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Friday, July 23, 2010

"They are not Vikings!"

A law enforcement officer in Laredo, Texas was quoted in a San Antonio Express news story dated July 22 about the cartel violence sweeping across Nuevo Laredo. He spoke about the concern and numerous phone calls emergency personnel received in Laredo, Texas, about the violence, especially fearful about the sounds of gunfire coming from Nuevo Laredo. One of the underlying reason for the calls was, will the shootings cross into Texas? Will the violence extend to Laredo, Texas?

His answer was possibly meant to comfort the worried Laredoans, and it was true. (

The "badguys" as the cartel members are known are not Vikings. They are not super-human, they can't easily transfer their brand of power to the U.S. side of the border. That's good, but still leaves open the question, who are they, really?

I submit they are more than "badguys" and that it is important to make this distinction in what we call them, because we have to delve deeper than the shallow, good-guys vs. bad-guys level of understanding if we hope to ever resolve the problems plaguing the border.

They are, first of all, criminals. They are affiliated with international crime rings. (Zetas, Juarez, Sinaloa, they are organized gangsters with different criminal cultures and origins.)

Secondly, they were once Mexican boys (and girls). They went to play at Nuevo Laredo's Parque Viveros riverside park where there were soccer fields and a public pool. Where some of the cartel violence has been taking place today. They went as kids to play like I did with my cousins when I was a girl. They believed in the church and its teachings. They had dreams and aspirations. What happened to change them into violent killers?

This is not the most important question to ponder at the moment; there are certainly more important questions, such as how can safety be restored for innocent citizens living on the border (both sides)? But without considering the question what went wrong, as Alejandro Junco has done, we miss the point. Any solutions will be as superficial as "bad-guys vs. good-guys"; the response that does not consider "what went wrong, how did we get here?" paints over a more complex understanding of the questions that badly need addressing.

"They are not Vikings" leads me to ask myself, why is there so much fear from this side of the border?

Speaking only for myself:

I fear these criminals because I DO know who they are: I know how angry, disenfranchised, and pissed they are.I DO know how they are demonstrating their power using weapons we U.S. citizens sold to them.

I fear them because I know their education level has been low because of Mexico's corruption and mindsets about class and race that are closer to colonial times than to the millenium in which we currently live. If the U.S. only offered free education up to the sixth or eighth grade, how many more criminals would we have today?

I fear them because I know that as a society we have failed those children who played and swam and strolled next to me by failing to address the failures of our governments and our cultures:

On an individual level, I have not done my part by not pressuring for more communication and interchange between our colleges and universities, especially those from states along the border.

To date we have relied on solutions coming from the wrong centers: on NAFTA, its banks, and media and politicians who sometimes consider the borderlands to be remote outposts whose needs are not as important as those of mainstream Mexicans or mainstream Americans.

We, especially I, have allowed the historical distrust, antipathy and prejudice that affected and informed our two countries' histories 200 years ago to continue to affect and inform our 21st century policies without challenging them vigorously, without demanding new paradigms from leaders and policymakers.

The world's stage calls to us to share and show what we borderlanders know:

How our bicultural heritage has uniquely prepared us to use cultural diversity to our best advantage, to build and create from the gifts of two disparate cultures something beautiful, unique and rich, that is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.

From our days playing together in the streets as children, in Parque Viveros riding horses, or swimming or years later strolling with our dates as teens, in utter, complete and absolute safety, our futures led us into different adulthoods (utter, complete and absolutely different).

What are the reasons for the differences? Knowing the answers will help us to solve the problems plaguing the border.

Being on either side of the border was home. It was safe to play, to ride, to swim, to walk along the river enjoying Parque Viveros, a park those of us from the city of Laredo, Texas envied.

It can be safe again if we believe so and work to make it so.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

YMCA = fun and health

The word "exercise" sounds like a grueling experience. Like chalk squeaking on a blackboard. A much better word is "dance"--you leap and turn in the air just speaking the word. There's music pulsing and you just have to move!

For the past five weeks I've been dancing 3-4 times a week with Susie and about 40 of my newest friends at the YMCA at Braundera. Zoomba, which is aerobic dance set to mostly Latin music, is apparently widely advertised on TV.

I can tell you Zoomba an easy way to melt the inches and build endurance and energy, and all the while you are having a good time learning new steps, listening to great music from around the hemisphere and keeping up with the grandmothers, teenagers, moms and young women who are hoofing, leaping, lunging and generally pretending to be Shakira for just one moment.

I've also become a regular at Water Aerobics, Yoga and Bodyflow, which is a form of Tai Chi and Yoga.

Five weeks have helped me to see what a difference a little bit of effort can make! I feel better, have more energy, my clothes fit me better and have rearranged muscle and fat in significant and good ways.

I have learned a lot about fitness by also reading books about nutrition and getting fit. The best one is "Younger Next Year".

Bravo to the Alamo Colleges and YMCA who permitted enrollment at greatly reduced prices to Alamo Colleges employees.