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.
Friday, July 26, 2019
Photo above appeared on the front page of the Laredo Times yesterday.
Tents and portable buildings are being put in place in a site near bridge 1. Once ready, federal officials plan to expedite the asylum claims of immigrants coming from Central America. CBP agents have been overwhelmed with the wave of people trying to set foot on U.S. land -- so much so that officials have been stationed at mid-bridge to prevent that from happening. People seeking asylum are being told to wait in Mexico in the meantime, a process referred to as metering.
(courtesy photo: Jose M. Reyes - July 12, 2019)
All sorts of impediments have been placed on bridge 1, both for drivers and pedestrians heading north. I have never seen anything like this. These are truly extraordinary tactics, all because of the current Administration in Washington, D.C.
It's been several years that I have crossed into Nuevo Laredo. I wouldn't dare do that now, for fear that I may run into severe pushback from bridge employees. I just hope I don't need any emergency dental care anytime soon.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Thursday, July 11, 2019
The city's ethics* commission met yesterday at 5:30 p.m. They started with roll call and then listened to public comments. At 6:00 or so they went into executive session. The meeting resumed at a quarter to 7.
Two members of the commission recused themselves from the proceedings because of a relationship with a family member and a sitting councilman.
The purpose of the meeting was to give Lakshmana Viswanath and Victor Gomez-Marquez an opportunity to state their case, to detail the validity of their previous complaints. The complaints that "Vish" and Victor submitted were dismissed by the commission last month. Last night it was ultimately determined that Viswanath's and Gomez's concerns were frivolous. "Vish" was hit with a $500 fine and an order to pay attorney fees for the city.
Both of our citizen activists got to this point because their plight fell on deaf ears: those of the mayor, city council and the acting city managers. I can't imagine that "Vish" and Victor ever thought that they would be the ones to be put on trial by the ethics commission, much less have to pay fees incurred by the city.
Acting Co-City Manager spoke to the LMT about the decision of hiring outside counsel:
The reason why we had to get an attorney is because typically it is the city attorney being the representative for the commission. But since she works for us, she had to step back, and we had to get an outside party to come in. So, when you make a claim against either one of us, we must get an outside party. And somebody has to pay restitution to the citizens because taxpayers are paying Henry with now.
Victor Gomez-Marquez complained to the city that Councilman M. Martinez left out important details in his campaign finance forms. And Lakshmana Viswanath complained to city officials that their decision to impose new water rates on the public for infrastructure expansion was wrong. Their contention was that individuals at the city level acted in bad faith, by ignoring sections in the City Charter. City officials acted unethically, if you will.
It's unclear what the members of Our Laredo ("Vish" and Victor) will do next. What I can do is petition my representative to put forth a motion to waive the sanctions against "Vish."
When Lawrence Berry and Aldo Tatangelo took on city hall in the 1970s, they had the backing of the Laredo News. They were able to make the case that city officials were mishandling public funds and abusing their power. What we have today is the Laredo Times sending their sports writer to report on a complicated case that could possibly result in the city facing a lawsuit.
This is a big story, one that should reach the ears of people outside of Laredo. It's obvious that our city government is dysfunctional, and yet, the only ones that are facing any serious backlash are those that are speaking out against it. There are a lot of bad actors at city hall, and we are at their mercy.
(section of Ethics Commission bylaws)
Victor Gomez and "Vish" thanking supporters at city council chamber.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
(photo courtesy of Google Maps)
Ground was broken on July 6, 2015 for the Clark/Loop 20 overpass. Overpasses had to be constructed on the Loop to placate the public beefs with traffic lights on the roadway.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Thursday, June 27, 2019
I felt compelled to create my own list of tourist stops in Laredo, Texas, in order to give you a different experience of our sleepy town. The title of this post was inspired by the NYT travel suggestions.
The first stop is at the base of the Gateway To The Americas International Bridge. You can get there by heading south on Santa Maria Ave. When you see the bridge (image above) you're within walking distance of the Rio Grande River, the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico. You're at the edge of the nation. Take a selfie to save the moment.
At the next point of interest you can stay in your car if you like: the 200 block of San Agustin Ave. There you'll see a cathedral and a building that used to be occupied. At this site is where Laredo was founded back in 1755. I won't bother you with the founder's name; It's only a select few that remember him every year.
Suggested eateries: La Reynera on 1819 San Bernardo
and El Meson de San Agustin (opens at 11:00 a.m.)
Murals can be found in Laredo's older neighborhoods. The tribute to singer Selena Quintanilla can be found at 1119 San Eduardo.
If blues music is more your fancy, there's a Stevie Ray Vaughn mural on the 2700 block of Springfield. It's on the inside of a garage.
