twin cities

Something that has blown my mind for a while is all the metropolitan areas straddling the Mexico-US border. It first occurred to me after a student of mine, a guy in Mexico’s immigration service (it’s called “migration” here, from Instituto Nacional de Migración), had to miss class one day because of a trip to Tijuana. He’s Cuban, btw. When he came back he very animatedly described to me the fact that the physical border barrier there extends out into the Pacific, to keep discourage people from crossing via ocean. He was laughing about it, actually… because it’s ridiculous.

But anyway, out of this conversation emerged further news to me, that Tijuana and San Diego are the same metropolitan area. They just have a freaking checkpoint and demilitarized zone separating them, kind of like Berlin during the Soviet era.

Check out this map of the border (click to enlarge). In fact several border cities have a counterpart directly on the other side, which makes sense. Border crossings are commercial and logistics centers; they provide jobs, which means that citizens of both sides with similar economic interests migrate to them. The “two” cities that develop on either side are politically separate, often linguistically separate, sometimes socioeconomically separate, and in some ways culturally separate, too.

However if you stop talking about cities proper and move on to urban geography terms, the combined population of the two cities is yes, a metropolitan area. It’s sort of like St Louis and East St Louis, or Chicago and Gary, or Oakland and San Francisco, or Brooklyn and Long Island, or Maryland-DC-NoVa. But these border cities have, well, the border.

Obviously Ciudad Juarez, Chuihuahua is a border city, the twin city to El Paso, Texas. Mexicans have joked to me that the mayor of Juarez lives in El Paso, but actually I don’t think it’s a joke.

Okay, and… Juarez is the murder capital of the world. This title makes it sound like it could be extreme street violence, but actually it is a war… 50,000 people have been killed in the narco struggles nationwide since 2006. In 2010 alone 3,000 of those people were killed in Juarez. That’s compared to the FIVE PEOPLE who were killed in El Paso that year.

Google directions, El Paso to Juarez:

Click to enlarge; 3.3 miles (12 minutes). War <–> No War. In a word, vom. Guácara.

I’m not saying I want the narco war to spread over the border. God help us all. I also realize that my comparison of St Louis-East St Louis to this situation would not be unharmonious.

But still… for fuck’s sake.

Screenshot from the video game Call of Juarez: the Cartel, by Ubisoft, released yesterday.

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One response to “twin cities

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