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Reporting Across Fronteras
Updated: 54 min 25 sec ago

El Paso’s Segundo Barrio Futbol Club scores U.S. Soccer Foundation award for impact

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 12:55pm

The U.S. Soccer Foundation this week honored an El Paso program based in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods for making a difference in sports-based youth development.

The Segundo Barrio Futbol Club was presented the 2019 Urban Soccer Symposium Award for Impact at the foundation’s 13th annual Urban Soccer Symposium March 18 in Washington, D.C. Awards for organizations or individuals were presented in three categories: influence, innovation, and impact.

Related: Love of Segundo Barrio leads Englishman to form soccer club

“It is with great pleasure that we present the third annual Urban Soccer Symposium Awards to We Can Kick It, Segundo Barrio FC, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” Ed Foster-Simeon, President and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation said in a press release. “It is because of the innovations of organizations and individuals like these that we continue to grow as a community and, in turn, are able to positively impact more and more young lives through sport.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel received the 2019 Influence Award, which was awarded to an individual holding public office who has leveraged his or her position to support, advocate for, and champion sports-based youth development efforts in underserved communities. We Can Kick It received the 2019 Innovation Award for using soccer as a tool to inspire and empower children and their families affected by cancer. 

Segundo Barrio FC received the Impact Award for its work using soccer as a tool for social change by developing programs that foster the physical, mental, and emotional growth of youth in the El Paso, Texas neighborhood, Segundo Barrio.

Segundo Barrio Futbol Club players practice in 2015 on the soccer field at Guillen Middle School in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio. Video screenshot by Ximena Tapia,

Founded in 2011, Segundo Barrio FC is a volunteer-run organization and started with just one team. Today, the organization serves 150 young people in three main programs: a competitive travel team that competes year-round in leagues and tournament; an afterschool soccer and reading club; and a college preparatory program, which supports high school players academically and provides pathways to higher education.

“Responding to the unique realities youth face living on the border between the United States and Mexico, Segundo Barrio identifies best practices and adapts them to their environment to ensure a lasting impact on both their youth and their community,” the U.S. Soccer Foundation said in its press release.

Simon Chandler, Segundo Barrio Futbol Club executive director

In an interview for Borderzine in 2015, Segundo Barrio FC founder Simon Chandler said he got the idea for the neighborhood club after working as a soccer coach for La Fe Preparatory School in South El Paso.

“I would always have kids (from the neighborhood) coming up and asking me if they could be on the team,” said Chandler, who now teaches at Hart Elementary School. “But because it was a school team, it wasn’t open to the community in general.”

Chandler sought out sponsors and launched the Segundo Barrio Futbol Club, which opened the team to all Segundo Barrio children at no cost.

Segundo Barrio FC is currently participating in USA Today’s A Community Thrives campaign to raise enough community support to receive a grant for the program. The club’s goal is to raise $3,000 in donations before April 12, 2019


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Categories: Local Blogs

High rates of dementia in Latino communities show importance of early diagnosis, support

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 11:33pm

El Paso has a significantly higher rate of Alzheimer’s diagnosis’ than the national average, and Latinos in general have higher rates of risk factors for the disease. Yet limited access to prevention services and medical care may make Borderlanders more likely to delay treatment and receive inadequate health care treatment for dementia issues.

In 2015, according the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 12.4% of El Paso county residents over the age of 65 had some form of dementia. Hispanics in general are 1.5 times more likely to contract Alzheimers than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This might be connected to Hispanics having higher rates of risk factors such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular risk, according to a 2016 report by the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging.

Health experts say it is important to raise awareness among Latinos that getting adequate care in a timely manner could benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia by potentially slowing the progression of the disease.

For an at-risk community like El Paso, there is a greater need for Alzheimer’s care resources and educational programs, health care workers say. The West Texas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association says it struggles with getting the community to take advantage of the resources they offer to the public.

“No matter what we do in terms of terms of trying to expand our reach and make sure that everyone is utilizing our programs and services as much as possible, it’s just really difficult to get the word out and raise that awareness.” said Allison Armendariz, development manager for the Alzheimer’s Association in El Paso.

