My wife got invited to the Cinco de Mayo reception at the Mexican Consulate in El Paso last night. I tagged along, running into various acquaintances I haven't seen recently, like Enrique Cortazar, cultural affairs officer at the Consulate (and a published poet); Alfredo Corchado, of the Dallas Morning News, Hector Gonzalez, of the El Paso Water Utilities; and Francisco Silva Moreno, of the Autonomous University of Cd. Juarez. Mayor John Cook was there, but there were a number of politicians I expected to see, but didn't. To my knowledge, my wife and I were the only New Mexicans present.
Ambassador Roberto Rodriguez Hernandez, the Consul General, hosted the event, which included charros and music and a buffet of food and drink. The occasion was relatively subdued; lots of private discussion about the Arizona bill, some about the situation in Juarez. Formal ceremonies were brief, referring mainly to the ousting of the French a century and a half ago, not the contemporary scene. The occasion just didn't have the festive aura you associate with Cinco de Mayo, a sad commentary on the complicated state of relations between the U.S. and Mexico and, in particular, between Juarez and El Paso. In spite of everything, old friendships persist, and the tensions reflected in the subdued formal atmosphere have little to do with relationships between the people of El Paso and Juarez.
After the reception we had dinner at Aroma's, a newly opened restaurant on Mesa Street. It has become a hot spot in the El Paso restaurant scene. The old Aroma's was burned down two years ago in Juarez, apparently the victim of an extortion threat and, like many restaurants that were not making in in Juarez, this one has made the move to El Paso. The decor is elegant, the service was impeccable, and the steak was excellent.
Footnote: the old Aroma's, in Juarez, is said to be the restaurant, about three years ago, where Chapo Guzman himself came to eat. He is said to have entered one evening with bodyguards who took everyone's cell phone. He offered the diners a free meal at his expense, and ordered a medium-rare prime rib steak. Urban legend? I heard the story in an earlier version with Chapo going to a restaurant in Nuevo Laredo when that town was in a bloody fight over drug trafficking turf a few years ago. Similar stories have surfaced in other border towns. Could it be Chapo really does this once in a while? Or does he really prefer sea food?