Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rescue Mission

Today my co-workers and I served lunch at the El Paso Rescue Mission. In lieu of exchanging gifts for the holidays we decided it would be nice to give some of our time to the community. I was blown away by the experience and the people I met. I am very happy that the borderland has this mission as a resource. The mission has around 80 people on their roster currently that they provide services for. I was especially happy to learn about their rehabilitation program which provides housing and career opportunities to those overcoming addictions. It was awesome to see such things but after we left I was touched by something completely different, and extremely unexpected.

The mission is located smack dab on the US/Mexico border, just steps away from The Border Highway. You could spit and it would land in Juarez. I became overwhelmed with the idea of what it would be like to grow up on the other side of that line in the sand, where the only things that separate you from opportunity are some green and white SUVs, a piece of paper and a whole lot of politics.

I imagined what it would be like to grow up in Anapra, with the Asarco Towers and a poorly constructed fence being the only things blocking the view of The University of Texas, and this Rescue Mission that welcomes the poor, the hungry and the homeless. I imagined what it would be like to dream of having an education and all the opportunities that the US provides, and it all being so close you can almost taste it. I imagined what it would be like to be a little kid, living in a cardboard house, looking to the US with a fire in my eyes... pining after a better life.

That is REALLY what blew me away today. The borderland really is a land of it's own, with so many rare triumphs and tribulations that the rest of America never really thinks about. It's a weird position I am in. One foot in the US, one foot in Mexico. It's a lot to take in and evaluate. Every day I seem to learn something new and I really hope that's a trend that continues.

After today I became even more thankful for the card I have been dealt in this lifetime. I hope that one day, some of those kids I saw today, staring longingly over that fence, will get their chance at the life they have always dreamed of; the life that I was lucky enough to be born into. I also hope that one day, I can pay it forward.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Guisado del Patron

For those who are not familiar with Filiberto’s Mexican Food restaurants, let me school you. Filiberto’s is, in my opinion, the king of all Berto’s restaurants. In Arizona you have your Julioberto’s, Humberto’s, Eriberto’s, Aliberto’s, Alberto’s, Rolberto’s, Roberto’s, Roliberto’s etc, etc, etc. I could keep going but you get the idea. These restaurants are somewhat of a cross between Mexican fast food, like Taco Bell, and an actual sit-down Mexican restaurant. They are always open 24 hours a day and have a drive-through window.

I grew up with these restaurants, although the favorite of my high school was actually called Amado’s (formerly Armado’s, formerly Armando’s) and not a member of the Berto family at all. The joke around school was that each time they failed a health inspection, the restaurant was sold to a different family member and the name was changed. I don’t doubt that the rumors were actually true.

Regardless, Filiberto’s is something I really miss about Arizona. It was a great place to go at 2 or 3 in the morning after a late night out, or for a filling lunch when you only had 5 bucks, or the place to go at noon when you had a horrible hangover from the night before. No hay nada que te quite la cruda mejor que un burrito tamano de tu cabeza. There are tons of great things on the menu, but Fili B’s is most famous for it’s burritos. If you look at their menu, you can see that they have tons of delicious options, but my favorite isn’t even on the menu. Gordo's favorite isn't listed either. I am only assuming but I think this might be because they don’t serve these particular burritos in California or New Mexico.

My husband’s favorite is called the Burrito Arizona and has steak, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and cheese. He is a meat and potatoes kind of guy I suppose. My favorite is the Burrito Patron. It should really be called Burrito de Dios. But whatever, I didn’t pick the name. It has steak, ham, bacon, onions, jalapenos, tomatoes and cheese. Guess who’s made a version of their favorite burrito for dinner tonight? =)

There is no science to this recipe, and the quantity of ingredients is really irrelevant because the mere combination of these particular meats and veggies is heavenly; the rest is just details. Because they don’t sell 20 inch tortillas in Mexico (to those who weren’t aware, burritos in Mexico are TINY) I didn't actually make huge Fili B style burritos. Instead I made more of a guisado, which literally means stew in Spanish. I don’t personally consider this a stew, but it’s really what they would call it here in Chihuahua. To me it’s more of a Mexican stir fry of meats and veggies.

I never made this when I lived in the US because Filiberto’s was always just around the corner. I have always used pulpa for the beef although I have no clue what pulpa even is. All I know is that it’s beef that always comes pre-cut into little bite sized pieces, and since I am lazy, pulpa it is! One less thing to cut… I suppose if I was in the US, any cut up steak would work. Maybe chuck to keep it affordable?

As for the ham, I am a bit picky. I cannot stand the overly processed, lunch meat taste, so I buy actual slices of a whole cut ham. This package was actually purchased in El Paso. I have made this before with ham that I bought at Soriana, I just had to be very careful to specify that I did not want “jamon de pavo” and that it needed to be cut in “rebanadas super gruesos.” As with bacon, I will probably always prefer to buy it in America.

Here is the recipe that I typically use, but the quantities are approximated as they always vary based on what I have on hand. Usually I would use equal parts beef and ham, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For example, tonight I have a lot of ham, but not even a half kilo of carne. Don’t worry though, it always tastes good. I promise, it is the best combination ever.

Guisado del Patron

1 lb. beef (pulpa, chuck, flank steak, whatever) chopped into bite sized pieces
1 lb. ham, chopped
½ lb. bacon, chopped
1 whole onion, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 whole jalapeno with veins and seeds, diced
Salt, to taste


In a large skillet, cook beef until no longer pink and then drain and set aside. I usually just leave it in the colander until I am ready for it. Rinse and dry skillet. Use the same skillet to fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. Leaving the bacon drippings in the pan, add ham and cook until heated through and slightly browned. Then add onions and jalapenos and cook until the onions are translucent and the jalapenos are tender. Then return the beef and bacon to the skillet. Finally, add in the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt to taste (lightly because of the sodium content in the ham and bacon) and mix thoroughly. Continue to cook until heated through.

