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Our traditional cross-border Christmas celebration will be missed this year

Borderzine - Sun, 12/20/2020 - 2:40pm

“¡Ya llegué!” I wake up to the sound of Mamy’s voice early in the morning, it’s Christmas Day. I open my eyes groggily, still sleepy from Christmas Eve celebrations, I put on my holiday robe that I love and make my way to the kitchen. There are loud clanking noises and shuffling sounds coming from the kitchen, and I can already smell the deliciousness that my mom is stirring in a huge olla.

I walk into the kitchen and I see my grandma who just crossed the border from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to my house in El Paso, Texas. We meet halfway and she gives me a tight hug. Donde está la música Navideña?” she asks as she hands me a regalito. My mom is still stirring the montería and it smells so good that I can’t help but ask for a small taste from the ladle. My Awe walks in holding a big olla de tamales and multiple containers of leftovers from yesterday.

This is what a regular Christmas Day would look like in my family. Like many other families, mine usually celebrates the holiday with a big party, including as many family members as we can fit in our apartment along with as many foods as we can place on the table. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I will not get to spend Christmas Day with my abuelitos, or any of my extended family. Amid the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the social distancing guidelines suggested by the CDC, having a conventional celebratory Christmas Day party is impossible this year.

Este año no participare en el intercambio de regalos (this year I won’t partake in the gift exchange),” said my mom Hissel Glenn, in the family group chat. The family group chat I am part of, alongside family members, has changed its name from La Familia” to “¿Y ahora cuando nos vemos (when are we seeing each other now)?” Every year we have a gift exchange, sort of like Secret Santa, but this year, due to financial hardships and the fact we won’t be meeting, the gift exchange has been canceled.

Like many others across the country, myself and many of my family members have suffered from job loss and other forms of income loss. What was an exciting experience in years past – picking out the perfect gift for a Christmas gift exchange – has now turned into stressful and anxious time for many.

“We are not completely economically good,” said my aunt Julieta Rio. “I’m a singer and I haven’t been able to work since March and my income has gone down to zero.”

Although gifts are a big part of any Christmas celebration, it is not at the forefront in our family. The unity of all family members is the most important part for my family.

Like many families in the Borderland, mine is a big family. From great uncles and great aunts to baby cousins and everyone’s in-laws, any family gathering – especially holiday celebrations – are sure to bring together at least 30 people at once.

“What’s most important and what’s really sad, is that on the night of Christmas, when we should all be together, we won’t be able to be united,” my grandmother, Carmelita Prado, said.

My parents’ apartment is usually where we spend Christmas Day and my grandparents, uncles and aunts travel in Juarez travel to El Paso to be with us. Now, because of the border being closed to all but “essential” travelers, my family on the other side of the Rio Grande can’t come over.

It may seem dramatic to some, but after all that we have all endured – with the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 and even contracting it ourselves as I did – the cancellation of Christmas Day as we know it is the sour cherry on top of this unprecedented year. The holiday that is so dear to me and my family will not be the same. I held some hope throughout the months that the pandemic would be over by the end of the year, but that is gone.

The only consolation that is left is due to the recent arrival of a vaccine that could help bring the world as close to normal as it can be.

“Even if this year is going to be sad, I know that things will get better and we will have the best Christmas next year,” my mother said.

Categories: Local Blogs

Pandemic measures change college life for international students

Borderzine - Sun, 12/20/2020 - 12:29pm

The “college experience,” usually depicted as an exciting time of meeting new people and exploring new opportunities, has changed dramatically due the COVID-19 pandemic. From classes switching to online teaching, technology issues and economic hardships, the pandemic has proven to be challenging for many students.

But some Mexican international students in El Paso faced even more challenges after some government offices closed and new restrictions were placed on travel across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Irving Avalos Guzman, 19, a first-year international student from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was unable to get his student visa processed on time for him to attend any classes at the University of Texas at El Paso in person.

“I would like to cross the border, go to the classes, hang out in UTEP, meet new people,” Avalos Guzman said. “Obviously, I would like to have that experience.”

Instead, Avalos Guzman attended all of his classes and UTEP new student orientation virtually from his home in Juarez.

Catie McCorry Andalis, UTEP Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, said the university is doing everything possible to make all students feel included and has coordinated several virtual events to help students stay connected and involved with their campus community.

McCorry Andalis says international students are encouraged to reach out to one of the caseworkers assigned to aid them with any concerns, from needing an internet hotspot, to getting help with food assistance.

“We have an entire team of case managers. There are 16 of those case managers and that’s their job,” McCorry Andalis said.

