On a hot Friday afternoon in the Chihuahua desert, with temperatures hovering at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the U.S. Consulate General opened its doors to guests from El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to celebrate the 235th anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. As the consulate is the only diplomatic mission in Ciudad Juárez, the 4th of July celebration is the biggest party of the year. The buzz of excitement -- or was that the buzz in my ear due to the heat? -- was palpable.
First to arrive, not surprisingly, were our military friends from Ft. Bliss and the Joint Task Force North. Always early and sharp, they warmly greeted Charge d'Affaires John D. Feeley and Consul General (CG) Dean J. Haas. Major General Dana J.H. Pittard presented a plaque to CG Haas to thank him for keeping the lines of communication open between U.S. agencies on both sides of the border and for his 25 years of public service in the U.S. Department of State. Next to arrive were guests from the Chihuahua Business Foundation. They thanked the Consul General for the consulate's community outreach activities for at-risk youth in the marginalized "colonias," or neighborhoods.
Forty officers from the consulate joined the Charge and Consul General in welcoming the guests through the receiving line as a jazz band played smooth melodies in the background. In a flurry of activity, the Mayor of Chihuahua Marco Adán Quezada and Ambassador Roberto Rodríguez, the Consul General of Mexico in El Paso, arrived. The photographers from the society pages quickly took their places around the VIPs, snapping away as they shook hands with the Charge and Consul General.
Deputy Principal Officer Tom Rogan welcomed the guests and introduced the national anthem singers and color guard. Olivia Douglas of the Music Department at the University of Texas at El Paso sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," and Martha Beatriz Córdova Bernal who works at the Jaime Torres Bodet Elementary School, sang the Mexican national anthem. Four young women from San Patricio High School in Juárez served as the color guard. As a nationally ranked group, they were proud to be at the consulate, especially because two of the four girls were born in El Paso, Texas.
The Charge spoke about the close-knit relationship between the United States and Mexico and congratulated Consul General Haas on his 25 years as a U.S. diplomat. When he mentioned that the Consul General would be retiring in two weeks, the crowd was audibly sad at the news, but energetically applauded him. The Consul General gave a bilingual speech, highlighting the familial relationship of both countries that is so strong along the U.S.-Mexico border.
As the sun began to set and the misters and fans worked overtime to keep the guests (and their hosts) *relatively* cool during the formal cocktail reception that followed. Despite the heat, the party continued until around 9:00 p.m. in an atmosphere of celebration and friendship.
Independence Day celebrations are always filled with pomp and circumstance. They are also times of reflection. Last year, Mexico celebrated the 200th anniversary of its independence and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. The United States and Mexico have come a long way since their declarations of independence, but both face great challenges at this moment in history. Not only are both countries suffering from an economic downturn, but both nations will face presidential elections in 2012. Both countries are also working together to reduce arms trafficking and narco-related violence through the Merida Initiative, and there is hope for a more stable future for the citizens along both sides of the border. The histories and peoples of the United States and Mexico are intertwined and always will be. Let us take this 4th of July to honor our shared history, acknowledge our present partnership, and celebrate our future.