Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Bridge So Close

The Azteca neighborhood will never be seen in a favorable light by locals.  Its unique history and character gave rise to the barrio's sullied reputation.  The main culprit that gave the Azteca its infamy was the sewage treatment plant, situated close by, and near the Rio Grande.  The stench that came from the plant made driving through the neighborhood an unpleasant experience.  I can't imagine how residents of the area got along every day.  

Now the odor is non-existent, but challenges still remain.  The streets of the Azteca are too narrow, housing is decent to subpar and the only destination point that's available is a colorful mural situated at a busy intersection.  Traversing the area by car can be an adventure; going by foot can be even more interesting.  The neighborhood is not dangerous -- it's just that the infrastructure, for both motorists and pedestrians, has been ignored for a long time.

(courtesy photo)

One of my Twitter followers - one who also appreciates historical facts about Laredo - recently shared the photo of a rusty fence that's been abandoned alongside the Iturbide St. bridge, which sits above the tail end of the Zacate Creek.  (Destination*)

Iturbide cuts the Azteca neighborhood in half.  The street connects the 3 Points and Montrose barrios, in the eastern part of Laredo, with Laredo's downtown and St. Peter's neighborhood in the west.  The bridge on Iturbide, in the Azteca, is the thing that ties neighbors together.

The bridge in the Azteca is pretty understated.  It's a two-lane span, with walkways on each side and an unremarkable barrier that helps to keep pedestrians from falling into the creek below.

More than a century ago, the bridge looked entirely different.  There were rail lines on the structure and its path was unpaved, it seems.  By the way, my Twitter buddy made the connection between the vintage scene and the accompanying iron fence.  (The Laredo Electric Railway Company operated from December 1889 to December 1935.)

On the left side of the photo, next to the light poles, you can see the iron fencing that once stood proud.  Part of it is still present on the north side of Iturbide, but it's a remnant of days past.  The oxidized frame is a souvenir from another era, sitting idly by and neglected.

This photo, with my shadow at the bottom, was taken in July.  You get a view towards the west.  The previous photo, the one in black and white, is of the observer looking east.

The plaque on the current bridge's fencing is dated 1928.  Albert Martin was the mayor.  Sound familiar?

Three years ago I wrote about a two-story building that was destroyed by a fire.  The structure was eventually demolished.  That building was something I noticed every time I drove by.  I never photographed it, though.  The image above, which I included in the 2016 blog post, I borrowed from Google Maps.  What was staring me in the face then was the iron fence that I'm writing about now.  That thing has been there since before my parents were born.  It's been steadfast through the better part of three generations.  Today it's clinging to dear life, with the help of the terra firma and foliage that surrounds it.

To me the fence is a reminder of the way we treat Laredo's history: it's neglected to the point of being pushed aside.

The Azteca is full of historical architecture -- housing templates that point to different periods in time.  The facades are worth an occasional viewing.  The creek that straddles the old neighborhood has its own potential.  It could be a sanctuary for native plants and trees that can be more inviting for birds and butterflies.  Alas, it's only use is for the diversion of excess water.

On the north side of the Azteca, you can see a giant flag pole that sits of the cemented grounds of a drive-thru banking facility.  That whole scene is a sign of progress.  The bank is located where "la escuela amarilla" used to be.

On the other side of the Azteca is an ignored fence, a piece of metal that has lost its usefulness.  It's the lowly counterpart to the soaring flag pole.  Each piece has a story.  Unfortunately for the fence, it's fading from our consciousness, as is Laredo's history.      

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Racism Courtesy Of The Sheriff's Office

(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.