May 24, 2023 759 PM
Texture Presidio uses the art of photography and storytelling to explore and highlight the textures and tales that make Presidio County and the surrounding desert landscape both beautifully ordinary and unique.
“Being of Spanish-Mexican and Lebanese descent is a prideful combined identity; I represent all of the generations of women before me,” says Lizette Rohana. She summarizes how that makes her feel in three short words: “Breakthrough, Liberation, and PRIDE.”
Spending a couple of evenings with Rohana — walking through her spaces, hearing about her dreams for the region, her passions, and past and present projects both in the community and in her own life — it is apparent that she is a person who puts in the work. At the center of that energy is a woman who has always been strong and grounded. Life situations, trial and error, knowing herself and trusting her worth have all together shaped a force who believes deeply in the strength of all women.
Rohana knows firsthand some of the struggles that can come with being a decidedly independent and self-sufficient woman in an often machismo culture. She decided a long time ago to never sacrifice herself again after leaving a more traditional path early in her life, knowing it wasn’t meant for her. This is an important message Rohana wants to relay to her daughter and any other woman who might be struggling similarly. It by no means has been easy, she says — many didn’t and perhaps don’t understand her divergent beliefs, but the freedom she has earned in her living shows her that it was the right choice. She beautifully balances reverence and value for the cultures she inherits while trusting her ability to challenge the ways it doesn’t serve her or other women.
“I try to give women in my life everything I can, always let them know there is no need for suffering, motivate them however best I can, listen to them, and love, always love,” says Rohana. “I love the women around me.”
For Rohana, ensuring that she’s doing what she can to aid women of the region in claiming their cultural heritage and feeling empowered to reach their fullest potential is extremely high on her list of priorities and motivations. This desire is woven into every part of Rohana’s busy days. She becomes an advocate in many forms –– stretching every minute to best show up for her community.
During the week, Lizette Rohana can be found alongside fellow volunteers and staff members at the newly opened Human Rights Center in Presidio, a local chapter associated with The Border Network of Human Rights out of El Paso.
The center opened its doors in 2022 and has since been a beacon for the community.
Rohana shares that the goal and purpose of the Human Rights Center is “to educate and inform the public on human and civil rights.”
They aim to be a much-needed safe haven for vulnerable community members needing a place to ask questions, report harmful experiences or find resources. With the rapid change of laws, it is understandable that there is much confusion and misinformation surrounding legal rights. The Human Rights Center is an excellent resource for these questions and an overall asset to the community.
“For our Presidio office, we want to make it into a community center that serves all,” says Rohana. “Folks need to have a safe place to go and express themselves and be directed to resources they might need.”
The center is also a safe place to report abuse or misuse of power by the various types of law enforcement that exist here on the border, says Rohana. She hopes the center can simultaneously support and inform individuals about their rights while providing much-needed mediation between community members and local law enforcement — more accountability and transparency without creating a wider divide.
Keep your ears and eyes open to ways to participate in and support The Human Rights Center in Presidio. The center is actively working to create more community events and opportunities to engage locally and across the border, to ensure all community members know about their doors being open. Feel free to reach out directly if you have specific questions or needs The Human Rights Center could help you with.
Dating back to the early 1900s, the list of ways Rohana’s family has been an integral part of local history is endless. Her family members have owned banks, bars, museums, farms, and much more on either border. Her family still owns the Rohana Auto Shop in Presidio, a delightful Mexican craft store in Ojinaga you don’t want to miss, and The Ojinaga Regional Museum, among others.
Crossing the border to Ojinaga, we are on the way to the Rohana family’s Pecan Farm. It is pruning season, so the trees lack color and leaves, but still – it’s beautiful. On the farm, you can also find apple and peach trees, a handful of farm pups and a sassy cow with a heart-shaped mark on its face named Mija.
Rohana shares fond memories of this remarkable place. The trees on the grounds are 29 years young and were carefully rooted by hand and shovels. Rohana’s grandpa felt strongly about not harming the soil with machinery. To this day, they maintain the grounds as naturally as possible, using cow manure, and painting lime and nopal sap treatment on the base of the trees to keep pests away.
In recent years, they had hired men who had immigrated to northern Mexico from Cuba to work the farm. Rohana notes what a welcome addition they were to the team, bringing much charm and often singing joyfully as they worked.
Aunt Jane, the unofficial family historian/archivist, beautifully displays family photos and artifacts within the family house, including a pillow donning her mother’s glamorous visage. It is nice to be in their family compound. You can feel the profound generosity and history here, as exemplified by the cup of coffee offered upon my arrival.
Ojinaga can feel chaotic, as cities often do. While the farm is only a stone’s throw from the busy streets, watching the vibrant sunset over the farm — with the sounds of the city only a faint noise in the background — felt peaceful.
I ask Rohana how living along the border between Presidio and Ojinaga has impacted her life. “I was lucky enough to have been brought up with my four grandparents, all different and unique backgrounds; they gave me my roots and love for the area,” she replied. “A lot of tíos, tias and cousins who are my brothers and sisters, my feisty and stubborn brother who is one of my biggest strengths for courage, and a unique pair of parents!”
“Wow! I feel so rich,” she added.
The Labyrinth of Solitude, a 1950s book-length essay by the Mexican poet Octavo Paz is notably Rohana’s favorite book.
“There is no other book that best describes what the ‘Mexican’ culture/identity turned out to be after the conquest. Our joys, sadness, drama, family values, vibrant culture, the fiestas in which everyone ends up drinking, crying and beating the crap out of each other, long funerals with loud screaming, such a rich identity and culture but yet still seeking what is already there,” Rohana shares.
She adds that her second favorite book is The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin –– “The bible to all revolutions in the world!”
As exemplified in her love of Paz’s work, her Mexican heritage holds much weight in Rohana’s life. It is woven into the ways she chooses to give her time, the way she raises her children, and her hopes and dreams for the region.
“For me, it’s such a unique experience to live here in West Texas. Living on the border is like living different realities all at once. I see Presidio and Ojinaga as one and would like to see its development focused and centered on the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande and the ecology of the area.”
Goodness is a sentiment that often comes up for Rohana. It aligns well with Rohana’s passions for service, family, womanhood and wellness.
Noting that her entire family has taught her about “goodness,” Rohana credits her Mexican grandmother, a woman often found bringing gifts and food to the local prison, among a myriad other gracious acts, for sowing a profound social awareness and humility from an early age.
Rohana leaves us with this wisdom: “We can only plant seeds of goodness to be examples for new generations. The simple act of ‘doing’ is essential for them to see. That’s our purpose in life — just do good, you don’t need a title and you don’t need to get too romantic with the idea. It can even just be day-to-day moments with your family.”
It is a profound reminder that while making large-scale impacts is paramount, the little ways we show up and love those around us can have an equally profound influence.
Hannah Gentiles is a photographer and trained social worker who has lived in Presidio County since 2015. She currently runs “Texture Presidio,” a photo essay-based storytelling project, and lives in Presidio. To find out more about Texture Presidio and her photography, visit www.hannahgentiles.com/texturepresidio or ig:texturepresidio