Friday, July 29, 2011

Memorable Storms while a student at Texas A&I - Revisitng Hurricanes Beulah and Celia and the night the Javelina Stadium Lights were blown down

With Hurricane season in full swing, one can't help but reminisce about storms that made their way into South Texas and, in particular, the Kingsville-Corpus Christi area. Many people were disappointed with the impact of Tropical Storm Don this past July. Don simply fizzled (evaporated?) under the Texas heat. Wow. But I venture to say, we were fortunate. When conditions are right, a storm churning in the Gulf of Mexico can mean death and destruction. We should count our blessings and look toward the Gulf warily as the Hurricane Season pushes on.

Many storms have hit the Kingsville-Corpus Christi area. Two in particular, left their mark - Hurricanes Beulah and Celia. Beaulah struck in 1967 and Celia in 1970. They were devastating killer storms, each with its own characteristic that left marks on South Texas for generations. Both times, I spent the eve of the storm in Kingsvile at then Texas A&I University, and both times I was surprised to what I heard or found when I woke up in the morning.

Both times, I felt lucky to have survived and realized that the fury of nature has no equal and must be respected.

Hurricane Beulah was a massive rain storm that caused unprecedented flooding in South Texas, forming lakes that lasted 20 years or more and impacting the area for weeks and months before things returned to normal.

It tracked through the Caribbean, struck the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico as a major hurricane, and moved west-northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, briefly gaining Category 5 intensity. It was the strongest hurricane during the 1967 Atlantic hurricane season. The hurricane made landfall in northeastern Mexico with winds near 160 mph.

The storm then weakened before moving into Texas as a major hurricane. Hurricane Beulah made landfall south of the mouth of the Rio Grande as a Category 5 storm. It then meandered over land with Category 3 conditions until it fizzled out Sept. 22. It spawned 115 twisters across Texas, which established a new record for the highest amount of tornadoes produced by a hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast. Due to its slow movement over Texas, Beulah led to significant flooding and caused more than $1 billion in damages. There were 58 fatalities. Three fatalities could be attributed to flooding in Corpus Christi. There were deaths reported from Mexico, the Rio Grande Valley, Corpus Christi and the deep Brush Country of South Texas.

Beulah was strange and refused to die. I remember pelting rain for more than 24 hours, non-stop. I mean RAIN. Big drops constantly splashing into the streets at a steady consistent pace that was unusual for this area. It rained all over South Texas for five consecutive days as Beulah moved at a snail's pace up the area. We wondered, "Is it ever going to stop?" Refugees from the Rio Grande Valley somehow made their way up to Kingsville, where hundreds found refuge in the university's dorms and buildings. Classes were cancelled for days. Of course, the students who stayed behind found ways to entertain themselves and for days played touch football in the standing water in front of Nierman Hall.

But, the university was not spared from Beulah's wrath. The A & I Citrus Center at Weslaco lost 80 to 95 per cent of the fruit crop with damage estimated at $29,000. The most notable damages on campus were uprooted trees and shrubbery. The Javelina Stadium lights were blown down to about a 30-degree angle and had to be removed within the week. Due to the extensive cost of replacing the lights during the semester, all home football games were held in the afternoon. That year the Javelinas won the Lone Star Conference championship with a thrilling come-from-behind 23-21 win over rival Southwest Texas State before more than 15,000 fans at sun-lit Javelina Stadium. John Kardow kicked a 28-yard field goal with 1:18 left to play to seal the victory. The Hogs finished 9-0 that year, which will forever be known as The Year Hurricane Beulah Blew the Javelina Stadium Lights Down.

Beulah was indeed memorable for me and my friends. The night before Beulah hit the Kingsville area, my cousin Adan and I spent the night in my dorm room in Cousins Hall. By now it was a category 3 storm. We had volunteered to stay behind to help the Army ROTC unit feed the refugees who were fleeing from major flooding the Rio Grande Valley. We played it as safe as we could, taping windows and moving away from any doors. That night we could hear the wind howl through the university and the rain, the rain, constantly falling on campus. We woke up in the morning, about 5, and the tree outside was down. We saw the water rising to the steps and just wondered when it would stop. Meanwhile, the cafeteria - now the Conner Museum - had become a temporary refuge. Sandbags had been packed around it to avoid the flooding. We were assigned to kitchen duty and informed to make chicken salad sandwiches. Someone had stayed up all night preparing the meal. There was no way out any more. All of Kingsville was flooded. Outside, we could hear helicopters and trucks scurrying around the area. We heard that Dr. Manning was outside Manning Hall, protecting it, making sure no one could get in. There were reports he had a rifle with him and he was looking for looters. We also heard he was letting people in for safe refuge. Our ROTC officers just laughed and didn't worry about a thing. After all, it was Dr. Manning.

Then, we heard we were stranded. The campus had been cut off, becoming an island. Farm road 141 leading to the cutoff to Alice and Falfurrias had six-feet of water over it. The King Ranch had moved its cattle now, south, where the waters were receding. Bishop was closed and the road to Riviera was impassable. There was no way out for three days. Phone communications were down. The winds had been strong enough to tangle the Javelina Stadium lights, but it wasn't the wind that downed the telephone and power lines. It had rained so much that even the slightest Gulf breeze would knock the poles down as the ground was saturated beyond any thing we had ever seen in South Texas. The ground was just a dark-brown mush. An "emergency" phone line was set up for the refugees and for the parents of students who stayed on campus to contact their children. My family finally contacted me. They were coming to pick us up. They said there was only one lane of traffic from San Jose to Kingsville and that it would take quite a while to get here. We waited at Cousins Hall. We were glad to leave. On the way back west toward Hebbronville, we could not believe our eyes. The King Ranch fence had water to the top wire. One lane of traffic moved west, as slow as a turtle crossing a lonely Texas highway.

