MULTIMEDIA FEATURE: Tamez no longer afraid

Tamez walks down the levee.

Fighting to keep hold of a family property older than the United States

Story: A.J. Miranda
Photos: Andrew Rogers
Video: A.J. Miranda
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

EL CALABOZ, TX — You don’t have to ask Eloisa Tamez twice what she thinks about the wall. In fact, you don’t even have to ask her once. She’ll tell you.

“It’s an abomination,” says Tamez, a 73-year-old administrator with the University of Texas at Brownsville. “I don’t think it’s something to be proud of, and certainly America should not be proud of it.”

Her passion for the subject became personal last year. Tamez is one of about 400 property owners in the Brownsville area whose land has been appropriated for construction of the wall. Her family has owned the property since 1767—when the U.S. was a British colony—as a result of a Spanish land grant.

Now, history is repeating for Tamez, who witnessed the property undergo similar government takeover in the 1930s when more than half of the property was seized without compensation for constructing flood levees.

Tamez has resisted, and has fought court battles as a result. Last month, Tamez was ordered to allow government surveyors onto her property. But family history aside, the issue is about more than land for Tamez.

“I’m just one person, and obviously I’m not doing a very good job of stopping the wall,” she says. “The purpose of the litigation was to force the government to follow the law, because they were not following it.”

Tamez speaks out against the wall. Tamez opens the fence surrounding her property.

She takes issue with the assertion that a large border wall is necessary to protect against terrorism, calling it “that fear factor.” Referring to the 9/11 attacks, Tamez says, “We here in the Valley know that the terrorists didn’t come through the southern border.” They came legally, with passports, she says.

And though she agrees that drug smuggling is a problem, Tamez does not foresee a fence on her property stopping or even slowing the drug trade.

“My giving up my one little acre is not going to stop something that governments haven’t been able to stop for decades,” she says. “They’ve been working on this and they don’t seem to agree.”

The first thing one might notice while glancing at the property is that multiple fences, locked with chains, surround it. But Tamez quickly dismisses any questions about conflicting views when asked how she can so fervently fight a government fence when similar barriers protect her property.

“This is a fence,” she says, glancing at the humble chest-high structure. She points toward the levee and says, “That’s going to be a wall; that’s the difference.”

May 6, 2008 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

PHOTO ESSAY: A story from the other side

market

A day at the market in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, the city across the river with an estimated population of 422,000

Story: Jazmine Ulloa
Photos: Andrew Rogers
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

MATAMOROS, TAMAULIPAS — Hector Elizondo just took the long drive from Buffalo, Texas back to his home in Matamoros, Mexico, Saturday night. But you wouldn’t be able to tell by the hearty smile he offers approaching customers at his friends’ fruit stands the next morning.

The cheery semi-trailer truck driver has been behind the wheel on and off for the last 20 years and owns a parking lot a block down from a crowded vendors’ street. When he’s not watching over his lot, he visits with the vendors.

Driving cargo between Mexico and the United States, Elizondo sometimes visits his two teenage daughters living in Virginia. “It’s like I get paid to see my family,” he smiles.

While he is a U.S. resident, he’d offer his home in Matamoros to anyone willing to experience a little of the city he loves so much, Elizondo says.“I live very well here,” he says as a matter-of-factly, “I may not have much, but I live well.”

May 6, 2008 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

Que Dicen? Student activists sound off [w/ video]

Adelante Q&A: Student activists at UT Brownsville

canales

Crystal Canales
Psychology, Sociology,
Social Work, undergraduate

Canales first heard the border fence could cut across her campus when attending meetings held by Students for Peace and Change, a student organization. “A couple of weeks later I was holding a sign at a protest,” she said.

Border fence/wall/levee, what do you call it? Why?
I call it a wall just because even if people like to think that it is going to be some kind of peaceful fence, it basically symbolizes a refusal to keep communicating with the person or the people we seem to be having problems with, and that’s not a way to solve anything. So by calling it a wall, I am just calling it what it is and what it represents.