The university informed students it will continue to offer a combination of online, hybrid and in-person classes for Spring 2021, anticipating that COVID-19 precautions will likely still be present in the community.

“While the number of local COVID-19 cases is rising, UTEP is continuing its mission to teach and conduct research in a safe campus environment, and we are evaluating additional measures that will help the region to suppress the disease,” said an e-mail sent to all students from the president’s office.

While new students are not going to get the full campus treatment in the short term, McCorry Andalis said the university will continue to strive to bring them the best experience possible.

“No matter what happens, our commitment is to ensure that our international students are successful, academically, socially and professionally,” McCorry Andalis said.

Categories: Local Blogs

El Pasoans continue to celebrate special occasions with loved ones at a distance

Borderzine - Sun, 12/20/2020 - 11:10am

El Pasoans and other area residents have been taking to the streets to celebrate weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other events by using outdoor garlands and neighborhood parades to commemorate celebrations because the pandemic is limiting indoor social gatherings.

A bridal shower for Elizabeth Morales, 28, was postponed several times since March because of COVID-19 concerns, but her big day was finally celebrated in mid-October when her parents organized a parade to note her daughter’s nuptials.

“This was not the way I had planned on celebrating my bridal shower, but with the setup of my balloons, I wouldn’t have asked for anything different,” Morales said. “They were beautiful and made me realize that it is OK to have it celebrated this way for the safety of my friends and family,” she said.

The pandemic has forced wedding halls to close because of restrictions that limit social gatherings. Engaged couples have been looking forward to celebrating their upcoming marriage, but have had to keep postponing due to the shutdowns and not risking their friends and family’s lives.

Morales’s parents, David and Frances Perches set up the memorable parade in front of their Lower Valley home and celebrated the shower for Morales and future son-in law, Shaun Hilburn, 32, celebrated with family and friends.

“Even with this pandemic, we were still able to celebrate with the people we love. Plus it doesn’t matter if we had a hall or not, what matters is keeping safe and having others safe as well,” Frances Perches said. “The balloon tied it all together at the end.”

Businesses that organize these celebrations have been busy.

“The balloon business became more personal now that we have to change the way we have our parties,” said Victor Arzola, co-owner of Mia’s Balloons. “My wife and I saw the value that balloons bring nowadays to any occasion from graduations, anniversaries, birthdays and the holidays as well.”

Mia’s Balloons is booked virtually every weekend, co-owner Ana Arzola said. They also are busy delivering balloon decorations throughout El Paso County and outside the county lines.

Regardless of any occasion, family and friends continue to celebrate events despite the pandemic and accompanying uncertainty, making milestones memorable.

“Our customers want something to live up the parade and for them letting us be part of it. We want to personalize our garlands to show something personal and memorable to remember their day,” Victor Arzola said.

An El Paso family sends love and a balloon garland to celebrate their mother’s birthday on their front entrance. Photo courtesy of Mia’s Balloons

The way people are now celebrating and keeping safe is by inviting their friends and family to drive-by parades. Garlands are often set up at the celebratory location, filled with colorful balloons of different sizes and different shapes.

The balloon garlands have become a bigger hit, now that birthdays, weddings, baby showers, graduations and quinceañeras have been pushed back or also postponed.

Pink, gold and maroon balloon garland is displayed inside of a canopy for family and friends to pass by and see balloon arrangements. Photo courtesy of Mia’s Balloons



Categories: Local Blogs

No ceremony, but graduation during pandemic is still is dream come true for 1st in family to earn degree

Borderzine - Sun, 12/20/2020 - 11:06am

In 2003, I graduated from kindergarten in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. I was chosen to give the last speech on graduation day. This last speech, was very important to me since I was not going to continue my education in Mexico. My family was moving to El Paso, Texas, where I was born.

Stephanie Chavez giving her last speech in her kindergarten graduation in May 2003.

I practiced my speech with my mom for a couple of weeks. I was very good at memorizing. My parents beamed with pride when I went up on stage and gave my speech loud and clear. I was sad saying goodbye to my friends, but also happy to start a new chapter and meet some of my now best friends.

Now, in 2020, I will be the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism from UTEP. The biggest difference is that I will graduate this December without a ceremony because of the pandemic. The university has moved the ceremony date to next year in May 2021 in hopes that we might be able to gather in person by then.

Comfortable in the spotlight

Growing up I was very into music. My first time singing in front of an audience was at the age of six years old. I remember it was a school show talent and I chose to sing a song ” El Reloj Cucu,” by Mana. I dedicated the song to my grandmother who had passed away from cancer that same year.

