Why I hate: this is a Bengali woman carrying a British motherfucker on her back at the height of Empire.
Why I hate: this is a Bengali woman carrying a British motherfucker on her back at the height of Empire.
A ragged American flag flutters outside Rosa Castro’s trailer near the U.S.-Mexico border. She has no electricity, no running water, and little hope that she ever will.
Castro is one of about 500,000 people residing in hundreds of unincorporated towns in south Texas, places with quirky names such as Little Mexico, Radar Base, Betty Acres and Mike’s that were created when developers carved up ranchland that was unprepared for human habitation and sold the parcels at bargain prices, mostly to low-income immigrants and Mexican Americans.
Buyers plunked down double-wide trailers or wood-and-cinder-block houses and waited for the paved roads, electricity, and water and sewer systems to arrive.
For thousands of people, they never did.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says the enclaves, known in Spanish as colonias, represent one of the largest concentrations of poverty in the United States. Texas outlawed their creation and expansion in 1989. The state and federal government have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to improve some of the outposts, but have done little in others, for reasons that include the high costs and questions about who owns which land.
Critics of colonias say people frustrated by the lack of services should move to established cities and towns, but residents refuse to abandon their land after years of trying to make it work. They are irked that the state government recently cut funding for health care, water and other services for colonias, and that President Trump is pushing a $25 billion border wall and security upgrades at a time when illegal border crossings are low and colonias could use a federal boost.
“We can’t move away from here. We want Washington to do something,” said Castro, a 70-year-old grandmother. “We’re in the United States after all.”
Jesse Gonzalez, an elected commissioner in Webb County, says he has made it his priority to bring a park and a water pump to La Presa. The county has applied for state grants to finance both projects.
“We don’t live in a Third World country,” Gonzalez said.
About 330 colonias — and nearly 38,000 people — are stuck in the most extreme conditions, without clean running water, sewers, or even clear boundaries needed to develop the land, according to the state. Another 115,000 people live in enclaves without paved roads, drainageor solid-waste disposal.
Residents of La Presa, a community of 300 surrounding a bluish lake at the center of town that is hidden by mesquite and sweet acacia trees, buy bottled water for drinking. Two or three times a week, they hitch empty water tanks to pickup trucks and drive about a dozen miles to Laredo to pump water for their washing machines, sinks, toilets and tubs.
The cost is nominal, about $1.25 each filling, but the supply dwindles fast.
Sylvia Zuazua, a flea market cashier, has lived without running water for decades. She and her husband paid $5,200 for an acre of land in the 1970s, dreaming of raising their family on a small farm. They bought chickens, cows and a pony, but they eventually sold them all because they had no water.
“Supposedly the United States is the richest country,” she said with a shake of her head. “I tell my husband, he’s going to be buried and we won’t see water.”
The improvements that have trickled into La Presa over the years have made a big difference, residents say. Electrical hookups arrived over a decade ago for residents who could prove they owned the land. Around the same time, the government built an adobe-tinted community center where elderly residents play loteria, the Mexican version of bingo, pick up bags of donated sweet bread and ham sandwiches, and gather for meetings.
But for those, like Castro, who cannot prove they own their land, electricity was not an option. And for county officials, some improvements are simply too expensive — extending water and sewer service to La Presa, for example, would cost more than $120,000 per family, which is more expensive than housing in Laredo.
The rightful homeowners in colonias are often unclear because many paid for their land in cash and did not have the land formally mapped out and deeded with the county government. Others illegally carved up existing plots and sold them. And in other cases, the owners died without having a will that would indicate who owns the property.
“Those property owners who have chosen to live in the subdivision without basic services are also free to choose to relocate to an area where those services are available,” Webb County spokesman Larry Sanchez said in an email. “Until there is a significant reduction in the cost per connection or other funding resources are generated, this subdivision will remain without water and sewer service or other utility services.”
Carlos Cascos, a Republican and another former secretary of state, under Abbott, said the state and federal governments should invest $100 million a year for the next 15 years to modernize colonias.
“These are basic necessities,” said Cascos, who lives in the border city of Brownsville and is running for a judgeship in Cameron County. “They’re not asking for curbs and gutters and sidewalks. They’re asking for water.”
