By Simon Chandler
Bowie Bakery is an iconic location and holds a dear place in the hearts of many El Pasoans. For some, it is their connection with Segundo Barrio, the heart and soul of the city’s Mexican and Mexican American community. For others, it is a reminder of our unique border culture where you can buy baked goods such as donuts and conchas, cupcakes and pastel de tres leches.
I was not born or raised in El Paso. I came in 1991 from England, fresh out of college, to volunteer with Annunciation House, an organization located on the edge of Segundo Barrio that works with refugees and immigrants.
I arrived on the Amtrak train from New Orleans where the landscape and skies get bigger and bigger as you move west. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish and knew next to nothing about El Paso and its unique culture. I found myself living and working in a homeless shelter full mostly of Central American refugees eating beans and rice every day.
Most of the other people who worked there were young North American volunteers, just out of college like me. The coordinator of the house was a sprightly nun in her 60s from Minnesota, Rita Steinhagan. She was a veteran peace activist who had been in Central America during the 1980s.
I think she could tell what a fish out of water I was. During my first week in El Paso she said to me one evening, “Let’s go for a walk”. And we walked at dusk down St Vrain Avenue into Segundo Barrio and went to Bowie Bakery.
I don’t remember what I got to eat there that evening, but that was the beginning of my relationship with the bakery and the community. Twenty five years later I still live in the neighborhood. I am a teacher at Hart Elementary and also run Segundo Barrio Futbol Club, a soccer program for boys and girls in the community. I walk past Bowie Bakery every day on my way to work. I will often stop by on the weekend to get menudo for my wife, a marranito for my son, or my favorite- empanada de pina. For me, like for many fronterizos, Bowie Bakery is much more than a great bakery.