Hurricane Beulah would not soon be forgotten. The lower Rio Grande Valley, the four-county region that comprises deep South Texas, was inundated with torrential rains. Rain also doused the Brush Country areas of Kenedy, Jim Hogg, Duval, Webb, Kleberg, Brooks, Jim Wells, Nueces, Bee and San Patricio counties. Within a 36-hour period it dropped more than 27 inches of rain near Beeville. Falfurrias received more rain from Beulah than it normally records during one year. Areas south of Laredo, San Antonio, and Matagorda were isolated for more than a week due to the resulting flooding. On September 28, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared twenty-four counties in southern Texas a disaster area. During a four-day period Beulah rained and reigned over South Texas, daily totals of rain averaged more than 20-inches per day. It was estimated that more than 85 inches of rain drenched different areas of South Texas. In these days, when drought is the key word and many would welcome even the slightest of tropical storms to the area, it seems incredible that Beulah could dump that much rain in only a week - more than 80 inches in some areas. Beulah was a wet storm. But, aside from the immediate tragedy, Beulah's rains helped nourish South Texas for years. Maybe it's time for another "wet one?"

If Beulah was a "rain storm," than Celia was a "wind storm." On Aug. 3, 1970, it roared into Corpus Christi with a fury that city had not seen since the 1919 storm and has not experienced since. Winds hit 130+ mph. It spawned dozens of tornadoes. Its devastation was clear, once the morning sun hit what had once been the Sparkling City by the Sea.

My friends and I spent the night the storm hit Corpus Christi at our rent house down Santa Gertrudis Ave. on 4th St. We didn't expect much from the storm. We had heard, from TV news reports, that it was "small and losing strength." Hurricane Celia developed from a tropical wave moving through the Caribbean, becoming a tropical depression on July 31 and a tropical storm on August 1. In the Gulf of Mexico, it rapidly became a major hurricane, but weakened steadily to an 85 mph hurricane. It didn't seem too dangerous, so few people evacuated the area and we, down in Kingsville, felt safer than a sparrow on a nest high on a South Texas oak. On August 3, it again rapidly strengthened to a major hurricane, this time reaching 130 mph winds prior to its Texas landfall. Celia would kill 20 people.

Back in Kingsville, we went about our normal routine - class, dinner, dates, TV, drink and tell tall tales. The night was tranquil. We heard from TV that the storm would hit the Corpus Christi area late that night or early in the morning. Little did we know that the small compact storm would gain strength and would be one of the most powerful storms to hit the area. The morning of Aug. 3 was quiet in Kingsville. Kingsville had been spared but there was no one on the streets. It was sunny, but there was an ominous feeling around. We woke up and turned on the TV. Nothing. We turned to our favorite radio stations - KUNO 1400 AM in Spanish and KEYS 1440 AM with rock 'n' roll tunes. Nothing. We scanned the radio looking for a station. Finally, through the static came the loud and clear voice of Andy Cook on Kingsville radio station KINE 1330 AM. It would be the only station on the air in South Texas for three days and the only source of information. The first words we heard were: "Corpus Christi has been destroyed . . ." Cook's crisp and definitely distinct radio voice went on to describe the horror the residents of Corpus Christi and the upper Coastal Bend area like Aransas Pass and Mathis felt. He had a straight connection to the Department of Public Safety and the National Guard that had been called up - within 24 hours - to prevent looting and set up spots for people to be treated medically and distribute ice and food. For at least three days, Andy Cook was the voice of South Texas to all those in the immediate Corpus Christi area. Eloquently, and with little rest, he told the story of the hurricane's impact. It was a story of sheer destruction, death and desolation.

The statistical toll taken by Celia was nothing short of staggering: The American Red Cross estimates now that 65,000 families suffered losses; the area took property damage totaled at $500 million in 1970 dollars; almost 9,000 homes were destroyed and some 55,600 homes suffered damage ranging from major to minor. Crop losses -- the storm hit during a harvest season -- were in the millions of dollars. More than 4,000 people were forced to seek shelter. There were many deaths - 20 became the official number.

But added to that toll in numbers was simply the shock for thousands of residents of having their homes, their livelihood, their possessions, perhaps their life's work, wiped out in one terror-filled August evening.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported on the eeriness of the storm like this: "When darkness came -- as dark and as quiet a night as ever fell on Corpus Christi -- those who had survived were simply thankful to be alive. There was no electric or telephone service in many area cities. There was no place to buy ice."

Slowly, we got word from inside Corpus Christi. DPS officers would come to eat at the Round Table, a popular eating spot on 14th Street at the time, or stop for burgers and sandwiches at the Gridiron or Young's Pizza near the university on Santa Gertrudis. As they exchanged shifts, the shared the horror stories. We heard that one of our favorite watering holes when we would go to Corpus Christi for "fun" was giving away free beer while it was still cold, the day after the storm. The place was called Vernon's and still exists today. It was one of the few "bright" stories in the gloom that followed.

We were shocked. The roads to Corpus Christi were blocked. Many of us had family there and wanted to go help, but no one was getting past Robstown on the south and west and the Chapman Ranch entry was flooded and guarded vigilantly by the Texas Army National Guard. No one, except in an official capacity was getting in or out of Corpus Christi. We felt we had to make contact. We got an idea. We had press passes for working with the university newspaper - The South Texan. I even had one that was "approved" or "sanctioned" by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Surely, they would let us in. Kingsville still had electricity so we loaded up our ice chests with clean pure ice. Just in case, we filled one with Lone Star and Schlitz beers. We bought some bread, baloney, cheese and other canned goods and headed north to Corpus Christi. Sure enough, we got through. We had cameras and credentials and qualified as official journalists.