Castro said she moved to La Presa more than a dozen years ago, after she lost her house in Laredo to foreclosure. County officials say they can do little to provide Castro access to utilities for her trailer, because it’s unclear who owns the property where she lives, and only a court can resolve the issue.
Officials tried to help her apply for public housing in Laredo, but Castro says she wants to pay her own way.
She says she also did not want to burden her relatives. But as temperatures sank this winter, she sought refuge with a brother who has heat and hot water.
“They’re going to build a park,” Castro said. “We don’t need a park. We need water.”
REPORT NUMBER THREE:“All these trade deals blocking my vision!”
REPORT NUMBER FOUR: “Huh? Oh, we’re cool. Everything’s cool. Must have been a false alarm”
BY T H E P O U G E S
In Manhattan’s desert twilight
In the death of afternoon
We stepped hand in hand on Broadway
Like the first men on the moon.
And “The Blackbird” broke the silence
As you whistled it so sweet.
And in Brendan Behan’s footsteps
I danced up and down the street.
Thousands are sailing
Across the Western Ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery.
That some of them will never see.
Their bellies full, their spirits free
They’ll break the chains of poverty
And they’ll dance.
Wherever we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees.
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies
Now we dance to the music
And we dance.
IRISH WAYS (excerpt)
By John Gibbs
Cromwell and his soldiers came,
Started centuries of shame,
But they could not make us turn,
We are a river flowing,
800 years we have been down,
The secret of the water sound
Has kept the spirit of a man
Above the pain descending,
Today the struggle carries on,
I wonder will I live so long
To see the gates been opened up
To a people and their freedom,
To a people and their freedom.
Once upon a time, about two and a half months ago, l was stuck in a motel in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where my car had died: suddenly, without warning, and in the middle of a six lane highway .. wait –
during rush hour. When else?
The cost of the tow truck, a new alternator and the motel bill had left me with exactly $4.26 to my name. Sounds about right. I mean, what’s my point here?
Let’s see..twenty minutes before my car came to a dead stop, I’d been lying in a hospital bed a few blocks away, expecting surgery and rehab for which I’d been waiting three and a half years. I’d prayed only that it wasn’t too late: that is, I’d certainly been able to walk three and a half years earlier. Had New Mexico’s public health system included actual medical treatment, I’d have been walking long ago.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was told there would be another delay, but I was. By now, though, I’ve learned that filing complaints, calling Santa Fe, appealing to state social workers and otherwise pitching a fit are stupid things to do if you are poor in New Mexico. So two nice medics wheeled me out to the hospital parking lot, sort of shoved me into my car, tossed my walker in the back seat and waved as I pulled into rush hour traffic. Hopefully, there’d be someone around to shove me back out of the car when I got home. A few blocks later, my car suddenly slowed down….
And that’s where you came in.
Five years ago, I stood alone against Vampires Are Us Media Group, aka GateHouse Media and its neoliberal lawyer and/or journalist pals.
At stake was the life of a Mexican-American father who was being framed for murder after he had acted to defend himself from a white supremacist attack .1
During and after the case, I was attacked by a relentless barrage of lies, threats, retaliation, libel, and textbook defamation. 2
It turns out that the idea of a reporter’s faith in the truth is actually a huge media joke.
Everything that made up my life was smashed and broken in order to destroy my credibility.
After they broke my heart, they broke my back.
In spite of the increasingly surreal quality of my world, I nevertheless maintained a dim sense that life went on. For example, I awoke the next day from motel dreams of swerving traffic and began lurching down the hall toward the free breakfast. A sharp flash of pain immediately reminded me that I’d left my walker on the passenger seat of my old Crown Victoria, which had been towed away. The pain remarked, in the overly familiar tone of a permanent guest, that the motel hallway had certainly grown longer overnight. I ignored it hatefully and leaned heavily into the wallpaper, sliding almost horizontally toward the distant lobby.
The breakfast area was a sea of Anglos: half of them were attending business meetings, and the rest were families on vacation. I looked around for something to help me through the line and as I grabbed a large luggage rack on wheels, I was pierced with longing: a memory of gliding swiftly through crowds, able to estimate their size, take photos, grab phone quotes and spot the outside auditors arrive without missing a beat.
Then I moved my back the wrong way and cried out as a flash of electricity instantly knocked me over – I mean way, way over. I was bent completely in half and I couldn’t move. Everyone just sat and pretended they weren’t looking at me. I looked at the floor because it was all I could see.
