El Paso is a city that believes in its soul that it has been cheated of its destiny. You can’t talk to political or community leaders for very long without hearing that in 1950 El Paso had a larger population than Phoenix (130,485 to 106,818). Or that El Paso would be better off if it were part of New Mexico, a state in which it would be the dominant city. (And so it might have been but for the Compromise of 1850, in which Texas ceded its claim to Santa Fe, but not to El Paso, in return for $10 million from the federal treasury to pay off the state’s debts.) Or that the city is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Texas’s eastern border. There is a palpable feeling of isolation here, of a city being left to fend for itself. That sense is amplified by the intrusion into the heart of the city of the Franklin Mountains, so that El Paso is bisected into east and west sides, neither of which can be seen from the other. At night, from the heights above downtown, the impression is one of a third-world capital, where the rich look down on the poor below, in the Segundo Barrio and across the border into the maelstrom of Mexico.
The peculiarities of geography help define the civic character. In 1994 state district judge Edward Marquez invoked a