Cheering on the Border - PhMuseum

Cheering on the Border

Sara Lewkowicz

2018 - Ongoing

El Paso, Texas, United States; Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico

Cheerleading is a uniquely American phenomenon, often reduced to a typecast that aligns with and promotes the notion that whiteness and America are interchangeable—the image of the blond, blue-eyed cheerleader is a common visual stand-in for the concept of “Americana.” As a sport, it is part acrobatics and part dance, and has participants from all ethnic identities, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. For my project, I am focusing on the cheerleading team at Bowie High School in El Paso, Texas, a school that sits less than half a mile away from the Rio Grande and the US-Mexico Border.

El Paso and Juarez are sister cities. Many Tejanx El Paso residents have lived in Juarez and vice versa. The teenagers who spend their time in both of these cities are at the heart of this exchange. The region they call home has been co-opted as the stage for increasingly extreme political theater, and they have been reduced props and background actors. I'm seeking to re-center them, and enable them tell their own stories as teenagers living their lives in a border region, and to enable a discussion about what it means to be American on one’s own terms.

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  • Cheerleader Alexa Scott performs with the school mariachi band during halftime of the final football game of the season, played on November 9, 2019 between Bowie High School and their rival, Jefferson High School. The two schools are known as “La Bowie” and “La Jeff” by their majority Mexican student bodies.

    Alexa Scott is a sophomore who moved to El Paso from southern California before high school started, and one of the few students at Bowie who isn’t fully Mexican/Latinx and doesn’t primarily speak Spanish at home.

    Because so many students cross the border every day to go to school, many of their parents don’t allow them to participate in extracurricular activities, as crossing at night can be dangerous. Therefore, students like Alexa who are allowed to participate in extracurriculars often double or even triple up on activities, but the stands often remain relatively empty. There is still, however, a great amount of school pride at Bowie High School, and the alumni who show up often make up for the low numbers of attending students.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez and Ana Carla Castañeda eat sour straws and play with each other’s hair at a varsity basketball game on January 4, 2019 at Bowie High School. Lluvia and Ana are senior and junior cheerleaders, respectively. They have brought Ana’s younger sister, Pita, to watch the game, which Lluvia’s boyfriend Jay is playing in. Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Cheerleading captain Lluvia Rodriguez walks by the school gardens, which stand in front of the border fence that partitions the United States off from Mexico and runs parallel to the Rio Grande on January 16, 2019.

    Lluvia is a senior and in addition to being captain of the cheerleading team, she plays soccer, works at the school food truck and does JROTC at Bowie. She had planned to join the Navy after graduation, either by enlisting or participating in ROTC at University of Texas at El Paso, but she became pregnant with Jay’s child close to the end of her senior year. Lluvia’s father was born in the United States, but her mother was born in Mexico.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Members of the Bowie High School cheerleading team stretch and practice their jumps before the first annual powder puff football game between Bowie High School and Jefferson High School in El Paso on May 17, 2019. Powderpuff football typically involves a football game played by an all-female team, cheered on by an all-male cheerleading team. Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez goes to eat tacos with her boyfriend, Jacob Marrfuro and her friends Jackie Rodriguez and Jacob "Grandma" Gonzalez before attending their senior prom on May 11, 2019 at Tacos Don Cuco, a local favorite in El Paso. The four are graduating seniors and Lluvia is the captain of the cheerleading team at Bowie High School. Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. Lluvia is three months pregnant. She went on later to be elected the Prom Queen, and turned 18 at midnight.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Ana Carla Castañeda leaves the nightclub with her boyfriend Juan Jesús Rojas, her sisters Liliana Anahí Fuentes and Elsa Ivonne Leon Fuentes and her brother-in-law Sandro Leon to get “hamburguesas al carbon,” cheeseburgers made on a grill in food trucks. Like many 18-year-olds from El Paso, she came to Juarez on May 18, 2019 to celebrate her 18th birthday, where the drinking age is 18. Ana is a junior and cheerleader at Bowie High School in El Paso, a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike. Ana and Lluvia live in Segundo Barrio with her parents. Melany lives in Juarez with her family.

