Monday, December 24, 2012

December in Laredo

December in Laredo 
by Miguel Inclan Jr.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” says Andy Williams in his Christmas song that cannot be absent from every holiday playlist. If you say this to a Laredo business owner, they will nod in agreement in an instant. However, if you say it to a local commuter, you are bound to see a big frown form on his or her face. Yes, I’m talking about the month that is both anxiously awaited and absolutely dreaded by the people of Laredo.
One of the first things that comes to the mind of Laredoans when either the word “December” or “Christmas” are mentioned is the increased traffic that we see on our streets. Every day of this month, tens of thousands of shoppers from nearly every state in Mexico drive to Laredo and take advantage of the retail opportunities that Laredo has to offer. Those people, although some stubborn locals will not admit it, are the backbone of Laredo. They put up with hours of waiting in line at the bridges to cross into Laredo and spend thousands of dollars in our stores, restaurants and hotels. As a former Bridge Officer Collector for the City of Laredo, I can attest to that. The revenue that the Laredo Bridge System collects is one of the strongest and most accurate indicators of the economy of this City and the shoppers have a great influence in said revenue.

Paisanos clogging up traffic in Laredo
Now, it is also when tens of thousands of Paisanos, Mexican immigrants who live in the US, make that trip from cites all across America into IH35 and descend upon Laredo as they cross through the Gateway to Mexico to visit their families in their hometowns. The vehicles that paisanos drive are often full of luggage and other items and tow either a trailer or another vehicle. When these vehicles cross, the Mexican Customs have to check everything to make sure no contraband is brought in and that the vehicles have the required documents and permits necessary to be imported into Mexico. Sometimes, this process takes several hours, even days, and as such the epic traffic jams at IH35 and Santa Maria are created in the last weekend before Christmas. Laredo Police has implemented a special detail at the access to Bridges I and II to help traffic flow smoothly. Mexico also has the Paisano Program which includes a special rest stop on IH35 to help Paisanos on their trip.

Whether through Facebook, Twitter, or in person, I see or hear literally a dozen complaints per day about the traffic. I honestly believe that these are necessary sacrifices that we must make in order to keep those people from traveling to other cities like McAllen (the city which I consider Laredo’s biggest threat) or San Antonio in the case of Mexican shoppers or El Paso, Eagle Pass or McAllen in the case of paisanos. After seeing my cousin drive, I came to the realization that Mexican drivers sometimes do not understand the traffic signs, especially the yield sign at the exit ramps on IH35. Since adding signs in the Spanish language would be a very controversial process, I suggest that we offer some sort of manual to the drivers at the time they are at U.S. Customs in the Bridges. The Texas Driver’s Handbook issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety would be a great option. 

Instead of complaining, what Laredoans must do is help and serve the paisanos and shoppers in any way possible. Each and every one of us is an ambassador of this City, and the actions that we take should be done with the intention of establishing a positive image of Laredo. Use side streets, avoid traveling to certain parts of town during the traffic jams and always observe all safety signs and advisories. 

This Holiday season, spend as much time as possible with your family and cherish those moments, as there are people who for some reason cannot do the same. Also, don’t drink and drive, remember that someone is waiting for you at home. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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