The El Paso-Juárez border is a place of complex beauty, chaos, and culture. Those of us who have grown up on both sides have stories to tell that are, quite literally, unheard of, and so specific to the region that one has to have experienced them to understand. Ciudad Juárez is a city almost entirely untouched culturally by the outside world due to its remote location and reputation for violence. What people fail to see is its close proximity to El Paso, one of the safest places in the country; that it’s a 30 second walk from downtown, and once you cross that line, everything you know about laws and government does not apply.

The social issues in Juarez are deep-rooted. From the poverty, corruption, cartel violence, and natural influx of immigrants, the border is best described by lesbian Chicana activist Gloria Anzaldúa as “an open-wound, not of either country... but a Third Country all in its own.” The social issues that Juarez faces have been here long before, and will remain long after, the headlines that announce the city’s sorrows, but we can only hope that we make progress in the right direction by focusing on strengthening the community and spreading positive change.

However, if you dig deeper than what headlines suggest, you’ll find in Juárez a friendliness, resilience, and sense of community in clear contrast to its exterior, where authenticity only begins to express the feeling in a city much unlike anywhere else in the world. Everyone has their own relationship with Juárez, mine being different to most as an Italian immigrant, but to be from here is to know a distinct way of life. I grew up spending a lot of time in Cd. Juárez, wandering the mercado with my family on the weekends - my dad worked in a factory there my whole childhood. And on the weekends, bar-hopping with friends from the tiny cantinas to the mega clubs, ending the night eating the best street food, retrieving stolen cars from the cops, and sometimes, fist fights and hospitals. Some of those places are now shut down because they were shot up by the ruling cartel. Try and imagine the place you were supposed to go have dinner for your birthday get shot up in open fire, and that almost everyone you know has a story to this effect. Imagine that your affection and love for this city is so much stronger, that the energy is so special, you still go regularly because what you feel and experience here is like no place else in the world.

The border is at once so much worse and altogether so much better than anything you will ever see in the news, a confusing feeling of nostalgia and impending danger... Juárez is the realest place I have ever experienced, and to have grown up on the border is my biggest privilege, for there is nothing more humbling than getting your street smarts as well as falling in love in one of the most perilous places on Earth.