Nogales by Amanda J. Crawford

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nogales mexico under cloudy sky

Bring change for the indigenous women, prostrate on the sidewalk, and the dainty children holding hand-painted bobble-headed turtles in open palms.


Don’t think about germs as you grip the gray carousel gate into Mexico. Consider why you didn’t bring hand sanitizer. Consider whether considering makes you racist.


Don’t speak French just because it is the only foreign language you know. Say “si,” not “oui.” Practice: “Hola.” “Maquiladoras.”


Eat dinner at the restaurant with the cave-rock walls where they say El Jefe lunched, whispering over enchiladas.


Try to show how un-white you are by being as white as possible: bring your redneck soon-to-be-ex-in-laws to “see Mexico” and consume conspicuously.


Smile and say “maybe later.” It’s English the shopkeepers know. Most of the time, don’t mean it.


Don’t make your soon-to-be-ex-husband return to the shop with the pretty tile-topped tables and make him carry a pretty tile-topped table several blocks back to your Jeep at the border. (It will start a fight.)


Drink “cerveza,” not margaritas. Remember ice and lime. You want them, but you don’t want them. Don’t drink the water. Ice is water. “Cerveza” is beer.


Buy weed from the guy who sells carved wooden pipes. Regret throwing it out at the border when they hassle the Navajo guy in the cowboy hat and wave you through.


Learn that Sonoran is the best kind of Mexican food that makes you fall in love as you fall out of love in the oven that is Phoenix in the summertime. Hot, like Tapatio on chapped flesh.


Remember Nogales every time you leave a condom wrapper of a new lover on that pretty tile-topped table.


When you return as a reporter and sniff corruption in City Hall, think of the decapitated and dead from El Diario, El Tiempo, La Voz.


Ignore the ache in your womb as a Grupo Beta agent talks about lone children smuggled by coyotes, dead in the desert or stuck in purgatory in a Texas jail, where parents are arrested if they claim them.


Love your child when he gives his twenty-dollar allowance to the first beggar woman he sees because she makes him sad. (Years later, a woman like me might be moved by the story and make him her stepson.)


Learn to spot the desert places where tunnels can connect houses, the fence can be scaled, smugglers can hide out of sight of tower cams. Tweet a photo.


Leave Nogales and go up to Bisbee, where you can look down at Mexico from the mountain with a whisky on the rocks or cool your flesh 1,500 feet deep in the Queen Mine, below the hope smuggled in and out of Nogales.

Amanda J Crawford

Photos by Leanora Benkato

Amanda J. Crawford is a creative writer, journalist, professor and musician living in Bowling Green, Kentucky. A Maryland native, she lived for more than a decade in Arizona, where she covered politics and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her reporting has been published by Businessweek, Bloomberg News, National Geographic, The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic, The Baltimore Sun, People, Ms. Magazine, Phoenix Magazine and elsewhere. She teaches journalism at Western Kentucky University, helps run the community arts venue FFOYA House and performs as a singer and multi-instrumentalist with the indie band Former Friends of Young Americans. Twitter: amandajcrawford. Website:

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Artotem

  2 comments for “Nogales by Amanda J. Crawford

  1. A different perspective, something to consider. I worked for four months in Delicias, Chihuahua, surrounded by some of the loveliest people I ever met, and immersed in war zone where an average of ten people a day died by gunfire in a town of twenty thousand. Yet, I felt safe. It was 2008 and I was working carving an angel for the Pantheon, or cemetery, and people of all walks of life came to see how it was being made. Once I got taken out to lunch by two guys in a Hummer, who got stopped at a police checkpoint. The driver smiled, cracked open a beer, exchanged a few words, and was let go. “Don’t worry,” he said to me, “we own this town.”
    Mexico is different. It’s another country, the beginning of a transition to a whole different continent. Americans who never go are missing something.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Andrew. I’ve had both beautiful and sad experiences in Mexico. It sounds like you have experienced that dichotomy, too.

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