We drove slowly down Highway 44, now going east. We worked our way toward Leopard Street, Old Brownsville Road and Morgan. My uncle lived on Old Brownsville Road. It was a beautiful house with brick all around. Behind him, on Guatemozin St., lived the rest of the family. We passed by slowly, and saw nothing. I remember telling my friends, "I don't see my uncle's house." We were in area just across from Del Mar Tech. There was debris everywhere. We circled next to what used to be the old airport, now the state school and drove down Guatemozin. There was my other family's home. An oak tree had pierced the roof and was clearly stuck in the living room, its branches reaching, so it seemed, to all the rooms in the house. They were so glad to see me, us. We had come with supplies. "Mira, es Memito (Look, it's Manuel Jr.)," I remember Tio Beto shouting to the cheers and anxious eyes of other family members who all had distant looks on their faces as they set outside in what was left of the lawn in the blistering August Texas heat. They, honestly, did not know how they were going to survive. All were huddled around what they now fondly called "the tree house," as if they were waiting for help. That day, Aug. 5, we were the help. They were so grateful for the ice, especially, and all the canned goods and baloney and bread we had brought. They invited us to eat. We politely declined. This trip was for them. We even let them have the ice chest full of beer - at least 36 cans (maybe Adan drank one or two). My uncle Beto savored one and then said most of the neighborhood cantinas down Port and Leopard had been "wiped out" and that some "borachos" were picking up cans of beer on the street. "Now we can enjoy our beers in our tree house," he said smiling, letting out a roaring laugh we had always associated him with. He had such a good nature. I miss him. In the turmoil, it was good to hear him laugh. We helped clean up a bit and then said good bye. We took pictures for our story. They ran that week in The South Texan. Celia, was truly devastating to Corpus Christi and, just as Andy Cook said that gloomy morning, "Corpus Christi ha(s)d been destroyed.

As we drove around town taking pictures for our story, we came to realize the full extent of the disaster and damage. The people that we saw certainly felt despair. There was debris, and rubble all around. TV towers had been knocked down. Downtown was a like a war zone. Windows and doors had been ripped from skyscrapers. The once beautiful bay front had palm tree leaves and limbs littered all around and it seemed as if Corpus Christi Bay had vomited on the city's prized street - Ocean Drive.

It would take weeks, make that months, of clean-up of downed trees, restoring of power, clearing debris, of toiling in the late summer heat, of waiting in long lines to obtain precious ice before any semblance of normality would return.

We came back to Kingsville, thankful that none of our family members were killed or injured. We had heard what they had to do, each one of them, to survive. Their stories seemed surreal. One of my uncles said that their entire house was lifted, made a 360-degree turn while in the air and then dropped in a neighbor's back yard while they were in the house. That explained why I didn't see the house on Old Brownsville Road.

On the way back, we drove through Kingsville and other South Texas towns south of Corpus Christi to see if could find any other signs for destruction. There were none. This small compact storm had picked Corpus Christi and the area directly west and north of it to attack.

We came back to the South Texan office and started developing the film and writing our stories. For days, we were dazed.

Hurricane Beulah and Hurricane Celia were killer storms. I know many of us would welcome the rain from tropical storm or hurricane, but I don't think any of us wants the likes of the wrath of those two storms to visit our area soon.

What do you think? How do you feel?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dormitory ramblings . . .

This summer, because of some personal problems and the high cost of gasoline to and from Corpus Christi, I asked to stay in university housing. I was assigned to the University Village - the UV and the newest dorm to date on the campus of Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Some 40 years ago I also lived in dorms in what was then Texas A&I University. I stayed in Cousins, Baugh and May Halls and we ate a central cafeteria located in what is now the Connor Museum on Santa Gertrudis Ave.

My return to dorm life was full of surprises.

First, back then in the dark ages, there was no air-conditioning in the dorms I was staying in. The rooms came with large windows, sans screens, that we would open up to let in air and nature. At night, if your room was facing south, it would get the cool breeze from the Gulf of Mexico and you could sleep comfortably. If your room was facing north, you were just out of luck. Not only would you not get the cool breezes at night, but you would be the first to feel the sting of a blue norther biting the South Texas night.

Another thing I noticed was that the walls between the rooms were thick, very thick. Solid concrete separated each room. That was good, for privacy, and quiet study time. Aside from the usual youthful dorm shenanigans, we were comfortable and led a good life in the dorm.

Oh, did I mention, the dorms were segregated and not co-ed and in some instances Mexican Americans and Negroes could not stay in certain dorms. It was okay. We could live with that for a while, but we called for change and it happened. But, that's another story.

For now, let's continue on the segregation of the sexes. As I said, women were assigned to certain dorms and men to other dorms and never the twain shall meet, well, sort of.

Being separated from the opposite sex in college is not nice. Then, there were these silly rules: Doors at women's dorms close at 11 p.m,, young ladies must be inside the dorm and in their rooms by 10:30 and 10:45 p.m., respectively; no men would be allowed in the dorm lobby after 9 p.m. and in no way can you have a man in your room, never, ever, ever, never or you shall be expelled and forced to wear a scarlet letter of the dorm mother's choice on your university vest or blouse. Yes, we all had dorm moms, even the men. They were wonderful women, I'm sure. Most of us however saw them as something akin to the Wicked Witch of the West or Frankenstein's daughter. Ayyyyyy!

We men had to do something to stay alive. We had the urge, you know, to see women. In the dorm in Kingsville, where there was really nothing to do then and less to do now, you scheme things. We schemed. We formed the SOGW and joined the national organization. Oh, SOGW stands for the Society of Girl Watchers. Girls back then here at the university wanted to sun bathe and they would gather at the top of Lewis Hall and just meander to and fro on the roof in their bikinis or two-piece swimsuit.

The SOGW membership would have "lookouts" and the alarm would go off when the girls were on the roof. Armed with the best hunting binoculars one could find in those days, the SOGW membership would scout the game. It was a good way to pass the time.