“She would get the microphone in front of people, and she was never shy, never showed fear. On the contrary she would do it with a natural spark and till this day,” my mother, Irma Gaytan, said.

I was in my school choir from kinder to senior year in high school. I also fell in love with theater. In 6th grade I had the opportunity to compete in a one act play called “The Party.” I was given one of the protagonists roles. Five actors including myself participated in this play, which came in second place among five schools. I also received an all-star cast award.

Once I started high school I knew that little by little I had to decide what career I wanted to pursue. In my junior year in high school I had a journalism class. That is when I knew I wanted to become a television broadcaster.

The first to graduate in the household

My parents have always worked very hard to give me a better education. My mother finished high school and just as she was going to attend college her mother became ill. So she had to leave her education to care for her mother. My father did go to college and was close to graduation when he got a job opportunity that he believed would bring a better income to the household.

Instead, my parents focused on me finishing my degree. They would motivate me to keep going with my education because they wanted me to have more opportunities and and a chance to get my dream job. Growing up, my dad would tell me: “study something that you will wake up every day and enjoy doing and not see it as work.”

Stephanie Chavez poses for her kindergarten graduation in May 2003.

In August 2016, I started my first semester in the University of Texas at El Paso. I decided to major in multimedia journalism and a minor in theater.

When I attended the college graduations of my older cousins and friends, I would always picture the day I would walk in my cap and gown and receive my diploma. I knew that when that day came, not only was I going to be happy but also my parents would see it was worth all the sacrifices they gave up for my education. Both of them have worked full time jobs. They put aside things that they dream of, such a new vehicle or vacations, so that I could graduate debt free.

Everything seemed normal until UTEP went on spring break in March 2020, That’s when COVID-19 arrived in El Paso and the university switched to online courses. Those who graduated in spring and summer 2020 had a virtual graduation. I hoped the pandemic would be mostly over by the end of December so that I could have an in person graduation.

My dream graduation is not coming true, but the lesson is to keep things in perspective. The restrictions on gatherings are for the health of everyone. COVID-19 is something no one expected. It just came and took many lives and it is still doing it. I have friends who have lost family members. People started to lose their jobs.

I was very lucky to keep my job at the Student Recreation Center at UTEP. Even though the gym closed, I was able to work remotely. Last summer my plan was to find an internship, which was harder because most internships were cancelled because of health protocols. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to work in marketing for the Student Recreation Center. I started managing the department’s Tik Tok account, and eventually became a student supervisor overseeing three departments. However, I will have to leave this job when I graduate.

If I see it on the positive side, not everybody can say that they graduated during a pandemic and I can. I am excited for the future. My plan is to try to get an internship at a television station and get more experience. Then, hopefully by fall 2021,come back to school to start working on my masters degree.



Categories: Local Blogs

RumpToons No: 216

EPN - Border Analysis - Sat, 12/19/2020 - 11:05pm
I hope you enjoy RumpToons No: 216!
Categories: Local Blogs

UMC Covid-19 Vaccine Numbers Do Not Add Up

El Paso Politics - Sat, 12/19/2020 - 1:31pm
The University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC) has faced two debacles this week regarding the Covid-19 vaccinations in El Paso. The problems raises questions about UMC’s commitment to the El Paso […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Covid-19 Hit Close To Home

El Paso Politics - Thu, 12/17/2020 - 2:12pm
As with everyone, Covid-19 has touched our family, this time close to home. A couple of weeks ago, Laura tested positive for the pandemic virus. At work on Friday, she was notified […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Supporting Borderland journalism students opens a world of opportunities

Borderzine - Wed, 12/16/2020 - 5:42pm

Borderzine note: Our publication is more than a website that covers life along the border. It is a training tool that gives aspiring journalists from El Paso and Ciudad Juarez a real newsroom experience in multimedia reporting. This month we are asking readers to help us in our mission by making a contribution on Borderzine’s behalf to NewsMatch. Thanks to NewsMatch and two other organizations that support diversity in news, every dollar donated before Dec. 31 will be tripled. Your gift will go toward giving young people from our border community the tools and experience that are critical to their success as the journalists of tomorrow who will bring us the kind of informed reporting we needed for a healthy and strong democracy.

I am a proud El Pasoan, born at Providence Memorial Hospital and raised in Sunset Heights, long before it became fashionable and was a neighborhood composed mostly of middle-class Hispanics. I was the only son and second child of a single mother who like many Latino women, cared for her mother at home while she raised her two children without the help of child support from my father. He was a patent-holding electrical engineer in what eventually became Silicon Valley.

