Cities Laredo And Nuevo Laredo Maintain Close Relationship Despite Border Separation
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Another border event now. Today the sister cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, celebrate their annual Abrazo Children Ceremony. The event brings together children from each side of the border who cross the bridge that links the two towns. It has special resonance now in an era of heightened anti-immigrant and border security rhetoric. Lorena Rios reports.
LORENA RIOS, BYLINE: The annual event is called the Abrazo Children Ceremony. It's been going on for nearly half a century. Each year, both cities nominate a child to represent them. The children dress up in their local finery and walk to the middle of the bridge to embrace their counterparts from the other side.
RIOS: Thirty-four years ago, Erika Garcia Hein was the Abraza child representing the U.S. But she talks about it like it was just yesterday.
ERIKA GARCIA HEIN: Oh, I remember everything. Yes. I was 9. Just to see the amount of people on both sides sharing a hug, the music is playing, you're marching to the bridge - it's just, wow, you can't help but get emotional.
RIOS: Since then, her son, niece and two nephews have also been Abrazo children celebrating the blurred lines between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo.
HEIN: You know, the kids - they don't realize the political, you know, background that's happening. To them, they're just befriending somebody from another country without a border. That - to them, there's no border.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, it's my pleasure to now present the 2019 Abrazo children.
RIOS: At a reception for this year's Abrazo children, the children from each country danced and practiced their hugs. Maria Candelaria Uribe remembered earlier celebrations.
MARIA CANDELARIA URIBE: We used to have the governor here all the time from Texas. We had, like, four or five governors from Mexico. And they would party, and they would get to know each other so that if they needed something, they could just pick up the telephone and call each other and talk to each other.
RIOS: Now things are changing.
URIBE: We wanted them to see how we work so well together. It's very important. They're way up there. They don't know what's going on down here. But they don't come as often as they used to.
RIOS: The political talk from Washington seems to bear little resemblance to the actual daily interactions between these two cities. Pete Saenz is Laredo's mayor.
PETE SAENZ: This rhetoric galvanized us. It brought us even closer together. And we interact, and we're so interdependent. That's life in the border.
RIOS: Laredo is 95 percent Hispanic. And its land ports are some of the busiest in the country, hosting over $200 billion in trade each year.
LUCY HASTINGS: I'm a Laredoan - full-force Laredoan.
RIOS: Lucy Hastings is the mother of this year's Abrazo child from Laredo.
HASTINGS: We live in the border, so we have a little bit of both worlds. So we take a lot of pride in both countries.
RIOS: Laura Edith Garza de Perez is the mother of the Abrazo child representing Mexico. She feels the same way.
LAURA EDITH GARZA DE PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
RIOS: "We're really just one," she said. "This friendship and sisterhood doesn't change. It's us who decide as citizens how to live our own history."
RIOS: For NPR News, I'm Lorena Rios in Laredo.
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