By Andi Teran
BETO. One word. All caps.
Before this year, no one outside of El Paso, let alone Texas, blinked an eye at the name “Beto.” In our border city, it’s a popular nickname for anyone named Robert, Albert, Gilbert, or Umberto. “There’s a Beto in your family? There’s one in mine!” is the general consensus and not something anyone who lives or was raised here second guesses. We’re all border folk—existing somewhere between Texas and Mexico—with a little of both sides embedded within our DNA regardless of our backgrounds. But all-caps BETO? That’s something else entirely.
By now, the world knows the name. Whether they’ve been keeping up with politics, watching viral videos online, tuning in to the Ellen show, following Beyoncé on social media, or watching him sing along with Willie Nelson while wearing an I Love You El Paso t-shirt, the name BETO has become synonymous with not only a man but also a movement. To El Paso, he is Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, our current Representative for the 16th Congressional District, fourth-generation El Pasoan, family man, Whataburger enthusiast, and former punk band raconteur. He and his wife Amy—also an El Paso native—had their first date at Ciudad Juarez’s famed Kentucky Club followed by a visit to the original Martino’s. Those of us who spent time in those establishments back in the day know what it means to drive across the border and enjoy a night out in a different country; however foreign it may seem, it also feels like home.
Our Beto knows this too. He loves our bi-national city immensely and has made a point of shining a light on it throughout his campaign for the Texas Senate. “We in El Paso and Juarez are literally one community. There's no separation; there's no buffer,” he said. “This community defines the positive story of immigration. We are a city of immigrants. We are made far stronger; we're more successful, than we would have been without their presence. El Paso in many ways is the Ellis Island for Mexico and much of Latin America.”
Despite political leanings, anyone from El Paso knows this to be true. Any visitor to El Paso feels the immediacy of Mexican culture in our city and our celebration of it. We’re not one without the other. In 2013, Beto told Texas Monthly, “Part of the job for me and others from El Paso who live along the border is to dispel the myths about how supposedly dangerous the border is.” His Ted Talk in 2016 was titled “The Border Makes America Great.” Though some may take that as a political dig, every word he spoke wasn’t intended to ridicule an ideology, rather it amplified what it means to live on the border from those who actually do.
“This is part of who I am, where I’m from, and the pride that I feel in representing [this] community, and telling our story from the perspective of a community that is all too often forgotten,” he said at a town hall discussion in McAllen, Texas. “No one ever showed up and asked us about border security, or immigration or the bilateral relationship with Mexico though we are living it every single day.” As Texans, El Pasoans know what it’s like to be forgotten. We’re as far west as you can get. We straddle two states and two countries. We’re in a different time zone. To have someone represent us to the world outside of our community as something to look to for inspiration and guidance—whether it be for our understanding and welcoming of immigrants to what it’s like to coexist as a unified culture—is both a relief and a feat.
Beto took this very ethos and applied it to his campaign by vowing to represent all Texans regardless of party. In an interview with the Austin Chronicle, O’Rourke said, “One person is going to win, and the other person is going to lose. But I do think there's a way to be in public service and not push people out and instead welcome everyone in. If we don't write people off and we don't take them for granted, we're just going to do a whole lot better.” He made a point of shaking the hands of protestors outside of his town hall meetings, inviting them in and letting them have the first question. He invited everyone in to his daily life through sharing on social media. He opened hearts, changed minds, beamed the literal star light of our Franklin Mountains east, west, and everywhere in between.
After casting his ballot in El Paso he said, “We want all of us, Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike, to come together and do something great for this country.” In the end, isn’t coming together what makes our communities, our cities, and the democracy of our union great? Though we now know the outcome of the race for the Texas Senate, regardless of whoever won or lost, we know that Beto succeeded here at home. He vowed to come back home either way, and he did. For the last few weeks, he’s been sharing Instagram stories of his family life in El Paso—attending soccer games, hiking in the Franklin Mountains, cooking steaks, eating giant bowls of guacamole, and giving shout outs to Sunset Heights, including Alejandro Lomeli’s stunning mural on the side of the Pearl Apartments building depicting the rich history of the neighborhood. He’s still one of us.
During his concession speech at Southwest University Park, home of the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball team, Beto said, “El Paso, I love you so much. I am so proud of you in the city and community and what you mean to the rest of the country. The kindness, generosity you have shown to me and Amy and our family, and to our campaign, it’s amazing. That is why my faith in this state and country is not diminished.”
We could say the same about you, Beto.