I grew up in a bubble and loved my bubble. Sunset Heights and my eventual expansion to the West Side was my home. I didn’t think much about the outside world. Everything I needed was near our apartment at 316 W. Rio Grande Avenue where I grew up.

St. Patrick’s Elementary School was less than a 15-minute walk away. My eventual high school, El Paso High School where I graduated in 1979, was not much farther away. The Sunset Grocery was on the other side Rio Grande where the street changed names to Los Angeles, and even Johnny’s convenience store was down the block on El Paso Street. A Safeway near the El Paso Public Library filled the refrigerator and cupboard every Wednesday after my grandmother shopped on double-coupon day.

As a result, my bubble was tight. It expanded when I began attending UTEP. By then, we had moved to a duplex off North Mesa near the King’s Hill Apartments, but I was still close to all I knew. My UTEP friends were clearly more worldly than I was. Most were El Paso natives, but came from different high schools, had different ideas and encouraged me to join a fraternity.

My new schoolmates told stories of where they’d visited, summer vacations they’d taken with their parents, where they had lived and planned to live after graduation. All this was new to me. My UTEP relations were expanding my mind. One of my friends invited me to a Halloween party in Fabens. I was in the boonies – as far as I was concerned – and I was alone in my 1979 Datsun mini pickup driving east on Interstate 10. I had pierced the eastern edge of the city limits. This was the farthest east I’d ever traveled. I was 20 years old. Prior to that, my eastern journey was likely Cattleman’s steakhouse in Fabens for a day-trip with my high school class.

Moving on to the big, wide world beyond the Borderland

On the drive to the party, I had a rare introspective moment and realized that while I had a great deal of respect for my Clint brethren, it should not be my most eastern destination. I made a decision that day this would change. And it did.

Two professors opened my world. One helped get me elected to the national board of the Society of Professional Journalists as a student representative and the other helped introduce me to potential internship opportunities out of El Paso. Before long, I was travelling to Los Angeles for a job fair conference, San Francisco and Milwaukee to attend board meetings with SPJ and the world began to open – all thanks to the influence of my UTEP professors. There was a world outside the bubble and I was liking it.

I started working at the late and often lamented El Paso Herald-Post while still in school and then full-time after I graduated. One day the phone rang. It was the Austin American-Statesman city editor, asking if I was interested in a police reporter position. I was energetic, bilingual and loved covering police. He’d heard about me from a fellow contact from the Los Angeles job fair conference I had recently attended. I sent him my clips – examples of my work – and was effectively hired over the phone. I was leaving my hometown, my family and the protection of the bubble. I could thank UTEP and those professors for showing me a bit of the world. I had a packed garment bag.

Through the years, I’ve worked at the San Antonio Express-News, the Associated Press in Dallas, Tucson Citizen and even the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. I remembered that experience in Clint and wanted to go even farther east. I ended up on the southern coast of China for a three-month stint and met some lifelong friends.

A lifelong commitment to greater diversity in news

Through the years, I remembered those who came before me, especially the pioneering minority journalists who paved the way. I joined and took leadership roles in Hispanic journalist organizations in El Paso, Austin, Dallas and other cities. I was a founding member of the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists and led that organization for a number of years.

I eventually was elected president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists – one of that organization’s early presidents. I remain on the board of directors of the Associated Press Managing Editors after having served as president. I chair that organization’s scholarship committee. The APME is committed to diversifying Texas newsrooms and we select minority students for summer internships. UTEP students have often been selected for this internship, which often takes them to bigger and better places.

I owe much to the professors who came before me –  the late Jim Patten and Ramon Chavez. I would not be where I am now if not for their guidance, encouragement and tutelage.

I have followed in their footsteps and stand on their shoulders. I am an associate professor in the very classrooms where they taught me at UTEP. The lessons they taught me are clear in my mind and I try to repay the favors they did for me every day.

UTEP professors Dino Chiecchi and Zita Arocha with UTEP students at NAHJ 2018 conference in Miami.


I’ve taken my students to Washington, D.C., Anaheim, Calif. and Houston for journalist conventions. We’ve gone on photography field trips to Ruidoso and San Antonio, N.M. Our mission as professors is not to merely teach the contents of a textbook. It is to open the eyes and minds of our students, many of whom have never left the city, never seen an airline booking pass, or been to Ruidoso Downs to photograph the horse races or Ski Apache to photograph skiers or for any other reason.

I owe so much to the university of my life’s work, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to repay the school through my students for all that UTEP has given me.


