How do people understand the US/Mexico Borderlands region?

Recognizing that for many, the dominant and perhaps the only perception is one of violence, drug cartels and controversy about US immigration policy, a dedicated group of leaders from the Tubac/Nogales region founded the Border Community Alliance.

These founders knew that there is another narrative about the US/Mexico Borderlands region that is seldom told. It is the story of “Ambos Nogales” – two cities with the same name and the same culture; two cities with one heart. Too often what is not told about the border are the stories of friendship and family; the stories of good leaders from both sides doing good things together; the story of Mexico’s economic development; the story of Mexico’s emerging non-profit sector; the story of how the US and Mexico are increasingly intertwined economically, culturally and environmentally. That is not to say that the reality of drug violence, injustice and immense suffering by the poorest of the poor does not exist; it does. What the founders of BCA wanted to do in forming this organization is to tell the whole story and not just a part of it.

BCA was officially incorporated in 2013, yet most of those involved in its beginning had been at work on the border for years. Founding Executive Director Bob Phillips worked for two other non-profits in Nogales before leading the initiative to found BCA, a new non-profit with a stronger bi-national focus. In those earlier associations, Bob developed a collegial relationship with Alma Cota de Yañez, Executive Director of FESAC – Nogales, a Mexican non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Sonora. Operating in a manner similar to a foundation, FESAC (Fundación del Empresariado Sonorense, A.C.) provides consultation, training and some funding for over a dozen projects in Nogales Mexico. Bob and Alma teamed up to do organizational and leadership development. Later they started offering tours to help US citizens get a glimpse of Nogales’ emerging civil society. You can learn more about our Cross Border Tours by going to that CBT page of our website.

After incorporation in 2013, BCA needed a fiscal sponsor so that tax-deductible donations could be made to support its work while they waited for IRS approval of their own 501 (c)(3) application. The Santa Fe Ranch Foundation, headed by Tony Sedgwick, provided this vital portal. A rancher and a former attorney, Tony’s love for the borderlands and his experience in international law have been great assets to BCA. In December 2014 BCA received word that its application had been approved; tax-deductible contributions to BCA could now be received directly without having to go first to Santa Fe Ranch Foundation.

From the beginning BCA was built on collaborative relationships with other non-profits (FESAC and Santa Fe Ranch Foundation). The border is a complex environment, and no single organization can address all of the issues involved. BCA has continued to foster relationships with other non-profit organizations (Kino Border Initiative, the Samaritans, No More Deaths, Borderlinks, etc.) as well as with the US Consulate. An expansion of this interest led to a grant from the Greater Green Valley Community Foundation and the establishment of the Non-Profit Learning Institute.

Before, during and after BCA was getting organized, college and university students expressed interest in coming to “Ambos Nogales” in hopes of learning more about the border. In 2011 the BCA began an Internship Program for young scholars and faculty. Peg Bowden, a retired nurse educator from Oregon, soon emerged as its leader. Raised in Tucson, sister to author Chuck Bowden, Peg shaped the program to include a wide-range of experiences for the participants, drawing on many of the connections mentioned above. Peg’s book A Land of Hard Edges: Serving the Front Lines of the Border (Peer, 2014) tells the story of her weekly encounters with migrants at the Comedor, a meal program run by Kino Border Initiative. Diane Brooks, a retired nurse practitioner from California, stepped in to work with Peg in developing this highly acclaimed Internship program.

Both the Cross Border Tours and the Internship Program educate participants through experience. “Come and see, come and listen,” might be the motto. BCA has also offers occasional lectures and classes on border issues. BCA has twice hosted Professor Michael Dear from the University of California, Berkeley, to give a presentation on his book Why Walls Won’t Work (Oxford Press), the second time thanks to a grant from the US Consulate in Nogales. Additional lectures, breakfast gatherings and community-based classes draw on local resources.

In the summer of 2015 Charlie Cutler was a BCA intern completing a Master’s degree in International Human Relations from the University of San Francisco. Charlie had been a touring tennis professional before graduate school and continued to teach tennis while at USF. On a whim, he began teaching tennis to kids on the Mexican side of the border and came to realize the value of sport to reach young people. From this inauspicious beginning, Charlie has created a model program, the Border Youth Tennis Exchange (BYTE). Now under BCA’s umbrella, the goal of BYTE is to reach at-risk kids on both sides of the border, teaching life skills as well as tennis in a unique cross-border venture. You can read more by about the program on the BYTE page of our website.

While BCA focuses primarily on cross border awareness, it also offers an opportunity for people to invest in projects in a socially responsible way. When BCA applied for charitable non-profit status, we stated our intent to provide a “pass through” donation portal for Mexican initiatives. This means that when an individual visits one of FESAC’s projects in Mexico (for example, the Down Association), he or she can make a tax-deductible donation to BCA for this project. BCA then processes the gift and sends it on to FESAC to distribute. The donor benefits by receiving a tax-deduction and by knowing that their contribution is going to a project vetted by FESAC. Learn more about “Ways to Give”.

In the fall of 2015, BCA began a leadership transition. Bob Phillips had relocated to San Francisco and while he continued to serve as Executive Director for a time, local leadership was needed. BCA also needed to reduce expenses. Staff costs and office expenses detracted from BCA’s mission. Jerry Haas volunteered to serve as Executive Director of BCA while continuing as Co-chair of the Board of Directors with Marty Bronstein. Bob Phillips continued with BCA as Senior Consultant and Founding Director. Diane Brooks was elected Secretary of the Board and Bob Reid as Treasurer. A strategic planning session was held in the spring of 2016, led very capably by Dennis Eshleman. A new mission statement and strategic imperatives were approved.