Friday, July 19, 2024

Students Cross Border for School Despite Border Violence

Mariana Diaz and Alejandro Caballero cross the U.S.-Mexico border checkpoint every day to attend high school in El Paso. They hail from a key battleground city in Mexico’s drug wars, Ciudad Juarez. Federal soldiers patrol the streets of Ciudad Juarez, which saw 1,600 homicides this past year.

It is because of the educational opportunity that these students attend Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso where about 70 percent of the school’s 459 students live in Mexico. Some are American citizens with Mexican parents; others are Mexican citizens with student visas.

El Paso, a city with a population of 734,000, has long had a symbiotic relationship with its industrial sister city, Ciudad Juarez, with 1.5 million people. Yet, as the drug violence in Ciudad Juarez has escalated, the relationship has grown tense.

For many students attending Lydia Patterson, school has become a safe haven from the drug-related violence at home in Juarez. Student Hazel Barrera says, “My school is a home for me because I have teachers and they treat me like parents. Here, they take care of us and they make us feel comfortable and safe.”

Lydia Patterson’s faculty and administrators — many of whom are graduates of the school and also live in Juarez — say the school’s mission is very much the same as it was when it was founded nearly 100 years ago. It was founded as a sanctuary for Mexican families fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution.

The school’s president, Socorro Brito de Anda, says, “Our students are exceptional, and I always tell them I respect them and I admire their courage because they’re living through this horrible time.”

She adds that it is their job to make students feel safe and feel that they are in a place where they can concentrate on school without worrying about their safety.

Parents in Ciudad Juarez view Lydia Patterson as an opportunity for their children to escape becoming just another statistic of the drug war violence. Maria Isabel Munoz Bustamante, whose daughter graduated from Lydia Patterson five years ago, also has a son, Alejandro, currently a senior at the school. She says, “What would have become of my children if they stayed in Ciudad Juarez? Our lives changed the moment we were able to leave the danger, the fear of going out in the streets.”