Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico

La Equis in Ciudad Juarez

Home of the Burrito and the Margarita!

Statue of Fray Garcia, founder of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

By the time Spanish explorers arrived in the area around what is present-day Ciudad Juárez, the region had been inhabited by numerous indigenous groups, such as the Tarahumara, Mansos, Suma, and Apache, to name just a few.  The first Europeans to settle in this land had come north from Mexico City in search of a more efficient route through the Rocky Mountains to the northernmost Spanish outpost of Santa Fe.  With its strategic location along the Rio Grande, roughly halfway between Santa Fe to the north and Chihuahua City to the south, the new community was established by Franciscan missionaries in 1659 as El Paso del Norte (the northern pass), and work was begun establishing a Mission to convert the local indigenous groups to Catholicism – La Misión de Guadalupe de los Mansos en el Paso del Río del Norte.

La Mission de Guadalupe around 1850 – painting by Augustus de Vaudricourt

El Paso del Norte remained a small outpost of mostly farmers throughout much of its early years, but its population was suddenly bolstered in 1680 with the arrival of refugees from the Pueblo revolt around Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Following the defeat of the Spanish garrison, some 2,000 settlers and their indigenous allies fled south, eventually arriving in El Paso del Norte.  Among them were members of the Miranda and Vielma branches, bearing such surnames as Aguiar, Telles, Garcia, Lucero, Duran, Tafoya, and Carvajal to name a few.  When the Spanish military decided to return to Santa Fe some 12 years after the 1680 revolt, some of the families decided not return to Santa Fe and remained in Paso del Norte, continuing to contribute to the growth of the burgeoning frontier town.  

The former Customs House and current Museum of the Revolution

Up until the middle of the 19th century, the town remained a primarily an agricultural and ranching outpost with a population hovering between five to ten thousand people.  In response to periodic attacks from the Apache in the region, the Spanish built a series of presidios on its northern frontier, the closest some 20 miles away near the Catholic Missions of San Elizario, Socorro, and Ysleta.  Following the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) as the new national border between the United States and Mexico, primarily separating the U.S. state of Texas from the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas.

The Rio Grande separating present-day Ciudad Juárez from El Paso, TX

Branches of the Miranda and Vielma families continued to live in and around Paso del Norte for some 50 years after the conclusion of the war.  In 1888, the city was renamed in honor of former President Benito Juárez, who temporarily relocated the Mexican capital to El Paso del Norte during the 1862-67 Franco-Mexican war and ultimately defeated French forces.  The same year the city’s name was changed, Anita Lucero, the last of the Lucero family in our direct line to be born in Mexico was baptized at the Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.  The Luceros eventually moved permanently across the Rio Grande into El Paso in the mid 1890s.  The last Vielma born in Ciudad Juárez was Francisca Vielma, who was baptized at the Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in 1904 before her family also settled permanently on the U.S. side of the border.

The Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in present-day

Although oral history is lacking as to why these branches moved north of the Rio Grande, economic and political forces occurring in Mexico toward the end of the 19th century likely were significant factors.  While turn-of-century Mexican President Porfirio Diaz is credited with modernizing infrastructure and expanding transportation networks as well a creating a free trade zone in the border region, the economy suffered greatly under his strongman policies, leading many Mexicans to seek opportunities north of the border.  His declaration of victory in 1910 elections after some 26 years in power triggered a Revolution that led to battles between government and revolutionary forces in Ciudad Juárez.  

Sprinz Curio in Ciudad Juárez circa 1911

The conflict had adverse effects on another Miranda branch – a member of the Sprinz family living in El Paso, Texas had operated a Curio Store in Ciudad Juárez selling local crafts.  During one of the battles in the city in 1911, which involved the revolutionary forces of the infamous Pancho Villa, the store was damaged badly and looted – an occurrence well documented in local newspapers.  While the Sprinz family did not return to run the curio following the end of the conflict, the building that housed the curio survived and today is known as the Edificio San Luis.  Some 30 years later, Sprinz descendants finally were awarded damage claims by the U.S. government that had been filed at the time of the original damage.

The Benito Juarez monument

Since the 1990s, Ciudad Juárez has grown exponentially thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, whereby hundreds of international companies setup factories there to have easy access to the U.S. economic market.  Sadly, during the same period, the city also became a major hub in the international drug war – again thanks in no small part to Mexico’s proximity to the United States.  As the saying goes in Mexico, “Tan lejos de Dios, tan cerca de los Estados Unidos – so far from God, so close to the United States.”

 

The World Famous Kentucky Bar – founded in 1920

As noted at the top of the post, Ciudad Juárez also stakes a culinary claim to a couple staples of Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine – the Margarita and the Burrito.  The World Famous Kentucky Bar in Juárez asserts its claim as the originator of the margarita and that it served the first margarita on July 4, 1944.  The bar gets its name from the time of prohibition in the United States, when several whiskey factories from Kentucky moved their operations to Ciudad Juarez to continue legal production of the spirit.  Ciudad Juárez also lays claim to the invention of the burrito.  Urban legend has it that during the Mexican Revolution, an enterprising Mexican would sell meat wrapped in a tortilla to the soldiers.  As he worked his way around the city via a donkey (burro in Spanish), his culinary sales took the name of his mode of transportation – burrito.

Calle 16 de Septiembre looking toward the Cathedral

The hometown of some 10 generations of Miranda-Vielma branches, Ciudad Juárez will always hold a special place in the history of the family.  Full of history, an important musical and artistic tradition, and some of the most friendly people in Mexico, Ciudad Juárez is a vibrant metropolis worth visiting!

 

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