Image provided by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE
About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (March 25, 1999)
Editor’s note: The reporter wrote
this story while on a spring break mis
sion trip with 15 other UNL students.
By Brian Carlson
EL PASO, Texas - Hikers who reach
the top of Monte Cristo Rey, in the
extreme southeast corner of New
Mexico, enjoy a panoramic view of the
portion of the Rio Grande valley where
the borders of two U.S. states and
Visitors perhaps can find no better
perch than Cristo Rey’s summit, where a
brilliant white statue of a crucified Jesus
gazes east to meet the sunrise, to view
the collision of two cultures - and the
resulting social, political, economic and
environmental problems that pose
severe challenges for the border region’s
A group of 16 University of
Nebraska-Lincoln students and four
sponsors traveled to the border region
on a spring break mission trip sponsored
by Cornerstone, a United Ministries in
Higher Education campus ministry at
“When we were standing on top of
Cristo Rey, the differences on either
side of the border were so obvious,”
said John Kastning, a senior chemical
engineering and German major.
“Seeing those contrasts was something
that really struck me.”
To the east is El Paso, Texas - a city
that sprawls along the Rio Grande and
around a mountain jutting into its cen
ter. To the west, one can see Sunland
Park, N.M., including a neighborhood
populated mostly by Mexican immi
Across the Rio Grande, another
mountain stretches across the horizon.
It bears an inscription that comple
ments the crucifix atop Monte Cristo
Rey: La Biblia Es La Verdad. Leela.
(The Bible is the truth. Read it.)
At the mountain’s base lies Ciudad
Juarez, the Mexican border town oppo
site El Paso. From the top of Cristo Rey,
climbers can see the differences on
opposite sides of the border.
Juarez is more densely developed,
poorer and generally gloomier in
appearance than El Paso. This becomes
especially apparent as the climber’s
eyes drift to the southwest, where a vast
settlement called Anapra has grown up
to accommodate poor workers migrat
ing north to the border for better jobs.
And where the vast colonia of
Anapra approaches the Rio Grande, a
10-foot high chain-link border fence
extends into the sunset.
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Amy Liebman, who works in the
University of Texas at El Paso’s Center
for Environmental Resource
Management, said hundreds of thou
sands of workers have migrated from
Central America and southern Mexico
to plaim factory jobs along the border.
In an effort to economize produc
tion, several multinational corporations
have built maquiladoras, or twin plants,
on the Mexican side to complement
their operations in the United States.
Many workers have found jobs in
the maquiladoras. Although these
workers receive just $3.50 per day, their
jobs generally constitute economic
advancement, Liebman said.
Although the North American Free
Trade Agreement has made this prac
tice easier, it occurred long before
NAFTA’s passage in 1993, Liebman
In 1975, Juarez was home to 86
maquiladoras. Today corporations
have built more than 300 in die city.
“The maquiladoras have really cre
ated a pull from inside Mexico to the
border,” Liebman said.
The maquiladora economy poses
difficult ethical questions, said the Rev.
Phil Reller, an El Paso minister who
organized the UNL group’s work.
On the one hand, Reller said, multi
national corporations that set up opera
tions in Mexico provide job opportuni
ties that many workers otherwise would
not have. But corporations have not
always contributed to the community’s
well-being, he said.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Reller
said. “Certainly the maquiladoras are
providing people with opportunities
they haven’t had before.
“The key issue is whether a corpo
ration is a good corporate citizen or
whether it is just exploiting cheap
Reller said many multinational cor
porations have been reluctant to give
back to the community. Also, he said,
their operations may keep wages in the
“They draw a lot of workers from
other, more depressed regions of
Mexico and in this way continue to
exploit cheap labor,” he said. “One has
to wonder: When they discover cheaper
labor in central Mexico, will plants
continue to move and abandon places
where they first developed?”
