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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.

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.

Pop Culture

SNL sketch about George Washington's dream for America hailed an 'instant classic'

"People will be referencing it as one of the all time best SNL skits for years.”

Saturday Night Live/Youtube

Seriously, what were our forefathers thinking with our measuring system?

Ever stop to think how bizarre it is that the United States is one of the only countries to not use the metric system? Or how it uses the word “football” to describe a sport that, unlike fútbol, barely uses the feet at all?

What must our forefathers have been thinking as they were creating this brave new world?

Wonder no further. All this and more is explored in a recent Saturday Night Live sketch that folks are hailing as an “instant classic.”

The hilarious clip takes place during the American Revolution, where George Washington rallies his troops with an impassioned speech about his future hopes for their fledgling country…all the while poking fun at America’s nonsensical measurements and language rules.

Like seriously, liters and milliliters for soda, wine and alcohol but gallons, pints, and quarters for milk and paint? And no “u” after “o” in words like “armor” and “color” but “glamour” is okay?

The inherent humor in the scene is only amplified by comedian and host Nate Bargatze’s understated, deadpan delivery of Washington. Bargatze had quite a few hits during his hosting stint—including an opening monologue that acted as a mini comedy set—but this performance takes the cake.

Watch:

All in all, people have been applauding the sketch, noting that it harkened back to what “SNL” does best, having fun with the simple things.

Here’s what folks are saying:

“This skit is an instant classic. I think people will be referencing it as one of the all time best SNL skits for years.”

“Dear SNL, whoever wrote this sketch, PLEASE let them write many many MANY more!”

“Instantly one of my favorite SNL sketches of all time!!!”

“I’m not lying when I say I have watched this sketch about 10 times and laughed just as hard every time.”

“This may be my favorite sketch ever. This is absolutely brilliant.”


There’s more where that came from. Catch even more of Bargatze’s “SNL” episode here.


This article originally appeared on 10.30.23

Photo from Pixaba7

Having the courage to report to the police when things appear off.

When you see or hear an Amber Alert, what do you usually do?

Sometimes it's the middle of the night, and the buzz of your cell phone stirs you out of a deep sleep before you can silence it. Other times, the alert interrupts your favorite song on the radio. Maybe you wait patiently for it to end. Maybe you change the station.


After all, who hasn't wondered, "What are the odds?"

Sure, the alerts are heartbreaking, but what are the odds you'll bump into the missing kid? What are the odds you'll see the getaway car? What are the odds you'll be able to do anything about it? Turns out, better than you think.

Here are five stories of people who suddenly found themselves face to face with a kidnapped child ... and rose to the occasion.

High intensity situations require calm nerves and quick thinking. Kudos to these people for noticing the Amber Alerts at the right time and, in some cases, for having the courage to act right then and there.

1) 2-year-old Ronnie Tran was found when his baby sitter, John Tuong, saw an Amber Alert ... for Ronnie.

John Tuong had no idea he was baby-sitting a missing kid.

Ronnie was kidnapped by his 65-year-old maternal grandmother, who, along with an accomplice, had attacked and restrained his mother. She left Ronnie with a family friend, John Tuong, who merely thought he was baby-sitting his sister's boyfriend's son.

Tuong saw an Amber Alert on his phone the next morning and realized the kid in the alert was actually asleep in the next room. John called the police immediately and Ronnie made it home safe.

2) 6-year-old Kloe was taken from her bed on February 21, 2015. Thanks to a gas station employee, she was back home on February 22.

Kloe was abducted in the middle of the night by a family friend. After she was reported missing, an Amber Alert went out, which, luckily, was seen by a clerk at a local gas station. The clerk recognized Kloe from the alert and tipped off police that he had seen the girl, the man who had taken her, and the van he was driving.

The clerk's account helped police narrow their search, and Carlin was eventually stopped on the interstate by a trooper, some 300 miles from Kloe's home, and taken into custody.

Kloe made it home to her family safe and sound the next day.

3) Leah and Jordan's kidnappers' RV broke down. The cops that pulled over to help had just seen the Amber Alert.

Amber Alerts aren't just for bystanders, they're for law enforcement too.

After 3-year-old Leah and 4-year-old Jordan were taken by relatives of their mother, the kidnapper's RV broke down on the side of the highway. Two deputies stopped by the vehicle to try to help them get back on the road. Luckily, the deputies had seen the Amber Alert and recognized the kids inside the vehicle.

Both made it back home safely the next day, but who knows what might have happened had the RV not broken down or if the cops weren't on the lookout for the missing kids.

4) A stranger stole a car with 3-year-old Bella inside. Later, a quick-thinking bystander physically pulled her to safety.

Leslie and Bella pose inside her bakery, Mini Cupcakes. Photo courtesy of Leslie Fiet, used with permission.

A strange woman asked to bum a cigarette from Bella's father as he walked into the 7-Eleven convenience store. He gave it to her. Then, the woman jumped in the car, with Bella still inside, and drove off.