The association is coordinating with community volunteers to increase awareness and help communities develop forward-looking policies in El Paso, Midland, and Odessa to meet the needs of an aging population.

“We have a great set of volunteers who are happy to go out to any organization or group of people and present about Alzheimer’s and Dementia,” Armendariz said.

These initiatives include educational programs that cover topics ranging from legal and financial planning for those living with Alzheimer’s, to effective communication strategies for caregivers.

Alzheimer’s disease is an age-related, degenerative brain disease characterized by a steady decrease in cognitive, behavioral, and physical abilities. Typical symptoms of Alzheimer’s are memory loss, disorientation, and diminished thinking ability soon followed by trouble with verbal expression, frustration, and agitation. As the disease worsens those with it can become completely dependent on others for care. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and of the top ten leading causes of death it is the only disease with no current cure or definitive treatment program. . Early diagnosis and care implementation is one of the best ways to potentially reduce or delay the effects of the disease.

Watch for depression, increased agitation

It’s important for physicians who treat predominantly Hispanic populations to be aware of the link between depression and Alzheimer’s disease, as depression can often mask an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, according to a 2016 study by Ricardo Salazar, a geriatric psychiatrist at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. Salazar’s research, published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience found that Hispanics are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease sooner than people from other ethnic groups and signs of increased agitation or depression could be signifiers of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Caretaker support and dementia-friendly outings

Andrea kerr (left) and Allison Armendariz work for the Alzheimer’s Association of El Paso spreading awareness about local resources for both caregivers and patients Photo credit: Summer Masoud

For most El Pasoans, memory care services are not a viable option as the costs of care can surpass thousands of dollars a month, limiting access to professional care to only the very wealthy few. This leaves many families with at home care as their only option. In Texas alone there are an estimated 1.4 million unpaid caregivers providing support to the roughly 380,000 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017 according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

The Alzheimer’s Association of El Paso offers support group meetings for caregivers three times a month at various locations across town.

“You don’t focus on yourself, you know, your own health can deteriorate,” Armendariz said.

Often, patients and their caregivers are isolated from the outside world, as it can be difficult and disorienting to navigate public spaces. For those living with dementia and their caregivers, the Alzheimer’s Association in El Paso has partnered with the El Paso Museum of Art to conduct special dementia-friendly museum tours and art discussions as part of its Impressions program.

“It’s just a happy day for them, you know usually they’re at home, it’s hard to get them out of the house. It’s a good day for both the caretaker and the person with dementia,” said Andrea Kerr, events manager for the Azheimer’s Association in El Paso.

In addition to the Impressions program, early stage patients can attend memory cafes, which are social gatherings designed to help caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s connect and interact with others going through similar experiences. Memory cafes are therapeutic get-togethers that are held in both assisted living facilities and schools on the East and West sides of town. Memory cafes are designed to be welcoming to people with memory issues, and facilitate educational programming and activities designed to encourage memory improvements like painting or music engagement. Currently there are at least three memory cafes held each month in El Paso.

For those caregivers who lack even the time it takes to attend support groups and memory cafes, the Alzheimer’s Association has several remote accessible resources. Of these is a 24/7 helpline that provides resources and advice to over 300,000 callers per year in over 200 languages. The Alzheimer’s Association also has its own social networking community called ALZConnected, where caregivers and patients can reach out to others all over the country for advice and support.

Music therapy

El Paso is also seeing alternative forms of Alzheimer’s care which takes a person-centered approach to addressing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Danny Garcia is the head of Creative Therapies at Milagro Healthcare Services, a local non-profit organization that provides care for elder veterans. Garcia uses music reminiscence therapy to help stimulate memory recall and other benefits.

“I would facilitate music preferred from their youth or with some significance to them and recreate it live to elicit memories which could aid with goals such as speaking complete sentences, respiratory comfort, altering position from poor trunk support which is common in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and sustained eye contact,” Garcia said.

The National Institute of Health reports multiple studies have shown a clear link between music therapy and increased autobiographical recall in patients with dementia.