Liebman also pointed to the envi
ronmental problems likely to arise in
Although El Paso, a city of
750,000, has four waste-water treat
ment plants, Juarez has none despite its
population of 1.2 million. Waste-infest
ed streams - aguas negras - flow out of
Juarez and miles downstream in the Rio
For pre-schoolers and infants in
Juarez, gastrointestinal diseases are the
leading cause of death.
Most ominously, she said, the El
Paso area is projected to run out of
water in 2025. As residents are forced to
move to areas where water is more
plentiful, she said, severe economic and
social dislocations could ensue.
“It’s our biggest environmental
problem, and it’s going to be the biggest
social issue and one of our biggest
More than 200,000 workers have
settled in Anapra, an unincorporated
neighborhood crisscrossed by dusty,
unpaved roads full of large holes.
The land’s owners have allowed res
idents to squat on small plots squeezed
closely together. To keep out the dust,
most plots are circled by stone or wood
The UNL group spent three days
working at a small Presbyterian church
in Anapra served by “Papa” Juan Mata.
Mata is a short, friendly man with a
husky laugh and a strong sense of
humor. As the UNL group worked to
build a stone wall, lay tile in a small
community center or do other odd jobs,
he scurried around encouraging the
workers with enthusiastic cries of
The new community center will be a
place where residents can come to pick
up medicine or other needed supplies.
Mata’s wife, “Mama” Chila, also
enjoyed chatting with the members of
the UNL group who spoke Spanish.
As she stood atop the community
center’s roof, which was receiving a coat
of tar and more reinforcement, she
pointed at the electric power lines that
passed through the neighborhood. The
development of las luces, she said,
spurred rapid growth in Anapra.
The building of the power lines, she
said, was an example of Anapra’s suc
cessful efforts to pressure the Juarez
government for improvements in the
This sense of community together
ness also called to mind one of the first
lessons Reller said he learned when he
arrived in El Paso five years ago.
At that time, Reller said, he asked
Anapra residents what they considered
their most urgent need.
He expected them to say food,
water, better jobs or better homes, but he
was wrong. Anapra’s most urgent need,
residents said, was for comunidad -
Reller realized that Anapra residents
could retain hope in the midst of eco
nomic problems, if only they had a
sense of community support
“That had so much impact on me,”
Photos Courtesy of Sarah Brown
ABOVE: PARTICIPANTS IN A SPRING
BREAK mission trip to the Mexican
border region prepare to pour con
crete for a small tennis court at a
Sunland Park, N.M., day-care cen
ter. The group, representing UNL’s
Cornerstone campus ministries,
spent three days working in Mexico
and one day at the day-care center.
LEFT: JUAN AND CHILA MATA take a
break from work on a community
center near Juan’s church in
Anapra, a settlement near Juarez,
Mexico. The community center will
store medicine and other supplies
for Anapra residents.
Members of the UNL group said
they found the trip rewarding because
they learned about the region and had a
chance to serve.
Kastning said he learned about the
economic effects of multinational cor
porations in the border region. He also
said the firsthand experience made him
better understand the reasons for immi
gration from Mexico to places in the
United States, including Nebraska.
“Simply because we aren’t on the
border doesn’t mean it isn’t our prob
lem,” he said.
Melissa Finlaw Draper, pastor at
Cornerstone, said the trip was valuable
because it allowed participants to leam
about another culture and serve God by
serving others. Participants can bring
what they have learned back to Lincoln,
“We also know that we don’t have
to travel 1,000 miles to be involved in
ministry,” she said. “Certainly there is a
lot in Lincoln that needs to happen.”
Back in Anapra, the UNL group
attended an afternoon church service
outside “Papa” Juan’s church. In a ser
mon'moving even to those who under
stood little Spanish, Juan talked about
the hope Anapra residents could gain
from their faith.
“El Dios es muy paciente,” he said.
(God is very patient). Whether you live
in Anapra, Juarez or the United States,
he said as he swept his hand toward
Monte Cristo Rey, you can receive la
benedicion de Dios (the blessing of
“Amen... y amen.”
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