Wednesday, November 6, 2019
(The title of this post is pointed in order to counter the grave ignorance of this community and its leaders.)
The photo above appeared in the Laredo Times last week. It was apparently taken, and shared, by staff of the Webb County Sheriff's Office. The image appeared on social media a day before I saw it in the newspaper. The topic of controversy is the person who chose to wear blackface for the costume party.
As of this writing, there seems to be a small group of Laredoans who see this as a major lapse in judgement. Going through the countless comments posted on Facebook feeds, I get the feeling that people in this town aren't that smart. Many don't see this as a racist act. Instead it's viewed as a harmless portrayal of an iconic black character, and to make more out of it is to be foolish.
Sheriff Cuellar, who hosted the costume party, replied to the brouhaha by defending the woman's appearance and dismissing any ill will toward others. But he insinuated that the lady had an intellectual disability. He stood firm against the supposed attacks on the defenseless party participant, ignoring the fact that he put his name, and that of Webb County, on an image that is racist. He didn't take any responsibility for the moment. And why should he, when nobody else has a clue about this. (The sheriff's comments appeared in Sunday's paper.)
Luckily there was an editorial entry on the same page that countered the sheriff's idiocy, COURTESY OF Marco Guajardo.
We are the least ethnically diverse large city in the country. As a result of this segregation, many are simply blind to the offensive and racist implications that come from not being exposed to people that do not look or talk like us. A person wearing blackface for a costume contest would command high levels of scrutiny and attention in a city like Austin, Los Angeles, Detroit, or New York City.
Bravo! to Mr. Guajardo! His thoughts on the matter are more lucid than those of Sheriff Martin.
On the KGNS morning show recently, I saw Elizabeth Millner speak out against the use of blackface. She was assertive and direct as the camera stayed on her for the commentary. I applauded her for lending her voice to this issue, and to KGNS for giving her the air time to do so. Millner is black. And she's a transplant. And her input was vital for a community that is majority Hispanic.
But today's feature by KGNS was less heroic. And to top it off, it was voiced by Millner herself. What made the story less savory was the inclusion of Facebook comments by those who don't have a problem with blackface. It's obvious that KGNS didn't want to take sides in this matter, unfortunately.
I want to think that this is being used as a teaching moment by some of us. There may be many Marco Guajardos among us that are passing on some sense to our friends and family. Let's educate ourselves on things that have a bigger impact beyond our borders.
We should decry racist acts. I hope you're listening, elected officials, the media, and the public at large.
Saturday, October 19, 2019
There were a couple of interesting things recently. One was a half-hour show on KGNS last Saturday night called Texas Border Chronicles. I came across it while channel surfing, waiting for Saturday Night Live to come on.
The program included local luminaries* in a roundtable discussion setting, talking about issues related to Laredo and Webb County. There's also Beyond the Headlines (also on KGNS), Frontera Radio on Facebook, video podcasts by Our Laredo, and Miguel Amante playing local contrarian on Spanish social media. We're not in short supply of local commentary.
The oddball in Border Chronicles is former judge Jesus Garza (pictured 2nd from left). He was arrested more than 2 years ago for alleged influence peddling.
Via the Laredo Times (2017):
On Feb. 16, Garza pleaded not guilty to one count of gift to a public servant by a person subject to his jurisdiction, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
An indictment alleges that in January 2015, Garza asked local attorney Shirley Mathis for a $3,000 loan in exchange for appointing her to represent the wealthy Carlos Y. Benavides Jr. estate in a civil dispute. The loan was intended for Christopher Casarez, one of Garza's court coordinators, the indictment states.
Casarez died by suicide in mid-December, a day before he was set to meet with authorities about the investigation into Garza.
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Yesterday evening, city officials alerted residents of south Laredo that they needed to boil the water that was intended for consumption. The news was disseminated through social media and word quickly spread. Before the night was over, all Laredoans were being asked to take precautions: boil your tap water for 3 minutes or use bottled water.
The emergency notice was made public because of low chlorine levels in the water supply. City leaders tried to reassure people that no bacteria was present in the water; they were just following the recommendations set forth by the TCEQ.
There are no newscasts on Saturday nights in Laredo; so the only news report that I came across was a live video that was posted on Facebook by a local Univision reporter. Dr. Hector Gonzalez from the health department was the only face anywhere, telling citizens of what was happening. All other city officials were M.I.A.
