By James Moore
If you spend time along the Rio Grande, you begin to learn that most of the history on both sides of the river is about families and cooperation. We civilized and modern Americans and Mexicans are responsible for putting up borders and cameras and pointing guns and turning the watercourse into a frontier. In fact, before westward expansion had filled up the southwest with outsiders and capital opportunities, a border was rough concept and the river was a vein that united and gave lifeblood on both banks. Lucia Madrid, a schoolteacher who lived her many decades in the weary desert town of Redford, Texas, said, “Anglos have tried to divide it, for a different country, but no, the Rio Grande has never, never divided people.”
Madrid was honored in 1990 as one of President George H. W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light” and was also given the Ronald Reagan Award for Volunteer Excellence at the same ceremony. Mrs. Madrid spent years gathering 20,000 books for children to read at her home because the poor community of Redford, which her grandparents had helped to found, could hardly keep open a small school.
She is featured in Jefferson Morgenthaler’s brilliant 2004 book, “The River Has Never Divided Us,” which examines the cultural and archaeological evidence of life in the region known as La Junta de los Rios, the junction of the rivers where the Rio Grande and the Rio Conchos meet in a valley that today includes the cities of Presidio and Ojinaga. Research shows it to be the longest, continually cultivated site in North America, a locale where nomadic peoples and sedentary farmers co-existed for centuries in peace.
Undoubtedly, very few of the people in Washington contemplating writing new immigration laws have even heard of Morgenthaler’s work, which is a clear and considered portrait of a history and life so far removed from political discourse that even its victimization under amended policies could expect to receive little notice. (If any officeholder gives a damn, however, they will read Morgenthaler’s book before even contemplating a vote.)
One of Mrs. Madrid’s young students was Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., a boy whose life will not go out of my memory while I breathe, and, perhaps, even longer. I thought about Esequiel when I heard the current Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, candidate for governor as a Republican; say he wanted to spend $300 million on another 500 state troopers to patrol the border. Abbott, no doubt confounding potential South Texas supporters, used the phrase “third world” to claim there was “creeping corruption” along la frontera.
This rhetoric of militarization and fear is what cost Esequiel Hernandez, a teenaged goat herder, his life in 1997. The U.S. government had deployed a group of Marines identified as Joint Task Force 6 to survey unmonitored border crossings for drug smugglers. Junie, as Esequiel was known to friends and family, was bringing his goat herd up from the river where they had been drinking. He sat his burro with a single shot .22-caliber rifle that he often used to fend off predators like coyote, rattlesnakes, and mountain lion coming after his goats.
When he fired at something that had been following him and the goats, four Marines noticed him. They were armed with high-powered weapons and concealed in the desert scrub wearing ghillie suits. Esequiel was tracked and flanked for 20 minutes until Marine Corporal Clemente Banuelos pulled his trigger and killed the 18 year-old with a bullet that entered under the goat herder’s armpit. The commander who gave the order to fire was not on scene with the JTF6 detachment. Esequiel became the first American killed on native soil since the May 4, 1970 National Guard killings on the campus of Kent State University of Ohio during a Vietnam War protest.
Banuelos, who was only four years older than Esequiel when he looked through his scope and shot, will live all of his days with the grief of what happened when he followed a misguided command. Esequiel had hoped to become a Marine, and a recruiting poster proclaiming a need for a few good men was on the wall over his bed in the family’s modest adobe on the day he was killed. By the Marines. Two tiny American flags were taped to the wall.
When I heard about the story and drove west with my friend and video journalist Kirk Swann, I could not think of a sadder situation. I still cannot. Eventually, at the courthouse in Marfa, the four Marines, who should have never been placed in such an absurd situation by their government, were acquitted of any crime. Court testimony talked about “rules of engagement” but nobody living along the Rio Grande near Redford had any idea they were even being “engaged.”
The U.S. military should never be deployed on American soil unless the nation is being invaded. Esequiel was buried in a rocky grave overlooking La Junta that was marked by a wooden cross, which has since been replaced by an engraved headstone. From the mesa where he was laid to rest, a visitor can see his home, the spot where he was killed, and the church where people came to visit him one last time.
His tragic tale became the subject of the compelling documentary, “The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez,” narrated by Texas actor Tommy Lee Jones, who also used the story to inspire his dramatic film, “The Three Burials of Melquiadas Estrada.” More critically, the story of Esequiel ought to be an intellectual and emotional gauntlet that politicians are required to run every time they start blabbering about increased border security. We don’t need more laws on our border, or more guns, or more troopers or soldiers. We need more understanding that “the river has never divided us”.
