This column came about because of an article written by Jorge Aranguré. The piece interweaves the stories of a Tijuana professional soccer club, Xolos, defending champion of Liga MX, Mexico’s first-rank professional soccer league, and being a kid living on both sides of the border. It’s a beautifully written, wonderfully layered article worth your time to read. One wants more.
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I have Aranguré, born in Tijuana 37 years ago, on the phone. “When did you move to the United States?”
Aranguré says, “Moved when I was five. My dad was born near Los Mochis but moved to Tijuana when he was young. My mom was born and raised in Tijuana.
“It’s funny when you grow up on the border and then go away and encounter people who have no conception of what life is like there. The border is such a unique place. It seems natural for me to be living in two different countries.
“We would go back and forth [across the border] regularly, especially when we were young and it wasn’t that difficult to cross. We crossed a lot. Having grown up in two countries, you take that for granted. For me it’s always been a passion, getting people to understand where I’m from. When I had the opportunity to write this article, I really wanted to let people know what it was like.”
I offer, “The border is its own world.”
“Yeah, it is its own world, without a doubt,” Aranguré says. “We’d visit family. We probably crossed three times a week. It was so easy. We lived ten minutes away from the border in San Ysidro, so it was no hassles. I remember it seemed like we were waiting ages in line, but really it was 30, 40 minutes, which is nothing compared to what it is now. It wasn’t that big of a deal; we would just cross.
“My grandparents lived down there. Several aunts and cousins, too. It was fun. It was interesting because my mom’s side of the family kept the house. They still have the house where my mom grew up. My grandparents moved to the U.S. and in their final years moved back to Tijuana. So, it was cool to see the neighborhood where my mom grew up and see how that changed and in some ways how it didn’t change. She still knew a lot of people who lived in the neighborhood, even though she hadn’t lived there in years.”
I say, “Tell me about high school in America. What was that like?”
“I went to Southwest High School. The makeup of my high school was probably 70 percent Mexican, 20 percent Filipino, and the rest black and white. It was very Mexican. It’s all I knew. I remember when we went to support friends who played on sports teams. We’d go up to Bonita, and it felt like we were going up,” Aranguré laughs, “way north. It felt like a different world even going to Bonita. As kids we didn’t go into downtown; we stayed in the South Bay. When I left and went to college, the first week of school...a very different racial makeup.”
I ask, “Did you write for the student paper in high school?”
Aranguré says, “We didn’t have a school paper. We were the type of school that didn’t have a lot of special programs like that. It wasn’t a very high level educational school. I can’t say that when I was in elementary or even in junior high, writing was something I felt was my strength. I did read a lot. It wasn’t like my parents, not that they didn’t encourage me to read books in English, but my parents, when I’m home, we spoke Spanish. It wasn’t like they were saying, ‘You should pick up Steinbeck.’”
Circling back, I ask, “Going to college must have been like being in the United States for the first time?”
Aranguré says, “Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. It did feel that way. I encountered many more white people than I’d ever encountered in my life. I did feel like, for the first time, I was a minority,” Aranguré laughs. “Where I grew up I didn’t feel like a minority.”
Jorge Aranguré Jr. attended University of Southern California, graduated with a degree in history, then went to graduate school at Syracuse University on a full scholarship; earned a degree in journalism and went to work for the Bergen Record of Hackensack, New Jersey. Since then, he’s been a staff writer for the Washington Post, senior writer for ESPN the Magazine, contributing writer for the New York Times, SB Nation, Sports on Earth, and more. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.