“I’ll get to her as soon as I can,” a motel employee said impatiently (and to someone else!) from behind me. Instantly I was resolved not to ask for help.
However, I knew that I would soon fall to the floor, so I rapidly ran through my options. I was fairly sure that if I cried in front of this large group of strangers, I would hurl myself in front of the first rapidly approaching cement truck I could find.
I heard what sounded almost like a sort of scuffle, and twisted my neck as far as I could. A man rapidly approached, elbowing people aside so that he could place a chair under me and – very slowly – help me to sit down. With the authority of a single gesture, he signaled a passing businessman to assist him in lifting the chair into an adjourning lounge and getting me onto a couch, Once lying on my side, the pain soon subsided.
The man’s name was Ruben, and he was evidently pissed off at the entire breakfast crowd.
(Hey, me too hermano! Over here! I am pissed off too – at everyone. !Mira – aqui!)
?”Usted hablan Espanol?” I asked Ruben. English was not working out for us.
“Si, si!” he replied enthusiastically and I arranged my brain in preparation. At least ten or twelve minutes later, however I realized that my brain had bypassed the prep zone and gone, unsupervised, straight to Spanish.
This blew my mind. I’d been speaking Spanish freely and effectively without thinking about it!
Let me tell you, it was like a visit from magic! I shall never forget it. My brain had inexplicably changed in significant, even profound ways, and my world had suddenly become much bigger. Infinitely bigger than if I had suddenly been able to get up and run.
Ruben and I didn’t have a complicated conversation, but it was, by every measure the best kind of conversation because it connected us. He was a Mexican national who had recently taken his time exploring North America’s west coast from Vancouver to San Diego. He said he had seen Mexicans everywhere he went. I told Ruben that I have been studying Pancho Villa and E. Zapata. Some of Villa’s generals were actually Americans – these were by far the most moronic scoundrels in the conflict. ( No, I didn’t say “by far the most moronic scoundrels” in Spanish.)
Villa himself, of course, had the heart of a lion.
When I mentioned the EZLN and “Commandante Marcos”, Ruben gave me a huge smile and a small victory sign. I told him that for 15 years my life’s biggest dream has been to join the Zapatista struggle in some way. Ruben said they are a role model for every resistence struggle in the world. He thought the right-wing coup in Brazil should be a global priority right now, because it represents a huge threat to all of Latin America. Looming right behind that is, of course, the relentless aggression of the United States.
We ended by vowing that Hugo Chavez will live forever and the Bolivarian Movement will triumph. The very last thing I told Ruben was that although I was born in New York City, Mexico is the country of my heart. Ruben didn’t roll his eyes. (Thank-you, lord ) Instead he called me a sister of Mexico before disappearing around the corner.
That afternoon, I drove north through the bright desert. To the west, eight or ten coyote loped along at easy pace, out well before sunset and close to the flatland farms they know to be dangerous. They were looking for water.
What I knew had been lost to me: I didn’t believe it anymore. But Spanish had returned it to me that morning (or at least pointed the way) because Spanish holds memory forever. It infuses the past into the present until collective memory crackles in the air. As itself a living thing, Spanish recognizes you.
I was more than halfway home. Although the day remained shining yellow and blue, the earliest signs of evening had begun to appear in the western sky – so subtle as to be nearly invisible. By now, Ruben was zipping through West Texas, heading southeast to San Antonio, where he planned to cross the border at Laredo Nuevo
If only one comrade can hear you, all can hear you.
Some families are lost to their daughters forever, and some are not. Somewhere, the people are waiting intently for snow.
The last and smallest of the yellow flowers are blooming now in the New Mexico desert,
Still, even in loneliness, no heart beats alone.
!JaJaJaJaJa! (Ha, ha, ha!) That is the sound of my remembered laughter. No matter what anyone says, it is also the sound of Sandinistas laughing from far away.
Was it magic? Well, my Spanish adventure hasn’t happened again – not like that, not that way. For the most part, except for the common exchanges of daily life, and a political vocabulary known to all, my road to Spanish remains a careful and deliberate, albeit always generous one.
But hey! Don’t you know that God sends Spanish just in time?
These are meant for readers interested in further clarification, and supplement the numbered statements above.