Later on, the owner of a local cupcake bakery, Leslie Fiet, spotted the car after seeing the Amber Alert and she heroically pulled Bella from the backseat.

"My initial thought was to call 911 (when I discovered the car) but then I looked closer and saw Bella was in a tremendous amount of stress, hyperventilating and crying," Fiet told ABC News. "I just dropped my phone and ran out the door."

She locked Bella, and herself, inside the bakery until Bella's parents and police could arrive.

5) A pizza shop employee on her break spotted 7-year-old Nicolas and followed his kidnapper until police could arrive.

Courtney was brave to follow the kidnapper; and it paid off. Photo courtesy of KRIS TV.

Courtney Best, who was working at a small pizza shop in Corpus Christi, Texas, saw an Amber Alert on her phone while on her smoke break. She looked up and just happened to see the vehicle in question, a white Dodge Avenger, sitting in the parking lot in front of her with a child inside.

She followed the car, while on the phone with police, as it drove away.

"Cause, what are the odds? What are the odds of me looking at my phone?" Courtney told KrisTV. "And I usually don't even look at Amber Alerts, as bad as that sounds. I look at them and I don't really pay attention."

Thanks to her quick thinking, the police were able to recover Nicolas and return him safely to his family.

According to Robert Hoever of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, about 95% of Amber Alerts are resolved within 72 hours.

Robert, who is Director of Special Programs at the NCEMC, told Upworthy, "You can definitely see a huge change in how fast children are recovered today. The technology out there today helps."

In addition to wireless alerts, his organization also partners to issue alerts via Internet service providers, search engines, Internet ad exchanges, and even digital billboards.

And, Robert adds, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this, with any sort of information about a missing child, call 911 before you do anything. Emergency personnel will be able to help you navigate the situation.

We see a lot of Amber Alerts go viral, which is great, but we don't often get to see the happy endings.

Sadly, not every Amber Alert ends with a reunion. But the more we share these alerts with our networks, the more people they reach and the more likely they are to be seen by the right people.

In the meantime, it's comforting to know that most of these kids eventually make it home safely.


This article originally appeared on 08.10.15

Sustainability

Scientists tested 3 popular bottled water brands for nanoplastics using new tech, and yikes

The results were alarming—an average of 240,000 nanoplastics per 1 liter bottle—but what does it mean for our health?

Suzy Hazelwood/Canva

Columbia University researchers tested bottled water for nanoplastics and found hundreds of thousands of them.

Evian, Fiji, Voss, SmartWater, Aquafina, Dasani—it's impressive how many brands we have for something humans have been consuming for millennia. Despite years of studies showing that bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water, Americans are more consuming more bottled water than ever, to the tune of billions of dollars in bottled water sales.

People cite convenience and taste in addition to perceived safety for reasons they prefer bottle to tap, but the fear factor surrounding tap water is still a driving force. It doesn't help when emergencies like floods cause tap water contamination or when investigations reveal issues with lead pipes in some communities, but municipal water supplies are tested regularly, and in the vast majority of the U.S., you can safely grab a glass of water from a tap.

And now, a new study on nanoplastics found in three popular bottled water brands is throwing more data into the bottled vs. tap water choice.

Researchers from Columbia University used a new laser-guided technology to detect nanoplastics that had previously evaded detection due to their miniscule size. The new technology can detect, count and analyze and chemical structure of nanoparticles, and they found seven different major types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

In contrast to a 2018 study that found around 300 plastic particles in an average liter of bottled water, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January of 2024 found 240,000 nanoplastic particles per liter bottle on average between the three brands studied. (The name of the brands were not indicated in the study.)

As opposed to microplastics, nanoplastics are too small to be seen by microscope. Their size is exactly why experts are concerned about them, as they are small enough to invade human cells and potentially disrupt cellular processes.

“Micro and nanoplastics have been found in the human placenta at this point. They’ve been found in human lung tissues. They’ve been found in human feces; they’ve been found in human blood,” study coauthor Phoebe Stapleton, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy told CNN Health,

We know that nanoplastics are making their way into our bodies. We just don't have enough research yet on what that means for our health, and we still have more questions than answers. How many nanoplastics does it take to do damage and/or cause disease? What kinds of damage or disease might they cause? Is whatever effect they might have cumulative? We simply don't have answers to these questions yet.

That's not to say there's no cause for concern. We do know that certain levels of microplastic exposure have been shown to adversely affect the viability of cells. Nanoplastics are even smaller—does that mean they are more likely to cause cellular damage? Science is still working that out.

According to Dr. Sara Benedé of the Spanish National Research Council’s Institute of Food Science Research, it's not just the plastics themselves that might cause damage, but what they may bring along with them. “[Microparticles and nanoparticles] have the ability to bind all kinds of compounds when they come into contact with fluids, thus acting as carriers of all kinds of substances including environmental pollutants, toxins, antibiotics, or microorganisms,” Dr. Benedé told Medical News Today.

