06/11/2014 07:55 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2014

Love Letters: El Paso

Natalie Felsen spent her first eighteen years in El Paso, Texas. In the two years since, she has been pursuing bachelors' degrees in political science and Hispanic studies at Columbia University in New York City. When she isn't planning her next adventure, Natalie feeds her wanderlust through multicultural culinary concoctions or spontaneous expeditions spanning the city.

Dear El Paso,

Only once I had left you did I love you.

I'm sorry. That isn't appropriate to tell a city that gave you the first 18 years of your life. I'm sorry if my words are harsh, because that's really inexcusable. But I have to explain myself fully to you, El Paso. This letter is long overdue.

I recognize that I am the rebellious teenager to your motherly resignation, the trapped bird who broke free to fly and only then recognized the comforts of what she had considered a cage. You are consolation, El Paso, you are confluence, the consolidation of the three states which foster your culture. And in this mixture, you are like me. Forever on the border, fundamentally defying simplistic categorization.

I remember your food, El Paso. New Mexico, your neighbor a half-hour west, holds its sway over you in that regard. I crave your cheese-drenched enchiladas, the spicy sauce made from chiles grown half an hour away. I miss smelling poblanos roasting black. I miss the pan dulce, gingerbread maranitos so dry that they're impossible to choke down without milk. I love your bowls of posole, pork and hominy stew made fresh, the ease which which I can obtain a mixing bowl-sized portion belying the hours spent in its preparation.

Your ethos is Texas, El Paso, or at least the ethos of the El Paso that I knew is Texas. You defy generalization, for each can experience of you what they will. But when I left your sunshine and crystalline sky for the cloud-swallowed towers of Manhattan, I recalled the fierce independence with which you claimed your soil, the pride which you took in coaxing pecan orchards and cotton fields out of your stark desert earth. I missed your Lone Star flag flying bright in the shadow of your mile-high mountains, their stars mirroring each other. I think of the brisket slow-smoked for a full day in spicy barbecue sauce, the twangs and tall Stetsons of the cowboys in town, the pervasiveness of the quintessential cowboy boots.

But your spirit is Mexico, El Paso, the Mexico foreign to me though it runs though half my veins. You host the daughters of your ghost-twin across the border, Ciudad Juárez, severed from you by cruelty, by cartels and chain link fencing, insuperable barriers rending family from family. I hear your Spanish (which you favor over English), the drawly border accent from which I turned to Castilian, and I miss its melody. I see the Anapra from the university summit, I see the poverty of its dirt-lined streets, and I imagine how you, El Paso, must appear through the eyes of its residents below.

El Paso, the city only ever passed through, possessing an unassuming veneer over your rich cultural treasures. You hosted the conquistadors, the first Thanksgiving, Billy the Kid, Pancho Villa. And you continue to foster the wanderers as you yourself, meander into the future, as winding as the riverbed of the Rio Grande.

Te amo y te extraño,