Amanda Moreno, 21, has lived in Douglas since she was born. Three years ago, she made the move to Tucson to pursue her education at the University of Arizona.
Growing up in high school, Moreno remembers the party scene in Douglas being across the border, in Agua Prieta. Most people in high school enjoyed crossing the border on weekend nights because of the legal drinking age of 18.
“Back in the day, the Douglas party scene was mainly huge in Agua Prieta since it provided the full force party scene whereas you were restricted in Douglas,” Moreno said.
The party scene has now shifted back across the border.
Recently, Agua Prieta became an even more dangerous destination to go out, have a few drinks and dance the night away.
In January 2014, shootings in the streets of Agua Prieta became a regular occurrence throughout the course of several weeks. The sounds of gun fire awakened locals.
“The party scene has changed somewhat drastically ever since the whole cartel violence began. It’s become more of an issue for people to go out over there than it’s worth,” Moreno said, “Most people just stay in Douglas now or they go out of town for the weekends.”
One of the shootings occurred in Sushi Gong, one of the most popular destinations for Japanese dining. After that night, people were encouraged to stay in their houses. Some even left town to pursue a safer place.
Another reason people avoid late nights in Agua Prieta iabecause of drug trafficking across the border without the knowledge or consent of the driver.
“If you have American plates it can be dangerous to cross because they tend to attach drugs somewhere in your car so you can cross drugs over without knowing,” she said.
According to the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs, travelers throughout the Sonora Region are “encouraged to limit travel to main roads during daylight hours.”
Although the shootings have settled down since then, people are still cautious about the nightlife in Agua Prieta. Instead, many have been going to Douglas for a night out.
Bars in Douglas are trying to capitalize on the new market of people looking for a safe night out. The newest bar in the small town is Cilantros. It is owned by Jerry and Lizeth Piña, a married couple. Jerry Piña works as a border patrol agent yet still manages to get his bar running Thursday though Saturday. The couple decided on the name “Cilantros” because of their favorite cooking ingredient.
“There’s people in Agua Prieta that are noticing about the new people that came from the cartel in Sinaloa and the new cartel from Juarez,” said Piña, “They literally put out a disclosure that if you’re out in the night time, you might get shot. They basically said that if you’re at home and you hear gunshots just take your kids and put them underneath a table. They said if you’re not involved they’re not going to do anything to you.”
According to Piña, the underage crowd still likes going to Agua Prieta while the 21 and over crowd enjoys staying on the U.S. side. To bolster up safety, the Piñas hired a security guard.
“When we got our security guard at the door, they tested us. Even though people know I work for the federal government they still tested us and tried to bring narcotics and underage people tried to get in,” said Jerry Piña.
The first three weeks the bar was open, people wanted to see what their reaction to activities that usually happened in Agua Prieta were. The Piñas wanted to let the people know that they would not tolerate any of it and escorted those people out immediately.
“The first two weeks, people that we knew did drugs would come in and they would try to do it in the bathroom and the security guard would follow them,” said Lizeth Piña.
According to the couple, many clients would try to sell drugs there, which would only made them call the police. The clients with drugs would immediately scatter when they were told the police were on their way. Those people never returned to Cilantros after the first few weeks it was open for business.
“At first the girls were intimidated by the security guard but now all the girls love him because they know that if someone harasses them, they just call his name and he tells them to either calm down or get out,” said Jerry Piña.
Larissa Teran is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org