My coworkers asked me a few days ago why I live on the US side of the border when the Mexican side is so much cheaper: I could probably save a few hundred bucks renting a flat in Nogales, Sonora. I agreed that financially they had a point, and thought back to when I made the decision in September.
Back then, when I first arrived, Nogales was turning into the next hotspot for drug-related violence. There were several shootings a week, and based on reports coming out of Tijuana and Juarez, I feared that Nogales would follow suit and turn into the next war zone. Fortunately for me and all Nogales residents, the violence has dropped considerably in the past few months, I’m guessing because either one of the cartels won the Nogales turf or they came to an agreement. Even the retirees have returned to shop for curios.
Why, then, am I still in Nogales, Arizona? The truth is that despite the improvement in Nogales, Sonora, the pueblito on this side still feels a heck of a lot safer and more comfortable. When I see the police on this side, I don’t think, drive by quickly because the police could be a target and I could get caught in the crossfire, but rather, I slow down to avoid getting a speeding ticket (whoops, already got a warning). Unlike in Nogales, Sonora, in Nogales, Arizona, army jeeps with mounted arms are not a daily sight (and hopefully will not come to be amidst talks of militarizing the border), nor do I see guys walking around in cholo garb looking all tough and menacing.
To its credit, Nogales, Sonora is not as scary as it first appeared when I arrived and obsessively read about the shootings in the papers. As I go about my field work, I am getting to know normal middle-class neighborhoods where kids and dogs play outside and street activity brims. But there is still something sinister and unfriendly about Nogales, Sonora… perhaps a certain lack of community, a pervasive distrust that everyone acknowledges and probably stems in part from the large contingent that’s immigrated to Nogales to work in the maquiladoras, but hasn’t integrated into the community.
I am privileged to have the choice of which side to live on and this disparity between me and my coworkers — that I can choose and they can’t — makes me feel embarrassed, like I ought to be living on the Mexican side so that we’re more equal. I know this is not the solution, since it doesn’t actually rectify the inequality or make my cowokers safer, but it’s what I quietly think about as my coworkers do the math on how much money I would save living al otro lado.