Then, we had what we called "panty raids." Every now and then, usually during a full moon, the hormones and heat would get to the male population of A&I. Someone would say, "Let's have a panty raid." In case you don't get it, it would happen after the women's dorms closed and the men would clamour outside the women dormintories on University Boulevard and yell for the women to "throw out" their panties. Really, that happened. It must have been the heat, or maybe the fact that there was nothing and there still is nothing to do in Kingsville for the university crowd. Panty raids were a national phenomena that caught on after WWII and lasted into the 1960s and 1970s. At a number of colleges, panty raids functioned as a humorous, ad hoc protest against silly curfews and entry restrictions that barred male visitors from women's dormitories. Here at A&I, I think it was just the thrill of the hunt - for panties. And, generally, the A&I girls welcomed the raiders. They were just as excited as the men. Must have been the heat or the hormones.

The panty raid would start with someone ringing the bell of the USS Corpus Christi located in front of the Student Union Building. Soon, at least 100 to 150 young men would be in the streets and organizing for the raid. Word would get to the girls. The University Police would be alerted. Dorm moms were at full-watch and the girls were in lock down. The men would position themselves in front of Lewis, Lynch and Eckhardt Halls and later Martin and start the chant .... "panties, panties, panties..."

Other young men would try to break in to the women's dorms. Yeah, we had to break in. Ha. I still remember one of the guys in our dorm was caught in the air conditioning vents at Lynch Hall. He was expelled, of course, and so were several other non-content panty seekers.

Soon enough the Dean of Students would show up and ask us to disburse and go back and study or something like that. Just then (and it never seemed to fail) some young women, or two or three, would open a window and wave panties in the air, bringing a loud whoop from the crazed men. Some escaped the grasp of the dorm mom and her monkeys akin to those in the Wizard of Oz and make their way to the moonlit roof of Lewis Hall and throw their panties into the night air. They would flutter down onto the grass below and brave young men would scurry hurriedly to pick up the valued prize and run like the wind, disappearing into the night past Santa Gertrudis Ave. Other panties would flutter in the air with the strong breeze from the Gulf for a long time. One landed on top of a palm tree. Again, some brave young men who must have trained with a chimpanzee somewhere would climb the palm to gather the valued prize and descend down to the cheers of other young who had not been as fortunate.

Mission accomplished, we went back to our dorms where supervision was akin to a Lord of the Flies life.

So, now in the new dorm in 2011, I can see the changes. Men and women stay in the same dorm. There is traffic of both sexes to and fro it seems 24 hours a day. Yes, there is security, but where's the dorm mom?

Maybe she melted.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Amor Tejano and other close encounters

Growing up in South Texas often makes it hard to be romantic.

The landscape is full of creepy crawlers from spiders to scorpions, armadillos to snakes, possums to javelinas and mosquitoes to bees....just to mention a few.
Of course, if you live in the Brush Country of South Texas, there are stickers and burrs, jagged rocks with edges and prickly pear cactus and Spanish daggers to contend with as you try to take a romantic walk in the country.

Everything around you seems to bite or stick or prick. Yes, it's hard to be romantic in South Texas.

And then there are the cows . . .

Cows? Well, yes, and they can be a nuisance. Any red-blooded Tejano will tell you that it's hard to whisper romantic ramblings to your date when the mooing of cows can be heard in the background. Not even a full moon on a semi-starry night full of comets blazing through the night sky will salvage the moment. Trust me.

One particular warm summer evening I decided to take a girl friend "parking." That's what we called getting about a mile or two out of town, parking by the side of the road near a huisache or mesquite tree - an oak tree if you're lucky - turning the car off and hoping for a romantic interlude under the night sky. The air is usually warm in summer, but not hot. It's a perfect time to talk, hug and cuddle. I had cleaned my aqua blue 1959 Chevy Bel Air like seldom before. It was sparkling in the night sky as I drove up to the tall mesquite on the road to a neighboring town. As I turned off the car, I revved the engine - vroom, vroom.

"Why did you do that?" she asked.

"Just to make sure that the battery is charged," I answered. "We don't want to get stuck out here in the middle of the country, right?"

Little did I realize how prophetic that statement was. But, I only revved the engine to send a message to her that I too was revved up. You know - vroom vroom. Girls don't get that to this date. Still, the night was young and she was beautiful and I was, well, you know.

"Ay, baby, I love you," I was saying to her as the warmth of the South Texas night on the outskirts of my hometown enveloped us. Suddenly, but not surprisingly, from deep from the nearby mesquite grove and pasture came this distinct bellowing of a cow mooing close by.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

"What was that?" she asked.

"Es una vaca (It's just a cow). There's a dairy nearby here. Don't worry," I said, cradling her neck with my right hand and getting closer to her.

Just then, the plaintive cry of the coyote echoed through the night air. The howl was piercing and seemed to be closer than the furry critter probably was.

"Is that a coyote?" she asked. "It's close. I hear they have rabies."

"Ay, baby, don't worry. It's probably at Raul's rancho and it's at least two miles away," I said.

"Two miles? That's not that far. They run fast, right?" she asked again, definitely feeling bothered by the noise.

"No really, it's far, it's far...the coyote (pronounced the Tejano way: co-yo-te and not the Texan way ca-yow-tay) won't bother us," I said.

She finally calmed down. The warm southeasterly breeze from the Gulf of Mexico was as mellow as melted butter on a tortilla and she was finally responding to my amorous advances. The night was young, and so were we.

Under the moon-lit sky, it was a precious almost perfect moment for romance. The two of us were cradled in the cab of my harddoor 1959 Chevy with the moon peering at us from above in an almost embarrassed sort of way was just how I imagined the night to evolve.