Dino Chiecchi

Associate Professor of Multimedia Journalism

Categories: Local Blogs

New Year Resolutions Start Now

Max Powers - Tue, 12/15/2020 - 2:49pm
A new year is the on horizon, but it won't magically get better cos' you want it to. You must put in the work now. If not, your 2021 will be just be just as shitty as your 2020. Namaste. Max Powers
Categories: Local Blogs

Humberto Rosales

El Paso News - Mon, 12/14/2020 - 11:09am
By Roberto José Andrade Franco On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, my cousin died. He tested positive for COVID-19 and got admitted to the hospital a few days before then. “You guys used to be close,” my wife said after my mother told me of his hospitalization. “You should call him.” A day later, my mother… Read More Humberto Rosales
Categories: Local Blogs

Let’s Breakup COVID-19 in El Paso, Texas—Take the Pledge

El Paso News - Sun, 12/13/2020 - 6:00am
By Miguel Juárez It’s time to “Break up with Covid-19” is a message that that is driving an organic, locally hatched campaign to stop the chain of COVID-19 in our community.  The campaign includes an opportunity for individuals to sign a pledge on and learn about resources in our community related to COVID-19 via… Read More Let’s Breakup COVID-19 in El Paso, Texas—Take the Pledge
Categories: Local Blogs

RumpToons No: 215

EPN - Border Analysis - Sat, 12/12/2020 - 11:03pm
I hope you enjoy RumpToons No: 215!
Categories: Local Blogs

Dee Margo Ejected From Office

El Paso Politics - Sat, 12/12/2020 - 8:55pm
This article was updated on December 13, 2020 at 05:30 a.m. The final unofficial results were added. There are no two ways about it, Dee Margo was summarily dismissed from office. The […]
Categories: Local Blogs

LULAC: Army’s Actions At Ft. Hood Affirm Vanessa Guillen’s Life

El Paso News - Fri, 12/11/2020 - 2:14pm
Nation’s Oldest and Largest Latino Civil Rights Organization Calls Firings and Suspensions for Misconduct a Step Forward Washington, DC – The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) calls today’s announcement of disciplinary actions by the U.S. Army significant and important progress towards justice as well as lasting change within the military branch that Pvt.… Read More LULAC: Army’s Actions At Ft. Hood Affirm Vanessa Guillen’s Life
Categories: Local Blogs

LULAC: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Needs To Resign

El Paso News - Fri, 12/11/2020 - 2:06pm
Nation’s Oldest and Largest Latino Civil Rights Organization Says Efforts Against President-Elect Biden Outside His Bounds Washington, DC – The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Wednesday denounced a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to sue several battleground states Democrat Joe Biden won which added… Read More LULAC: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Needs To Resign
Categories: Local Blogs

How did a General Pediatrician become the Most Powerful Force in El Paso For-Profit Healthcare?

El Paso Politics - Wed, 12/09/2020 - 8:48am
Editor’s note: El Paso Politics is publishing this editorial as anonymous. The author is known to me and I have agreed to publish the editorial without revealing the author’s name to protect […]
Categories: Local Blogs

To Exist

El Paso News - Mon, 12/07/2020 - 12:50pm
My Brown skin means fighting to be heard. My Brown skin means fighting to be seen. My Brown skin means fighting to be known. Do you hear the screams and cries of my Brown skin in cages? Or are they drowned out by the color of our faces? Did I do something wrong? Why are… Read More To Exist
Categories: Local Blogs

Xavier Miranda Termination Update

El Paso Politics - Mon, 12/07/2020 - 11:00am
El Paso Politics received an update from El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) teacher Xavier Miranda. As readers may remember, Miranda was facing termination from EPISD. The controversy over Miranda’s proposed termination […]
Categories: Local Blogs

Dee Margo Touts Amazon Center But Is It Good For El Paso

El Paso Politics - Mon, 12/07/2020 - 7:30am
Dee Margo, who is facing a runoff election against Oscar Leeser, put out a political mailing recently that states that Margo brought Amazon to El Paso along with 700 corresponding jobs. Margo, […]
Categories: Local Blogs

The Conundrum of Genaro Garcia Luna

EPN - Border Analysis - Sun, 12/06/2020 - 11:03pm
With corruption and narco-terrorism on the rise in México in 2006, then-president Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug traffickers, mobilized the Mexican military. Calderón set out to reform the Mexican policing framework to deal with the crisis. Calderón appointed Genaro García Luna to transform the federal police into a more-professional civilian organization equipped with… Read More The Conundrum of Genaro Garcia Luna
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by Dr. Radut