El Paso-Juarez Race Reunites 2 Border Cities After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, life changed along U.S.-Mexico border towns as border security became a top priority. There's been a thaw, and runners again ran a 10K between El Paso and Juarez.
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El Paso-Juarez Race Reunites 2 Border Cities

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El Paso-Juarez Race Reunites 2 Border Cities

El Paso-Juarez Race Reunites 2 Border Cities

El Paso-Juarez Race Reunites 2 Border Cities

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/431136418/431136419" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Stephanie Acosta of El Paso, Texas, crosses the finish line after running a 10K race from the United States into Mexico. Monica Ortiz Uribe/KJZZ hide caption

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Monica Ortiz Uribe/KJZZ

Stephanie Acosta of El Paso, Texas, crosses the finish line after running a 10K race from the United States into Mexico.

Monica Ortiz Uribe/KJZZ

Close to a 1,000 people made a run for the border this weekend in El Paso, Texas, as part of an international 10K race from the United States into Mexico.

El Paso and Ciudad Juárez lie side by side in the desert within waving distance of each other. Six years ago, many El Pasoans stopped going to Juárez. A vicious drug war that took the lives of more than 10,000 people scared them off. But on Saturday morning, some of that fear melted away.

A block from the international bridge in downtown El Paso, Sergio Madero pours his heart into singing the Mexican national anthem. He's a lawyer from Juárez standing steps from the starting line of what he calls a historic race.

This 10K used to be an annual tradition. But it stopped after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when border security became a top priority. On Saturday, after 15 years, the tradition was reborn.

The route is evenly shared between the U.S. and Mexico. In El Paso, runners dashed past idle farmworkers leaning against brick apartments in Segundo Barrio, one of the city's oldest Mexican American neighborhoods. At Sacred Heart Church, volunteer Vivian Payan cheered them on, singing in honor of runners who hadn't been across the border in a long time.

Drug violence began to dissipate in Juárez two years ago. Shuttered businesses reopened, locals reemerged from behind locked doors and the government launched revitalization projects like museums and public artworks.

The one missing element? Americans.

'This Desire To Come Back'

More cheerleaders rallied the runners at the foot of the international bridge. Border Patrol officers stood by calmly as the runners streamed into Mexico.

A mile from the end, runner Rep. Beto O'Rourke from El Paso, passes the old Mexican customs where Presidents William Taft and Porfirio Díaz met in 1909. Soon after, he'll pass Martino's, the Juárez restaurant where he took his wife on their first date.

"You know, my body feels terrible but my soul couldn't feel better," O'Rourke says.

David Williams crossed into Juárez by foot with his kids to cheer on his wife. As a lifelong El Pasoan, he knows the border is linked by more than just proximity. It's connected through family, work, culture and language.

"I've totally missed coming to Juarez . I don't think people understand what a lot of us in El Paso feel is this desire to come back and this desire to have that international community again," he says.

Back on the international bridge, the finish line marked the exact spot where Mexico meets the U.S. The race made it seem like the border didn't exist, but the runners still had to show their passports to return to El Paso.