I realize that this editorial will likely upset some and others will just be angry, but it is something that needs to be asked – where are El Paso Hispanics in defense of Duranguito? Take a deep breath and read on to see why this is not only a question that needs to be asked but also why. As readers have seen, this publication over several articles has been asking, who writes that narrative for El Paso? It is an important observation because who speaks for El Paso also sets the public policy agenda. Right now, the public policy agenda for El Paso is the erasure of Latino communities like Chihuahuita and Duranguito through gentrification to make way for a Multipurpose Performing Arts and Entertainment Center which is code for a sports arena in downtown El Paso.
The underlining controversy over Duranguito is a classic class battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat classes in El Paso with the oligarchies imposing their will on both. Karl Marx argued in the Communist Manifesto that there are two classes in society, the bourgeoisie and the proletarian. The bourgeoise, according to Marxist theory are the capitalists that own the means of production whereas the proletarians are the labor class the sells their labor to produce money. To Marxist theory I’d like to add, for the purposes of this editorial, another class, the oligarchy. Oligarchy does not fit the Marxist model because Marx does not recognize the power of the few wealthy who impose their will upon the rest, mostly through their wealth.
It is not my intent to argue government theory here, but El Paso has its bourgeoise who are the upper-and-middle class of the city. They own property and businesses and assert a certain amount of political influence in the community. For the sake of this editorial, let us for the moment accept that Max Grossman belongs to the bourgeoisie class. His benefactor is clearly of the upper bourgeoisie class but clearly not of the oligarchy. Therefore, for the purposes of this discussion, it is important to point out that another class, the oligarchy are the ones that set the city’s public policy agenda.
On the other end are the proletarians, the working class of El Paso who only have their labor to sell for a living. Whether it is manual labor or technical labor, their ability to influence public policy is limited by the lack of political participation and money to influence candidates with. The proletarians can only rely on collective political power where their numbers are the only currency used to effect policy. Most powerful but seldom wielded by the proletarians are their votes on Election Day, at least in a Democracy.
This brings us to Toñita Morales who clearly belongs in the proletarian class. And therein lies the problem. Where are the other proletarians in the city?
The obvious voices in the controversy are preservationist historian and UTEP professor Max Grossman funded primarily by JP Bryan, a Houston-based preservationist millionaire against the City of El Paso and those that demand that the 2012 Quality of Life Bond is what set the official public policy of the voters which demands that Duranguito be razed to make way for a sports arena. Whether the quality-of-life bonds are the final word on a downtown arena is a debate for another time and one the courts are addressing.
The issue at hand is where are the El Paso Latino voices on the subject? Let’s explore this a little.
We have Bryan and Grossman on one hand against the City of El Paso. Bryan and Grossman have Antonia “Toñita” Morales and, possibly, the activists at Paso del Sur. The City of El Paso, in addition to its economic powerhouse that is the taxpayers there are the politicians. City manager Tommy Gonzales is the official voice of the city council’s majority.
Grossman has fought a valiant effort to stall the sports arena and help preserve Segundo Barrio and its neighboring neighborhoods. But the fact remains that Grossman’s battle is dependent on the largess of JP Bryant who has funded the battle. Both those in favor of historical preservation or a sports arena all belong to the bourgeoise class. Thus, the battle between those wanting to build a sports arena in Chihuahuita and those wanting to preserve it belong to the same class.
The agenda of the bourgeoise does not serve the mostly Chicano and Mexican-immigrant residents of the targeted footprint of Duranguito and Segundo Barrio. The proletarians, of which many are Mexican immigrants and poorer Chicanos, are at odds with the bourgeoise who either want to build a sports arena or want to build restaurants and bars at places like the Pancho Villa stash house. Both, the bars and the sports arena exploit and displace the poorer residents of Segundo Barrio, either through displacement, forced or by pricing them out of the neighborhood, or by limiting ownership of the properties they need for upward mobility. The Pancho Villa stash house encourages making the Segundo Barrio into an entertainment district. How is that any different from the sports arena?
When owners from the bourgeoise class move in to buy up properties, even though their intent is to preserve the community, their investment usually pushes out the poorer members of the community. They may be preserving the historical buildings, but are they preserving the history they represent? Take the Pancho Villa stash house, for example. How is the history of Pancho Villa preserved in a bar or a restaurant? How is the place (El Paso) where the Mexican Revolution was planned and launched from showcased by the preservation of the Pancho Villa stash house?
JP Bryan has donated to the Tom Lea Institute. The Tom Lea Institute is the brainchild of Adair Margo. Adair Margo, who is married to Dee Margo, both have argued that the sports arena is an important element for El Paso’s economic future. Bryan, although funding Grossman’s battle against the proposed sports arena, nonetheless represents a bourgeoise class that is anti-Chicano and anti-Mexican in many aspects. Case in point is the art of Tom Lea. Not only is Lea the son of the Tom Lea, the mayor that forcefully fumigated naked immigrants at the border, but Lea’s art glamorizes the Anglo-centric history of the region at the expense of the Latino majority. Where are the vaqueros, the true cowboys in America’s southwest? Tom Lea’s cowboys are the Anglo versions and his art is devoid of the Latino vaqueros that dominated Texas. Thus, the bourgeoise, although on opposite ends of the debate over the sports arena nonetheless minimize the proletarian – the Chicanos, immigrants and Mexicans.
One thing defines Segundo Barrio and its surrounding neighborhoods. It is the historical working-class of El Paso who built the railroads (the Chinese), who labored in the fields and in the smelters and worked the garment manufacturing lines – the Latinos.
How does an entertainment district, whether cultural centers, restaurants and a sports arena serve the working class, the proletarians, that built El Paso? Where are they to live once they are priced out of Segundo Barrio?
This brings us to Paso del Sur. Where are they? From a bird’s eye view, almost 2,000 miles away, the mostly artist and academic-led Paso del Sur group seems absent from the debate. Where is the militancy usually found in activists like Paso del Sur. Even their art is missing the militancy typical to groups like them. Have they stepped aside and let Grossman speak for them? It is as of the Paso del Sur wants to focus on the culture but not the people – the proletarians of the Barrio.
When the Border Health Institute (BHI) threatened community around then-Thomason Hospital now the University Medical Center (UMC), the community rose up to defend their homes. They marched on city hall and they attended city council meetings disrupting them when necessary. They spoke for themselves. They wore t-shirts and filed a recall petition. They made their voices heard until the threat was over. The question again, is where are the proletarians of Segundo Barrio? Where are the working class of El Paso – the Chicano activists and the Latino voices?
That is the question that deserves an answer for the sake of Duranguito and its future.