By Sonya Hamasaki, CNN
(CNN) - A friend. A neighbor. A fellow countryman. This is what it means to be a paisano. But every Christmas, in the small border town of Laredo, Texas, it takes on another meaning.
In Laredo, paisanos are travelers, Mexican citizens who live in the United States and pass through Laredo on their way to visit loved ones in Mexico for the holidays. Laredo is the last stop before crossing the border - some have driven from far-away states - and the journey can be a stressful one.
That's why the city of Laredo, in partnership with the Mexican General Consulate, staffs a pop-up rest stop to ease travelers concerns. They call it the Paisano Rest Stop, and it will be open for 48 continuous hours this weekend, starting Friday.
The Paisano Rest Stop is a 14-year tradition fueled by a close-knit American community that prides itself on its proximity to Mexico. The mayor greets thousands of travelers with a handshake and a hug. They sip hot chocolate, share snacks and huddle under heaters in the cold night. Patrons are offered information on road conditions and safe places to park their cars to take a nap. They can meet with officials about the necessary documents to cross the border.
As the political climate along the Texas-Mexico border has changed, many travelers are nervous when they approach the border.
"The level of violence in Mexico, as we all know, has increased," Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas said. "Most people now travel during the daylight hours. But U.S. and Mexico officials want to assure them that the roads are constantly patrolled by police and military units all along the freeways and highways. This gives people a sense of relief."
Paisanos are also briefed on what to do if they're attacked in Mexico. They receive valuable information on how to report crimes at the Mexican Consulate, and are taught how to spot fraudulent nationalization processing businesses.
"People just want to get home. No other city on the U.S.-Mexico border does this. We want to make it as safe as possible," Salinas said. "We facilitate the paisanos' crossing experience, because we appreciate what the Mexican citizens do in the United States. They're just like family. It’s a beautiful tradition."
For years, Luis Campa has helped the paisanos make the pilgrimage. He's an auto mechanic from Tamaulipas, Mexico, who now lives in the United States and owns a repair shop in Laredo. Every year, Campa brings his tool box and his service supplies to the Paisano Rest Stop, where he'll change flat tires, drive people to fuel, or simply chat with solo drivers who have covered hundreds of miles without seeing a single soul.
"I asked the Mexican Consulate if I could help my fellow countrymen in any way," Campa said.
That was eight years ago. He's answered the call every Christmas since then, waking up at 3 a.m. so he can be there by 4 a.m., even in rain or snow.
"Sometimes people want to give me money," he said. "I will not accept it. God is watching and if I receive a cent, then I'm not truly there to help."
The poor economy forced many of last year's holiday paisanos to stay in Mexico, so Laredo may not see as many travelers this weekend.
But those who make it will get a warm 'bienvenidos,' from helpers like Campa.
"I think God has helped me become a mechanic and to grow a small business," he said. "I have to give back."