26 Jul Two Wheels One Barrio
On my first week in El Paso, TX I got hit by a car as I was bicycling to work at Chamizal National Memorial. Now on my last week in El Paso, it’s crazy to think that I helped safely lead over 50 cyclists to Chamizal National Memorial for Latino Conservation Week. Organizing the “Two Wheels One Barrio”, a bicycle tour of downtown El Paso all the way to Music under the Stars concert at the city’s only national park, was one of the most rewarding learning opportunities I have ever experienced. On our first stop we visited a mural painted by the amazing local artists Los Dos, a collaboration between the artists Ramon and Christian Cardenas. Their art pays tribute to the spirit of the borderlands and brings life to the concrete jungle that characterizes most of downtown El Paso. From there, we cruised downhill to a neighborhood, or barrio, known as barrio Duranguito. Like the 5,000 residents who faced forced relocation during the signing of the Chamizal Convention of 1963, the residents of barrio Duranguito are currently facing forced relocation. Unlike with the case of the Chamizal tract, however, the forced removal of this Hispanic population is not in the name of a diplomatic solution to an almost century long border dispute, but in the name of an unnecessary sports arena. In this barrio you can still find buildings that were highly important to the Mexican Revolution, and a number of incredible Chicano style murals. Paso del Sur is the primary organization defending El Paso’s barrios against displacement, demolition, and erasure of history. Lawyers in Austin recently presented a legal defense of this important historic neighborhood, and won! A sports arena can no longer be built there, but there are still many challenges to preserving this part of El Paso’s history, culture and art. From Barrio Duranguito we cruised to the Frontera Agricultural Workers Center, where a speaker from Causa Unida informed us of the problems migrant workers still face today. Despite the fact that their hands pick the food that we eat every day, we learned that the average farm worker makes less than $7,000 a year. Our second to last stop was at the Salazar housing projects’ playground. The playground in situated in front of an open metal refinery plant, and riders were able to experience the reality of being a Latinx child who lives in this neighborhood. Mothers who form part of Familias Unidas del Chamizal told us about their concerns for their children’s health from contamination from the metal refinery plant, air pollution from border traffic, and a proposed bus depot to be built nearby. They expressed their concern for the quality of their children’s education and more. They expressed their commitment to fighting for not only their children, but also for Mother Nature. These Latina women have become some of my biggest heros and inspirations during my time here in El Paso. Finally, close to sunset and way off schedule (whoops! All the speakers were so amazing and we had a lot of engagement from the crowd), we made our way down to Chamizal National Memorial for Music Under the Stars. I gave a speech on stage about the tour, and then over paletas I talked to people about LHIP and the Chamizal story and about the history of El Paso at large. By choosing to ride bicycles, instead of driving, we expressed our commitment to environmental stewardship and our love for the outdoors. By riding our bicycles through some of the oldest barrios in El Paso we celebrated our rich history and culture. By ending the ride at Chamizal National Memorial we celebrated the park service’s mission to preserve our natural and cultural resources for future generations. As we rode away after the concert ended everyone who participated, mostly fellow Chicanos, were gleaming with how well organized the event was, and how much fun we had.