The night was young, and so were we.

Somehow, the mosquitoes and flies had left, gone to sleep I guess after getting their belly-full of blood and other succulent things around the brush. Then, the wind stopped. We could hear the crickets chirping around us. A covey of fireflies flew past by my 1959 Chevy Bel Air. Their light illuminated her face. It was gorgeous. Youth is a wonderful thing, even in a South Texan night scene. I reached up to caress her lovely face and was about to say . . . . when it happened.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

She screamed at the top of her lungs as if she had just seen Count Dracula and the Wolfman materialize in the car.

My ears were bursting with pain as if they had been pierced with a sharp needle. I jumped back and shouted "Que paso? What's wrong."

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

I looked at her face. She was definitely terrified and, who could blame her. The cow sound close, real close.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

I turned around and there, to my horror, was the huge head of a Holstein cow inside the cab of my car.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

I reacted like any proud Tejano from the Brush Country would have. I screamed.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

Then I went into macho man mode....yelling "Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah!"

I don't know what it means or what language it is, but I had heard the vaqueros yell that at the cows during roundups so I figured it was a language the cow would understand. It didn't.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

My girl friend was screaming again. My other ear burst. She opened the car door and took off running through the knee-high bufflegrass on the side of the road and looking back every now and then to see if the cow was chasing her.

I called out her name after another round of "Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah!"

I told her to stop. She yelled back, "Take my home! Take me home, now!" The last word was as piercing a sound as I have ever heard to this date.

The cow still had its head inside my Chevy.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

"Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah!" I answered as I got my baseball cap from the car and slapped it against the cow's nose.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

"Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah!" I answered and gave it one more solid swat with my high school baseball cap. It was my prized possession from my high school baseball team - black cotton with a striking white Old English letter representing my hometown.

The slap loosened the snot on the cow's nose and saliva from its tongue swept around the cab of the aqua anterior in my Chevy. The slobber covered the front of my cap entirely.

"Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah, Hey-ah!" I yelled with a growling sound.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

"Take me home, now!" she yelled again. She seemed further away from the car now. I really hoped that coyote wasn't nearby.

Her scream must have scared the cow, 'cause it took off south toward the fence line that had somehow fallen and allowed it to ramble into the street and toward my car.

I got out of the car and ran toward her. I gave her a hug and told her, "It's okay, baby. It's okay."

She answered, "No it's not. Take me home. Take me home, now!"

I did. The date was over. That night I found out that parking on a South Texas road outside of town and hoping for a romantic interlude could be hazardous to your health. I did this only 'cause there's not much to do in a small town..oh, wait, I should not say that.

As I let her out of my car, I tried to hold her hand. She said, "Don't touch me."

I realized then I had some cow slobber on my hands and arm and pants.

She ran to the door. Her mother was waiting for her.

"Mija (Daughter), que paso (what happened)?" the mother asked.
She burst into tears. I would see her again in better circumstances, sans cow.

In the distance, I could hear the sounds of various wildlife enjoying the night in their Brush Country environment. I heard the coyote's wails, the hoots of the owls, the croaking of the frogs at a nearby creek and chirping of nightingales. I even heard the neighing of horses at nearby ranches. As I listened closer and more intently, I felt certain I heard that darned cow laughing at me.

"Mooooooooooooooooooooo!" the cow said.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"A Better Life" a moving experience. . . It draws one to Outrage or just rage

Note: In the movie "A Better Life" veteran Mexican actor Demián Bichir tries to seek "A Better Life" for him and his son. The movie is strikingly realistic. It touches the issue of immigratin reform in our country like few movies have. It sends a poignant message that Prsident Barrack Obama could understand better if he watched the movie. In El Paso, recently, President Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform. It's time.

I write this blog with a sense of outrage. No, make that rage.

I open this blog with a review of Chicano history. A generation ago in the 1960s to the 1980s many Mexicano young people took to the streets to protest the continuous acts of discrimination and denial of civil rights we suffered under the dominant Anglo population.

I would say, that for the most part, those protests worked. Today Mexicanos and Tejanos born in the United States and those activist Chicanos who valiantly fought for civil rights are enjoying a piece of the American pie and living "A Better Life." But, we grew old and lost our valor and many of us are now complacent and even reluctant to open our eyes and see that our brothers and sisters - the new Latino immigrants to our country - are been treated with disrespect and disregard for their humanness. They are being abused right before our very eyes and we do nothing (nada).

Oh, sure, Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo, the famed Latino radio DJ from California who has now won national acclaim, did organize a national rally and boycott to bring attention to the immigration problem in our country. But, many of us said, that's not our fight. We have fought our fight. It's the immigrants turn to fight for their rights. Besides, they are not even citizens, some may say.

Where is the outrage? Where is our soul and heart? Why don't we understand that when they belittle one Hispanic, Latino, Mexicano, Tejano, they belittle all of us? Why can't we see that the Arizona law is not the anomaly but the norm in this country that is becoming more and more anti-Hispanic with each passing year?

I must apologize for my "Juanito llego tarde (Johnny come lately) attitude on this issue. I have always wanted to do something, but .... It was a movie that changed my mind and opened my eyes.

The movie "A Better Life" was so realistic that it hit too close to home. The movie features veteran Mexican movie actor Demián Bichir in the role of Carlos Galindo, an immigrant father who is fighting to give his son Luis (Jose Julian) "A Better Life" in the United States. One thing leads to another and eventually he gets caught without a driver's license and is deported, leaving Luis behind. He is sent to a detention center as he awaits his deportation for months. He lives with the regular prison population even though he has been a law-abiding citizen his entire life in the United States. He is treated like a common thief, murderer or rapist. He gets no respect and his only crime has been that he was looking for "A Better Life" for him and his son.