Serve with warm tortillas and cheese or crema if desired. This should render 4 very generous servings.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Losing Limones

My husband called me this afternoon to tell me that one of his co-workers was found dead along with his wife and two young children. This time around, it had nothing to do with the violence of Juarez; they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Details can be found in this story in today's issue of the El Paso Times. My husband said that what was left out of the article is that they left their propane powered heater and their gas stove on to keep warm as temperatures dropped into the teens Monday night.

The young man, who everyone called Limones, was well known as the resident jokester at the maquila. He worked in the line next to my husband's. Gordo said Ruben was always in a good mood. He had tons of friends and could always cheer you up with his humor. When anyone wanted a good laugh, all they had to do was listen to Limones for a bit.

Today I would like to give my sincere condolences to the friends and family of Ruben Limon, you are in our hearts and minds. I would also like to warn everyone not to use their propane heaters at night. I know these heaters are a popular go-to in Mexico because of the price of natural gas or electric alternatives, but please, please be careful. Bundle up, sleep together, pile on the blankets, but never use your propane heater at night.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Life Lessons in Juarez

It's snowing here in Juarez. It's been snowing for a few hours now and it's pretty impossible to forget last year's winter. We had no heater, I was inventing crap in the house alone to stay warm. Maybe you remember the rice sock? I sure do! I swear it was colder because my husband was working second shift and I was all by my lonesome every night. I think there is much to be said about body heat.

There were nights that were so cold, ice formed on the walls inside and I was compelled to call my mother asking such things as, "How do you know it's cold enough, that you just won't wake up?" I know this may sound silly and exaggerated to some in the Northern US, but when houses aren't equipped for such cold, it makes a big difference. There is no insulation in the homes in Juarez and pipes are buried mere inches beneath the Earth, if not above ground. At one point we spent 8 days in a row without running water and a few without electricity.

And so this year, with a husband working days and an old-school heater in the mix, I feel disgustingly grateful. We purchased this 20 year old Solmatic gas heater for 250 pesos.

I really thought it was older based on the looks and mechanics of it, but after some Googling, I see that it's from about 1992. Yes, we had to purchase a carbon monoxide detector, and no we cannot have it on while we sleep, but this is a HUGE improvement from last year. I am only wearing 2 sweaters as I type this.

And so I get to what this post is really about. A couple of years ago, prior to moving to Juarez, I read that some 30% of the inhabitants of this city do not have access to running water, electricity or gas. I am assuming the majority of this statistic come from the outskirts and areas such as Anapra. I don't know the validity of the statistic (then or now) but after living here for over a year, it doesn't sound far-fetched. Now that I have seen such things, and experienced such a winter, how can I not feel eternally grateful for the warmth I feel in this moment?

Even in the midst of my misery last year, I was in a far, far better situation than many, if not most of the people in this world. I cannot imagine how the people of Anapra and other colonias of the like are fairing tonight with this weather. I hope and pray that they are okay. And for all of my blessings, I would like to thank God. I would like to thank Him for my situation and for the lessons I have learned in this experience. I do not regret a single second of this new life, and I wouldn't take back a thing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

'Tis the Season

Spiritually, this has been a year of exploration and self-discovery for my husband and I. We are both baptized Catholics, yet never really identified with the Church. Neither of us find it absolutely necessary to put labels on our beliefs, but I recently found the appropriate label if I were to do so for myself. And as much as my suegra would be disappointed, it’s not Catholicism. And so for the past week, I have had an internal debate as to whether or not to put up the Christmas decorations. I say internal because I wouldn’t dare tell my husband that religion had anything to do with why the tree didn’t go up the day after Thanksgiving. He would just get annoyed and tell me to stop thinking about things so much.

For us, Christmas is a time to be with family and friends, and celebrate those relationships. It is a time where we remember what God has given us, and take extra time and consideration to appreciate it. It is a time when we relax just a little bit more and enjoy seasonal foods and traditions. I don’t want to be the one “taking the Christ out of Christmas,” but I am still struggling to determine what exactly I believe. That uncertainty has brought me a lot of guilt recently but I am beginning to see that it's unnecessary. After a lot of thought, I decided that it’s okay to put up the decorations, even if I don’t have a concrete reason behind it. At the end of the day, traditions are good and faith is good and we’ve got plenty of that at the Cruz house, even if the principals behind them are not always black and white.

Here are some pictures of this years decorations. I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season so far!

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's the Little Things

There are about a million reasons why I love Juarez, but most of them are little things.

It's a cold, rainy night here with snow in the upcoming forecast. After a long night of YouTube and karaoke and Tecates, my husband and I were ready to grub. And so we walked with umbrellas to the closest street vendor. As we waited for our food, we listened to Everclear (yes, that Everclear) which is the CD the vendor was listening to. He grilled our burgers on a charcoal grill and topped them with onions, tomatoes and jalapenos that he had roasted and sliced right in front of us. $3.57 US. If the price and deliciousness wasn't enticing enough, there was the fact that I am legally out and about with my best friend. I don't care where we are. It's yummy.

Okay... so maybe the picture doesn't look that amazing. But hey, it's almost 11 o'clock, and life sure feels amazing.