Survival, Part Two

Last week, I gave a woman a ride to the international bridge here in Brownsville. She lives in a little town just to the south of Matamoros, Mexico, and was in a hurry to catch a bus before darkness fell (no one travels on the roads after dark). 

She was admiring my car and then, as I shifted into gear, said, “Oh! This car has manual transmission! You could drive this in my town with no worries.”

I asked her what she meant. She looked a bit taken aback. “Well,” she said, “those people (meaning the drug traffickers), they won’t steal cars that aren’t automatic. They have their standards, you know.”

The traffic came to a stop.   We pulled up behind a pickup truck, and I noticed that there was a new sticker on the back window. As far as I could tell, it was St. Jude, the Patron of Lost Causes. In this incarnation, St. Jude was wrapped in the colors of the Mexican flag.

Lost Causes indeed, and the simple madness of Mexico, lying just across the river, screams at all of us. 

Three weeks ago, a priest from Matamoros had a hole blown into his heart when he wandered into a firefight between two drug gangs and the Mexican Army.  This fellow was one of the rare clerics who didn’t mind making people laugh during Mass, and, in that way, offering the Sunday morning appointment with God as something different than a trip to the dentist. “Bala perdida (stray bullet)” announced the authorities.

Just a couple of days later,  all of Latin America had a hole shot in their collective hearts when Facundo Cabral, an iconic Argentinean singer, was shot to death while on tour in Guatemala. His car was machined gunned  by drug traffickers. The murder of  Cabral, an older fellow who, in his own way, with his voice, his poetry and his irreverence, lightened the load of so many Latin Americans, was, so the authorities insist, a case of mistaken identity. More “balas perdidas.”

The image of someone who sang so poignantly about the beauty of falling in love being blasted to bits by automatic weapons can find no place in my imagination.

I arrived at the bridge to Matamoros and pulled over to let the woman out of the car. She thanked me warmly; I wished her, quite sincerely, buen viaje. She held my look for a moment and said, “Thank you. We have to keep on living, you know.”  She smiled, and closed the car door, and then walked quickly up the street, headed for home.

Survival, Part One

The ducks have been hanging around the house for about six months now. They are impudent, landing on the wall with a clumsy “Aha! I claim this territory as mine!”

They peer down their noses at me, they whistle a couple of times, and then studiously ignore me.

They are a pair: the male has a strange comb that pokes up like a dyed Mohawk haircut. The female just looks nervous.

And then, suddenly, over night it seems,  they went from being just two to seventeen, tottering through the uncut grass and flowers of the yard, the adults figuring out a way to get the brood to the creek that lies about six blocks away.

I was tempted to load them all into a wheelbarrow and cart them over there, but I wasn’t sure that that would work.

And, after all,  they had survived the dozen possums that root about in the neighborhood, the dogs that nose about the property, and an ugly, old yellow cat that lives under the house.

I have not heard or seen them for three days now. I worry about this.

This is, after all, their territory.

Patriots, All!

Army Veterans lead the Feb 22nd march on the Texas
state capitol.

On this fourth of July, my neighbors will take in a parade and an evening fireworks’ display. There will be cookouts and hotdogs. Many of us will sit around and drink a beer and enjoy, just a bit, our own success at being patriots.

After eight months of organizing, of coalition building, of trips to the state capitol, of lobbying legislators as well as the public, we enjoyed beating back more than one hundred  anti-immigrant bills that had been filed in Austin.
Any one of those bills would have seriously affected the quality of life that we enjoy in our communities. So we said “No!”, the “we” being students, community organizers, small business owners, cities and towns, war veterans, church people and the police.
It was hard work, and we didn’t win anything. But we did stop something–the institutionalization of the racial hatred and crippling fear that some Texans seem to carry in their very genes.
It was a big stop and took a lot of hard work. But we were strong, and we won. 
Debbie Riddle filed a bill to deport all “illegal 
immigrants”, except those who worked in yards 
or as maids.

There is so much to be said about all of it, but Jared Janes of the McAllen Monitor did a good job, and here is a bit from what he wrote:

‘We were strong’: Group celebrates demise of anti-immigration bill
By Jared Janes for The McAllen Monitor
2011-06-29

SAN JUAN – Calling it a victory for all of Texas, a Rio Grande Valley coalition celebrated the demise of legislation that would have authorized local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

The collapse of the so-called sanctuary cities bill despite attempts to pass it in both sessions was a victory for all Hispanic and working families who could have been targeted by the proposed legislation, said John Michael Torres, a spokesman for La Union del Pueblo Entero. He said the bill’s passage would have driven a wedge between law enforcement officers and immigrant communities and would have forced police departments to expend valuable resources policing immigration.

Brownsville residents at the capitol–some made six
different trips to Austin to lobby for the community–
losing a day of work each time.

Despite a strong GOP majority in both chambers, the sanctuary cities bill failed to pass in the special session with House and Senate Republicans blaming each other. The bill also failed to achieve passage during the regular session among more than 100 anti-illegal immigration measures filed. None of those bills passed.


“At the beginning of the session, things were set up for some of these bills to pass, but the crisis we saw at that moment was also a catalyst for action,” Torres said Wednesday following a rally in front of a mural of labor rights leader Cesar Chavez, who founded the San Juan-based civic group.

“It’s really amazing that nothing passed, but that’s because there were so many people united with this effort across the state,” Torres said.

A flurry of bills targeting illegal immigration filed by state legislators led to the creation of the coalition that asked the state to consider the implications of passing those bills. Rather than basing their arguments solely on moral grounds, the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s immigration coalition also asked legislators to consider the potentially negative impact on the economy.

The coalition – part of a broad, statewide group that worked with law enforcement officials, faith leaders, business representatives and human rights advocates to oppose the bills – organized a comprehensive outreach program, traveling to Austin for two rallies, making hundreds of phone calls to the Capitol and delivering more than 150 resolutions and 3,000 postcards opposed to the bills.

“Unidos, we were strong,” said Ramona Casas, a community activist with A Resource in Serving Equality, an immigrant advocacy group better known as ARISE. “We gave a lot of testimony and made phone calls so they knew what we thought about the bill and so they knew it was not good, not just for the immigrant community but for everybody.”

Most of the group’s opposition was directed at the sanctuary cities bill that would have prohibited police departments from blocking their officers from enforcing immigration laws. While supporters say the sanctuary cities bill would have given law enforcement officers the authority they need to enforce all laws, critics say it could lead to racial profiling.

The measure caused racially charged debates in the Legislature where border representatives could express its “detrimental effect,” said state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Palmview, an opponent of the bill. Many small businesses were initially opposed to the bill – in the Valley, those seeking to block it received resolutions from taquerias, mechanic shops, insurance agencies and other small businesses – but industry leaders were also concerned about economic implications.

Arizona’s hard-line immigration measure led critics to say the bill would force Hispanics to leave the state, costing the state tax dollars, business and a labor source.

“Once they saw past the political rhetoric that was surrounding the issue, people started to see what a negative impact it was going to have,” Muñoz said, calling it “blatant discrimination” against Hispanics.

Francisco Martinez, a retired farm worker, collected dozens of resolutions from Valley business owners concerned about the legislation’s possible impact. He said the bill would have forced some immigrants further underground.

“They’re not criminals, but they were afraid,” he said. “Now it’s going to be different. People aren’t going to be afraid.”