One of my former students had a similar experience. He made a mistake on some paperwork. Soon, the Department of Homeland Security came to look for him at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. They found him working at the University Bookstore, handcuffed him and took him away. He had no chance to pack his belongings, make sure his car was okay or talk to his professors about his classes. He had no rights in this country. He was illegal. In an instant, he was off to Houston. Three days later, he found himself in a detention center in Louisiana where he began a nine-month stay in the Immigration Services detention centers. He was finally released and will be taking classes at A&M-Kingsville this fall and hopes to get his master's soon. He is still searching for his belongings. He has lost everything, but he is back "home" in the Corpus Christi area. He was offered the choice to be deported to El Salvador, his home country as a child, and avoid the trauma of living in a jail cell for almost a year, but refused, saying simply, "This (the United States) is my home."

He was lucky. Ninety-nine out of 100 immigration detainees are deported. Under President Barrack Obama's administration, those numbers have increased and undocumented immigrants (not criminals) in the U.S. deportation center are treated worse than ever. The deportations under President Obama are on pace to surpass 37,100for the year, an increase of more than 1,200 from 2010. If the trend continues, the Obama administration will have prosecuted more illegal immigrants for illegal re-entry in his first term than George W. Bush’s administration did in his two terms combined. From 2001 to 2008, 111,920 aliens were prosecuted for the crime — 42,465 in Bush’s first term and 69,455 in his second, an annual average of about 10,600 and 17,360, respectively. Obama's administration is averaging about 34,355 annually and is on pace to surpass 103,000 in his first three years.

So, why is this Democratic president who rode to victory behind Hispanic vote turning a blind eye to this? It's baffling. Statistics show 64% of Hispanic males and 68% of Hispanic females supported Obama. Latino youth supported Obama over McCain by a lopsided margin -- 76% versus 19%.

So, what's the deal?

Reports from Washington say Obama has simply decided that we are a nation of laws and laws should be followed. He forgets that slavery was once legal in this country, but that law changed.

One thing is clear, Barrack Obama would not be president of the United States without the Latino vote in the American Southwest and, to a certain extent, Texas. It is clear that the Hispanic voter looked to Obama to lead the immigration reform. It is clear that the Hispanic gave Obama a mandate to go to Washington and "change the law or practice" that is clearly as unconstitutional as the issue of slavery was in the 19th century. Besides, it's simply a human rights issue. Period.

We must urge President Obama to do something. We must show him we are outraged that he has sat there motionless and made campaign speech after campaign speech, including a recent one in El Paso, where he promised, again, he would take the lead in this quest.

I would like to start by asking President Barrack Obama to go see the movie "A Better Life." Then, if he is moved enough, I would like to ask him to visit an immigration detention center and talk to some of the immigrants. He would find that the vast majority of them are hard-working "residents" of our country who deserve a better chance, "A Better LIfe." He will find that they are treated inhumanely and we are probably violating the Geneva Convention.

Then, I would ask him to go into the Mexicano barrios and, after witnessing first-hand how the jornaleros (journey man or day laborers) who line up for "work" at street corners in cities throughout our country, call a press conference and say simply, "Bienvenidos (Welcome)."

I want him to say, "There is work here for you. Come out of the shadows and join our society. We will develop a system for you to gain your citizenship. Continue working hard and you too will have a piece of the American pie and realize el sueno Americano. This is your country. We are a country of immigrants who worked hard to seek 'A Better Life.' Continue to work hard. Be decent hard-working people and you will have 'A Better Life' in this great country you so desire to be a part of. We did away with slavery years ago. It's time now for immigration reform."

Of course, right wingers would cry foul and President Obama will be put down by lunatic fringe among our country's conservatives. But I would bet the Hispanic would come to his rescue. I would bet he would a hero bigger than life and more important than all the revolutionary heroes in Mexican history - well, maybe not Emiliano Zapata. I would bet that few would threaten him after they realized the Hispanic population was solidly behind him. I know. I'm dreaming, but it could happen.

The movie - "A Better Life" - will get him thinking about his current stance on immigration reform. It will get him moving. He needs to see it. It will definitely open his eyes and stir his conscience.

Oh, after Birchir's character - Carlos Galindo - is deported, the true message of the movie is revealed. The last time Galindo talked to his son Luis, Luis made him promise him he would come back. The last scene shows Galindo and other undocumented immigrants approaching the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona. As the coyote points and says the United States is just north of a certain landmark. Galindo looks up to the sky and says, "I'm going home."

Let's hope he made it and let's hope by the time another movie is made on this character President Barrack Obama would have seen the light and done the right thing. We are a nation of laws, Mr. President, but laws have changed in the past and it's time to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality. It's time to stop the undignified treatment of Hispanic, Latino, Mexican immigrants and help them have "A Better Life."

Monday, July 4, 2011

On rooting for Mexico at a soccer game in the Rose Bowl . . .

There has been much consternation from right-wing extremists over the show of support for the Mexican soccer team during the recent matchup with the USA team in Pasadena, Calif. The U.S. Men’s National Team lost to Mexico, 4-2, in the final of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup in a thrilling encounter in front of more than 93,000 at the Rose Bowl, June 25.

Problem was, perhaps 80,000 of those at the Rose Bowl, were rooting for Mexico. Essentially, Mexico was the home team on one of the USA's most hallowed sports arena. When the ceremony was over, the public address announcer - perhaps noticing the preponderance of Mexican fans who most assuredly spoke Spanish - decided to do the awards ceremony in Spanish.

Of course, this angered many Americans, including the players for our national team, some of whom are Hispanic. The explanation for the lack of American support at this CONCACAF finals is simple, Americans are not soccer fans. Period. Our (USA) fans were not there. The few thousand who were rooting for the USA team at the Rose Bowl represent the soccer fanatics in our country. Others were enjoying baseball, hockey, basketball or thinking about the coming football season, be it high school, college or pro.