For more information on local resources visit the West Texas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association’s web page

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Categories: Local Blogs

How to stay connected to your culture when far from home

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 6:41pm

As a teenager, all throughout high school I would hear people talking about is how much they want to move somewhere more exciting. I actually have to admit that I agreed with them for a long time. I couldn’t wait to go to school somewhere new and be on my own, which is exactly what I ended up doing.

I had been accepted to the University of North Texas in Denton and I moved into my dorm room in August of 2013. I had decided to major in multimedia journalism with a minor in creative writing. And, as corny as it might sound, I loved my classes. I was being challenged for the first time in what felt like a long time, I was living on my own and meeting new people, but something was missing.

At some point I realized that it had been a few months since I had a single conversation in Spanish. Aside from being asked by classmates or people at parties to give them the Spanish equivalents to some words or phrases, I hadn’t done the thing that I had done literally every day since I could talk, which was to speak to the people around me in Spanish.

That, coupled with the fact that the closest thing to authentic Mexican food was served by a man who sold elotes in front of the grocery store, started to make me homesick. Not necessarily because I wanted to come back to El Paso, but because up until that point I had never felt such a disconnect from people around me. It was because I wasn’t taking part in something that was such a big part of my identity. Being away from home and away from my people gave me a new appreciation for my language and culture.

So if you’re ever feeling a little out of touch with your culture, here are a few things I did to help stay connected to my roots.


Keep some traditions going

El Cónsul General de México en El Paso, Roberto Rodríguez Hernández, da el grito en 2010 en la celebración organizada por la Universidad de Texas en El Paso. (Brenda Reyes/

Whether it’s celebrating specific holidays like Cinco de Mayo, Día de la Independencia in September or even something as simple as eating certain foods (for me it was tamales and pozole in the wintertime). Things like that are nice little reminders of where we come from throughout the year.

Talk to your grandparents

If you’re fortunate enough to have your grandparents in your life, it could be interesting to call and ask them about their life and what things were like when and where they were growing up. Connecting with elders is an easy and good way to learn about cultural and family traditions. Plus I’m sure a call from their out-of-town grandkids will be a welcome and pleasant surprise for most grandparents.

Share your culture

Tamal comes from tamali, a Nahuatl word (the language spoken by the Aztecs) that means wrapped food. (Karina Moreno/

Inviting new friends over to have a traditional meal or celebrate a holiday is a good way to show what you love and miss about your culture. It can even be as small a gesture as bringing in some homemade snacks or goodies from back home to share.

Read/write/watch something in your native language or learn something new about your culture

I liked to listen to music in Spanish that my parents had introduced to me while I was growing up. But you don’t have to limit yourself to music. Try movies and books, too. Another good thing to do is to try and learn something new about your culture that you may not have known before.

You’d be surprised by how something as simple as reading or watching something in your native language or even learning a fun fact can help you feel closer to your roots.

Click hear to read How to stay connected to your culture when far from home

Categories: Local Blogs

7 reasons why HSI college journalism instructors should apply for the 2019 multimedia training academy fellowship before March 22 deadline

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:11pm

With just a few days remaining to apply for the 2019 Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy at UTEP from May 31 – June 6, here are seven reasons why journalism instructors at Hispanic Serving Institutions should apply now to take advantage of this exceptional opportunity to sharpen their multimedia storytelling skills. 

 1. Gain experience in new digital technologies to better prepare your students

 With technology changing rapidly, it’s essential for college teachers to become competent in the high-end skills needed to effectively teach multimedia journalism. This training will spur educators to make their students skilled, competitive digital journalists. Academy instructors with professional news experience will provide training on video and audio best practices and editing, social media storytelling, mobile journalism, 360 video and more.

 “Coming to the academy has allowed me to hone my skills in a lot of areas and learn skills that I didn’t have before,” said previous participant, Lisa Button of the University of Arizona.

 2. Learn “hands-on” by engaging in multimedia field reporting   

 Academy participants are given assignments and go out in teams into the El Paso community to produce multimedia stories that are published in at the conclusion of the workshop. The workshop simulates a deadline-oriented, real world newsroom where instructors gain hands-on experience in how to use video, audio and digital photography in newsgathering and then how to use the latest editing software in story production.