What, if any, impacts do you think the fence will have on the community?
There are so many to list, you could put them into so many different categories. There are environmental impacts, not just on the vegetation but also on the wildlife. And not just one species, not just a couple or a group, there are literally hundreds of species that would become extinct. And if you want to look at it from a socioeconomic standpoint, tourism would go down incredibly because of that and also because nobody is going to pay lots of money to come down here to see a wall instead of the river, which is part of our community, some would argue the heart of our community. That’s what brings us together: people crossing the river—and whether you do it to go see your family or to experience a different culture, that’s part of the reason that makes this the Valley, that’s part of the reason that makes this la frontera. More than that, the civil rights issues would be the main impact, and it really is going to be a militarization of the border. People say that it is not going to be like the Berlin Wall, but the truth is that it is because it is being built for, at heart, the same reason—we want to keep a certain people out of our country. And you can look at it from a standpoint of racism, you can look at it from a standpoint of economics, you can look at it from a standpoint of border security, either way, it all comes down to that; these people we don’t want to keep in our country, and we are doing everything possible to keep them out of it. We’re taking away their rights whether they are documented or undocumented residents, we are taking away the rights of the citizens here because our freedom is being compromised. The way Michael Chertoff has put it is, ‘You need to sacrifice for your country.’ What makes us really upset is that if government and all the laws that they have had haven’t been able to stop illegal immigration, how is these people making a sacrifice going to stop that? How is it fair to ask anyone of that?

villareal

Stephanie Villareal
Psychology, Government
Undergraduate

Born and raised on the border, Villareal is involved with Student Government and is the president of the Young Democrats on campus. “I wanted to get the full experience of the border life, and I don’t want that to be sacrificed for future generations to come,” she said.

Are there any positive effects about building the border fence?
I guess being down here—it’s easier to be biased toward the other side. Even here on campus, there have been people putting out letters to the editor in the Valley Morning Star and the Brownsville-Herald saying that the [Student Government Association] doesn’t speak for them. It’s not that we don’t speak for them; we completely understand that there are people who do favor the wall. There is so much that could be said on the affirmative side of it, and there is so much on the negative side. But we have to be able to look at it from a perspective that is right here in front of our eyes and understand how much of a negative environmental impact it will have on our native plants that have been preserved for so many years.

acuna

Mariano Acuña
Respiratory Therapy
undergraduate

Acuña is from Mexico but attends school in Brownsville. “My home is Brownsville, my home is Matamoros,” he said.

Do you a fence will have an impact on people who commute daily between border cities?
I don’t feel a fence is the adequate solution, and Congress should think more thoroughly about how the fence will affect the people living here in the Valley. In Mexico, you don’t hear much about it, it’s easier to keep it hushed over there. But I think the fence will affect [Mexico] in one way or another because the people living in Matamoros have family living in Brownsville and vice versa, and that’s not just Brownsville and Matamoros; it’s that way all along the border. We have the border; you have to cross with your visas and documents, but it’s also the place where you live. If you put a fence, it’s like you are affecting relationships with your family and your society.

VIDEO: Que Dicen?

May 6, 2008 at 12:46 pm Leave a comment

From El Salvador to Austin: UT employees share their journeys

Journey map
Eduardo Gonzalez/ Adelante staff
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

Not all Hispanic workers are Mexican.

After Mexico, most immigrant workers come from El Salvador. There were 44,252,278 Hispanics in the United States in 2006, according to the most recent online statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Out of this number, 1,371,666 were Salvadorian. Since then, the number has increased because of widespread poverty, crime, natural disasters and wars in the region.

“I left El Salvador in 1998,” Tomás, who asked for his real name not to be used, said in Spanish. “I came because life there is very difficult and there are not many resources. I was only looking for a better life.”

To get to the U.S., Tomás crossed three borders, in Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. He walked 12 hours through the Sonora Desert in Arizona to get to a number of vans waiting to take immigrants to Los Angeles. After 15 days of travel, he reached American soil. For Tomás, this was just an adventure. He never thought he’d actually make it.

Now 10 years later, he has gained legal citizenship and works as a staff member for the Division of Housing and Food Service at the University of Texas at Austin.

Ana, another staff member for the same department who asked that her name not be used, left El Salvador at 3 a.m. a few years later. She took a bus to Guatemala where she slept in a hotel with four strangers for two nights. They took another bus to the Mexican border and secretly crossed into Quintana Roo, where they waited for a trailer that was taking jeans to Piedras Negras. The trailer, which was driven by her family member, had beds hidden inside the driver’s cabin.

When they reached Piedras Negras after eight days of traveling, Mexican police stopped the driver to inspect the vehicle. Huddled in fear, Ana and the others hid as silently as they could. Officials banged the sides of the trailer, even emptied it of its contents to make sure no one was inside the cargo trailer.

“If we moved or made a sound, they’d catch us,” she said. “They didn’t find us and that’s how we were able to continue.”

They were to cross the river in Piedras Negras to get to Eagle Pass, but heavy flooding delayed them 15 days. When the water level went down, they reached the river’s shore and hid among the brushes until nightfall. A rope was attached to the other side of the riverbank and Ana held on as she attempted to cross.

