I have been to most parts of Texas in my life, but never to the Big Bend area of the Rio Grande River. I thus left Brownsville to begin what is the least known part of my journey. It begins with a trip to Del Rio, Texas. My route took me close to some earlier memories, like Kingsville and through Cotulla. Going through Kingsville took me back to to a time in the 70’s as a young anti-war and Chicano activist. I was hitchhiking home to Brownsville for what, I don’t remember. But as I was thumbing my way through Kingsville, I was stopped and detained by Kingsville police ostensibly for hitchhiking. It was illegal to do so on a public highway, but the incident seemed a bit unusual since there were many people doing just that on most days in and out of the Valley. Somehow I reached my mom and she along with her companion, a man named Leonel, “Noni”, Garza came to get me (I was only about 20-21 at the time and with few resources or contacts; what can I say). What was unusual was that there is no record of this “detainment” (aka, arrest). It was not the last time I was “detained” on different occasions during my youthful career as a revolutionary radical activist. Among these included having police visit my apartment and speak to my roommates (I wasn’t there at the time, on the road, you guessed it, hitchhiking to activist conferences), detatined for traffic violations in Houston and a little later in Chicago and a curious set of incidents during a journalistic tour of Texas with a couple of fellow reporters for the Militant newspaper reporting on the “Raza Unida Party”, an organization that was centered in Crystal City, Texas, which of course took me through Cotulla. I am today unsure if all this activity (along with others in different parts of the country) was a result of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a program with far-reaching coordination with local law enforcement agencies that targeted antiwar, Black, Brown, and other poltical activists. My experiences were rather mild compared to what was happening to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and activists around the Black Panther and Young Lords Parties, but COINTELPRO was a pervasive counterintelligence operation in the radical movements of the time. . . Maybe. Or, maybe I just engaged in a lot of legally questionable traffic and hitchhiking activity deserving to be called on it. It just seems there should be some record of all this scofflawing.
Like I said, leaving from Brownsville through the upper reaches of South Texas took me through some memories.
To be sure, I skipped over that part of my memories and proceeded to Del Rio. What we know today as Del Rio, Texas began, well, for Europeans it began as San Felipe Del Rio a small enclave of Spanish colonists (they liked to call themselves explorers at that point in time) who settled on the (north) eastern side of the Rio Grande from their main colony, Ciudad Acuña directly opposite on the (south) western side. in truth, the region had been inhabited by native people for over 10 000 years before the “Joneses” (“Cortezes”?) came to (build a) town. You know, on top of everybody who had been living there all along. We know this to be true because today we’ve learned how the history of indigenous people was drawn on the many pictographs within the caves and rock walls all around the Rio Grande and Devil’s River. Once the Spanish and subsequently, Anglos of the Texas Republic, not to mention, Mexicans and “Americans” (yeah, still have the problem with the broad stroke designation for the U.S.) came to town, one has to wonder why the vistors/explorers/colonists were continuaully in a state of surprise and incredulity when Jumano (those were the ones before the Spanish), Apache, and Comanche would try to get them off what they believed was their land the one way native people could get their message across; kill them. As many as they could, wherever they could, however they could. I mean, what part of “get out or I’m gonna burn your face while you’re still living” did they not understand?
Especially, since all those unwanted guests kept standing up in front of them with some proclamation about how they–the native people, that is—would have to convert to Christianity, or, grow corn or something or they would either be annihilated or enslaved to mine silver. Or grow cotton, whatever. And (!) proclaiming so in Spanish, or English (whatever), ’cause what the hell, don’t you foreigners in your own land not understand the King’s English, er Spanish?
So, San Felipe Del Rio, named for that King the Spanish who wanted the Jumano/Apache/Comanche (whatever) to submit, became, finally (!), a place. Hence, “someplace between here and Mexico”. Now, hundreds of years later, the “Barrio San Felipe” is a cultural center portraying the “Latino” heritage of the “Hispanic”, Mexican-American–c’mon now, Chicano–people. I was struck by the cultural trappings of the Barrio proper situated behind an Arc and surrounded by neighborhoods telling of significant poverty “across the tracks” from the rest of the city.
This cultural framework, of course, is situated, as we “Raza” are, within a history of oppression beginning with our existence as the product of rape and assimilation into “Hispanic” culture and then successive additional racism from the advent of “Texas” and then “America”. Our focus on the European part of our “culture”, a denigration of who we are in my view, began in the disintegration and subsequent extermination of our native roots, all but obscured by our adoption of the Spanish “heritage” in our blood.
The chief symbol of this layered history is, of course, a bridge.
If we cannot end the time of bridges as the closed gates they’ve become, I will do my best to open them. If it be just a sound that’s drowned in the cacophony of the wind. Perhaps the effort will give the sun and winds a bit more strength.
Alpine At the Gate
I’m now here in Alpine, at the gate of the Big Bend. I’m weary, but excited to see what else I haven’t seen. My day was full of great sites, among the unevenness of history and this land, once named for native people, but has come to be so different. I can only hope that the winds and flowing streams will see a better law “West of the Pecos” and a better, farther “past” where palm trees witness better times.