I know that for most people, Laredo isn't much of a destination. It's more of a place to pass through. As in, passing through to the other side of the border. However, we have found ourselves frequenting this border town this winter.
Conventional wisdom holds that life is cheaper in Mexico. In some ways that's true, and in other ways it really isn't. Rent is much cheaper here. Food is considerably cheaper here. Doctors are cheaper here. But everything else is about the same price or more expensive. That adds up to a lot more expensive, considering that salaries here are much less than they are in the US.
For this reason, the city of Laredo does a booming retail business, catering to the masses that flock from Monterrey (or even Mexico City) around the Christmas season. Like lemmings, Mario and I joined them. We originally went for tires. We came back for the electronics. And Old Navy's cargo pants. And Mountain Dew. I have learned that Mario is a sucker for a good deal (and Mountain Dew). I'm a bit terrified of the thought of him witnessing the real January clearance sales. He may just become like a Spanish man he knew in Sweden who bought a pair of shoes that didn't fit, just because they were a great deal. Yikes!
While in Laredo, the hordes from Mexico often zero in on the Mall del Norte, which if one drops the final 'l' from 'Mall', can be translated to the "Evil from the North". Wow, even in my anti-consumerist, self-righteous phase, I don't think I would have ever gone that far. Yet those who owned the mall named it that. And on any given Saturday over Christmas vacation, there are more cars with Mexican license plates in the parking lot than Texas ones. Just imagine if they named it something a bit more flattering.
I don't believe this misadventure in translation could have been a mistake by any Laredoan. From keeping my ears open, they are the most bilingual people I have ever met. [Keep in mind that I haven't traveled widely outside of North America.] Salespeople fluidly spoke to me in perfect English and the customer behind me in flawless Spanish. I noticed them talking to themselves in Spanish. And in English. For them, the choice of language really didn't matter. From what I heard, it also sounded like good English and good Spanish--not the goofy mix of Spanglish that I often fall into.
I've heard it said that the US/Mexican border is one of the most culturally jarring or divisive borders in the world. Meaning, over most international borders, there is a bit of overlap culturally. From my time in New Mexico and El Paso, this was clear. El Paso and Ciudad Juarez seemed to be worlds apart from each other, despite the fact that they were just separated by a few yards of bridge and river.
In Laredo however, I felt a bit more cohesion. Crossing the border, it was still glaringly obvious which side of the border we were on. But there seemed to be more ties across the bridge. Perhaps it was the heavy tourist traffic from Mexico. Perhaps it was the bilinguality/biculturality of the people of Laredo. Perhaps it was because Nuevo Laredo (in Mexico) is just much prettier than Cd. Juarez (it doesn't take much).
Whatever it was, I didn't feel quite like I was in as much of a time warp as when I've crossed from El Paso to Juarez.
Or when I've crossed by airplane, but clearly that's different altogether.
This last photo of of deer and jabali strolling the campus of Texas A&M International University. I had to add it, as it's not at all how I imagined Laredo.