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El Paso, Texas, is the biggest U.S. border city, straddling two cultures that unmistakably define the town and its people. Sentences split between Spanish and English. The region’s signature dish is an egg and hotdog burrito.
The border is rife with ugly conflict. A towering metal wall divides El Paso and her sister city, Ciudad Juárez. The Tornillo ICE detention center, just east of El Paso city limits, housed children taken from parents seeking asylum. The struggle to move drugs across the border here claims thousands of lives every year.
In the end, however, the forces that bring people together are more powerful than those that push to divide. The story of Dolores and Rogelio and their home in El Paso is a uniquely American story of contrasts and conflicts and prevailing love.
Dolores and Rogelio met in the 6th grade and ended up becoming sweethearts their senior year of high school. They still have warm memories of their first romance, even though it ended the summer before they started at the University of Texas at El Paso. “She was the most beautiful girl,” says Rogelio. “I mean she’d walk in the room and everybody would look at her. She was the high school queen, a talented ballet dancer, intelligent, and kind. She had a lot going for her.”
In 2013, 43 years after their last date, Dolores and Rogelio bumped into each other at the Cielo Vista mall. They were both single. Dolores was having a hard time. Her brother had died just a couple months before, and her mother had just been diagnosed with cancer. Rogelio empathized with Dolores: “I took care of my brother while he was dying from the Agent Orange he’d been exposed to in Vietnam. I remembered how difficult it was, but also how much it helped when people would reach out, bring food … that kind of thing. So, I decided to give Dolores a call to just see if she needed anything.” The former couple continued to talk throughout Dolores’ mother’s battle with cancer. After Dolores’ mother died, the former couple started going on dates. Pretty soon Rogelio proposed.
After a short stint in a new condo, Dolores and Rogelio decided to move into Dolores’ childhood home. The single story adobe has been in the family since 1910, when Dolores’ great grandmother, a refugee of the Mexican revolution, began its construction. “I just felt like I owed it to my family and Chihuahuita to fix this place up and be here. So many people leave this community and never take care of the houses. It’s a shame because this neighborhood is a gem. There’s so much history here,” says Dolores.
Chihuahuita, a historic neighborhood between the border and one of El Paso’s biggest train yards, has steadily leaked population to the city’s newer, more suburban developments. Many turn-of-the-century houses in the area have fallen into disrepair, and longtime residents report that the community’s once tight-knit social fabric has eroded in recent years.
Soon after they moved in, Dolores and Rogelio got to work on the house. “It was important to me to keep the home’s Mexican character intact. That’s our history and that’s the history of Chihuahuita,” says Dolores. “We grew up speaking Spanish here, and we’d go over to Juarez all the time. This is the border. We’re Mexican-Americans.”
Rogelio, a retired ESL teacher, and Dolores, a retired elementary school teacher, knew they had political differences when they got married. Dolores had been a registered Republican since the ’80s and Rogelio identified as an independent. However, politics didn’t take up much space in their relationship until Donald Trump entered the scene in 2015. “I’m a moderate, but I can go conservative,” explains Rogelio. “I thought Reagan was a great president, but so was Clinton… I don’t think [Trump] represents what the Republican Party was all about. I hated the way he treated women and how much he lied. And he’s such a narcissist. I just couldn’t believe she’d support him.”
Dolores was disappointed that her new husband wouldn’t support the Republican candidate. “Don’t you understand we need to protect the border? This affects us. The Democrats want to cut military spending, and my brother served in the Army. It seemed so clear to me.”
Spending a lifetime in the middle of a popular migrant crossing point has made Dolores passionate about border security. “Before that wall went up, illegal immigrants would pass through this property constantly. They’d camp out in the backyard at night. Imagine how we felt as women being surrounded by strange men. Don’t we all deserve to feel safe in our own homes?”
The couple’s politics are complex and of divided minds, similar to many in this border city. Trump improved his portion of the vote by just under 6% in El Paso County in 2020. His gains in other majority-Hispanic Texas border counties were much more drastic. In Starr County, for example, Trump won 47.1% of the vote compared to just 19% in 2016.
Although he’s come to appreciate the value of a strong border since he started living in Chihuahuita, Rogelio remains unconvinced about Trump. “Trump just distorts everything, he’s such a liar. The Washington Post keeps track of how many lies he tells and he’s over 20,000 now. He’s introduced new phrases into our language that you’d never think could exist. I mean ‘babies in cages,’ that should tell you all you need to know.”
As things started to swing in favor of Biden on election night, Dolores contemplated the idea of having a new president, saying: “I just hope, if Biden is the new president, that he can continue bringing peace to the Middle East like Trump was doing. We’ve lost enough of our men over there, and it’s time we see a change.”
Rogelio was optimistic. “I think Biden will make a fine president. … He’s a decent man, he’s religious, and he’s honest.”
Asked whether politics created any tension in their marriage, both Dolores and Rogelio insisted that it did not. “We both care deeply about this country and what’s best for it, but we just disagree over who the right leader is,” says Rogelio. “It would be silly for us to let that get in between us.”
“I know he’s loved me all my life,” Dolores says of her husband. “That’s what’s most important to me.”
Henry Craver graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in history in 2014. He spent the next three years working as an English teacher, first in France's overseas regions, and then in Spain. In 2017, he moved to El Paso to work as a grant writer at a small nonprofit legal aide center. In 2018, Henry began working as an editor at The City Magazine, a local El Paso publication. In late 2019, he left the magazine to work full-time as a freelance photographer. When he's not taking photos, Henry likes watching Romanian soap operas and reality television.