“At the middle of the river, I stopped feeling the earth under my feet and could feel things flowing between my legs,” she said. “I nearly drowned. When I finally crossed, I changed my clothes and walked along the shore of the river until I got to a park.”
At the park, she waited for five hours until a small car picked her up and took her to a large house in San Antonio that trafficked immigrants.

“There were about 100 people in the house,” she said. “They separated the men from the women. A friend picked me up and took me with her to Waco.”

It has been tough, both Tomás and Ana said. Looking for jobs and working odd jobs, while at the same time dealing with the language barrier and discrimination because of their dark skin color. Tomás was constantly stopped by police and questioned without reason, he said. At Ana’s jobs, people would call her arrastrada Mexicana, closely meaning ragged Mexican woman.
“I would say to them, look, I am not Mexican, and I am not a ragged woman,” she said. “I come here to work.”

May 6, 2008 at 12:42 pm 1 comment

Feminism from the margins

Story coming soon.

May 6, 2008 at 12:38 pm Leave a comment

Left behind on the ‘other side’

Jessa Lauren Hollett / Adelante staff
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

A smiling man in his late thirties, with wrinkles around his eyes, plucks up the chubby 2-year-old baby crawling past him on the dirt floor. The little boy is his nephew, the son of a brother who left behind his home and family to work in the United States for a time. The baby, Jesús, better known as “Chuy Chiquito,” Little Chuy, begins to squirm.

The adults, seated in broken plastic chairs on a packed dirt patio, are talking about the mass exodus of working-age men from their rural village in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. Most men in the area have been to the United States at least once, where they work illegally in low-skill jobs that pay more than any opportunity their homeland could offer them.

“And you?” the man asks Little Chuy in Spanish baby talk. “Are you going to stay here in Mexico when you grow up?”

Little Chuy, still squirming, answers this question the same way he answers everything else; with a decided “No!” An answer which, though uninformed, is most likely correct.

According to a study conducted from 1997-2002 by the Center for Planning and Strategic Investment, the state of Guanajuato lost approximately 5.4 percent of their population in those years to what they call “El Otro Lado,” The Other Side.

Although it is very difficult to estimate and find how many people exactly have left their homes, it is apparent there are many men (as well as some women and entire families) that are missing from the area. Everyone knows at least one person in their family, or a close friend, who is missing their husband, their father, their brothers or uncles or cousins, in the name of a better life.

There has been much deliberation about the plight of the poor in Mexico in recent months. The majority of discussion focuses around the immigrants themselves. But what about their families; the mothers they leave behind; the wives they leave behind; the children they leave behind?
Mari, a 26-year-old mother of three, who–like all the women interviewed–asked that her last name not be printed, lives alone with her children in a cinderblock house in a small rural community in the state of Guanajuato. Her husband works on a strawberry farm in California, sending money back in monthly letters that she says describe long hours in the heat, no days off, and hard labor that leaves him exhausted. The money he has sent back has been used to build a cinderblock wall in the front of the house that was once a lean-to line of reeds.

“The house was not big enough for us and all three of our babies,” Mari said in Spanish, rocking the youngest in a rope hammock that served as a cradle. “With the money he was earning here in Mexico, we only had enough so we could eat, but nothing more. The money he earns in California is a little bit more; enough that we will one day be able to add rooms to the house and pay for our children to go to school.”

In spite of how proud she is of the cinderblock wall, Mari says she would rather have her husband at home than a bigger house.

“I am very lonely and sad here without him,” Mari said. “And it is easy to see that the children miss him; when they talk to him on the phone, they ask him to come home and they sometimes cry.”

Edith, a 22-year-old mother of one, also worries about her husband missing out on watching their daughter grow.

“I am worried because my little one doesn’t know her father,” Edith said. “When he returns, she’s not going to know him. And I am worried that the money he is making is not enough to make it worth it to have never known our daughter when she was small.”

Edith lives in a rural village in Guanajuato with her parents and younger siblings. Her husband left for the U.S. about two years ago, where he works in construction and gardening. Their daughter, 3-year-old Montserrat, was less than a year old when he left. They are unsure of when he will return.

“He left because we wanted a better life, for us, for our daughter,” Edith said. “Later, when he comes back, we will live a better life. We just have to wait.”

Pablo, a 7-year-old boy who lives in the city of San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, has not seen his father for two years. Pablo’s father left for the United States to work in construction, and plans on returning later this year, though that is not certain. Pablo’s sister, four-year-old Sofi, has no real memory of their father.