Where is this plastic in water coming from? This study focused on bottled water, which is almost always packaged in plastic. The filters used to filter the water before bottling are also frequently made from plastic.

Is it possible that some of these nanoplastics were already present in the water from their original sources? Again, research is always evolving on this front, but microplastics have been detected in lakes, streams and other freshwater sources, so it's not a big stretch to imagine that nanoplastics may be making their way into freshwater ecosystems as well. However, microplastics are found at much higher levels in bottled water than tap water, so it's also not a stretch to assume that most of the nanoplastics are likely coming from the bottling process and packaging rather than from freshwater sources.

The reality is, though, we simply don't know yet.

“Based on other studies we expected most of the microplastics in bottled water would come from leakage of the plastic bottle itself, which is typically made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic,” lead author Naixin Qian, a doctoral student in chemistry at Columbia University, told CNN Health. “However, we found there’s actually many diverse types of plastics in a bottle of water, and that different plastic types have different size distributions. The PET particles were larger, while others were down to 200 nanometers, which is much, much smaller.”

We need to drink water, and we need to drink safe water. At this point, we have plenty of environmental reasons for avoiding bottled water unless absolutely necessary and opting for tap water instead. Even if there's still more research to be done, the presence of hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics in bottled water might just be another reason to make the switch.


This article originally appeared on 2.2.24

Science

A study reveals the cheapest time to buy airfare

The average flyer misses the best deal by 15 days.

Taking a trip on the airline.

Everyone seems to have a theory on the best time to purchase airfare to save the most money. Some say it's right before take-off. Others will swear that prices are lowest six months before the flight. Well, now we have the truth. A scientific study was conducted by Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Commission that found the best times to buy flight tickets to get the best deal possible.

When we actually buy...


DOMESTIC: 32 DAYS IN ADVANCE

INTERNATIONAL: 59 DAYS IN ADVANCE

When we should buy...

cheap deals, Expedia, ticket prices, domestic flights

Get your boarding pass ready.

Photo from Pixabay.

DOMESTIC: 57 DAYS IN ADVANCE

The ideal advance-purchase time for domestic flight to snag the lowest average airfare is 57 with prices climbing most rapidly in the 20 days leading up to the flight. On a flight that averages $496, it will cost $401 57 days before the flight and around $650 the day of departure.

INTERNATIONAL: 171 DAYS IN ADVANCE
For a ticket that averages $1,368, the lowest average of $1,004 happens around 171 days before take-off. On the day of, the price will be around $1875. Ticket prices begin to dramatically escalate 75 days leading up to departure.

(H/T Conde Nast Traveler)


This article originally appeared on 10.14.15

John Arthur Greene (left) and his brother Kevin


A childhood game can go very wrong in the blink of an eye.

"You'll never get me!"

“Freeze! Put your hands up."

If you've ever played cops and robbers, you know how the game goes.


John Arthur Greene was 8 and he was playing that game with his older brother Kevin. Only the two brothers played with real guns. Living on a farm, they were both old hands at handling firearms by their ages.

The blast from the gun must have startled them both.

firearms, family, children

John Arthur Greene (left) and his brother Kevin.

Image from "American Idol"/YouTube.

“We were always extremely safe. They were never loaded," John said.

Except this time it was. And John's brother died in his arms while he watched.

It happens more often than you would ever want to imagine.

In federal data from 2007 to 2011, which is likely under-reported, an average of 62 children were accidentally killed by firearms per year.

Here's a chilling example from Everytown for Gun Safety:

"In Asheboro, North Carolina, a 26-year-old mother was cleaning her home when she heard a gunshot. Rushing into the living room, she discovered that her three-year-old son had accidentally shot her boyfriend's three-year-old daughter with a .22-caliber rifle the parents had left in the room, loaded and unlocked."

And the numbers may actually be getting worse.

With an increase in unfettered access to guns and philosophical opposition to gun regulations, the numbers seem to be on the rise. Here's how many accidental shootings happened at the hands of children in 2015 alone, by age:

gun safety, laws, research data on gun deaths

Unintentional Firearm Injuries & Deaths, 2015.

From January 19-26 of 2016 — just one week — at least seven kids were accidentally shot by another kid.

American Idol, guilt and sorrow, accidental shootings

Accidental shootings of kids in one week, January 2016.

If the pace holds up for the rest of the year, America would be looking at over 300 accidental shootings of children, in many cases by children, for the year. That's far too many cases of children either carrying the guilt and pain of having shot a loved one or hurting or killing themselves by accident.

John Arthur Greene has been able to manage his feelings of guilt and sorrow through music and by sharing his story for others to hear.

He told his story during an audition for the final season of "American Idol." He says music has helped him keep his brother's memory alive:

"Right now I lift him up every day and he holds me up. Music is how I coped with everything."

It's a powerful reminder. No matter how we each feel about gun safety laws, guns should always be locked away unloaded and kept separately from ammunition.

Our babies are too precious to leave it to chance.

Watch John Arthur Greene's audition for "American Idol" here:

This article originally appeared on 03.07.16