 “Instructors have told us how much they appreciate getting out into the community and doing real stories with the support of a dedicated trainer. They say it helps them have empathy for what their students are going through and gives them the confidence to make their courses challenging because they can draw from their own experience in the field,” said trainer Kate Gannon, director of this year’s academy.

 The academy is about “getting back in there, touching the equipment and being under this deadline and getting the hands-on training,” said Laura Castañeda of San Diego City College

 3. Receive mentorship and training from experienced and committed multimedia journalism pros

“The trainers at the academy understand what educators need to learn about new and emerging technologies to better prepare their students for the fast-changing future,”  said Linda Shockley, managing director of the Dow Jones News Fund.

Academy rainers include nationally-known multimedia consultant and NPR Consultant Project Manager, Doug Mitchell; Borderzine Digital Content Editor and former Digital Content Manager for The Coloradoan Media Group, Kate Gannon; Independent radio reporter, Monica Ortiz Uribe; and broadcast TV veteran Andrew Valencia.

 4. Network with journalism instructors from other Hispanic-serving Institutions 

 Participants at the academy collaborate in teams and share innovative ways of teaching multimedia storytelling in their classrooms. They share their experiences through lively discussions on how to incorporate what they have learned in the field during the academy into their teaching strategy and adopt best practices for teaching of multimedia journalism that have been adopted by Borderzine and other teaching newsrooms.

  “This workshop is a very interesting experience with meeting other colleagues from all over the nation that are facing the same struggles and challenges that I am,” said Teresa Ponte of Florida International University.

 “My expectations of the academy have been met and exceeded. Some great collaboration with other professors and certainty some wonderful learning,” said Kim Fox of Texas State University.

 5. Contribute to promoting diversity in news media

 Most newsrooms in the U.S. have not achieved demographic parity to reflect the diversity of the U.S. population. According to a 2018 report by the American Society of News Editors, people of color represent only 22.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms.

 The instructors who participate in the academy teach at Hispanic Serving Institutions and will be transferring the technical multimedia skills they master to their students – increasing their student’s chances of being hired for journalism jobs after graduation.

  6.  Free opportunity for college instructors to expand their digital media skills toolbox  

 The Dow Jones News Fund provides funding for 12 journalism instructors to attend the one-week academy at the University of Texas at El Paso. The fellowship covers the training as well as airfare (up to $500) to and from El Paso, lodging at the Hilton Garden Inn near campus and some meals. ​

 “This quality of instruction at absolutely no cost to participants and their universities is priceless,” said Shockley of the Dow Jones News Fund

 7. Join a growing cadre of digitally savvy journalism professors who are academy graduates

 This fast-paced, hands-on academy has a proven track record helping journalism educators develop their skills and confidence in multimedia journalism production.

For the past nine years, the El Paso workshop has trained more than 100 educators from Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities who returned to the classroom with digital storytelling skills to pass on to their students.

 “Some of the best training I’ve had. I highly recommend this program,” said Jay Seidel of Fullerton College.

 If you are ready to step into your students’ shoes for a week-long training in multimedia storytelling in the vibrant El Paso borderland, we encourage you to fill out the online application form for the 10th annual Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy before midnight March 22.


Click hear to read 7 reasons why HSI college journalism instructors should apply for the 2019 multimedia training academy fellowship before March 22 deadline

Categories: Local Blogs

On Mexico’s southern border, migrants seek to survive one day at a time

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 9:31am

Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, Wilfrid Laurier University and Iván Francisco Porraz Gómez, ECOSUR

The day we arrive in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, the southern Mexican state that borders Guatemala, all is quiet. A violent confrontation had occurred just the day before: Central American migrants, mostly from Honduras, had thrown rocks at Mexican migration officials who attempted to stop their entry into Mexico over the international bridge. Many of the migrants hope their final destination will be a better life in the United States.

As we approach the town, we chance upon a small caravan of about 30 men, women and children walking along the road in the scorching sun. They are in rough shape and we decide not to take photos today. We don’t want to compromise their privacy. Dignity is one of the few things these people have left.

