Tag Archives: Crystal City

COVID19 in a Small South Texas Town

Here is your daily reminder that Greg Abbott and the Republicans are awful, evil people.

I just saw a Facebook live press conference of the leaders of my hometown/county reporting 4 COVID19 cases. The school district has shut down its food distribution program because of a positive test result. As they try to get ahead of it with contact tracing, medical care, quarantine, and providing the people with the latest information, they are basically fighting against Greg Abbott’s lack of concern for poor and struggling communities.

These elected leaders are urging people to stay home, use masks, stop traveling out of the town (which is difficult for those with medical appointments in Laredo or San Antonio), keep out-of-town relatives from visiting (some cases were apparently traced back to a traveler), and continue to follow CDC guidelines. The worry in their voices was palpable.

Good people are reporting get-togethers of 10 or more people out of concern for themselves and others. The townspeople, my friends and relatives, are worried and they are doing what they can, which is commendable considering that Texas leadership is purposely failing Texans.

My community has a lot of health issues and an aging population that is at risk. It doesn’t help when local leaders are trying to protect their communities, yet, Greg Abbott just shirks his responsibilities and shows us he just doesn’t care and offers up conflicting rants and misinformation on Fox News, while being lauded by the Trump administration.

My little town and county have around 7,000 and 12,000 people, respectively. I live in a metro area of 7 million and our local leaders struggle with bad Texas leadership, too. And the fear and worry are strong here, too.

My hometown and county is among the poorest in the nation and heavily uninsured. If one can’t afford to travel 10 miles to the next town’s hospital for COVID19 testing, they must wait for a monthly mobile testing unit that opens for eight hours for one day. The fear is only compounded by the wait.

Although I write about this because I worry, I can also say that I am not surprised by what Trump and Abbott are doing. I’m more pissed off at those who made an electoral choice to keep Abbott by either voting for him or “not voting” for the Latina Democrat because she didn’t “sound” like the leader they wanted (“sounds” like coded language, there) and they guessed Abbott wasn’t that bad. One can argue about not voting period. Hey, I get it. After decades of fighting for candidates, I can say that I’m pretty cynical about most that I simply do not identify with.

But in times like these, how our elected officials respond has everything to do with politics. It’s the difference between one State Representative who uses his contacts to gain access to masks and PPE to distribute to those in need versus a US Senator from Texas who just wants a haircut and makes a show of it. It’s the difference between small town leaders going on Facebook Live to practically beg people to put the people’s safety first versus a Governor who uses TV to whine about leaders who put the people’s safety first. And it’s the difference between a County Judge and a District Judge who make decisions based on facts versus Republicans who make decisions based on profit and hate. Voting matters!

24 Hours in Cristal

flopopeyeI spent a day in Crystal City, TX this past weekend for my mother’s funeral mass. Yes, THAT Crystal City that’s been in the news after the indictment of its mayor, a couple of councilmen, and the city manager. Recently, another councilman was indicted for human smuggling. And, then, it made national news again when the water turned black and dirty.

Crystal City has a political history in Texas. What most Chicanos see as a history of political involvement and self-determination, others saw as a bunch of young brown-skinned radicals that Texas’ then-Democrat Governor called communists. Other Dem leaders pushed back against migrant farm workers (including activists from my hometown) marching to Austin to demand higher wages. They didn’t seem to get that in the process of political change, Chicanos in South Texas saw an increase in higher education attainment and Chicanos were finally part of the political process at various levels–and by their own doing, not through political favors from the establishment Democrats who preferred docile, unquestioned loyalty.

It was during this time that I was born and grew up. A lot of these newly degreed Chicanos and Chicanas would become my teachers. I was reminded of this when two of my former teachers that I had not seen in decades attended my mother’s funeral mass. I was reminded that the History of our little town was indeed a positive one and not one worthy of blame for any problems that were actually caused by a power structure that demanded Chicanos be politically and economically (cheap workforce) subservient. Cristal was punished, no doubt, for its activism. In a sense, it’s still being punished.

When an anglo Republican, a few years ago, somehow finagled his way into the city attorneys and then the city manager’s job at a salary almost equal to that of the Mayor of Houston, a lot of people began questioning what was going on. That the guy’s salary took 1/2 the city’s operating budget was questionable enough. But now that indictments have come about because these guys were getting [allegedly] bought off to ensure a gambling business’s success, among other things, the city has gone through a lot of embarrassment that somehow has called into question the City’s political history. What it did show was the town’s vulnerability.

Then, the water turned black, according to a few pictures and internet memes. For sure, the water had some sort of contamination. While the town’s water tower and system has always been under some sort of repair, there’s no doubt that there has been a need for major investment in the town’s infrastructure. Streets have been crumbling, pipes have been bursting, and leadership (state and federal) has been lacking. Surely, the town’s tax base couldn’t cover the costs of infrastructure development since major businesses have avoided Cristal for other area towns. Even the fracking boom mostly missed the town for other localities, while some of my friends gained a few jobs in the field. Still, we’re talking about a town of 7,000 souls who should have a right to drinkable water. A town whose population grows older and infirm. But this stuff isn’t reported in the news. (And we’re still awaiting the results of water tests from TCEQ.) And the needs of these South Texas towns, even with billions of dollars being made by oil companies, have gone largely ignored.

sawsBut I was also reminded that there are a lot of good people in the world. The San Antonio Water System sent a semi with 5,000 gallons of drinkable water to give out to the people. An environmental services company and the neighboring town of Carrizo Springs sent several pallets of bottled water to give to the elderly and homebound. Volunteers came together to make sure this happened. I felt a bit of pride in my town while I watched some of this happen.