Fact is, football, not futbol soccer, is the single most important sport in the United States. Futbol, is most important sport in Mexico. In the good ol' USA, soccer ranks somewhere between ice hockey, synchronized swimming and middle school basketball. Yes, even Little League football and baseball rank higher than soceer in the USA.

Those "Mexican" fans certainly have roots in Mexico. Many just arrived here seeking the American Dream. At most, they are a generation or two removed from Mexico. Their allegiance to Mexico is strong. In fact, any Mexican-American can tell you that our ties to that country remain strong no matter how long we have been in the United States, so it's natural, very natural to root for Mexico. A couple of traditional Mexican songs will explain this.

Luis Miguel's hit, "Mexico en la piel (Mexico in my skin or under my skin)" is a classic that will send goose bumps over anyone who has Mexican ties or roots.

Como una mirada hecha en Sonora (Like a look made into a song)
Vestida con el mar de Cozumel (Dressed with the Cozumel sea)
Con el color del sol por todo el cuerpo (With the color of the sun throughout the body)
Asi se lleva Mexico en la piel (That's how Mexico gets under your skin)

Como el buen tequila de esta tierra (Like the good tequila of this land)
O como un amigo de Yucatan (Or like a friend from Yucatan)
Y en Aguascaliente deshilados (and lost like a losse wire in Aguacalientes)
O una lana tejida en Teotitlan (Or like silk sewn in Teotilan)
Asi se siente Mexico, asi se siente Mexico, (That's how Mexico feels, That's how Mexico feels)
Asi como unos labios por la piel (Like lips all over your skin)
Asi te envuelve Mexico, asi te sabe Mexico (That's how Mexico consumes you, that's how Mexico tastes)
Y asi se lleva Mexico en la piel (And that's how Mexico get under your skin)

Como ver la sierra de Chihuahua (Like seeing the mountain range of Chihuahua)
O artesania en San Miguel (Or the art work and handicrats in San Miguel)
Remontar el cerro de la silla (Climb again the mountain peak of the silla)
Asi se lleva Mexico en la piel. (That's how Mexico gets under your skin)

Como acompanarse con mariachi (Like being backed up by a mariachi band when you sing)
Para hacer llorar a esa cancion (To make that song cry)Que en el sur se toca con marimba (in the south of Mexico do it with a marimba)
Y en el norte con acordeon (and in the north they play the song with an accordion)

Asi se siente Mexico, asi se siente Mexico, (That's how Mexico feels, that's how Mexico feels)
Asi como unos labios por la piel (Sort of like lips touching your skin)
Asi te envuelve Mexico, asi te sabe Mexico (That's how Mexico consumes you, that's how Mexico tastes)
Y asi se lleva Mexico en la piel (And that's how Mexico gets under your skin)

Como un buen sarape de Saltillo (Like a good sarape from Saltillo)
Como bienvenida en Veracruz (Like a welcoming in Veracruz)
Con la emocion de un beso frente a frente (With emotion of a kiss on your forehead)
Asi se lleva Mexico en la piel (That's how you carry Mexico under your skin)

Como contemplar el mar Caribe (Like you're contemplating the Caribbean Sea)
Descubrir un bello amanecer (Discovering and observing a beautiful sunrise)
Tener fresca brisa de Morelia (Feeling the fresh breeze of Morelia)
La luna acariciando a una mujer (And the moon carassing a woman)

Asi se siente Mexico, asi se siente Mexico, (That's what Mexico feels like, that's what Mexico feels like)
Asi como unos labios por la piel (Just as if you're sensing someone's lips touching your skin)
Asi te envuelve Mexico, asi te sabe Mexico (That's how Mexico consumes you, that's how Mexico tastes)
Y asi se lleva Mexico en la piel (And that's how you get Mexico under your skin)

I have to admit. Mexico's romanticism, history and culture are very strong in me and my family and we certainly feel an allegiance to the country. But, I don't think I would root for Mexico against the USA. It would take special circumstances. It would be sort of when Texas plays Texas A&M in football or any other sport. Because of family ties, I am going to root for Texas. But, when Texas is out of the picture, I will root for Texas A&M.

But, there's another song that is deep in my roots that may help explain allegiance to Mexico. It's a song my grandfather was familiar with and a song my father took with him when he fougt for the USA four years in World War II. It's called, "Mexico Lindo y Querido" and it has some haunting lyrics that every one with an ounce of Mexican blood or culture would get goose bumps to if they listened carefully. The great charro movie star Jorge Negrete made it popular. Here is the most haunting part of that song:

México Lindo y Querido (Dear and beloved Mexico)
si muero lejos de ti (If I die far away from you)
que digan que estoy dormido (Let them say that I am asleep)
y que me traigan aquí (And have them bring me back home to you)

Que digan que estoy dormido (Let them say that I am asleep)
y que me traigan aquí (And have them bring me to you)
México Lindo y Querido (Beloved and dearest Mexico)
si muero lejos de ti (If I die far from you)

Okay, so allegiance to Mexico for anyone who has the culture in him or her has been established. That does not, however, explain why those living in the United States either as citizens or legal residents would cheer against the USA. Honestly, if you are in the United States, you should cheer from the USA. Right?

Well, let's wait a while. If you live in the United States and other Americans have had a history of treating you like a second-class citizen, passing anti-Hispanic laws like Arizona and other states, and saying that you are not worth much to this country, you're going to feel a certain sense of pride for your culture and roots and you just might root for the other team. This will not change until the anti-Hispanic fervor of reactionary Americans, mainly Republicans, changes and America decides to treat all with Hispanic roots as real Americans. For the record, you all, "Aquí estamos y no nos vamos, (We're here and we're not leaving)." A better wat of saying that, my gradfather used to say is, "Aquí estuvimos, y no nos fuimos (We were here and we didn't leave when you all got here - c/s).

