Skip to main content

Two Towns, One Border: The City of Naco

Two Towns, One Border: The City of Naco

In honor of International Education Week, we’re sharing stories of communities coming together, volunteering their time to cross borders, both physical and cultural, to learn more about one another.

Until the 1960s, the towns of Naco, Arizona and Naco, Mexico were one, small, united town. When tensions rose between the two nations over illegal immigration, the community was split in two. In 1979, residents from both sides decided to use the rusted fence as a volleyball net and for the last 34 years, they've continued to celebrate the spirit of their community in the face of strict border control and political friction.

The US-Mexico border stretches 1,954 miles (3,145 kilometers) from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. The political tensions of the international border are widely known, but the defiant residents of Naco - both in Arizona and Mexico - choose to show the world that a border cannot define their community nor break their spirit. Every year, they gather to draw their own lines in the brick-red sand, creating an improvised court with the border fence standing in as their net. Sure, they're unable to switch sides at halftime - as per the rules of the game - but that doesn't stop them from celebrating the union of their communities.

Over the years, the game has grown and is now part of a corporate-sponsored party. Even residents on the San Diego/Tijuana border have followed the example, playing impromptu matches on the sandy beaches of the Pacific end of the international border. These residents have challenged the meaning of a border, as do Ayusa families, students, and communities. Every year, American families allow an international border to cross the threshold of their living rooms by inviting a foreign exchange student to live with them while they attend a local high school for the academic year. Like these volleyball matches on the US-Mexico border, they foster cultural exchange between communities and celebrate their likenesses and diversity.