International 10K Race Reunites Border Cities El Paso, Juárez
August 10, 2015
Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Stephanie Acosta of El Paso crosses the finish line after running a 10K race from the United States to Mexico and back.

Close to 1,000 people made a run for the border this weekend in El Paso, Texas, but none were chased by the Border Patrol. That's because they were running an international 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 poured his heart into singing the Mexican national anthem. He's a lawyer from Juárez who stood steps from the starting line of what he called a historic race. 

"This is the first time in years that will will cross the border in a foot race," he said.

An international 10K between El Paso and Juárez 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. 

El Paso Mayor Oscar Lesser counted down the final seconds before the runners took off. The route was 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.

Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Race Internacional volunteer Vivian Payan helped direct runners at Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas.

At Sacred Heart Church volunteer Vivian Payan cheered them on singing, "Reunited and it feels so good!"

Payan sang 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.

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

Five miles into the route, just beyond the Juárez cathedral, El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke was looking forward to the finish line. O'Rourke, a lifelong border resident, was one of the main forces behind the race's revival.

"You know, my body feels terrible but my soul couldn't feel better," he said.

O'Rourke continued passed the old Mexican customs building where the first U.S.-Mexico presidential meeting between William H. Taft and Porfirio Díaz took place in 1909. Soon after, O'Rourke would pass Martino's, the Juárez restaurant where he took his wife on their first date.

Mónica Ortiz Uribe
The finish line of Run Internacional ended atop the international bridge that connects El Paso, Texas to Ciudad Juárez, Chihauhua.

David Williams, a doctor from El Paso, crossed into Juárez by foot with his kids. He was there to cheer on his wife who was running in a pink tutu. The last time he was in Juárez was five years ago when he went to buy tile for his bathroom. The sight of armed federal police and armored vehicles frightened him away.

"I wanted to wait until things kind of cleared up," Williams said. "I totally missed coming to Juarez. I grew up coming here and being able to come back and enjoy and events like this is wonderful."

The border is linked by more than just proximity, it's connected through family, work, culture and language.

"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," Williams said.

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.