". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, July 12, 2014

El Paso 2 - Friday

Needing a break from the room, and el V's constant Las Vidas' practice, we went walking in what had been El Paso's city center, back when el V was a tad and his father was teaching biology at what then was Texas Western College, now, folded into the UT system, is the UTEP -- University of Texas at El Paso.  El V, back then, knew and loved this downtown - central business district of El Paso, filled with record stores and movie theaters as it was,

This is the El Paso Main Public Library when el V was a little kid.

The El Paso History Museum is in the foreground; the Main Public Library is in the background.

The museum's ground installations are a fringe benefit for the library.
and the public library.

Like so many cities, El Paso destroyed its downtown by tearing down much of the historic, attractive part, driving away the thriving smaller businesses, in order to build a sterile convention center, sports stadium, etc. The city also employed the Great Terminator upon the very neighborhoods and communites, that give a city a soul, the soul that make cities attractive and liveable:  El Paso drove a damned interstate through the rooted neighborhoods and mercantile centers, killing them dead under concrete, killing the soul.

So, with its downtown  deader 'n a doornail, like so many other cities, El Paso's revitalization wish fullfillment is to upscale the attraction of what remains in the old city downtown center, renting the spaces out to young(ish) entrepreneurs in the, usually vain, expectation these expensive camera cuisine restaurants, and the high fat food plus expensive imported beer sports bars will attract local business and tourism. Throw in the inevitable crafts mall, art galleries, a farmer's market once a week for part of the year, and First Friday Nights special offers, etc. How many small cities and towns have we seen doing this since the 1980's?

The real kicker is how the wealthy corps and politicians count on artists to fix the urban blight that they created themselves, and, then, if by chance the plan actually works -- as in NYC -- grab the real estate back and dump the creatives into the street -- but not these streets. The creatives fixed 'em so they're no longer welcome. Then begins the sterilization process all over again as the prices rise higher and higher and higher, with nothing inhabiting the real estate again except that from which anybody looking for any real fun and surprise will run from at 100 MPH.

There is construction everywhere, just like in every city that anyone wants to live in everywhere in the world, covering ever more open space under asphalt and cement, pretending to be public gardens and recreational territory.

Hotels abound throughout this area, as there are regional headquarters for every national / international bank, mortgage company, real estate moghul, and every kind financial and insurance corporation here -- not to mention those of such light "industry" as textiles and light furnishing finishing, that employ international cheap labor and ship internationally. The busy execs flying in and out, making deals, arming drug dealers, smashing progressive governments and labor movements need places to stay.

But where do they eat?  Probably in the strip clubs, which are further away? they aren't in these restaurants.

Then there is the tourism.  Where do they eat? Well, tourist college kids, think going to Juárez will give them better deals on getting so drunk they must crawl and more exotic and cheaper sex workers.  So there isn't enough enough clientele to make these places profitable 7 nights a week.  Partly, too, it's because they don't really want Spanish speaking clientele.

(It's más pleasant that our hotel's staff is bi-lingual, and so are the guests.  The staff were puzzled by el V and EVF's Spanish though -- they had to tell them it was Cuban.  Then there's E's Spanish-Spanish, pure Castillian -- she's from Madrid.)

What is great here though is the El Paso Historical Museum -- there is a lot of history -- the El Paso Art Museum -- and the El Paso Public Library.  The library is still where it was when el V was a little kid, though the building is not the same. It's open 7 days a week!  You see all kinds of people in it.  It reminds me of Greenville, Mississippi's public library. What else does this library do beyond all the things public libraries are providing these days, including wi-fi connection, computers and a/c?  It is showing the World Cup games for all those who can't watch at home, can't afford to be or don't want to be in a sports bar.  Is that public service or what?

The Kress Building has survived, but everything around it has been torn down, so it sits within a construction site; the streets around it are closed.  This historic post card doesn't show what a glorious jewel of a building it is.

It's nearly impossible to photograph the Kress Building now.
There are some buildings that didn't get torn down during their urban renewal, and I love those. So many Spanish-Moorish styled buildings, that are beautiful.  So we were out photographing madly early this AM while the sun was in the right place to have shadows and not glare.

