The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

We Had No Idea January 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ramonalvarado @ 6:19 pm
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You must know that in addition to the trans-border bi-city complexity of this urban conglomerate we also have a separate little military city embedded within. It isn’t precisely located in what one could call the heart of the urban area but maybe in what might as well be the prostate of El Paso. The name of this military complex is Fort Bliss and according to the 2000 census it is home to something like 9,000 people. Now, the year 2000 is long gone and Fort Bliss is changing and growing really fast. It is said that the base is being prepared to receive as many as 40,000 people in the next 5 years.  That being said without any particular commentary allow me to tell you a little anecdote that happened this weekend.

As I sat at work just staring at the mountain from afar waiting for a story to unfold a call came. It wasn’t for me but rather for the person with whom I share a tourist information booth, that happens to be inside Fort Bliss. The caller informed my working neighbor of something happening at one of the gates of the military complex, a protest of some sort. According to the caller it had to do with some anti war thing. Because I was so extremely busy giving out tourist information to soldiers that can’t even leave base, as soon as she informed me of such happening I grabbed my camera and said “I’ll be right back.” I started rapidly walking towards the indicated direction when I suddenly remembered that my bicycle had been parked at the bike rack for the past week and a half. So I walked back in the opposite direction, past by my booth again and towards the northern exit of the building. I grabbed my bike and started pedalling.


When I got to the indicated gate all I saw was a lot of military police vehicles and some sort of improvised barricade, I thought it was over but still decided to go a little further out of base. So I crossed the overpass that leads to base and when I was pedalling down I saw the protest:  a group of 5 or 6 ladies and a teenager holding American flags and a bunch of banners surrounded by something like 20 bikers, all in full leather attire with more American flags counter-protesting the protesters. Some of the bikers were ridding annoyingly around the protesters drowning their voices with their exhaust. As I arrived nearer to the event, I parked my bicycle next to the cops safeguarding the whole ordeal. Three of the slogans written on the banners inevitably caught my attention. They said: “God is you enemy”, “Pray for more dead soldiers” and, “God hates fag enablers.” From this I kind of deduced what the protesters were about, I’ve read about them and I know they had nothing to do with the antiwar movement, nevertheless I decided to let my inner journalist out and start asking questions. From the demographics of the event I decided that between extremely pissed off bikers, some weirdo haters and law enforcement officers my best bet for reliable, educated and updated information was an objective and knowledgeable cop. So I started with the questions, casually:

Me– “So…what is all this abut?”

Cop– “That’s what it is all about” He said pointing to the banners of the protesters.

Me– “Yeah, yeah, but I mean, who are this people?”

Cop– “Liberals I guess…”

I guess I had tapped not just the wrong source of information but the I-don’t-care-about-anything-I-was-just-sent-here-and-all-I-know-is-that-liberals-suck source. So then I thought about my second best possible source: a biker lady with a cardboard sign.

Me– “So what is this all about?” 

Biker lady-” They are protesting our troops.”

Me-” I understand, but who are they or how did you know that they were going to be here in order to mount your counter-protest?”

Biker Lady– “I don’t know, you should ask that guy over there…”

She pointed to a guy across the street who was holding an American flag, was dressed in leather, had the inevitable beard and was wearing a nice and friendly confederate army hat.

Me– “Hi, I was told that you could tell me what’s going on here, where are these people coming from?”

Biker dude– “They come from Fuckin’-Nuts-Land, Kansas” 

Me-” Ooookay…And…uh… how did you know they were going to be here in order to counter-protest?”

Biker dude-” We have our ways…we have our ways.”

Me-“Oh, alright….well, thank you for your answers.”

Confyborn to be wild

I know I wasn’t being extremely objective here but I just didn’t feel like asking the actual protesters, it seemed to me that it all came to show you the amount of entropy that can permeate even such a small public gathering. I mean, I wonder who knew what was actually happening and what reasons if any existed for the happening. The protesters were protesting a funeral of a General that died in a motorcycle accident (whatever that has to do with homosexuals and how and what they enable just escapes my reasoning); the counter-protesters were protesting the fact that this group was protesting the troops and; the cops were just staring at the void like inanimate shields that only filtered the friction as a matter of some lunatic liberals rubbing against some hard-line patriots.

It kind of tells you how far is El Paso from anywhere. Far enough from Mexico to fear it, so outside of Texas that anybody running for office runs as a Democrat,  further away from New Mexico than from Arizona defying geographical logic and just…well, you have no idea, and apparently neither do we.

Sorry about the no-busking thing…I swear it won’t be too long.


Subtleties January 16, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ramonalvarado @ 3:18 pm
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Hundreds of people cross the border into El Paso every morning. There is a line at the bridge starting at 3am. The earliest birds are clearly crossing for labor, there is always a congregation right across the bridge where school buses pick up laborers to go to fields in the west edge of town or in new Mexico or construction sites in the far northeast and east of El Paso.

The later birds, the ones from 5 am to 8 am and even later are very often students that attend both the University of Texas at El Paso or any of the Community College’ campuses. These students are often citizens of the United States that live south of the border with their parents. Some rent flats because it is so much cheaper to live down there. But one of the interesting phenomena that arises with the transborder student and even with the El Paso’s regional student in general has to do with textbooks. I personally boycott textbooks in general, I don’t buy them or use them at all. It does take a toll I must say but it is a principle that I have kept for at least 4 semesters now. The reason I do this is because I regard the textbook industry with the same scorn as the pharmaceutical one, for taking advantage of the same people they are supposed to help and doing so in their most vulnerable of situations. So my choice is to boycott text books, but the majority’s choice in this region is to borrow them, take them across the border and xerox them for a fraction of the cost. This is sometimes even encouraged by sympathetic professors (fact which I admire, not because of the encouragement of the illegality but because they stand on the side of the student not the academic machine). So the interesting part is that if you ever get searched at the border for any particular reason and a xeroxed book is found on you they can confiscate it and you can be subject to fines, large ones too. It is specially during back to school season that this is enforced to a higher degree than normal, of course. So again, our dear border officials aren’t just there to prevent Saudi Arabian terrorist from passing as Mexicans though the border, they are also there to defend the principle of higher education at the highest cost in the western world. If you encounter long lines at the border during back to school season, don’t be annoyed, be thankful that all of those evil book smugglers are being targeted and our way of life safely kept.


P.S. Picture taken by Gustavo Martinez from Fromex