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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's talk about a run across the border of a different kind. The border patrol - not concerned about it at all. This was an international race from the United States into Mexico that reunited two border cities. From member station KJZZ, Monica Ortiz Uribe reports.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: El Paso and Ciudad Juarez lie side by side in the desert within waving distance of each other. Six years ago, many El Pasoans stopped going to Juarez. 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.

SERGIO MADERO: (Singing in Spanish).

URIBE: 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 Juarez, standing steps from the starting line of what he calls a historic race.

MADERO: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: An international 10K between El Paso and Juarez used to be an annual tradition. But it stopped after 9-11, when border security became a top priority. On Saturday, after 15 years, the tradition was reborn.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Three, two, one, go.

URIBE: And the runners are off. The route is evenly shared between the U.S. and Mexico. In El Paso, runners dashed past idle farm workers 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.

VIVIAN PAYAN: This is your first turn. (Singing) Reunited and it feels so good.

URIBE: Payan sang in honor of the runners who hadn't been across the border in a long time. Drug violence began to dissipate in Juarez 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.

DAVID WILLIAMS: All right, halfway there, halfway there. (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: 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, we catch up with Congressman Beto O'Rourke from El Paso.

BETO O'ROURKE: You know, my body feels terrible, but my soul couldn't feel better.

URIBE: O'Rourke passes the old Mexican customs building, where Presidents William Taft and Porfirio Diaz met in 1909. Soon after, he'll pass Martino's, the Juarez restaurant where he took his wife on their first date.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's right there on the bridge. You're almost there, come on, kick it, kick it...

URIBE: David Williams crossed into Juarez 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.

WILLIAMS: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through megaphone) (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: 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. For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe.

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