Crystal City has turned out many survivors and fighters. And even folks like me who left the day after high school graduation who will still advocate for it and the people. The town has been through much while people who had been stepped on for decades pressed forward–at times successfully, if only temporarily. When other forces pushed for its demise, the town and its people survived. Crystal City can and will survive this.

The wheels, ever slow, are in motion as, hopefully, some good people without any self-interest will be elected to a new City Council after all the business of recalls and court dates is done. All new management will be hired to hopefully put the city on a better path. For now, though, it’s inevitable that the town will see a bit more turmoil and drama while it works out the kinks. “No hay mal que por bien no venga,” as my momma Flora used to say.

My mom loved her pueblito. She was born there, grew up there, and she and my Daddy made their family there and ran Medellin’s Texaco for decades. They even switched to La Raza Unida after conservative Democrats defeated Sissy Farenthold for Governor. Through all the changes and turmoil, we survived on love and friendship. We experienced that all over again as we returned for a day to give mom the Catholic funeral mass that she deserved. A lot of family and a lot of friends joined us, including the Flo-Fans from Facebook. Thank you for a wonderful experience. ¡Que Viva Cristal!

 

RIP Sheriff Jose Serna, Zavala County

serna2Believe it or not, at one point in our state’s young history, there was a political revolution of sorts in South Texas. Yes, Mexican Americans were voting…a lot. They had a good reason to vote:  Candidates with which they could identify; a liberal political platform which served regular working people; and a collective hope to effect meaningful social change after years of what could only be described as an apartheid in our own country and state. And a lot of this happened in my hometown during the days of La Raza Unida Party, a political party fed up with the racist and elitist ways of the Democratic Party of the day.

sernacampIn 1972, my Uncle Jose Serna was elected the first Chicano Sheriff of Zavala County. Prior to that, he, along with his wife, Olivia, had organized farm and seasonal workers to stand up to employers for fair wages and better working conditions. They organized fellow Crystal Citians to demand their rights to vote, to get educated, and to have a prosperous life. Their daughter Diana, played a central role in the Crystal City school walkouts as one of the banned Chicana cheerleaders and student organizers. Later on, Olivia would be elected to the Crystal City City Council, then chosen by her peers to serve as Mayor, becoming the first woman in that role. All of this under the banner of La Raza Unida. After Tio Joe ended his terms as Sheriff and took a well-deserved break, he became interested again in 1988, and won again after a contentious Democratic Primary.   His calling was about more than protecting and serving, but about making sure his community’s needs were met.

Tio Joe passed away on November 17, 2015, after a short illness, having lived just short of 86 years. He was my mom, Flora’s,  brother. He leaves to celebrate his life his daughters Diana and Olivia, as well as sons Joe, Jr., Roberto, Jose, Jr., Mario Alberto, and Eduardo–all successful kids in their own right. Roberto and Eduardo continued the political legacy, Roberto as the District Attorney of the 293rd District and Eduardo as Zavala County Attorney; however, all have served their communities well in the fields of law, education, and business.

Of course, my memories began quite early as a five-year old kid who experienced his first political rallies at La Placita in the Mexico Chico neighborhood of Crystal City. My towering Uncle Joe was a commanding presence with his trademark mustache, western bow ties, and that shiny badge. He always gave me “deputy” badges to wear, which meant I had to be the Sheriff when I played cops and robbers with my friends. As a grown-up, I made several trips back to Cristal and I made sure to visit him. Our talks were about politics, especially in 2007, when we were both rooting for Hillary, although that young guy Obama probably had a good shot. We agreed that if Obama won, we’d support him and I’d send him stickers I’d procure from the local Party office.

If I sound like a little kid going through some hero worship it’s because I am. I grew up in a politically charged town that impacted Texas History so much, even Dolph Briscoe called us Little Havana. My parents instilled in me a love and drive for political involvement in a town where we had local heroes that went beyond the high school football field. It was a time of Chicano governance; it was something to continue striving for beyond Crystal City, too.

Lately, I’ve felt a bit disillusioned with politics. The ugly head of hate and fear seems to be growing–even among so-called Democrats–and now is the time for a new crop of heroes that will fight for what is right. Perhaps I’ll increase my involvement in things political, but one thing is for sure, my Uncle’s passing has been a reminder that the work is not done and that the struggle continues.

Jose Angel Gutierrez wrote in The Making of a Chicano Militant: After Judge Gutierrez swore in all of the newly elected Raza Unida officeholders who had swept out the bigoted incumbents, “I was presented with the keys to the office suite and with a can of Lysol by Sheriff Jose Serna, who stated in Spanish, ‘Go spray the county judge’s office, the commissioner’s courtroom, and the district judge’s courtroom to disinfect any redneck germs that may remain.'”