The ‘Ambos Nogales’ divided by Trump’s wall

A family visits with one another through the border fence in Nogales, Arizona on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News


Saturdays and Sundays bring families to the steel beams of fence, dividing Ambos Nogales, a Spanish term to describe the community of Nogales north and south of the border.

Families and loved ones come together at the border to talk, eat and relax. Despite being separated by the fence, they find shade under mesquite trees and spend hours visiting. Jiovana Aldez, a factory worker from Nogales, Sonora, meets her husband every two weeks. When they say goodbye, they kiss between the rusty beams.

Aldez’s husband is Cuban and has asylum in the United States and lives in Phoenix. However, Aldez’s visa expired, keeping them apart.

“If there was a wall, I wouldn’t be able to see him,” Aldez said. “It would be by phone. If there’s an actual wall, he won’t be able to come down and see me.”

Aldez, who has lived in Nogales her entire life, has seen the changes that immigration policy has had on those holding family gatherings at the border.

“Even two years ago, the fence would be filled with people,” Aldez said. “I remember that people used to give each other food across the border.”

Now, according to Aldez, food is not permitted.  The families must stay behind a red line while visiting.

Mariel Fernandez visits with his family along the border quite often.

Fernandez said if President Trump were to build his wall, it may affect how they visit with one another.

“If there was a wall, maybe we would communicate differently, by phone maybe,” Fernandez said.

From left to right, Jorge Colombia, Carlos Cana and Mariel Fernandez visit with family members in Mexico through the border fence in Nogales, Arizona on April 8.  Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News

Small businesses selling tacos, snacks and souvenirs in Nogales, Sonora, fill the streets, catering to both American and Mexican tourism and those who visit friends and family along the border.

Victor Manuel Barrios has worked at a carreta de comida, or roadside stand, in Nogales, Sonora, for 10 years.

“We’re out here every day,” Barrios said. “We don’t rest. If it rains or snows, we’re out here.”

Barrios sells popular Mexican snack foods, such as drinks and duros with chamoy, to both Americans and Mexicans traveling through the area.

Victor Barrios poses for a photo in front of his carreta de comida, or roadside stand in Nogales, Sonora on April 8. Barrios sells popular Mexican snack foods, such as drinks and duros with chamoy, to both Americans and Mexicans traveling through the Nogales. Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News

A wall, he believes, might affect his business, but his concern is about how it splits the cultural richness of Ambos Nogales.

“You can build it as much as you want, but it’s just symbolism,” Barrios said.

For Barrios, the militarization of the border tells Mexicans, “We don’t want you here.”

Barrios said he has seen the border change dramatically over the years.

“It used to just be a gate. Nowadays, you see more patrolling over here, or Border Patrol looking at us through the fence,” he said.

Barrios said even if Trump’s wall is built, it wouldn’t change much because for him, there is already some form a wall: the current border fence.

The fence stands at 18 feet. Trump’s proposed border wall would stand at 30 feet.

A carreta de comida, or roadside stand, provides snacks for American and Mexican travelers and locals within Nogales, Sonora. Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News

“If he does build it, I don’t know, it just makes me feel like a rat in a cage or something,” Barrios said.

The people of Ambos Nogales, have become accustomed to a confined relationship.

Jose Nuñez, an employee at San Fransisco Drugstore in Nogales, Sonora, said he fears the militarization of the border will deter Americans from traveling to Mexico.

“In a way, it could scare some Americans to the point where they say ‘Well, all the Mexicans are going to be mad because we built the wall and doubled the size, so they might have hard feelings about it,’ ” Nuñez said.

Despite Trump saying his wall will be constructed so it “cannot be climbed over or dug under for at least 6 feet,” Nuñez thinks differently.

“When [Mexicans] want to go, they’ll go,” Nuñez said. “They’re going to find a way to go over or under that wall, either way.”

Jose Nuñez, left, stands in front of San Francisco Drugstore in Nogales, Sonora near the international border on April 8. Nuñez said a wall could negatively impact the perceptions of Nogales, effecting businesses along the border. Photo by Amanda Oien / Arizona Sonora News

Nuñez, who has worked at San Francisco Drugstore for four years, said tourism drops and rises because of the imbalance between American media negatively portraying Nogales and the services and culture that Nogales, Sonora, has to offer to Americans.  

“They [Americans] hear all the bad media and all the stuff on the news and yeah, a lot of them are scared,” Nuñez said. “But then some of them still come and tell their friends, ‘Hey all that stuff on the news is not true. I was just in Mexico yesterday and I didn’t get my head chopped off, so it’s cool if you go.’ ”

Efrain Llamas, has worked in Curios, a Mexican handcrafts bazaar in Nogales, Sonora, for 35 years. Llamas said he remembers a time of barbed-wire fencing that made the international border.

“Everything, including the border agents, were more peaceful at that time,” Llamas said. “It was very different.”

Nogales, Sonora’s commerce is directly affected by the border, according to Llamas. After 9/11, Llamas said tourism and business dropped significantly.

“The commerce hasn’t recuperated itself,” Llamas said. ‘Besides 9/11, the anti-Mexico propaganda and the violence guide you to the same result. There’s a lot of negative promotion to come here because people think you’ll get robbed. But it’s not really true.”

People who live in Green Valley, Tucson and Phoenix all still come to Nogales, Sonora, and often bring friends and family. Llamas said the people who visit Nogales, Sonora, see that the rhetoric against Mexico is often false.

Llamas said his favorite memory of Nogales, Sonora, was of a simpler time.

“My favorite memory was when there was a lot of people in Nogales,” Llamas said. “The streets were filled with people. If you were in a hurry, you had to get off the sidewalk and walk on the street. It’s a beautiful memory because people back then, they didn’t see any problems.

“People weren’t scared at all.”

Amanda Oien is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at 

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