This Note from “Days Remembered” is both a travelogue and a comment on current events. It is a tale from Laredo and Nuevo Laredo which we visited more than once. In it you will see the usual desrciption of a border town but also signs of the drug violence which is still ongoing.
Laredo, Laredo. Laredo. Your favorite place on Earth to visit it seemed. For most of your adult years you had gone there and also Nuevo Laredo across the Rio Grande. You were enthralled with the city and its Mexican sister. However I was not so enthralled with it but I went with you there because you liked it.
Yes I should not be critical of the place per se since like all cities and towns it has something that draws folks to it and makes its natives stay there for lifetimes or return to it at some point to live once more. Like many border areas it certainly has a split personality. One side of the river you have a pretty typical American town with an Interstate, a mall, and the usual things like grocery stores, churches, and houses. However across the Rio Grande you had the usual squalor of a Mexican border town filled with shops for the tourists, people trying to sell you stuff, and other modern oddities like the many pharmacies most of which prey on the unwary Gringos who were looking for cheap medicine or medical treatments. Thus the area truly has two opposite sides.
Preferring the American way of doing things I never felt comfortable across the river and certainly did not enjoy being over there. Being bilingual you certainly were more comfortable there even though you were wary of possible miscreants around us. But what really got me thinking about never going there again was the day we were there and the Ejercito Mexicano lined the main drag. That is, the Mexican Regular Army was there.
Do you remember me asking the soldier in my bad Spanish if he was regular army or not? He said he was as he had his assault rifle slung over his shoulder. The Mexican Army was there, with Hummers and “Deuce And A Halfs”, as a result of the drug cartel wars which of course had spilled onto the streets of Nuevo Laredo resulting in murder and mayhem. The Mexican government brought in their Army and Federal Police, the so-called Federales, to calm things down. Gunfire or the threat of it is bad for tourism you see. Regardless of the effects light infantry forces on Main Street is not a good thing for “norteamericanos” to see if you want lots of them to cross the bridge and buy stuff at the Mercado on Guererro.
And on top of that do you remember the US Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter hovering on the US side with its front pointed to the Mexican side? This was not some helo that just flew around but was the type with a “spy ball” on top of the rotor with targeting lasers that would have been used to paint a vehicle so it could be blasted by some guided munition like a 155MM Copperhead artillery round or Hellfire missile. It seems we were sending some unofficial message to the folks on the Mexican side by its presence. Their military knew what was hovering across the river, don’t think they didn’t.
The whole situation that day did not make me feel like going back there. You did not think it was that major especially since your family friend Dr. Rubio told us it was not that big of a deal. Well regardless of what the good and respected doctor said having your military on your streets to help police the place is not a good thing. And don’t forget the “Federales” were also out in their grey uniforms riding around in black pickups with their military grade rifles visible.
In short there were some interesting and good things about Laredo and even Nuevo Laredo but I never felt at ease when we were across the river. Certainly that shows that a place can be interesting and even beautiful to one person but the complete opposite to someone else. This proves the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Indeed the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo area, called El Dos Laredos by some there, was a place that you thought had beauty and art, seen in its streets, neighborhoods, and people. To you even the poverty and squalor on the Mexican side had some intrinsic quality that appealed to you. I of course saw mostly the opposite even though Laredo, Texas itself is not a bad place.
I guess that told the story of who we both are in some ways didn’t it? You saw one thing in a place and I saw something totally different. You saw something positive in the decay and poverty and I saw the squalor itself without some redeeming, artistic quality. You saw the rainbow and I saw the black and white in other words.
This dichotomy also confirms another old saying. The one that says it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. And so it does and so it was with us on the streets of Laredo that spring day.