111. Media and popular support for my refusal to identify a confidential source evaporated in the face of my conviction for contempt of court. Without my knowledge, First Amendment stars such as Harvey Silverglate and Lucy Dalglish joined corporate media lawyers in a behind-the-scenes effort to force my testimony. This is in and of itself a basis for disbarring all attorney on both sides.
2 Worse, the coverup was itself a series of flagrant federal civil rights law violations that propelled already alarming evidence of entrenched press/corporate corruption into a much more chilling sphere. It revealed that non-profit public policy giants such as the ACLU have a real disregard for both the First Amendment and sections of federal civil rights law. It’s a disregard as genuine as that displayed by the most recalcitrant corporate offenders.
Thanks to Rosaliene Bacchus. Go to link below for story.
These are bad times for Latin America. With the fall of Brazil’s Rousseff government, the U.S. has broken the back of the Union of South American Nations (Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina), which resisted the dominance of American corporate interests for years. Now, Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution has been kicked in the gut and Argentina has rushed to align itself with Brazil’s right-wing elite. That elite has regained its long-term stranglehold on the country two years after the left-wing Worker’s Party won its fourth straight victory in national elections.
Now, a textbook CIA coup has framed democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff and installed right-wing vice president Michel Temer. When Temer unveiled his new cabinet Thursday it became clear that his government is absolutely hostile to Brazil’s social movements and minority groups. Its 22 white male members include seven ministers who are under investigation for their alleged role in the Petrobras corruption scandal.
Temer reduced the size of the cabinet to 22 ministries, ostensibly in the name of austerity. However, his choice of what ministries to cut requires no interpretation.
Additionally, the Comptroller General, which once enjoyed independent status, has now become the Ministry of Supervision, Transparency and Control, which could affect its ability to investigate alleged corruption.
Temer has already dispatched a delegation to Washington, DC to confer with his delighted bosses.
Brazil’s Big Capital in both nations is sleeping well tonight.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, this is now, Amy, the second major strike now, student strike, at the University of Puerto Rico in a year. Last spring, the students were out for over two months, one of the longest strikes in any U.S. territory, going back, I guess, to San Francisco State in California. And they were able to beat back the attempts of the university and of the government of Puerto Rico to impose sharply higher fees and privatization efforts. However, the governor then got the legislature, which he controls, to pack the board of trustees, put new members on the board of trustees, and then started again imposing a sharply higher fee on the students this year. They went on strike again. No one expected them to do it again.
This has gone on now since early December, and it’s sort of climaxed. There have been arrests. The police have been occupying the campus now for two months. And then, last week, while the rest of the world was watching Egypt, the faculty went on strike in support of the students, the university employees went on strike. And then, on Friday, the president of the university resigned. And the governor, who was spending the weekend over at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, because he is a conservative Republican and pro-statehooder, came back from Washington and announced that he was pulling the police out of the campus.
It’s still not clear how the strike will be resolved. But it is clear that here you have, as Congressman Gutiérrez said, the last remaining major colony of the United States, and the same kind of issues that young people are raising about their right to protest, their right to have a decent education, and their right to oppose what’s an increasingly authoritarian government in Puerto Rico is not being respected.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to cover it, and it has been going on for quite some time with very little attention.
INTRODUCTION BY CLAIRE O’BRIEN
About ten years ago, Homeland Security began creating a vast graveyard in a stretch of the Arizona desert’s most remote and rugged terrain. It did so by focusing so intensely on traditional migrant routes that people crossing from Mexico were forced further and further east. They had to cross where the routes were the roughest, where there are no water resources, no population centers to speak of, and where there are miles and miles to go before there is a ray of hope on the horizon.
Now, at least 7,000 human skeletons lie buried beneath those desert miles. And the U.S, government planned it that way.
It takes a pool of Border Patrol applicants from small towns across the Southwest, in regions with skyrocketing unemployment, failed schools, loss of small farmers, a devastating methamphetamine epidemic, and infant mortality rates higher than those of most developing nations.
Keep pay low, stress high, racism rampant, and “investigations” of agent brutality a joke. Sit back and wait.
JEREMIAH KAUFFMAN: HIS WORLD of ART and POETRY
The Salty River Writer. - Alumnus of Columbia University, Bennington College, and Palomar College.
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