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A day in early March in 1992, in Hermosillo. Because of new regulations for
the entry of cars into the interior of Mexico that were tried and later junked, and the
reaction of people to them, I took the bus instead. Unlike just a year and a half before,
when the bus I was on had to wait for cattle before entering the rear of the terminal, the
road was paved and modern.
From my hotel, I walked to the campus of the University of Sonora, and
stopped in the small historical museum and library across the main street north of
downtown. From there, I walked through downtown, and to the old state prison, now turned
into a museum, much larger than that at Unison.
On the way back through downtown, a sign on one of the stores caught my
eye. The state of Sonora was sponsoring a tour by the National Symphony Orchestra of
Mexico. The orchestra would play in the three largest cities in the state--Hermosillo with
550,000 people, Ciudad Obregón with 300,000, and Nogales with 250,000. No problem in
Hermosillo and Obregón, the orchestra would play at their cultural centers. But, in
Nogales, the symphony would play at Nogales High School, about 3 miles north of the
border. Nogales, Sonora had grown so fast that there was still no place suitable for a
major orchestra to play. It had just about 35,000 people, when I first visited there to
shop with my parents from Phoenix and my grandparents from Illinois 30 years ago.
When I got back to Sierra Vista, a TV news report from Tucson talked about
the symphony, and added another angle to the story. It seemed that this would be the first
time the orchestra had played in the United States under its new conductor, Enrique
Biemecke. Biemecke had already spent much time directing American orchestras. It would
have been even more embarrassing to the symphony, and most certainly to Mexico and the
state of Sonora as sponsor, if its first international performance under Biemecke were
because there was no place for it to play in a domestic twin city, than it was already
because it had to play across the border.
Therefore, the Mexican consulates in Tucson and Nogales joined the tour as
sponsors, and the orchestra gave a concert at the University of Arizona's Centennial Hall
in Tucson on March 10. The next night, the symphony made its second international
performance, at Nogales High School.
A look at the border from Nogales,
Arizona towards Nogales, Sonora. Together, about 300,000 live in them.
The meaning of the word Nogales is clear. It means
"walnuts" or "walnut trees." Before Father Kino and others
erected many missions in the area, before Spanish military and political authority
followed, and before there was a border, the area was inhabited by Pima, Tohono O'odham
(Papago), and Apache people. North of the current border, Spanish troops established the
presidio of Tubac in 1753. Nogales, Sonora, was founded in 1880, specifically as a port of
entry for commerce between the United States and Mexico at the border. The railroad
reached it from the south in 1882. Nogales was chartered by the state of Sonora as a Villa
As in the United States before 1913 when income taxes were
introduced, the main source of revenue for Mexico was customs duties. As Nogales grew, it
became more attractive as a source of money for anyone who could use it, including rebels.
Knowing this, rebels against Díaz under Juan Cabral took the town quickly in 1911, and
Francisco Madero held it with enough force so Pascual Orozco and others never attacked it.
To use that force, Madero recalled Emilio Kozterlitzky to command. Instead of, which
Madero had dissolved, Kozterlitzky had fiscales, and regular troops.
In February 1913, in Mexico City, generals Victoriano Huerta and Bernardo
Reyes fought a sham battle in the streets, destroying much of the city. This is called la
Decena Trágica, the Ten Tragic Days. Huerta then overthrew Madero. Madero and his
vice-president, José Marma Pino Suárez, were killed, "shot while trying to
escape" detention by Huerta. Madero could not, or would not, implement the reforms
that led people to support him against Díaz. He still is called "the Apostle of
Democracy" in Mexico.
Governors of most of the states in Mexico supported Huerta, when he
demanded it. Abraham Gonzalez of Chihuahua east of Sonora wavered, was captured, and
killed. One of the reasons Pancho Villa decided to rebel against Huerta was to get revenge
for the death of his friend Gonzalez. Venustiano Carranza of Coahuila east of Chihuahua
would not support Huerta, and fled into the hills near Saltillo, the capital. Prompted by
Alvaro Obregón and others dissatisfied in seeing how Díaz had dealt with the Yaquis and
Mayos in southern Sonora, and seeing Huerta as a counterrevolutionary, José Maytorena
refused to recognize him as head of Mexico. Maytorena then took a leave of absence, and
headed for the United States. He was then replaced by Ignacio Pesqueira.
Also, supporters of the Flores Magón brothers crossed from California to
the west of Sonora, and quickly removed the forces loyal to Huerta from Baja California.
With the Revolution beginning again in four of the six states of Mexico bordering the
United States, American troops were sent to patrol every town along the border. Soon,
their numbers grew to over 100,000. Kozterlitzky stayed loyal to Huerta, and continued to
hold Nogales. Less than a month after Huerta had taken over in Mexico City, Obregón
decided to move northward from Hermosillo, and take the town on the border.
Just three years before, Alvaro Obregón had been doing various things, as
storekeeping and teaching, in the areas of Huatabampo and Navojoa in southern Sonora. Now,
he was the commander of the state armed forces of Sonora. Obregón had begun his military
career by raising companies of Mayos and Yaquis to fight Pascual Orozco, instead of
fighting the people of Spanish origin living locally. He left Hermosillo on March 6 with
as many as 1,500 troops, mostly Yaquis. Kozterlitzky had only about 300. He expected
General Pedro Ojeda to relieve him with 500 troops. Ojeda was busy evacuating Agua Prieta,
and establishing himself in Naco. Ojeda could not come to his aid.
Obregón needed to use only 900 of his troops in the fighting. He was able
to keep the other 600 in reserve. Gradually, he maneuvered Kozterlitzky to the north,
closer and closer to the border. Shots from the regular troops of Kozterlitzky's
second-in-command, Manuel Reyes, strayed across, killing an American soldier and wounding
several civilians. Col. Wilder, the American commander, then put his troops into a mass
formation, and demanded that Reyes cease firing.