“I miss him a lot,” Pablo said. “But people who go to work on the Other Side can buy bigger houses, or another house, or a nice car. In fact, I want to go there to work when I’m old enough.”
In a recent study conducted by Save the Children Mexico, children with immigrant family members were asked, “How do you feel when people in your family go to work in the United States?” The majority of the children surveyed answered that they felt worried (63 percent) and sad (61 percent). Only 11.2% of the children surveyed said they felt happy.

According to León Rodriguez Garcia, a pedagogy expert who works in local schools in rural Guanajuato, many children idealize the migrant life after seeing that returned migrants have bigger houses, nicer clothes and big trucks with loud speakers.

“They want those nice and expensive things,” Rodriguez said. “They forget that those men had to leave behind their families to earn that.”

Carlos Foulkes of Save the Children Mexico also says that the children of Guanajuato are not interested in staying behind to live and work in the countryside.

“Their family is connected to the land, to Mexico,” Foulkes said. “But they want to move up; they are uninterested by life there in the countryside.”

Foulkes also said that rural Mexico is a very “machista” society, in which women are made to feel like less than the men. As a result, the families that are left behind, that are lacking men, are viewed as less in the community. Rodriguez agrees that the “macho” society of the areas affected by immigration can be devastating to children lacking a paternal figure.

“I have noticed this with bullies in schools,” Rodriguez said. “You find out that the most aggressive kids are often fatherless. They feel that they have to prove that they are still tough, even though they were raised by a woman alone. Even though they miss their fathers terribly.”
Edith is also very concerned that the immigrants working in the United States are often paid less than a fair wage, sometimes less than the legal minimum wage, in their labor-intensive jobs.

According to various studies, most Mexican migration to the U.S. follows a similar pattern: The immigrants are usually working-age men from rural areas, though with passing years, the immigrants are leaving at younger ages and a substantial number of women have also chosen to immigrate to the U.S. to work. About half return periodically to visit their families. However, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are only in the U.S. for a set period of time, eventually returning.

“They are just there because they need to earn money to help their families,” Edith said. “If all they are given is the bare minimal pay, they’ll just be there longer.”

exhausted. The money he has sent back has been used to build a cinderblock wall in the front of the house that was once a lean-to line of reeds.

“The house was not big enough for us and all three of our babies,” Mari said in Spanish, rocking the youngest in a rope hammock that served as a cradle. “With the money he was earning here in Mexico, we only had enough so we could eat, but nothing more. The money he earns in California is a little bit more; enough that we will one day be able to add rooms to the house and pay for our children to go to school.”

She is proud of the cinderblock wall, but Mari says she would rather have her husband at home.
“I am very lonely and sad here without him,” Mari said. “And its easy to see that the children miss him; when they talk to him on the phone, they ask him to come home and sometimes cry.”
Edith, a 22-year-old mother of one, also worries about her husband missing out on watching their daughter grow.

“I am worried because my little one doesn’t know her father,” Edith said. “When he returns, she’s not going to know him. And I am worried that the money he is making is not enough to make it worth it to have never known our daughter when she was small.”

Edith lives in a rural village in Guanajuato with her parents and younger siblings. Her husband left for the U.S. about two years ago, where he works in construction and gardening. Their daughter, 3-year-old Montserrat, was less than a year old when he left. They are unsure of when he will return.

In a recent study conducted by Save the Children Mexico, children with immigrant family members were asked, “How do you feel when people in your family go to work in the United States?” The majority of the children surveyed answered that they felt worried (63 percent) and sad (61 percent). Only 11.2 percent of the children surveyed said they felt happy.

According to León Rodriguez Garcia, a pedagogy expert who works in local schools in rural Guanajuato, many children idealize the migrant life after seeing that returned migrants have bigger houses, nicer clothes and big trucks with loud speakers.

“They want those nice and expensive things,” Rodriguez said. “They forget that those men had to leave behind their families to earn that.”

Carlos Foulkes of Save the Children Mexico says that Guanajuato children aren’t interested in staying in the countryside.

“Their family is connected to the land, to Mexico,” Foulkes said. “But they want to move up.”
Foulkes also said that rural Mexico is a very “machista” society, in which women are made to feel less than the men. As a result, the families that are left behind, that are lacking men, are viewed as less in the community. Rodriguez agrees that the “macho” society of the areas affected by immigration can be devastating to children lacking a paternal figure.

