Over the last eight months, a band of volunteers with a Terlingua-based group called Fronteras Unlimited has made multiple trips to Boquillas, bringing community-donated fabric, copper wire, beads, and assorted accoutrements for handicrafts, and returning with quilts, quilt tops, crocheted table covers, walking sticks, and tons of elaborate, copper animal sculptures.
Many shoppers at the church donated fabric to the effort months ago, and one can hear their cries of recognition as they discover what the artisans have done with the raw material. I tell Webb how there used to be an event called Good Neighbors Day sponsored by Big Bend National Park, just a fun, cultural exchange that symbolized the connection between the two communities. Many years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt hoped that Big Bend could be a place where the border mattered little.
Negotiations between the U. Department of the Interior and Mexican authorities resumed in the late s, but were cut short again by the so-called War on Terror. I have a hard time picking the quilt I will buy among the hundreds on display. Finally I decide. Later, with the quilt laid out on my bed, I spread each corner to its fullest extent.
With overhead light, I can see the design more closely. There are six squares in a rectangular design repeated 40 times.
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Within that simple design there seems to be a world of confusion, hope, and horror jumbled together, a unique mix of traditional patterns next to pop-art flowers and stripes. She is the guiding light behind Fronteras and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.
Tall and regal, she reminds me of Katherine Hepburn. At a time when I wondered how to build a life in West Texas as a single woman from New York, I was introduced to Cynta as if by divine intervention, and much of the anxiety dissipated. They gathered around her in times of pleasure and helped when a mysterious illness impaired much of her motor function. For residents like Cynta, the river is and always has been a geographic feature, not a boundary. By the turn of the 20th century, a pattern of trade and travel between the communities on either side of the Rio Grande or Rio Bravo became an established fact of life.
Both Mexico and the U. Towns like Boquillas, Lajitas, and Santa Elena on the Mexican side became the villages where the wax makers and ranchers lived, and the Texas side housed trading posts, banks, stores, and the mines themselves. When the unofficial river crossings were shut down in a panic over national security, the two distinct cultures of Terlingua and Boquillas, which had intertwined and shared the river for their livelihoods, were forced to confront the Rio Grande as a border. People shouted to one another from opposing riverbanks instead of conversing normally, supply lines were cut, and the neighbors took to staring at one another in disbelief.
In addition to ushering the quilts and handicrafts through customs, they coordinate a range of donated equipment, clothes, books, and art supplies for children, and organize workshops in skills such as sewing quilts and building town water pumps. When asked how she would term what she does for Fronteras Unlimited—customs brokering? During the mile trip, we hit at least two rabbits and puncture a tire on a dirt road about 20 miles away from the dirt road we were supposed to have taken.
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With less than half the usual population still eking out enough of a living to stay, the town seems to be fading away, literally. Save one building that must have used some hearty paint years ago, most all the handwritten signage is faint. There is one central well for water at the end of the main road, and the water is sweet and delicious. Boquillans have rigged a water pump and hose system, which gets rotated among the houses and saves on carting buckets up the steep hill.
Only a few of the adobe houses have electricity, and that is because of the volunteers from Fronteras Unlimited. Without the solar-power generated electricity one can hardly discern which house is abandoned or not, the dividing line is so thin. Most everyone has run out of propane, and the women cook on kitchen stoves that burn wood. Between the diesel trucks struggling to make it up the hill, the most distinct sounds during the day are of chickens, roosters, and the goats with bells on. Occasionally you hear children playing and adults laughing, but the town seems to echo rather than perform.
She has been running the main Boquillas tienda for seven years, but it has been open for When the Federales had a checkpoint a couple of miles down the road, it was much better, she says. Cross Stitch Etc. King Inc.
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