Mexican Americans have been treated unfairly in this country since different parts of the American Southwest became part of the United States. We became strangers in our own land and now some politicians have the audacity to pass horrid laws designed to belittle us. I don't think so.

Let's look at what happened in California a little more carefully. It was just a soccer game. It's not politics. No one says anything when southerners proudly salute the battle flag of the Confederacy, or even when skinheads proudly salute the Nazi flag. Most feel these people have the right to do this, as Americans. Wow.

Okay, so let's assume that the majority of the 80,000 Mexican cheering for the Mexican team at the Rose Bowl are either American citizens or legal residents of the United States, do they not have the right to cheer for any team they choose?

I think so. So, let's not be self-righteous about a sporting affair. Let's sit back and realize that years-and-years of atrocities and denyig of civil rights to people who were born and raised in the American Southwest is going to take a little time to get over. Let's realize that allegiance is as thick as blood and that while all Mexican Americans love and respect the United States, cheering for old Mexico (and I don't know why they call it old) is allowed and heallthy. It's just a soccer game and most Americans (of any ethnicity) don't care about soccer. I know, I know, I just insulted my hermanos mexicanos(Mexican brothers)who swear soccer is the the one only sport. To them I say, just as I say to those who critized them, sacanse la daga (get the sword out of your body, or simply, get over it).

As another song says:

Viva Mexico, viva America (Long live Mexico, Long live America)
oh suelo bendito de Dios (Oh, land that God has blessed)
viva Mexico, viva America (Long live Mexico, long live America)
mi sangre por ti dare yo (My blood, life Y would give for you).

Friday, July 1, 2011

On the 4th of July being a Hispanic holiday. . .

Sometimes Mexicanos, Tejanos, Hispanos feel a little out of sorts when the 4th of July, our nation's independence day, approaches.

Of course, we feel American and the vast majority of us are citizens or legal residents of this great country, but others make us feel as if we don't belong. So, when it comes to celebrating this great nation's independence, some of us may be reluctant to partake of the revelry.

To begin with, we have always been made to feel as strangers in our land. It was the Spanish and the indigenous who were here in the American southwest and the Gulf of Mexico states before white America took control. So, this land is our land, too. Start with that premise and then take a look, a good look at the history of our United States.

We must first remember that as Spain colonized the American southwest, there were people here in Texas and other parts of what is now the United States. San Antonio, for example, was settled in the early 18th century, well before the American revolution of 1770s.

Now, let's think of what the Tejanos in the San Antonio area were doing around the time of the American Revolution. They were ranchers, the first cattle barons of the United States were right here in South Texas. They had, literally, thousands of heads of cattle. When the American Revolution broke out, Gen. George Washington's Continental Army needed help to stave off the British. At that time, what is now Texas and Louisiana were Spanish colonies, or territories. South Texas was Nuevo Santander and the area in San Antonio was Coahuilla y Tejas and there was, of course, Spanish Louisiana.

In 1779 Gen. George Washington sent a courier with a letter to the then Governor of Spanish Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez requesting aid and assistance in fighting the British. A voluntary contribution was collected from the Tejano citizens of Texas that totalled 10,000 pesos to help finance the American Revolution. Gálvez also ordered that cattle be rounded up and driven north to feed the armies of George Washington. Gálvez, of course, had his own Army and headed for battle. The Tejanos brought the cattle, their weapons and their character and will to survive and win.

Many of these vaqueros were to remain and fight against the British in the army of Don Bernardo de Gálvez. Gálvez was successful in defeating the British in key battles including the Battle of New Orleans, Pensacola and Mobile Alabama. Galvez and his army were successful in preventing access to the Mississippi River thus preventing the British the use of the river to supply their troops. In the meantime, Texas cattle fed both Gálvez's and Washington's armmies.

Today, Galveston Bay, Galveston, Texas, Galvez, Louisiana, and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana are among cities and areas named after him. The Louisiana parishes of East Feliciana and West Feliciana were named after his wife Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan. In adition, in recognition for his valor and help to the American cause, George Washington took him to his right in the first July 4 parade and the American Congress cited Gálvez for his aid during the Revolution. During America's bicentennial celebratioin in 1776, Spain donated a statue of Galvez which now stands in New Orleans.

There were other battles in other parts of the new world where Hispanics contributed to the cause of the upstart American colonists that eventually led to the formation of our country, but Gálvez's contributions were the most resounding. And, Tejanos were there at every step of the way to assist Gálvez, and George Washington for that matter, in the fight to defeat the British.

So, this 4th of July, sit back and enjoy the revelry and celebration. Take out a small American flag and wave it to and fro. Pop a fire cracker or two, if legal, and wave some sparklers in the air. We Hispanics deserve to celebrate the 4th of July as much as anyone, and perhaps more, in this country.

No matter what anyone says, if you are of Tejano and Hispano or have indigenous roots from the American Southwest or Louisiana, chances are you had someone in your family was involved in the American Revolution.

Fact is, we Tejanos, Hispanos contributed to the independence of the United States of American.

Today, as more and more Latino immigrants settle in to enjoy the freedoms this great nation has to offer, it should be remembered that people with the last name of Flores, Sanchez, Garza, Garcia, Salinas, etc., etc. helped forge the victory of Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army and that Gen. Bernardo de Gálvez was a true American hero when he led an army composed of Tejanos and native Louisianans to battle in the American Revolution.

Feliz cuatro de julio - Tejano style. ¡Ahua!

(P.S. - Thanks to my friend, Tejano historian Dan Arrellano for contributing to the information for this blog. Also, photos on this post include the face of the Tejano cattleman from the Tejano monument that will be on display outside the Texas capitol building in Austin and the statue of Galvez in New Orleans).