  • Brandon Reyes, Angelica Barraza and Lluvia Rodriguez, sit on top of a car next to Alejandro Longoria and his girlfriend Kimberly Cardenas and take selfies during the “Senior Sunset” event at Bowie High School on May 23, 2019. “Senior Sunset” is an annual event where the graduating class congregates in the parking lot at Bowie to watch their last sunset as seniors together. Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Brisa Rivera is hugged by Megan Meíja as she cries after the final football game of the season, played on November 9, 2019 between Bowie High School and their rival, Jefferson High School. The two schools are known as “La Bowie” and “La Jeff” by their majority Mexican student bodies. Brisa is a senior cheerleader, and this was the last game she would ever cheer at. She would quit the team later, only a few months before they traveled to Ft. Worth to participate in a state cheerleading competition.

    Because so many students cross the border every day to go to school, many of their parents don’t allow them to participate in extracurricular activities, as crossing at night can be dangerous. Therefore who are allowed to participate in extracurriculars often double or even triple up on activities, but the stands often remain relatively empty. There is still, however, a great amount of school pride at Bowie High School, and the alumni who show up often make up for the low numbers of attending students.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez, Juan Jesús Rojas and Ana Carla Castañeda stop for a snack and to pose for selfies just before crossing the Paso del Norte Bridge in downtown Juarez on January 5, 2019. They are spending the afternoon in Juarez with Ana’s best friend Lluvia Rodriguez so that Ana can get her nose pierced and her boyfriend Juan can get a haircut. Lluvia and Ana are both students at Bowie High School. Juan, a former Bowie student, is taking classes at University of Texas at El Paso. The city of Juarez has been trying to attract more foot traffic since the drug wars have subsided.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

    The Bridge of the Americas is a group of international bridges which cross the Rio Grande, connecting the Mexico–United States border cities of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and El Paso, Texas. The Paso del Norte bridge is colloquially known as the Santa Fe Street bridge.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez looks out over the view of El Paso - Ciudad Juarez from the hills of El Paso, below the the Franklin Mountains. Juarez is much denser than El Paso, and the delineation between the two can be most clearly seen at night based on the density of lights.

    Lluvia is a senior at Bowie High School who lives in the Segundo Barrio neighborhood, and is the captain of the cheerleading team. She is also three months pregnant, and has just learned that the father of her child has decided to get back together with an ex-girlfriend.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez takes photos with her boyfriend, Jacob Marrfuro and her friends Jackie Rodriguez and Jacob "Grandma" Gonzalez before attending their senior prom on May 11, 2019 at Ascarate Park in El Paso. The four are graduating seniors and Lluvia is the captain of the cheerleading team at Bowie High School. Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. Lluvia is three months pregnant. She went on later to be elected the Prom Queen, and turned 18 at midnight.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez shares a moment with her boyfriend, Jacob Marrfuro before attending their senior prom on May 11, 2019. The two are graduating seniors and Lluvia is the captain of the cheerleading team at Bowie High School. Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. Lluvia is three months pregnant, and Jacob is the father of her child. She went on later to be elected the Prom Queen, and turned 18 at midnight.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez attends her first trimester ultrasound on May 13, 2019. She and Jacob Marrufo, the baby’s father, are graduating seniors at Bowie High School, where Lluvia is the captain of the cheerleading team. Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez and her boyfriend Jacob "Jay" Marrufo look at baby clothes that have been donated by members of Jay's church on May 6, 2019. Lluvia lives in Segundo Barrio, or "Second Ward" in El Paso, Texas. Lluvia and Jacob are seniors at Bowie High School in El Paso, a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. Lluvia is a cheerleader. They are expecting a baby in November.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Melany Barba and her grandfather, Dagoberto Chávez, play air guitar to Beatles music her grandmother Marina Ledesma’s birthday in Juarez, Mexico on January 6, 2019. Melany is a junior and cheerleader at Bowie High School in El Paso, Texas. Melany, like many students at Bowie, is an American citizen but crosses the bridge most days to go to and from school. She has family both in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