Left is a map of the area detailed and right is the border crossing. Source: Google maps 

U.S. President Donald Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out “illegal” migrants receives constant media coverage. However, outsiders to the procession know little about the frontera sur — the 871-kilometre stretch of land between southern Mexico and Guatemala that is the gateway to North America.

We are two researchers: one in human rights from Canada and the other in social anthropology from Mexico. We visited the border region last month to observe daily life and to gather information with the hope that these details will help us to change the media narrative that often dehumanizes Central American migrants.

Since October 2018, thousands of people have entered Mexico in several “caravans.” Most of them cross the Suchiate River that cuts through Tecun Uman, Guatemala and Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico and continue their journey through Mexican territory.

The small caravan we witness is accompanied by Mexican federal police and several government migration vans. We are unsure if the vans are empty or full of detained people. We later learn that the federal police are leading the caravan away from the larger city of Tapachula (near Cuidad Hidalgo) and out of the state of Chiapas.

Central American migrants wait to be processed by Mexican migration officials on the international bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala. Iván Francisco Porraz, Author provided


The migrants will find Good Samaritans who will give them water, tortillas and diapers along their journey. However, patience is wearing thin toward their burgeoning presence in the centre of Tapachula.

The migrants are nameless people: “nobodies” with little choice but to continue the journey northward to Mexico City and ultimately to the U.S. border. They travel in groups because there is safety in numbers. The region is notorious for criminal gangs and human trafficking.

As migrant caravans become commonplace, life carries on along the Suchiate River. It has become a place of permanent mobility.

What will happen when you go home?

The Honduran exodus is the result of a fateful combination of unemployment, environmental degradation and generalized violence.

The Honduran government does little to improve the deeply embedded poverty and inequality that foster these conditions. A long history of sustained U.S. intervention in the region has aggravated the situation and accelerated the human exodus..

This “mixed migration” phenomenon does not easily fit into the narrow definitions of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The migrants have international protection needs, but they are also seeking to improve their economic situation. Many hope they will reunite with family members in the U.S. Nevertheless, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asks the question: “What will happen to you if you go home?” The vast majority respond that their lives are in grave danger.

Humanitarian visas

Day-to-day survival is the goal of this vulnerable population.

Applying for refugee status in Mexico is the best option for survival in the long term. However, the country’s refugee determination process is backlogged and unpredictable.

A humanitarian visa allowing the migrants to live and work in Mexico for one year is fast but temporary. For desperate people, one year seems like a lifetime. In their situation, they can’t think ahead.

It seems that the Mexican government’s response to the caravans has been reactive rather than pro-active. The result is semi-controlled chaos.

One day the Hondurans enter Mexican territory legally with humanitarian visas and the next day they are denied visas and barred entry. Those who take their chances by swimming across the river are detained and deported.

Life goes on

Migration from Central America is a historical and socio-economic reality. But the constant movement of border residents back and forth to buy and sell goods also adds to the frenetic environment of the frontera sur.

At the shore of the shallow river, we watch merchandise crossing from Guatemala to Mexico on small wooden planks balanced on rubber tire tubes. Men in waist-deep water pull the makeshift boats and guide them with long poles.

A young woman prepares Salvadoran pupusas on the strip of land between Mexico and Guatemala. Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, Author provided


Shipments of mangoes, corn flour and feminine hygiene products in purple boxes are neatly piled along the shore in an effort to avoid paying customs duties.

At the quieter forested border crossing of Talisman, Chiapas, a long queue of smashed cars awaits entry. The cars are towed over 3,000 kilometres from the U.S. border city of El Paso to Chiapas. They are repaired in Guatemala and sold throughout Central America.

On the strip of land between Mexico and Guatemala is an improvised pupusa eatery. We ask the young woman preparing our lunch whether the pupusas are Honduran or Salvadoran — an ongoing debate around here. “Salvadoran,” she replies. The young woman identifies as Salvadoran, although she was born in Mexico and has never actually been to El Salvador, a mere 12-hour drive from the border.

People will continue to flee Honduras and the other Central American countries. High numbers will walk over Mexico’s southern border in large and small caravans. They will stop to rest and attempt to make money by selling fruit and candy or begging, and then they will continue their journey northward.

