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Welcome to the search for America. Here you'll find an increasing set of interviews and thoughts as we collect clues to the American Identity. Hope it helps make you feel closer to people.

An El Pasoan's Nostalgia

An El Pasoan's Nostalgia

Paul grew up in an American military base in Berlin, where his father was a colonel in the United States Army. The youngest out of seven children, Paul has vivid memories of family outings, playing football and kick the can in the yard. Despite not growing up in America during his youngest years, Paul remembers thoroughly enjoying his childhood and experiencing American culture to the fullest. 

I loved the whole German neighborhoods and everything, but some of my favorite memories were in American schools and learning about our history and culture. When they were talking about the original thirteen American colonies, I remember seeing the pictures of Vermont or Maine or Massachusetts, they always looked really American to me. I thought to myself, I want to live there.

Paul ended up moving to El Paso in 1981, and mentions that he still longs for the experience of watching the leaves change color and fall off the trees or the first snow fall during winter. Paul experienced a smooth transition from his life in Berlin to El Paso. He remarks that other kids would pick on him by calling him Nazi, and that bugged Paul. “I’m an American,” he would always retort. 

One memory of El Paso that Paul vividly remembers is going to and from the movies with his siblings and friends from the neighborhood. 

We were just kids, and the theater was a mile away! We would walk there, watch the movie, and on the way back, we would be running through the trees, jump on the roofs, run around a flagpole, hop across a tennis court, all while making our way back home. It’s something that I feel really nostalgic about. 

But Paul believes that type of communal, carefree environment that was prominent during the 1980s no longer exists. Neighborhoods are more quiet and houses, at least in El Paso, are more segregated.

I don’t really know my neighbors to the front or back of me. There aren’t that many kids in our neighborhood either. Every neighborhood and community has become more quiet. I remember at Fort Bliss, wherever a new family moved in, we would knock on their door and introduce ourselves. That just doesn’t happen anymore.

Paul does not know completely why this phenomenon has occurred. He cites maybe people have become more private, or have lived here a longer time. He also links it to the United States becoming a more dangerous place to live. 

I don’t let my son play out on the front yard by himself anymore. I feel like somebody could drive by, snatch him up, drive by and you’d never know. Also the border is so close, they could get right over the border and be gone. When I think of certain events that have happened, like San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Orlando Night Club shooting, or Fort Hood, you could say our country has become more dangerous.

This line of thought — linking the decline of neighborhood communities with a decline in physical security — was a common thread in our conversation. It’s something that Paul extrapolated to current concerns about the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.

It kind of makes me laugh when you see people protesting Donald Trump, or putting up signs saying “We Love Muslims” or “We Love Refugees.” There’s nothing wrong with being kind to refugees or Muslims, but I don’t necessarily think it’s our duty to throw the gates open and say come on in. If they have a legitimate need, then they can come. But they are young enough where they can try to make their own country wonderful again.

Paul’s concern is not just about keeping America safe, but he’s also worried about securing America’s identity: it’s culture and values. 

I know that the United States has been a nation of immigrants. But that’s because when they originally came here, they had a desire to assimilate, to become American. Now folks want to make it their own country.

Paul’s thoughts on the potential wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a mere 10 miles away from his family’s home, struck a similar cord. 

It took my wife 7-9 years to become a U.S citizen. The laws are there. We don’t need more laws or reform; the laws need to be followed and enforced. When people immigrate to the United States, some are doing good and some are doing bad. That’s why we need a wall, to ensure the laws are enforced. For instance, every house here in El Paso has a fence around the backyard for protection and privacy. When people talk about the wall, they say it’s racist. But we’re just trying to protect our country; no one is saying no one can come in, it’s just to enforce the laws and deter illegal immigration.
Paul (left) with his brother (middle) and wife (far right)

Paul (left) with his brother (middle) and wife (far right)

Paul’s insight on the wall is interesting, primarily because his rationale for the wall is rooted in his desire to see that the laws are enforced. His remark about his wife, a Mexican immigrant, following the laws and becoming a U.S. citizen after nearly a decade suggested that his reasoning for building the wall isn’t necessarily rooted in xenophobia. It stems from a passion to enforce the rules, to ensure that no one can get on a fast-track to becoming a U.S. Citizen. 

When I drive, I always wear my seat-belt. I always stop at red lights. I always abide by the speed limit. All I’m asking is that everyone – including those who want to come to America – do the same.

It’s clear that Paul supported Donald Trump in the campaign. When asked about what resonates with him about America, he pointed to Trump’s promises to build the wall along the U.S-Mexican border and make America great again. 

It seemed like that time-period was upbeat. During Ronald Reagan’s years, America was really good, exciting and fun. It seemed like the news was not like it is now, and there were positive aspects of politics and the presidency. People were proud to buy American, work for an American factory, and be patriotic. Today for instance, there are riots, our country is more dangerous, and people are overly politically correct and sensitive.

A man nostalgic for the 1980s, Paul voted for Donald Trump in the hopes he could return America to its “innocent” years – a time when we did not have to worry as much about foreign foes, undocumented immigrants and political years. It only further proves why President Trump’s message was so moving to millions of middle-class, blue-collar Americans, just like Paul.

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