Kozterlitzky, Reyes, and their men chose to cross the border, rather than
takes their chances in the hands of men that they had fought in southern Sonora years
before. Kozterlitzky then had his family brought from Magdalena to join him. The next
month, Ojeda followed them across at Naco, after Obregón and his troops attacked him. All
the federal troops were interned at Fort Rosecrans, an old army post in San Diego,
The Americans allowed Kozterlitzky to file a report of the battle with his
superiors in Mexico. Obregón filed a report with the state government in Hermosillo.
Obregón berated Kozterlitzky for crossing the border instead of surrendering to him.
Kozterlitzky claimed that he killed 150 of the attackers, while Obregón claimed that he
killed 24 defenders. Interestingly enough, Obregón claimed that he lost one more man than
American Red Cross and newspaper reports said that he lost. These reports credit each with
killing five of the enemy.
Maytorena returned to Sonora, and assumed the governorship again. After
Obregón left Nogales, he did not return until the middle of 1914, when he and Pancho
Villa met with Maytorena to try to settle their growing political and territorial
differences. This failed, and Maytorena sided with Villa and the Conventionists. Obregón
and the Constitutionalists, under Venustiano Carranza, would fight Villa farther south and
east in Mexico.
Kozterlitzky never returned to Mexico. He became a special agent for the
Justice Department based out of Los Angeles, looking for German agents, and then keeping
track of the intrigues of people in Mexico from north of the border. He died in Los
Angeles in 1928.
Nogales easily fell to the Constitutionalists late in 1915. An attempt by
an American customs agent with others, all acting on their own, to take it failed in 1918.
In 1920, it was chartered as a City by the state of Sonora.
The two cities of Nogales have become the leading ports of entry for
commerce between Arizona and Mexico. They have all the features of border life, legal and
illegal, rich and poor.
American shoppers go to the shops within two blocks of the border, to get
both hand-made and mass-produced crafts and clothes. Mexican shoppers go to the shops on
Morley Avenue, just north of the border, to get goods that the Mexican economy cannot
produce enough of, in quality good enough for their needs. More and more, they are also
shopping in the new stores and malls in the northern part of the Arizona side. Anyone that
wants to cross from Phoenix or Tucson to the population centers of Hermosillo, Ciudad
Obregón, and Guaymas, or to the beaches of Kino Bay and San Carlos, goes through Nogales.
Charts that show distances by road between cities in Mexico show Nogales and not
Hermosillo or Obregón. Residents of Nogales, Sonora go to the fast food places in
Arizona, while those in Arizona cross to go to the movies. Most of the produce grown for
export in Sonora goes to Nogales. Vendors, from large grocery chains to small produce
stores, buy it wholesale from distributors in Nogales, Arizona.
Nogales has become an entry point for drugs. Smugglers of all types
are happy to keep younger and older Americans alike who demand them supplied. Those who
live in Nogales earn barely enough to keep alive, while the leaders of drug operations may
live like kings further south in Mexico. If government activity in Mexico is able to
remove them from there, they operate from countries as Colombia and Peru. Nogales is a
transit point for people who want to cross the border north to work. Coyotes are
ready to take large sums of money to take people from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin
America across, and get them to where they want to go. Most of the time they deliver on
their promises, but too often, they do not, with tragic results.
The core of Nogales extends about 5 miles south of the border. There
are two main streets running south from the area of the main border entrance, which join
each other about 1 mile south. For awhile, the south end of the city was where the road
from the "truck entrance" at the border joined Highway 15, about 3 miles down.
The city now goes far past this junction. There are factories both north and south of the
junction. A little south of the core, Nogales International has become one of Mexico's
major passenger and freight airports.
In Sonora, Nogales has grown as other cities in Mexico. Poorer people
often locate in the inner parts of American cities, and people relocate to the outer parts
as they are able to afford to move. In Mexico, it is generally the opposite--the poorest
people are in the outer edges of the cities, while people who can afford it move towards
the centers, to join the people already there. But, as on this side of the border, this is
not a hard and fast rule, in Nogales or any other city in Mexico. There is housing for the
more well-to-do in the hills above the center area of Nogales, and poor neighborhoods
stretch down to the valley near the railroad and bus stations.
Usually, those who can afford it live in the valley or the lower areas
near Nogales Wash. In the hills up the wash are the neighborhoods of people who use
discarded lumber, cardboard, and sheet metal--anything that will keep rain, snow, and cold
off them and their children, in their homes. If they can spare the time from their
families, they work in the maquiladoras. These are plants that assemble goods for
sale from raw materials in the border area of Mexico. Duties are not charged on goods made
in maquiladorasexcept on the value of the finished goods less the value of the raw
materials, when the goods are moved into the United States. As the economy of Mexico
improves enough for people to purchase large quantities of goods, Mexico has a problem in
controlling how these goods get from the border to the interior.
Cities in Mexico along the border, as Nogales, tie their water and
sanitation systems to their twins. Often, this has not stopped hepatitis and other germs
from crossing the border with the water of the wash. Water and sanitation systems do not
stop air pollution. Residents of Nogales, Arizona have collected statistical evidence to
see if their cases of cancer were caused by burning at the landfill on the other side. A
new landfill, with modern techniques for burning wastes, was finally completed in 1992. In
varying forms, these problems exist all along the border--from San Diego and Tijuana, Baja
California Norte, by the Pacific Ocean, to Nogales, Naco, and Douglas-Agua Prieta, to
Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, by the Gulf of Mexico.
The people of Nogales, Sonora live with 20,000 people in Nogales, Sonora.
They live together, about 65 miles west and slightly south of Sierra Vista, and 65 miles
south of Tucson.
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