As they pass through, life goes on in the hot, humid and hilly stretches of land where tumultuous Central America and the poorest part of Mexico meet.

Stacey Wilson-Forsberg, Associate Professor Human Rights & Human Diversity, Wilfrid Laurier University and Iván Francisco Porraz Gómez, Profesor-Investigador, ECOSUR

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Categories: Local Blogs

Art lovers unite to launch new community gallery in Five Points neighborhood

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 11:46pm

What began as casual coffee shop chats among five El Pasoans has developed into an ongoing friendship and a joint creative venture.

Edward Reyes, Jacqueline Aguirre, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Humphreys, and Aryk Gardea met by being regulars at Joe Vinny and Bronsons Bohemian Cafe on Piedras Street in Central El Paso.

After discovering a shared appreciation for art, they decided to work together to support their vision of a community gallery. They secured a narrow space next to the coffee shop and opened Galeria Cinco Puntos in January.

Gardea, whose background is in art with a BFA in ceramics and painting from UTEP and a MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in sculpture, pitched the idea of launching the gallery with an exhibit featuring the Horned Toad Prints exchange.

Galeria Cinco Puntos founders, clockwise from back left, Edward Reyes, Jacqueline Aguirre, Javier Hernandez and Carlos Humphreys. Photo courtesy Jacqueline Aguirre.

“We started with this print exchange because it focused on the community on a larger stage,” said Aguirre, a multimedia journalist student and art enthusiast.

Horned Toad Prints showcased works from its second print exchange in featuring print works by artists from all over the world, including pieces from Mexico, Australia and Ireland.

The print exchange was an opened themed worldwide invitation for printmakers to send ten original-made pieces using intaglio, lithography and relief of serigraphy printing techniques to Horned Toad Prints. Two pieces from each artist were selected for educational purposes and exhibitions.

“The print exchange is a great way for printmakers who trade prints to get to know each other and build their personal art collection,” said Manuel Guerra, the owner of Horned Toad Prints.

It is also an opportunity for El Pasoans to see what is happening in and outside their community in regards to art and culture, he said.

“Our goals for our exchange are to promote local, national and international artist from various professional levels and different backgrounds,” Guerra said. “We produce and exhibit work from established and emerging artists with emphasis on cultural diversity of the Latino community. And we promote awareness of the Latino art and its importance in the community”.

Galería Cinco Puntos official logo created by Jacqueline Aguirre hangs outside the gallery.

Galeria Cinco Puntos is self-funded by the five founders who hope to form a non-profit to support showcasing more community artists and reflecting a strong border spirit.

“We are more than the violence and so and so forth, we have other beautiful things we want to display,” Reyes said.

Living on the border has a unique influence on artists’ work, Guerra said.

“I think that it is an inspiration living here in El Paso, right next to Juarez and the border, there’s no place like it on Earth” said Guerra. “El Paso art is very human,very homely”.

The gallery is located in El Paso’s Five Points area at 822 North Piedras Street, between Joe Vinny & Bronson’s Bohemian Cafe and Coconuts Bar & Grill. More information is available on the gallery’s Facebook page:


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Categories: Local Blogs

Lost in Translation: How Irish-Americans transformed the sacred legacy of St. Patrick’s Day into a drinking festival

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 9:51am

James Farrelly, University of Dayton

In 1997, my students and I traveled to Croagh Patrick, a mountain in County Mayo, as part of a study abroad program course on Irish literature I was teaching for the University of Dayton. I wanted my students to visit the place where, each July, thousands of pilgrims pay homage to St. Patrick, who, according to lore, fasted and prayed on the summit for 40 days.

While there, our tour guide relayed the story of how St. Patrick, as he lay on his death bed on March 17 in A.D. 461, supposedly asked those gathered around him to toast his heavenly journey with a “wee drop of whiskey” to ease their pain.

The mention of whiskey left me wondering if St. Patrick may have unintentionally influenced the way most of the world celebrates the holiday today: by drinking.

