump. They waited outside the coliseum, in a fierce wind. Pop up vendors hawked red MAGA hats and Deplorable Lives Matter buttons.
El Pasoan Rose Griffiths brought her family, despite her own mixed feelings. “To be very honest I have so many things that I love about him and so many things that I’m not too sure about,” she said.
Griffiths said she’s for building a wall. More than that, she wanted her kids to experience politics up close - including her teenage son, Evan Robinson.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Robinson said. “You know, presidents don’t really come to El Paso, never see how things really are and it’s just a really cool experience.”
Recent transplant Daniel Dennis met El Paso native Nicholas Reyes in line; they became fast friends. Reyes was drawn to Dennis’ T-shirt, which sported a crude joke about Beto O’Rourke.
“He seems like a really cool person,” Reyes said, showing off the hat Dennis gave him: a Trump 2020 cap, with an American flag on the brim.
Dennis is a big Trump fan. But when it comes to the wall, “I have mixed emotions,” he said. “I mean that’s a lot of work, that’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of time. We already have the border. I think we just up the border security.”
Twenty-one-year-old Randall Buschberg said he’s one hundred percent behind all of Trump’s policies, and couldn’t believe the President was coming to his hometown.
“I was like no way,” Buschberg said. I thought the closest he’d come was maybe Tucson or Phoenix and I found out I said I gotta go.”
Inside the Coliseum, the crowd cheered as Trump doubled down on the claims that brought so much controversy the week before.
“There’s no place better to talk about border security, whether they like it or not,” he said. “‘Cause I’ve been hearing a lot of things, ‘oh the wall didn’t make that much of a difference.’ You know where it made a big difference? Right here in El Paso.”
Though an El Paso Times analysis of violent crime statistics shows no such thing.
Across the street, hordes of counter-protesters listened to former Congressman Beto O’Rourke deliver his own, very different speech.
“With the eyes of the entire county upon us, all of us together are going to make our stand,” he said. “Here in one of the safest cities in the United States of America - safe not because of walls but in spite of walls.”
Teenagers Daphne, Jessica and Marisol held signs calling for bridges instead. They were excited to rep their hometown. But “I think I would have wanted El Paso to be highlighted as a bicultural city and not like this, not with Trump coming in and stuff,” Jessica said.
“I just wish people understood how important it is to have ties with Mexico,” Marisol added. “It’s just a mutually beneficial relationship that should not be broken.”
“We embrace bicultural community and I’m really proud to say that I’m an El Pasoan,” Daphne said.
Person after person expressed those sentiments: El Paso is safe, and its proximity to Mexico is part of what makes it special.
“We go back and forth and we’ve done that since I was a little girl,” said El Pasoan Sylvia Ortega. “I used to walk down there to see my granddaddy. I’ve never felt fear or anything.”
Ortega says she’s fortunate to live in a border city, where two cultures come together. And that’s what she wants people - from all over the country - to think about when they hear “El Paso.”