The mural above is in the Azteca neighborhood. The guitarist off to the right of the painting is one of the members of Rene y Rene, a duo that appeared on American Bandstand in the 1960s.
Suggested restaurant: Obregons Mexican Restaurant at 303 Market.
and Briskets and Beer Smokehouse on 2002 Chihuahua.
For a dive bar experience, Lalo's Sportsman Club at 515 E. Lane is as dive as it'll get.
Kayaking can be had at Lake Casa Blanca State Park.
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
The All Seasons Meat Market used to be located on the corner of Pine and Zapata Hwy. Earlier this month, a new business opened up shop. (photo to come)
UPDATE: July 12, 2019
RNR Tire Express now stands where the meat market once was. It's been open for a couple of months.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
(courtesy photo KGNS - June 13, 2019)
KGNS anchor Ann Hutyra read the news for the last time last night. She lead off the ten o'clock telecast, and went about the business at hand: reporting the day's events alongside Jerry Garza and Ryan Bailey. It was a straightforward presentation, except for the ending. For the last five minutes, Ryan and Jerry said their goodbyes, and ran a montage of clips and still shots from Ann's career in local TV journalism.
Afterwards, an emotional Hutyra thanked her colleagues and expressed gratitude for the viewers who shared their compliments and concerns with her in public.
I spoke to Ann today about the moments that lead up to her last newscast.
"I tried not to think about it too much. I knew that it was going to be an emotional evening for me, having been in that career for so long. I was trying not to hype it up for myself; I tried to treat it just like any other newscast. It was bittersweet from the beginning. As I started the opening line in the newscast, that thought did go through my head, that this is the last time I'm going to be doing this."
Before being a local media personality, Hutyra visited Laredo, TX with her then-boyfriend in 1998. At that time she couldn't foresee making a place for herself here. She was busy at Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio, learning the skills to become a journalist, her lifelong dream.
That dream started with a childhood curiosity and a voracious need for news and information. The idea of becoming a writer arose in her teenage years.
"Watching the news with my dad, that was a regular thing we did in my house. We talked about current events. I was 13 or 14 when I said, I think I should be a (print) journalist. I didn't have an interest of being on TV. I've always been very shy. I decided eventually to major in broadcast journalism. The whole TV aspect came later on in college when I was in front of a camera."
Hutyra took part in an internship with TV Azteca in Queretaro, Mexico. During that process, she became immersed in the Spanish language. That training in part explains her ease with Spanish pronunciation. She said that it was also through relationships with friends who spoke the language that helped her.
"I got used to that early on, going to college with a majority Hispanic population, and most of my friends spoke Spanish. I knew it was important to learn a second language. With Spanish being a popular language, I thought it would be important for me and my career."
In 2004, while having sent out resumes for work, Ann remembers her husband speaking to Richard Noriega, who was then with KVTV, the CBS affiliate in Laredo. He told Noriega that Ann had been looking for work; Soon after, she would find herself as producer for the news station. Within a month of starting her new job, she would be anchoring the noon newscast. It was a newfound challenge, steeped with anxiety and issues that made it almost impossible to present good work for the public.
"I didn't know how to apply everything that I learned in college to an actual TV station. An internship only prepares you for so much. When you're thrown in there, you have to learn as you go along. Early on I was doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes prep work for the newscast. There were five of us; It was very small. Every day was a mad scramble to try to get a newscast on the air. I learned how to get a lot done with very little resources. Our cameras were horrible. We were always running out of tape. Our computers were always breaking down. We had challenges every single day."
Ann credits Richard Noriega with giving her her first chance at becoming a journalist. At KVTV she worked with Noriega, Cristina Castle-Garcia, Angel Ortiz, and Colin McElroy. After two years of gaining professional experience there, however, she was told that the station was ending their newscasts. Ann and the rest of the news team were out of a job. She was devastated.
Enter Mary Nell Sanchez, News Director at KGNS. She was the person who called Ann, almost immediately, to come work for Channel 8 (10 on cable). That was 2006. Over the next decade, Ann Hutyra would become a household name. It was at KGNS that she would help to host the Jerry Lewis Telethon, a fundraising event that helped kids with Muscular Dystrophy.
(courtesy photos - A. Hutyra)
And it's at KGNS where she -- along with Roger Uvalle (producer) and Renee Santos (reporter) -- received an Emmy nomination in the category of Team Coverage. They were recognized for their story: Donald Trump At The Border.
This honor was a first for the news station. Ann would travel to Ft. Worth for the ceremony.
Ann has seen a lot of changes in journalism over the years, one being the impact that social media has had on the industry, something that she says will continue to evolve. "You have to be ready for change." She's seen faces come and go through the newsroom, a reality that Ann says is due to people's perception about the border region, or their reluctance to engage and care for the community. She realized the kind of impact one can have as a journalist. An event that left an indelible mark on her is the severe flooding that affected the residents of west Laredo several years ago. She and the KGNS family would go on to host a week-long donation drive to help the people affected and displaced by the flood. She remembers the coordinated effort that was put together and the appreciation that the families gave in return.
