Cultural Whitewashing

No Somos Twin Cities Says Managing Editor

Antonio Garza, the Managing Editor for the tabloid ElBridge, articulated in Spanglish the whitewashing of El Paso rather well. In the Spring 2003 issue published by the Bridge Center for Contemporary Art, Garza writes that “in this climate of changes, deberiamos aclarar ciertas cosas, about who where we’re at, so to speak.”

Garza goes on to write, “the Sun City no vive la sombra de Ciudad Juárez, as some would have us believe.” Garza then adds this, “no somos twin cities – ‘tas pendejo if you think we look anything alike.”

Clearly, the whitewashing is on full display, by a Latino.

Garza continues unperturbed by what he is articulating, the erasure of Mexican culture from El Paso.

He continues with, “Ciudad Juárez es la ciudad as its name suggests…El Paso is the suburbs.” And, he adds, further clarifying, “El Paso: the ultimate gated community.”

Don’t let the use of the Spanish language deceive you. What Garza is poignantly articulating is that those of us from México have no place in the El Paso experience, even though “half our mothers were born” in Juárez.

Garza’s introduction was for the second issue of ElBridge to be released in Juárez. And it says a lot about the love-hate symbiotic relationship between El Paso and Juárez.

It also says a lot about how Juárez is brought into the dialog when it is convenient and kept out of the discussion when it becomes inconvenient to the narrative of El Paso.

Readers may be asking, what is ElBridge?

ElBridge was a tabloid that was printed by the Bridge Center for Contemporary Art in El Paso. It was a non-profit that was established in 1988. It closed its doors in 2004. How long the ElBridge tabloid ran is difficult to ascertain as the publication used issue numbers inconsistently. However, there appears that issues were printed in 2002 and 2003.

In the Spring 2003 issue, Bobby Byrd writes in his publication Letter that El Bridge “is a manifesto in-progress about the meaning and function of art and culture in El Paso.” Byrd is Susie Byrd’s father. Susie Byrd was on city council when the City paid Sanders/Wingo to create the de-Mexcanization study known as the Glass Beach Study.

The elder Byrd goes on to write in his letter that El Bridge is about their “insistence on re-visioning the history of El Paso.” Mixed in is this “revisioning the history of El Paso from a Mexican and Mexican-American perspective, and in so doing we have identified the chasm between what we call ‘gringo history’ and (using historian Howard Zinn’s terminology) the people’s history of El Paso”.

On the surface it seems like Byrd and El Bridge want to bring the Mexican culture to the fore of the El Paso narrative, it says right there in his letter. But the whitewashing of El Paso is an undercurrent kept alive by pretending to care about the Mexican culture while erasing it at the same time.

El Bridge uses a combination of Spanish and English on its title to set the stage for a narrative embracing the Mexican culture of El Paso.

But it is all fake.

Juárez is great for cheap beers and pretending to be experiencing a foreign culture on a visit outside of the United States. It is great for the tourist magazines.

But it sucks for the El Paso narrative. Antonio Garza makes this clear when he writes “no somos twin cities”.

A reader picking up the tabloid may be tempted to believe that it encourages the Mexican culture in El Paso. That is magnifies it and that it tries to teach the reader the real history of El Paso.

But it, like the whole narrative of El Paso, is about erasing the Mexican culture from the city.

This particular issue of the tabloid has several articles by known authors writing about the city’s politics, arguing that the local news media misses the important stories and other pieces about the killing of a Mexican youth by the Border Patrol and even the Bracero program by Carlos Merentes.

It all looks too Mexican. But it isn’t.

Consider the fact that the tabloid is supposed to be about the art scene in El Paso. It is supposed to be focused on art on the border. But it spends significant ink on politics. It’s longest article is a Debbie Nathan piece titled Who Runs the City? (more about this piece on an upcoming issue)

In it, Debbie Nathan goes about setting the stage about the “good old boy” club running the city and only one man, Ray Caballero can bring the city back to success. Nathan’s article doesn’t argue for what Caballero is offering for a second term as mayor. Rather Nathan spends five full pages of the 28-page tabloid, almost 20% of the content, deconstructing and demonizing the people that oppose Caballero’s grand vision for El Paso.

Why an art tabloid needed to print an article about the mayoral race when art had little to nothing to do with that political race explains how whitewashing in El Paso works. The elder Byrd attempts to distract the inquisitive readers about the Caballero piece by writing in his letter that the look at the mayoral race is part of the debate “that rages between the Caballero and Wardy forces is not-nor the players fundamentally different-then the angry debate that seethes around the 3-story monstrosity of Don Juan de Oñate.”

Readers without a clear understanding of the politics of The Equestrian statue may come away from reading in that sentence that El Paso was mired in a controversy over the statue between Anglos and Hispanics because of the Caballero and Wardy names thrown out by the elder Byrd.

But the facts are conveniently ignored by Byrd’s letter.

The City of El Paso commissioned the statue in 1996, although the statue project was first ordered in 1989. The mayors of El Paso during this time were William Tilney, Suzanne Azar and Larry Francis. The final design was approved in 1997. But here is the important detail that Byrd conveniently ignores.

The statue took ten years to make. Along the way the original approved statues of Cabeza de Vaca and Benito Juárez had been discarded to make way for the Oñate statue. Although the Wardy administration, less than six months into its administration, changed the name of the statue to The Equestrian, the debate about its appropriateness raged during the Caballero administration. It was installed under the Cook administration.

The Byrd distraction was on purpose because Caballero led the charge towards reinventing El Paso downtown by erasing all vestiges of México from it.

Nathan didn’t need to set the stage because the tone for the issue was set by Byrd and Garza as they delineated El Paso away from Juárez using poetic license designed to indoctrinate the reader into the whitewashing of El Paso.

It was Susie Byrd, Steve Ortega and Beto O’Rourke – who are protégées of Ray Caballero, among others, that allowed the Glass Beach Study to be created by the City.

ElBridge is but one piece of the long-term attempt to erase the Mexican culture from the El Paso narrative. One need not look further than who made up the Board of Directors of ElBridge to understand how endemic the erasure of the Mexican culture is in El Paso and how it is accomplished.

At the time this issue was published, Anna Alemán was listed as the president, Amit Gosh was vice-president and Harry Schulte was the secretary. Of the ten other directors, one finds the names of Fred Dalbin, José Rodriguez, formally the County Attorney and now a State Senator and Susie Byrd. Also on the list of directors is Steve Yellen, who is currently under suspension from delivering financial services for the unauthorized transactions he made for his clients without their consent and Richard Baron.

Note who are listed as directors and the parts some have played in the dislodging of the Mexican narrative from El Paso.

ElBridge was ostensibly a publication embracing and glorifying the Mexican culture of the city. However, in reality it is part of the disinformation campaign that led to the Glass Beach Study and the erasure of the Mexican culture from El Paso.

Note: the publication uses two forms of El Bridge and ElBridge in its publication.

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