And if Greg Abbott, who I am doubtful has ever heard of Esequiel, or any member of Congress wants to talk about increased militarization of our border, let us demand they fly down to Redford, go up top of that mesa, and look at that lonely grave of Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. Try to take a full measure of the life he never got to live. Then tell him, quietly and respectfully, more guns are needed on the border.
And if you can’t do that, then keep your goddamned mouth shut.
By James Moore
I don’t like Ted Cruz. And there are a lot of Texans who share my sentiment. But I’ve been writing and reporting on politics here since 1975, and I can assure anyone who asks that I’ve never encountered a public figure I’ve found more reprehensible than our junior senator.
Harsh words, eh? Consider the facts.
Let’s start with his faux religious fervor. Cruz may know the difference between two and Second Corinthians and is smart enough to keep his donation off of the communion tray, but he skipped the gospel about charity. As he was preparing to run for the U.S. Senate in 2009-10, Cruz’ adjusted gross income for those two years was $3.5 million. His cash contributions during that time period were $19,137 and $4,818 and were listed on his FEC filing as “various charities.” That’s .0068 of his total income.
And not a penny was given to a church.
But the senator knows the value of Christian evangelism to his party’s activists, the people who vote in primaries, and the more involved he got in running for president the more interested he became in religion. In fact, during his time as Texas solicitor general, which ended in 2008, one of the aides he worked with said, “He was never particularly religious as far as I knew. I’m not even sure he went to church.” But now, according to his wife, Cruz is about to reveal the “face of god” to Americans.
And his father Rafael’s rhapsodic descriptions of his son make the senator sound like the next carpenter from Galilee sent to save us from bad morals and big government.
The elder Cruz has an immigrant history that his son has tried to muddle as he positions himself as the hero standing at the border to stop the unwashed hordes invading America. Rafael fought for a while on the side of Fidel Castro in the revolution to overthrow the U.S. backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Bautista, not something South Florida’s conservative Cuban immigrants probably ought to learn.
The senator, who is also an immigrant from Canada, where he was born, has sought to avoid the contradictions of his background as he attempts to portray himself as tough on immigration law. But this seminal issue is the iconic example of how Cruz parses language and barbers the truth to suit his narrative, hoping no one will notice. In 2013, he sponsored parts of the immigration bill, including amendments that would have provided a path to legal status to help those “11 million that remain in the shadows.”
Two years later, however, as he was firing up his presidential engines, the senator proclaimed, “It is not accurate” to claim “that I supported legalization.” He makes this statement even though there are amendments to the 2013 bill with his name on them as author, which offer a route to legalization.
Instead, he now wants to be president so he sees a border wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the sunny shores of California because that’s what the right edge of his party wants, and they are the people who control the GOP primary process. The conciliator has become Mr. Border Tough Guy in his pandering for votes.
Cruz even lies about telling the truth. “I have endeavored to do what I said I was going to do and I have always told the truth.” Well, not really, not according to Politifact Texas, which checks the accuracy of political claims. Cruz fares quite poorly on facts with 64% of his statements falling into categories ranging from “half true” “to mostly false” to “false” to “pants on fire.”
This makes his lying a cynical tactic, thus far, unfortunately, without real consequences.
Of course, it should be noted that we Texans are not experts on Ted Cruz. He appears to have departed for Iowa shortly after he took the oath of office. If anyone had bothered to log the senator’s hours of service, they’d probably discover he has seen more corn than cactus while on the Texas taxpayer’s payroll.
Cruz has only visited the Mexican border six times and has never stayed 24 hours. I know from personal experience that at least three of those were coordinated with fundraising events at a country club near McAllen. If only the low income and disadvantaged people living in the Rio Grande Valley had been smart enough to hold “first-in-the-nation” caucuses they’d get real representation.
Rafael “Ted” Cruz, the first latino to win a presidential primary contest, is a profound political opportunist who lies even when it is simpler to speak the truth. Every statement he makes and position he holds is calculated for effect, and lacks principle. Cruz sniffs the political winds even better than one of his most famous Texas U.S. Senate predecessors, LBJ, who ended up as president. But be forewarned: If Cruz learns tomorrow that a great movement is sweeping America and millions of people suddenly enjoy killing puppies, he will be for it and will defy government regulation to control puppy killing.