I asked Ann for words of wisdom for anyone wanting to be a journalist.
"The most important thing to know is why you want to be a journalist. If your main objective is that you want to be on TV or you want to make a lot of money, you want people to know who you are, that is not a reason that you go into journalism. You have to know what your values and your ethics are; And you have to stand true to that or else people will see through you."
The next chapter for Ann Hutyra will be in the field of holistic nutrition, which she has studied for in recent years. This came as a result of her own 7-year battle with Celiac Disease. She heads a support group for the condition in Laredo that has grown to 90 members. In her new job, Ann will be helping clients with specific dietary needs, while maintaining her residence here. An out-of-town move may be in her future, however.
Ann will miss telling people's stories. Family, a new career and her love of the outdoors will keep her busy in the meantime. We wish her well.
Saturday, June 8, 2019
This small, unassuming restaurant is located at the corner of Corpus Christi and Springfield Ave. Its former name was Freddy's. My grandmother used to deliver tacos from here to me when I worked at Mercy Hospital. That was in the 1990s. I was the luckiest person alive, I thought.
This eatery is now known as Cantu's Tacos; It's been so for a good number of years. They even have a food truck to deliver tacos to remote places.
This spring I noticed that they started advertising their affiliation with Bite Squad, the service that delivers food to you through an electronic app. It's a handy way of getting your food in the age of smart phones. Twenty five years ago I would've never dreamed of something like this. Las Flautitas - which no longer exists - was in the vicinity, and they used to deliver food to hospital employees. Now it seems that everyone is getting in on the food delivery game with the use of apps like Favor, Uber Eats and Bite Squad.
Technology has offered us convenience. But it the realm of food-to-go, a person has to have a good paycheck to be ordering in all the time.
(The photo above I took on May 26, 2019)
Saturday, May 18, 2019
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Disgraced Webb County Commissioner Jaime Canales and Johnny "I had to compensate for my height" Amaya were supposed to be sentenced on February 14 for their political dirty dealings. Their judgement would get delayed on that special day of love. This morning we learned that they may be free men for the summer, as their sentencing is once again postponed 3 months. Memorial Day plans HERE WE COME! (also Mother's Day, Father's Day & 4th of July)
For two years, "Canales accepted checks disguised as campaign contributions plus meals, entertainment and the use of a co-conspirator's Padre Island condo - together totaling in excess of $10,000 each year." (Julia Wallace, Laredo Times)
The Times writer mentions the process by which Canales, Amaya and a Dannenbaum Engineering representative carried out their scheme: the drafting of policy by the company stooge, request-for-qualifications votes by the commissioner, change orders, etc.
Canales voted for projects that would benefit the engineering company, including the Hachar-Reuthlinger Road project. Amaya acted as the middle man. (Quote below via the LMT)
Amaya allegedly provided these bribes to Canales and other officials which were all reimbursed by the corporate funds of the engineering firm, according to the feds.Underscore OTHER OFFICIALS!!!
We just passed the 2-year mark when city hall, as well as Canales' office, was raided by the FBI. But here we are with only Canales and Amaya facing jail time. Seven city officials were named as FBI target subjects back in 2017. Does the sentencing delay mean that more indictments are coming soon? Could it mean that Amaya is cooperating with federal officials and will end up naming names? Public comments on social media seem to suggest so.
Dannenbaum executive Louis Jones Jr. committed suicide in October. The only witness the feds may have now is Johnny Amaya, the go-between in all of this. He may be the metaphorical little bird that tells on the other crooks skulking about our fair city.
UPDATE: August 10, 2019
Image to the left is a screen grab from the Laredo Times front page, August 4, 2019. LMT: Sentencing pushed back for Canales, Amaya on federal corruption charges.
Sentencing has been delayed until November 7, 2019 in Houston. That's because "the government has not finished their investigation, said the two defense attorneys on the case." (Julia Wallace)
Fausto Sosa, attorney for Johnny Amaya said:
The judge needs to have an overview of everything that happened in the case, and the government has not finished their investigation.
You don't want to sentence somebody and then find out that something else happened that could affect the sentence. That's the theory behind waiting.
Everybody wants to know: who are the other actors? What's going to happen? I have no idea.
Man I hope there are officials from city government that get indicted, in regards to this case. That may be sadistic thinking, but there's no way that everyone at city hall can be innocent bystanders. Until November we wait. Do your best, FBI.
UPDATE: August 17, 2019.
Screen grab from today's paper.
Engineer tied to FBI probe has suicide verified: LMT