It's such a pleasure to have all these recognizable bits come together that have not changed about being in the southwest: the clatter of cicadas, big sky, the dry heat, hearing "Mexican" Spanish, local tribes people, the Moorish-Spanish influenced design of buildings, fountains, patios, plazas and courtyards, the food (which though el V can't eat it, isn't stopping me from eating Mexican dishes every chance I get -- the hotel has some of the best red and green chili sauces for breakfast ever) -- and, this is SO TEXAN! Shiner Bock, my beer of choice for this trip.

Or so it felt as the sun rolled down, while the super moon rolled up,  turned yellow, big as a super-large cotton ball, over the mountains, then turned red in the smog for awhile.

El V had hired a car to drive us along the scenic route, as well as look for spots from his childhood days here. The driver was a self-educated tour guide, from India, who has lived in El Paso for 30 years. He was filled with information about everything to do with El Paso and Juárez, and enjoyed sharing.  He seized the opportunity to fact-check various things from the 1960's downtown and campus against el V's memories of the time.

These days though, West Texas is about to go into recycling toilet water, so depleted is the water table from irrigation, and how arid it is, now that the grasslands have been taken out for over a century.  Recycled toilet water won't preserve this profligate water way of life in a region that has always been arid.

Chihuahua grasslands now.

How all the Chihuahua grasslands used to be, only a century plus about twenty years ago.

It's painful to have those instinctive reactions to flying over the Franklin's flatlands, seeing it as ancient, primeval desert monster -- while the facts are that a century ago -- or perhaps a decade or so before that -- those flatlands, mesas and plateaus were grass tall as your knees and the clutching spread of claws on the twisted limbs sand channels were streams and rivers of flowing water. Cattle and cotton and oil .... (In the Sahara it was goats, among other things.)  How quickly we destroy the environment, yet insist we have no responsibility for that or any obligation to it.

This is what is keeping us from ever returning to the southwest -- water. The northeast we are water rich. Doubtless other regions will be going to war with us about this most precious resource of all, in the fairly close future.  Hey -- I've lived to see the return of the wars of religion -- it's not that unlikely I shall see water wars too. If I live, that is.

Dune feels more prescient all the time.

1 comment:

Foxessa said...

This is an appropriate sidebar to the entry:

A World Not to Come : A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture
author: Raúl Coronado
publisher: Harvard University Press
pub date: 06.01.2013

Take, for example, the seemingly ineluctable march of Manifest Destiny in US history. The typical American high school student learns very little about the other side of that history, perhaps encountering it only in a unit about the so-called “Mexican War” of 1846–48, or a footnote to Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Resistance to Civil Government.” (Why was it again that Thoreau refused to pay his poll tax?) Most of my students come to college under the misperception that the siege of the Alamo in 1836 was part of this conflict, a mistake stemming no doubt from the bizarre jingoism that entreats us to remember those brave soldiers who died fighting for “our” freedom. The powerful teleology of American education makes little space for these students to encounter the more complicated truth: that the Alamo’s defenders were fighting for Texas independence, and largely to ensure the continued right to practice chattel slavery.

A World Not to Come boldly challenges the dominance of the westward expansion narrative by re-centering early 19th-century American history on a seemingly unlikely point: the brief 1813 Texas rebellion against Spanish rule. Emboldened by the political chaos created after Napoleon Bonaparte unseated the Spanish Bourbon king in 1808, a group of Spanish American Creoles in San Antonio de Béxar (modern-day San Antonio) declared their independence. Spanish forces quickly and brutally repressed the uprising. Coronado shows brilliantly how world historical forces converged on this remote outpost of the Spanish empire, with stakes that had lasting (if unacknowledged) consequences for the America we now experience. At once a gripping history, a dizzying synthesis of Enlightenment philosophical currents, and a breathtaking feat of original archival research, his book merits reading by anyone interested in American literature, Latina/o studies, economic history, or Western philosophy.