So anyone considering voting for him has to ask, “Who is Teddy Texas?” The unavoidable answer is that he’s actually anyone or anything you want him to be.
As long as you aren’t concerned about the truth.
By Mike Jasper
“On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H. L. Mencken, 1920, via @BarbraStreisand at L.A. Women’s March
No arrests. Not one.
None in Washington D.C., and none in Austin, Texas.
I didn’t go to the Women’s March myself. Ironically, the only person I know who attended it for sure is a man. But I did watch it on TV. I just don’t like large crowds, sorry. I do other things instead, like writing blogs on websites such as this one. Or voting.
I always show up to vote, do you? I wonder. Did all the marchers vote in last year’s election? And will they vote two years from now? As someone once said, faith without works suck. Or something like that.
So what was all the fuss about? Was it yet another protest of Donald Trump’s presidency?
“This march isn’t about being anti-Trump,” Austin’s lead organizer Melissa Fiero said. “It’s about being part of a historic social movement and sending a bold message that women’s rights are human rights.”
That seems to be true, as I heard even pro-life supporters showed up to march. And not as an opposition march, they showed up to be part of the larger women’s movement, and while some pro-life marchers reported being welcomed warmly, others reported abuse.
Some pro-lifers found themselves face-to-face with pro-choicers, and a combat of chants broke out. And according to news reports from theblaze.com and christianpost.com, some of the pro-life women were yelled at, spat upon, and otherwise made to feel unwelcome.
Still … no arrests.
Further, the Women’s March went global, and supporters took to the streets in London, Paris, Mexico City, even as far away as Sydney, Australia — more than an estimated million people around the world participated — yet I couldn’t find one report of violence or police intervention anywhere on the Google.
Now I don’t want to devolve into reporting “alternative facts,” but the crowd size for the Women’s March in Washington was also estimated to be larger than the attendance numbers for the inauguration itself.
The only objective figures I could find came via tweets from Washington Metro, the district’s subway system. Washington’s Metro system reported the number of trips taken Jan. 20 and Jan. 21. For the inauguration, Metro Ridership reported: “As of 11am, 193k trips taken so far.” For the Woman’s March, Metro Ridership reported: “as of 11am: 275k.”
Does size matter? It does to Donny boy and his press secretary Sean Spicer (boy, are we gonna have fun with that guy), who blamed the media for lying about the size of the inauguration attendance, which according to him was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
But I digress.
The point is many thousands of supporters in Washington and around the world came out for the Women’s March to peacefully advocate for women’s rights. And no arrests were made.
I find that encouraging, don’t you? Off to buy a pussyhat now.
By Mike Jasper
“So when do I get to see it?” Roger asked. Roger’s my bartender. All the great writers have one.
“I don’t know,” I told him. “I’ve kind of got a block. I’m a comedy writer, but this is serious work. We’ve got Trump as president. We’ve got a Republican House and Senate. We’re fucked, and I want to do something about it … but I’m having a hard time putting pen to paper.”
“Look,” he said. “You’ve already got your angle, right.”
“Right,” I said. “The Progressive Spring. But I got that from you.”
“That’s all right. You’re stealing for a good cause. You’ve got the domain name already, right? What is it, turntexasblue.com or something like that?”
“Yep.” (Pause) “That might be stolen too.”
“Right. So just run with it. Just start writing. Get it up at WordPress or something like that and start typing way. Don’t worry about being as sober as a judge, just use your voice. You can be funny and still be serious, that’s your voice.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean I often just write about whatever’s going through my head, whether it’s real or not.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, for example, we’re not actually having this conversation. I’m sitting next to Lefty at the old guys’ bar and just thinking about what you told me a few minutes ago. The actual conversation was pretty boring … I think you said, ‘Just fuckin’ do it, man,’ and that was that. But now I’m thinking maybe you’re right. Maybe I just need to be me and do the best I can, even if it’s just writing down things going through my head while sitting at the bar.”
I need to break in here for a minute. Even that’s not true. I’m not at a bar, I’m at my desk in front of my computer screen thinking about what I thought about last night as I sat at the bar after my conversation with Roger.
It’s all so complicated.
But he’s right, you know. I need to be me because I don’t have any other choice.
“See! That’s what I’m talking about,” Roger — who is clearly a voice in my head at this point —told me.
Okay then. We’ll just fuckin’ do it.
“To a Progressive Spring,” I say, as I pretend to down a shot of Jameson.
— Roger Linehan contributed to this report