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9 things most people don't know about life on the Mexican-American border.

We're masters at juggling the two cultures that surround us.

9 things most people don't know about life on the Mexican-American border.

I grew up in Nogales, Arizona, a border town along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nogales has always had a big, physical barrier between the two countries, and I never quite understood what that meant as a kid. Back then, it was normal to drive along the freeway toward downtown and see a whole other world through a dingy fence.

Homes in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, across the border from Nogales, Arizona. Image by Nieves Montaño, used with permission.


Through that fence, I remember seeing houses seemingly stacked on top of each other, painted in bright colors, like hot pink or teal. I always wondered how those residents got in and out of their houses, which were perched on a steep hill. I imagined a long stairway winding up the back of the mountain, a stairway that I couldn't see.

Mexico wasn't physically far away from me at any time growing up. But culturally, Nogales, Mexico, was worlds apart from Nogales, Arizona.

Lately, there's been a lot of conversation about border towns. So as someone who has lived in one, here are nine things I want you to know about living on the U.S.-Mexico border:

1. Going back and forth between countries is hard ... and easy.

It's super easy to walk or drive from Arizona into Mexico.

When I was growing up, we often drove or walked across the border for everyday activities and errands. As an American, it was easy to cross the border to have lunch with a friend or even to attend less costly doctor appointments.

Even today, if you walk to Mexico, there's hardly (if any) contact with an agent. If you're crossing the border in a car, you may get sent off to the side for a quick car inspection, but that's about it.

View from Nogales, Arizona, going toward the Mexican port of entry. Image by Jesus F. Barrón, used with permission.

But crossing from Mexico into the U.S. is no piece of cake.

If you want to walk from Mexico back into the U.S., you'll have to stand in line and wait to be called up to a counter by an immigrations agent. They'll ask you to show your passport and possibly answer a few questions, and you'll also be subjected to a search.

If you drive across, you're looking at a minimum of 30-45-minute wait in your car to reach the checkpoint. Then the agent will ask you questions, ask to see your passport, and possibly ask to search your car.

It's super easy to leave America, but not so much to come back ... which is a small example of the much larger story of immigration in America.

Cars waiting to cross from Mexico into Nogales, Arizona. Image by Alicia E. Barrón.

2. Some Mexican children cross the border every day to attend school in America.

Fernanda Astrain lives in Nogales, Mexico, and she drives her two elementary school kids to a private school in the U.S. every day so they can learn English while simultaneously learning about the Catholic faith, which is very important to her.

A group of Catholic school students. Image by Alicia E. Barrón.

3. There are also special circumstances during which border crossings become more common from Mexico to the U.S.

On Christmas Day, for example, kids from Nogales, Mexico, are often selected at random and bused over to the U.S. to collect presents and a meal.

And once a month, volunteers prepare special permissions from customs so that kids from Mexico can come to the U.S. side and get medical treatment from American doctors.

4. Border towns tend to be almost 100% bicultural, which affects the terminology we use.

Most kids on the border grow up thinking everyone is bilingual — I know I did. This is because, in order to communicate in a border town, you really do have to understand both languages.

This can affect even basic things like the terms we use, terms I've never heard used anywhere else. For example, I grew up referring to Nogales as "el otro lado," which literally translates into "the other side" (this term applied whether we were on the American or the Mexican side).

Another curious term that I've found to be completely exclusive to our border town vernacular is "across the line." Say that to anybody who's not from Nogales, and they'll look at you perplexed. But for us, Nogales, Mexico, was so close that it was literally "across the line."

Looking through the iron fence from Arizona into Mexico. Image by Alicia E. Barrón.

5. But if you don't speak English? No problem!

In border towns like mine, Spanish takes precedence. The "No hablo Inglés" phrase is almost nonexistent in American border towns with Mexico because, while some may not speak English, all of us speak Spanish.

Most of us also speak a hybrid variation. It's very fluid and natural and now has an unofficial official name: Spanglish. While ordering at a drive-through, it's completely normal and acceptable to place your entire order in English, Spanish, or Spanglish. The message will always come across loud and clear, no matter how you say it.

6. When I was growing up, we got to boogie young.

Growing up in a border town, I was exposed to nightlife a lot sooner than most American kids. That's changed quite a bit in the last 20 years, but back then, a fake ID could get you into any bar or club in Mexico when you were as young as 14 or 15.

Good idea? Absolutely not. Was it a good time? You bet! However, mandated curfews and officers waiting at the border for incoming partygoers from Mexico have really changed things to ensure everyone's safety. Parents are now required to go pick up their kids at the border if they're under 18 years old and coming back from Mexico late at night.

Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Image by Nieves Montaño, used with permission.

7. Culture shock? Also not a thing for me.

When you cross that line between Arizona to Mexico, you'll instantly see a difference in culture, hear a difference in sounds, and experience a totally different environment from the one you're coming from. But for me, there was never such a thing as culture shock.

Living between and within two cultures was my norm, and I still find that I can navigate between the two worlds seamlessly. In many of my childhood memories, Nogales, Mexico, bleeds into Nogales, Arizona. I wish more places had a melding of cultures like this.

8. The curious case of the currency.

We often use American and Mexican currencies in my town, which means a two-peso coin and a quarter are easily confused because they are the same size and shape. It's not uncommon to be rummaging through your coin bag and present the cashier with a handful of pesos.

