El PASO—In a unique and powerful show of cross-border solidarity and sisterhood, some 50 women from Texas and Mexico gathered along the international pedestrian bridge this morning to braid their hair together while some 2,000 miles away, Donald Trump was sworn into office.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the U.S.-Mexico border as the women gathered on the bridge that connects El Paso and Juárez, Mexico. They stood back-to-back, holding hands, and with their hair interwoven into a braid with the woman behind them. Blue hair was woven into black hair, and brown into blonde. Those with hair too short to braid tied scarves to their heads instead.
The demonstration of solidarity was organized by Boundless Across Borders, a new non-partisan community coalition inspired by the recent mobilization of women in response to the election of Trump.
Xochitl Nicholson, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the decision to braid hair is symbolic in several ways. “We wanted something that referenced women directly, but that also sends a message about our common heritage and common backgrounds in a broader context,” Nicholson said. “It’s a symbol of collective strength.”
For many women, hair is a deeply symbolic and intimate extension of our being. From the moment our hair is long enough, it gets braided—by our mothers, grandmothers, and friends. It is part of a physical and figurative bond among women. The braid itself, made up of equal parts that weave into one another like arms in an embrace, constitutes something greater than the sum of its parts.
“I’m born a white American and I’m going to be braiding my hair with a Latina woman,” said Leah Gillespie. “It really marks this idea that, yes, we have our differences, but here are our similarities. And we’re binding those similarities in an act of solidarity.”
The demonstration on the bridge was one of hundreds that took place across the country (and world) today. And although many of the other demonstrations were much bigger and garnered much more media attention, the women on the border bridge remind us that size doesn’t always matter. Several women remarked that they were there representing those who could not be—the undocumented, the occupied, the invalid.
“No act is too small,” said Marisol Diaz, a young woman who participated in the braid demonstration. “Change happens through small acts.”
Though small in scale, the demonstration was significant to the border community. Among other things, the demonstration obstructed the flow of foot traffic across the border, and called attention to of the importance of its connectivity.
Each day, thousands use the bridge to cross the border in one direction or another, to commute to jobs or visit family. As the demonstrators lined the bridge on Friday, a handful of morning commuters stopped to watch, causing a bottleneck, while others pushed past. Women hustled across the bridge carrying their babies swaddled in blankets. “Con permiso,” – excuse me – said one elderly man, who attempted to pass through the narrow space with two roller suitcases in tow.
That interconnectivity has been threatened by the rhetoric of the newly inaugurated president, who has promised to close the border with a “big, beautiful wall” spanning the length of the two nations.
A wall already exists between El Paso and Juárez. For some, it runs right through their backyards. “We can’t pretend there isn’t a wall through El Paso. We can’t pretend it’s not also running through Juárez,” Nicholson said. “You can’t help but understand that the wall slices through our humanity.”
The conversation about women’s rights has recently focused on the notion of “intersectionality” — the idea that social issues related to race, class and gender, are overlapping and interconnected. Here on the border, where issues of immigration are intrinsically tied to women’s rights, that intersectionality is manifest.
“Children cannot be raised without their mothers,” Nicholson said. “Mothers cannot be ripped from their children and remain healthy and whole.”
Among the women demonstrating, a 14-year-old girl and her mother stood back-to-back, tied together by their hair.
Nancy Lechuga, another mother present at the demonstration said, “I’m here because my mother is from Juárez, my daughter was born in the United States in Denver, Colorado, and I feel like I’m a bridge between them.”
Says Nicholson, “I think it’s easy to feel like we’re in the dark right now. It’s really scary. Today especially–it was hard to wake up…” she trails off, swallowing back tears. Then adds, “This was a nice way to crawl out of that darkness and stand in the light. We were standing together on the bridge as the sun rose and there’s nothing that can send a clearer message. No words, no act is stronger than coming together.”