Braids Across Borders: How Women in El Paso are Fighting Back on Inauguration Day

While President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office on Friday, 50 women from El Paso and Ciudad Juárez will stand back to back on the Paso del Norte International Bridge and braid their hair together in an act of solidarity.

The braids will connect women from both sides of the border, sending a message of solidarity that remains strong despite the new administration’s divisive, anti-Mexican rhetoric. The braid itself is a symbol for an unbreakable bond.

“We wanted the gesture to be relevant to our region and something that most women, or many women, can identify with,” Xochitl R. Nicholson, artist and activist behind the braiding action concept, explained to Ms. “The first person to ever braid your hair usually is your mom. It helps to reinforce that women are going to come together and we are absolutely unstoppable.”

Nicholson and Sandra Paola Lopez, an artist from Colombia, will braid two women’s hair together, forming a pair who will hold hands with the next pair while the inauguration ceremony commences in D.C. While holding hands, the final pair’s hair will be braided exactly on the border. The women will then stand in silence until the inauguration concludes. Boundless Across Borders organizers want the event to send a message about how their community stands united in the face of the President-elect’s hateful rhetoric.

“I realized no matter who was elected, there were things that boiled to the surface that could not be undone,” Nicholson said. “That’s when I knew I was going to do something. You can’t unfeel that stuff. It was so deeply, deeply hurtful and dangerous for a community like ours. It was a call to our deeper instincts as a community to defend ourselves.”

Boundless Across Borders is also organizing the El Paso Women’s March in solidarity with the over  610 sister marches happening across the country on Saturday. (Ms. and its parent organization, the Feminist Majority Foundation, will attend in D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco.)

There is a heavy significance hosting events in the border city during inauguration weekend. “Because we are an international community it makes a big difference,” local activist and adjunct professor at the University of Texas El Paso, Cemelli De Aztlan, explained to Ms. “We have no Planned Parenthood, no funding for reproductive rights. Hispanic women are making 45 cents to the dollar. We talk about 78 cents but here its 45 cents for women of color.”

El Paso’s migrant community, she added, must be protected. In addition to promising to deport millions of people, the President-elect’s immigration plan includes the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which safeguards youth from deportation, and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which shields members of the youths’ families.

“[The event] is to address policy. Many times immigration policy, policy about women, is being written without women or people that have migrated or come from a migrant community,” De Aztlan said. “We’re definitely tired of not being a part of the conversation.”

Organizers are also emphasizing the importance of aligning the weekend’s events with the region’s needs and concerns.

“To live in the middle of the issues that they’re discussing and to live where immigrants work, live, drive and survive, we are simultaneously smack in the center of the real world and also so far away from being able to actually touch the things that are affecting us,” Nicholson explained.

For women on the border, the heinous statements Trump made while campaigning seemed to specifically target multiple elements of their identity. If the new administration follows through with promises made on the campaign trail, actual legislation will be even more detrimental. Already, the possibility of repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act threatens the existence of programs and clinics that provide low-cost healthcare in El Paso. Statewide, women face a similarly daunting situation.

In a state that is fast becoming known for its inability to provide adequate healthcare to women, El Pasoens who plan to attend the braiding action or the march on Saturday know a lot is at stake. Event organizer Angie Reza Tures created a short film documenting El Pasoen’s explaining why they plan to attend.

Nicholson notes that after inauguration weekend, the fight must go on.

“If we continue putting these actions in the public space, it’s impossible for people to look away,” she said.

20160909_121504Michele Sleighel recently received her MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio. She is a former editorial intern with Ms. and a current research associate for the National Clinic Access Program, a campaign of the Feminist Majority Foundation. She’s very proud of her El Paso roots. 

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