Horse race celebrated cross-border camaraderie
It was a massive celebration of the kinship that sister cities Douglas and Agua Prieta enjoyed for decades.
On Cinco de Mayo 2001, a couple miles of the barbed-wire U.S.-Mexico border fence were taken down and replaced by skinny white plastic pipes that marked the centerline for horse races.
Nearly 20,000 people lined the track on both sides of the border west of Douglas. Mariachi music resounded from large red Tecate tents in Mexico as men and women in cowboy hats drank cold beer and soda.
Spectators waved dollar bills, shouting across the international line to place bets on the races.
Bystanders leaned against the chain-link fences, sat in small grandstands set up on both sides of the border or huddled in the beds of pickup trucks backed up to the track. They cheered wildly as horses named “El Bobito,” “El Rayito” and “El Sapo” reached speeds of 45 to 50 mph in races that lasted 13 to 20 seconds.
Before the 2001 horse races were the volleyball games in Naco, which used the border fence as the net, and food was passed through the fence for picnics. Kids happily threw rocks back and forth across the border, their laughter heard throughout the neighborhood, said Angie Tippy, 91, who has lived a few feet from the border in Douglas for 75 years.
An open dirt street is all that marked the U.S.-Mexico line in June 1890. That’s Nogales, Sonora, on the left, and Nogales, Ariz., on the right, similar to the situation that existed between Douglas and Agua Prieta, Sonora. The informal divisions are long gone, replaced today with imposing barriers.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA LIBRARIES
That was then. This is now:
Growing up two blocks from the border in Mexico, Rivera, her sister and her two brothers would go to Douglas to watch movies. They would leave home 15 to 30 minutes before the movie was to start.
Rivera first noticed the changes in late 2001, when she was a student at Cochise College in Douglas but still living with her parents in Agua Prieta. The Sept. 11 attacks led to increased fears that terrorists could slip through the porous Southwest border - and increased enforcement.
She would have to leave at 4:30 a.m. to make her 7 a.m. class, even though the college was only about 20 minutes from her house. Lines sometimes stretched 20 to 30 blocks into Mexico.
Until the last couple of years, it was still easy to cross into Mexico, usually taking only a few minutes. Then, in 2009, the Obama administration beefed up checks of people and cars heading into Mexico, trying to stop the illegal exportation of guns, ammo and cash that help fuel the bloody wars between feuding drug cartels.
On Thursday, December 15th, Arizona Daily Star reporter Brady McCombs will chat with readers at noon (Tucson time). He will answer readers’ questions about his series on life at the border and how it has changed in the last 15 years.