“I have noticed this with bullies in schools,” Rodriguez said. “You find out that the most aggressive kids are often fatherless. They feel that they have to prove that they are still tough, even though they were raised by a woman alone. Even though they miss their fathers terribly.”
According to various studies, most Mexican migration to the U.S. follows a similar pattern: The immigrants are usually working-age men from rural areas, though with passing years, the immigrants are leaving at younger ages and a substantial number of women have also chosen to immigrate to the U.S. to work. About half return periodically to visit their families. However, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are only in the U.S. for a set period of time, eventually returning.

“They are just there because they need to earn money to help their families,” Edith said. “If all they are given is the bare minimal pay, they’ll just be there longer.”

May 6, 2008 at 12:36 pm Leave a comment

Candidates call for immigration reform

Clinton, McCain, Obama

Eva Romero / Adelante staff
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

Although the heated arguments and constant blows between the three remaining presidential candidates have shown the public plenty of their differences, there is one issue that both Democrat and Republican nominees can agree on: the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

With nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the subject of illegal immigration has been one of the hottest issues in the current presidential election.

According to the National Center for Immigration Studies, illegal emigration from Mexico has been prevalent as early as the 1950s, with 1965 later becoming the year of immigration expansionism. Decades later, the rapid rise in illegal immigration is something just about everyone has an opinion about.

While some accuse illegal immigrants of stealing opportunities from legal immigrants and U.S. citizens, others applaud them for holding jobs many Americans are not willing to work. With the current construction of a 700-mile fence on the U.S./Mexico border, citizens of South Texas and Southwestern U.S., including students at the University of Texas at Brownsville, are worried that their way of life will be disrupted.

“There is a smart way to protect our borders, and there is a dumb way to protect our borders,” said Hillary Clinton at the University of Texas at Austin Democratic presidential debate in February. “UT-Brownsville will have part of its campus cut off. This is the kind of absurdity we’re getting from this administration. When [Obama and myself] voted for this, we were voting for the possibility that where it was appropriate and made sense, it would be considered.”

But efforts to curb illegal immigration have not slowed the pace of illegal immigrants coming into the country, according to a report done by the Pew Hispanic Center. Instead, such efforts are causing illegal immigrants to stay longer in the U.S. because it is more difficult to move back and forth across the border.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain have all backed comprehensive immigration reform and Guest Worker programs that will provide resident status for working aliens and their families.

“We have to stop illegal immigration, but we’ve had waves throughout our history. In Washington DC, go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You’ll find a whole lot of Hispanic names. They have enriched our culture and our nation as every generation of immigrants before them,” said McCain at a 2007 Republican debate.

For decades, the term “illegal immigrant” has conjured images of Mexicans picking fruits from trees and cleaning up hotel rooms in the minds of the American public. Indeed, a vast majority of undocumented workers hold jobs in low-skill, low-wage positions, with more than half working in construction, manufacturing or hospitality. Most of these jobs pay the minimum wage or less, giving the average illegal immigrant a yearly income of no more than $18,000.

Many Americans can’t understand why illegal immigrants are willing to risk their safety and freedom in order to work menial jobs. The answer, to seek opportunity for themselves and their families, is often repeated, but just how well do we understand it?

According to a 1996 World Bank report, at least one-fourth of Mexicans earn around $1 to $2 dollars per day, with many earning less. The average annual income is around USD $2,000, however, the poorest 40% of the population receive only $550 annually.

“Income varies widely in different economic zones of Mexico, and while not every Mexican worker is desperately poor, it is often the poor and determined ones that make their way to the U.S.,” said Jorge Borjas, a government and professor at Harvard university and author of several books concerning illegal immigration.

In Borjas’ book “Friends or Strangers: The Impact of Immigrants on the U.S. Economy,” he argues that while Americans benefit from lower prices for meals, produce and construction, illegal immigrants are viewed as more of a drain to government.

Regardless of the benefits and consequences behind illegal immigration, the ill treatment of aliens, such as Operation Endgame which plans to detain and deport all aliens living in the U.S. by 2012, remains a big issue in the upcoming presidential election. Legal and illegal Mexican immigrants, along with American citizens, are likely to experience the effects of the plan, whether it is through the $94 billion needed to fund it, mass deportations of undocumented workers and their families, or discrimination of legal Mexicans living in the U.S.

Now it seems that comprehensive immigration reform will soon become a reality regardless of which candidate gets elected. John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have all expressed a need for border patrol increases and detention capacity for illegal aliens apprehended while crossing the border.

“We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace,” said Barack Obama. “But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America… where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should.”

Photos courtesy: hillaryclinton.com, johnmccain.com, and barackobama.com

May 6, 2008 at 12:31 pm Leave a comment

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