    Dagoberto is a huge Beatles fan, and spent most of his teen years, by his own account, in mod boots and with long hair that he fashioned after the Beatles, and that his own father greatly disapproved of.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Ana Carla Castañeda and her younger sister Pita lounge in her bedroom in Segundo Barrio, a neighborhood in El Paso that is home to Mexican and Chicano residents on January 12, 2019. Ana and Pita were both born in El Paso, but their family had to relocate to Juarez in 2012 after their father’s crossing permit was taken away due to a misunderstanding with customs officials. They were able to move back to El Paso in 2016, after spending over $10,000 in legal fees.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Melany Barba takes her 4-year-old cousin Axel Chavez to a nearby candy store during grandmother Marina Ledesma’s birthday in Juarez, Mexico on January 6, 2019. Melany is a junior and cheerleader at Bowie High School in El Paso, Texas. Melany, like many students at Bowie, is an American citizen but crosses the bridge most days to go to and from school. She has family both in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez embraces her father Fernando Rodriguez after her high school commencement ceremony the Don Haskins Center at the University of Texas - El Paso on May 28, 2019. Lluvia is graduating that night from Bowie High School, a high school that sits only a few hundred meters from the US-Mexico border. Fernando, who works as a cook four hours away, drove to El Paso to be there for Lluvia’s graduation from Bowie. He typically has to work far from El Paso in order to make a wage that can support his family, as the wages in El Paso have been driven down due, in part, to people who work in El Paso but live in Ciudad Juarez.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Lluvia Rodriguez’s family opens presents on Christmas Eve. It’s common for Mexican families to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, dancing and eating and opening presents at midnight.

    Lluvia’s father Fernando Rodriguez is a cook and works several hours away in Orla, Texas. An abundance of cheap labor from people who work in El Paso but live in Juarez (because of the lower cost of living) has meant that Fernando has had to go further and further away from his family to find work. Lluvia says that she used to cry every time he left for weeks at a time, but she’s used to it now.

    Lluvia is a senior and in addition to being captain of the cheerleading team, she plays soccer, works at the school food truck and does JROTC at Bowie. She had planned to join the Navy after graduation, either by enlisting or participating in ROTC at University of Texas at El Paso, but she became pregnant with her boyfriend Jay’s child close to the end of her senior year. Lluvia’s father was born in the United States, but her mother was born in Mexico.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

  • Melany Barba walks over the Cordova International Bridge, which is otherwise known as the Bridge of the Americas on January 8, 2019. Melany, like many students at Bowie, is an American citizen but crosses the bridge most days to go to and from school. She has family both in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Her family waits for her on the other side of the bridge in a car.

    Bowie is a high school that sits less than half-a-mile from the US-Mexico border. A portion of the infamous “border wall” can be seen from the back of the school, where the gardens are. It is also a school with one of the highest rates of students receiving free lunch in the state.

    A portion of the students from Bowie High School cross the border every day from Juarez, Mexico to attend school, while other students spend the weekdays living in Juarez with extended family members and the weekends with their parents in Juarez. The exact number/percentage of students who cross daily is unknown. Of the students who live in El Paso, the majority live in Segundo Barrio, a historically significant neighborhood that has been made up of both recent Mexican immigrants and working class Tejanx families who have lived in El Paso for generations, alike.

    The Bridge of the Americas is a group of international bridges which cross the Rio Grande, connecting the Mexico–United States border cities of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and El Paso, Texas. The bridge is colloquially known as "Puente Libre" in Ciudad Juárez, and also known as "Free Bridge" because unlike the bridge in downtown El Paso, there is no fee to cross.


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