My Nogales

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The writer is a fourth-grade teacher in Nogales, Arizona in the United Stated. She taught at F. Barandiaran and Lopez Jaena Elementary Schools, both in Murcia, Negros Occidental prior to her  teaching job. She was the schoolpaper adviser in both schools. AT FBES, the paper, THE FLOWER, won national recognition when it placed second in Science Reporting in the National Schools Press Conference of the Department of Education.

Honey Grace Cabangbang

NOGALES, Arizona — My current home is Nogales, a city of a little more than 20,000 people in the state of Arizona in the United States. However, it is the largest single border crossing for Mexican fresh produce, handling about 40 percent of all Mexican imported produce into  the United States.

The city is located in the southwestern tip of Arizona. And speaking of Arizona, most likely, Filipinos will associate it with Las Vegas. We are 457 miles, or 764 kms. from the Casino Capital of the United States. The nearest major city to us is Tucson, which is 69 miles, or 111 kms. north of Nogales.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, produce industries have been helping the community by distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to the residents. We never run out of potatoes, grapes, oranges, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, apples, and so much more.

The presence of Border Patrol agents reminds me that I am only five-minutes away from Mexico. Nogales borders the Mexican city of the same name.

For more than a year of staying here, I can say that Nogales is a very peaceful city. I used to walk from my apartment to my school every morning. Along the way, I usually saw border patrol and police cars going around. Statistically speaking, Nogales, Arizona’s crime rate declines every year and is a lot better compared to the United States’ overall crime rate.

The writer with the old Nogales Courthouse at the background

The origin of the name Nogales is Spanish and comes from the word walnut, since walnut trees used to grow here. This place has been a favorite shopping spot for visitors from Mexico. Spanish stands out as the language of most people here. Mexican cuisine, found in many authentic Mexican restaurants in town, is what we enjoy every Friday, our payday.

Some of the Mexican food that I really enjoy are tamales, chimichangas, tostadas, tortas, tacos and caldo de res (similar to our nilaga).

          As to the weather, upon hearing the word Arizona people are under the impression that the weather is very hot. Well, summer in Nogales is like summer in the Philippines. That’s why many Filipinos who visited this place wanted to stay.

Aside from the weather, there is a bigger reason why many Filipinos are eyeing to transfer and work in Nogales.

“Nogales, AZ is a great little place to be and is where you’re among friends,” said Mayor Arturo Garino. The welcoming community which embraced many aspects of Mexican culture: warm and hospitable. These traits are very similar to the Filipino traits. That explains why my period of adjustment here was very short.

I came to Nogales full of worries and apprehension because I came here alone. I was the only Filipino teacher at Lincoln Elementary School during that time. However, when I arrived here, I was welcomed warmly and was treated like a member of the family. People around me did not only give me respect, they also gave me love.

I was not only talking with my co-workers at Lincoln, but also with friends from the other schools and the church where I go to. So, homesickness was not really my problem.

Yesterday, my husband was driving our car when he saw a taxi. I told him that for more than a year I didn’t have a car, but I never rode a taxi. I had many rides and for free. Yes, I used to walk to school, but winter came and my friends wouldn’t allow me to walk because it was cold, so they picked me up every day.

Nogales offered me an opportunity to learn from the best educators and be equipped with teaching strategies to fully help the students. It made me feel valued and appreciated. Indeed, Nogales is not only my work place, it is my home, too.

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