The kicker is just how different they are in terms of actual monetary value, though. The devastating devaluation of the peso (currently at about 19 pesos per dollar) is also making things extremely difficult for people who work in Mexico. As Astrain (who you'll remember lives in Nogales, Mexico) explains, "My husband earns money in pesos and we are spending money in U.S. dollars. That is expensive!!"

A quarter and a two-peso coin are roughly the same size. Image by Jesus F. Barrón, used with permission.

9. The Border Patrol is a constant presence.

I'm used to it, but you might be shocked if you visited my town because those green and white vans and SUV are everywhere. There are also agents on bicycles always riding around town.

Oddly enough, while the agents become part of our reality, they're also pretty detached. For the most part, they don't get to know the community, and we don't get to know them. They're there to do a job, and once you get used to it, they almost start to blend in.

Image by Alicia E. Barrón.

With all this talk about Donald Trump building a yuuuuuuge wall between the U.S. and Mexico, border towns like mine have suddenly jumped into the limelight.

But oddly enough, few people who actually live or have lived on the border are losing sleep over this divisive rhetoric. Yes, the border wall has served a huge political purpose as both a literal and figurative prop in this election. But to most of us who live exactly where it's supposed to go up, the concept is obviously flawed.

The odds of waking up to a mega-team of construction workers erecting a 10-foot-tall wall in our hometown seems so highly unlikely as to be almost impossible. We would sooner expect a visit from the Queen of England.

To me, growing up in a border town means being part of two cultures.

Living in a border town is about an added layer of cultural identity. It means becoming a master at juggling American culture and Mexican customs. It means that every fiber of my being is bicultural.

To me, growing up in a border town has been the best secret weapon I could ask for. I'm able to go into the world and explore it with an open mind and as much curiosity as I can gather.

View of the wall from the Mexican side of the border. Image by Nieves Montaño, used with permission.

As the saying goes: You can take the girl out of the border town, but you can't take the border town out of the girl. And for that, I am extremely, and truly, grateful.

Because after walking across a line for my whole life, boundaries don't seem so immoveable.

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We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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The story touches so many hot buttons at once—power, wealth, tradition, sexism, racism, colonialism, family drama, freedom, security, and the media. But as I sat and watched the first hour of just Oprah and Meghan Markle talking, I was struck by the simple significance of what I was seeing.

Here were two Black women, one who had battled sexism and racism in her industry and broke countless barriers to create her own empire, and one who has battled racism and sexism to protect her babies, whose royal lineage can be traced back through 1,200 years of rule over the British Empire. And the conversation these women were having had the power to take down—or at least do real damage to—one of the longest-standing monarchies in the world.

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Tory Burch

Courtesy of Tory Burch

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This March marks one year since the start of the pandemic… and it's been an incredibly difficult year: Over 500,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. But the pandemic's economic downturn has been disproportionately affecting women because they are more likely to work in hard-hit industries, such as hospitality or entertainment, and many of them have been forced to leave their jobs due to the lack of childcare.

But throughout all that hardship, women have, over and over again, found ways to help one another and solve problems.

"Around the world, women have stepped up and found ways to help where it is needed most," says Tory Burch, an entrepreneur who started her own business in 2004.

Burch knows a thing or two about empowering women: After seeing the many obstacles that women in business face — even before the pandemic — she created the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 to empower women entrepreneurs.

And now, for International Women's Day, her company is launching a global campaign with Upworthy to celebrate the women around the world who give back and create real change in their communities.

"I hope the creativity and resilience of these women, and the amazing ways they have found to have real impact, will inspire and energize others as much as they have me," Burch says.

This year's Empowered Women certainly are inspiring:

Shalini SamtaniCourtesy of Shalini Samtani

Take, for example, Shalini Samtani. When her daughter was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder, she spent a lot of time in the hospital, which caused her to quickly realize that there wasn't a single company in the toy industry servicing the physical or emotional needs of the 3 million hospitalized children across America every year. She was determined to change that — so she created The Spread the Joy Foundation to deliver free play kits to pediatric patients all around the country.

Varsha YajmanCourtesy of Varsha Yajman

Varsha Yajman is another one of this year's nominees. She is just 18 years old, and yet she has been diligently fighting to build awareness and action for climate justice for the last seven years by leading school strikes, working as a paralegal with Equity Generations Lawyers, and speaking to CEOs from Siemen's and several big Australian banks at AGMs.

Caitlin MurphyCourtesy of Caitlin Murphy

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Simone GordonCourtesy of Simone Gordon

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Victoria SanusiCourtesy of Victoria Sanusi

Victoria Sanusi started Black Gals Livin' with her friend Jas and the podcast has been an incredibly powerful way of destigmatizing mental health for numerous listeners. The podcast quickly surpassed a million listens, was featured on Michaela Coel's "I May Destroy You," won podcast of the year at the Brown Sugar Awards, and was named one of Elle Magazine's best podcasts of 2020.

And Upworthy and the Tory Burch are just getting started. They are still searching the globe for more extraordinary women who are making an impact in their communities.

Do you know one? If you do, nominate her now. If she's selected, she could receive $5,000 to give to a nonprofit of her choice through the Tory Burch Foundation. Submissions are being accepted on a rolling basis — and one Empowered woman will be selected each month starting in April.

Nominate her now at www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen.

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Woody Guthrie sang about this little-known piece of history.

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