It wasn't until Sunday afternoon, a whole day after, that city and county leaders held a press conference. (See top photo, FB snapshot) Mayor ProTem Balli explained that they were communicating their findings with state leaders and TCEQ officials in order to arrive at the best possible outcome. They reminded viewers that no bacteria was found in the local water supply, but that chlorine levels were low.
Laredoans weren't taking any chances: they were out early Sunday morning looking for bottled water. Shelves at local stores were left empty by lunch time. There was no bottled water to be had.
Tonight HEB was limiting cases of water to 2 per person. The jugs pictured above had no limit.
The events of the last 24 hours are remarkable for what happened and for what didn't. The response by city officials and local media was predictable: the most minimal of efforts were utilized.
The public reacted just as was expected, even though the situation was ostensibly under control. In the mad rush for water at local stores, I only hope that citizens shared what they got with those who needed extra help.
We may be wiser now. Next time may not be as pretty. Let's all take note of what occurred today so that we can be better prepared in the future.
Saturday, September 21, 2019
On August 3, a racist individual went into a Wal-Mart in El Paso and killed 22 people with a high-powered rifle. The attack is unique in that the killer traveled hundreds of miles, from north Texas to El Paso, to kill brown people. Local attorney David Almaraz penned an OpEd for the Times. I'll leave it here without any further comment.
Thursday, September 5, 2019
In early July we heard of the brilliant plan of placing a ferris wheel next to the Outlet Shoppes downtown.
On Tuesday, city officials got to talking about plans for a water park.
These two public amenities are, for now, just wishful thinking. Them becoming reality is too far off. The mere mention of a ferris wheel near the Rio Grande and a water park next the arena sounds promising. What the public should put more thought into, though, is the completion of the detox center and the veterans museum. It can't all be about the sexy.
Saturday, August 24, 2019
Last weekend, word began to spread about a certain social media somebody that was thinking about running for city council, District 5. She, who I don't follow on Facebook, is toying with the idea of running against incumbent Nelly Vielma. Decent and mediocre candidates have always been drawn to public service in our area. This aspiring politician, however, does not even rise to that level. She's crass, toils in gossip and sensationalism, and has admitted to having no actual knowledge of the inner workings of municipal government.
The only currency she has to her name is the ignominy related to her past and present legal problems. The numerous stains on her reputation would make her one of the guys with the rest of city council.
For those unfamiliar with local politics, city hall has seen its fair share of bad actors: pols who have been busted with drugs and those who push people around. And let's not forget the FBI raid of city offices that may or may not see the indictments of elected officials. It's a pool of ne'erdowells at 1110 Houston St. Candidate X would fit right in if she decided to jump in.
Julia Wallace wrote about the possible amending of one city charter item -- the one dealing with asshole elected officials who commit some type of wrongdoing. Those that crime it up will be guilty of moral turpitude. This official language became part of our lexicon, thanks to the twice-elected council person that made one hell of a boneheaded mistake as a candidate, Vidal Rodriguez. He's one who, despite his failings, convinced his voting public that he was the right man for the job.
The new baldheaded contender, the one who has Vielma in her sights, might do the same: convince several thousand people that she's the better candidate. She may have a huge following on social media, but how many of her District 5 followers will actually cast a vote for her? It's all hypothetical at this point. We hardly know if she's going to take a crack at local office. She should take into consideration the current discussion being had, that of torpes committing moral turpitude and the potential for their disqualification from office. I doubt she's privy to what's currently being discussed, in terms of city charter amendments. I don't see her as a page 1 peruser. She deals more with the police blotter section, an area that she's personally close to.
2020 is going to be a hoot.
(Image via Ballotpedia.org)
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Image from The Politica of Laredo Facebook page.
Early last month, the Laredo Times reported that George Altgelt would not seek re-election in 2020. I thought the issue was a non-starter since he was elected twice to the same post.
Altgelt was elected to serve as councilman of District 7 when he won a runoff race on April 25, 2015. Results above courtesy of Ballotpedia.org. Altgelt replaced Jorge Vera, who was recalled from office in the fall of 2014.
In the November 2016 race, Altgelt beat challenger Juan Chavez.
There was some language added to the city charter, relating to the Terms and Limits of a council member. That resulted from Jose Valdez Jr. deciding to regain control of his District 7 seat after having quit his position to run for mayor. He didn't win in that venture.
Valdez Jr. was elected a third time, to serve as city alderman, on May of 2008. He would only get to serve out two years from his incomplete 2nd term, after a judge ruled on the matter.
Altget's case is different, given the extraordinary circumstances that preceded his first win. He was elected to the same position twice, though. The city charter may have to be amended one more time, seeing as how kooky things are around here.