It wasn’t always this way. The Festival of St. Patrick began in the 17th century as a religious and cultural commemoration of the bishop who brought Christianity to Ireland. In Ireland, there’s still an important religious and cultural component to the holiday, even as it has simply become an excuse to wear green and heavily drink in the rest of the world.

The legend of St. Patrick

Because historical details about St. Patrick’s life remain shrouded in speculation, scholars are often stymied in their attempts to separate fact from legend.

In his spiritual memoir, “Confessio,” St. Patrick describes how he was brought to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped, rejoining his family in Britain, probably Scotland. But while there, he had a recurring dream, in which the “Voice of the Irish” called to him to return to Ireland in order to baptize and minister to them. So he did.

A stained glass image of St. Patrick in St. Benin’s Church in Kilbennan, County Galway, Ireland.
Andreas F. Borchert/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA



The Irish revere the account of this dream described in the “Confessio”; they accept the simplicity and fervor of his words and feel a debt of gratitude for his unselfish commitment to their spiritual well-being.

St. Patrick’s efforts to convert the Irish to Catholicism were never easy. Viewing him as a challenge to their power and authority, the high kings of Ireland and the pagan high priests, called Druids, resisted his efforts to make inroads with the population.

But through his missionary zeal, he was able to fuse Irish culture into Christianity, whether it was through the introduction of the Celtic Cross or the use of bonfires to celebrate feasts like Easter.

Again, many of these stories could amount to no more than myth. Nonetheless, centuries after his death, the Irish continue to show their gratitude for their patron saint by wearing a spray of shamrocks on March 17. They start the day with mass, followed by a daylong feast, and prayer and reflection at night.

St. Paddy’s Day goes global

From 1820 to 1860, almost 2 million people left Ireland, many due to the potato famine in the 1840s and 1850s. More followed in the 20th century to reunite with relatives and escape poverty and joblessness back home.

Once settled, they found new ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and their Irish identity in their new homes.

Irish-Americans, especially, were quick to transform March 17 into a commercial enterprise. The mandatory “wearin’ of the green” in all its garishness is a far cry from the original tradition of wearing a spray of shamrocks to honor St. Patrick’s death and celebrate Irish solidarity. Parades famously sprung up – especially in New York and Boston – revelry ensued and, sure enough, even the beer became green.

Children of Irish-Americans in the United States have absorbed Irish culture at a distance. Many probably know that St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint. But they might not fully appreciate his mythic stature for kids growing up on the emerald isle.

Ask children of any age in Ireland what they know about St. Patrick, and they will regale you with stories of his magical abilities, from his power to drive the snakes out of Ireland to his use of the three leaves and one stem of the shamrock to demystify the Trinity doctrine of the Catholic Church.

They see St. Patrick as a miracle worker, and as adults, they keep the legends alive in their own ways. Some follow St. Patrick’s footsteps all around Ireland – from well to hill to alter to chapel – seeking his blessing and bounty wherever their journeys take them.

Raising a glass

Of course, in America, the holy day is really a party, above all else.

This year, Americans are expected to spend US$5.61 billion celebrating, with 13 million pints of Guinness consumed. Some parts of the country plan a pre-celebration on Sept. 17 – or, as they call it, “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.”

Where all of this leads is anyone’s guess. But beginning in the 1990s, Ireland seemed to grasp the earning potential of the Americanized version. Today, March 17 remains a holy day for the natives and a holiday for tourists from around the world, with pubs raking in the euros on St. Patrick’s Day.

But I’ve always wondered: What if St. Patrick had requested a silent prayer instead of “a wee drop of whiskey” to toast his passing? Would his celebration have stayed more sacred than profane?

James Farrelly, Professor of English, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Click hear to read Lost in Translation: How Irish-Americans transformed the sacred legacy of St. Patrick’s Day into a drinking festival

Categories: Local Blogs

9 queer Latinx books you have to read before you die

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 10:42am

Last summer I had the opportunity to work alongside filmmakers Angie Tures and Henry Alberto as a production assistant on a project that brought the work of noted poet and author Benjamin Alire Sáenz to life on film.

Sáenz and I spent most of the day together talking about film, poetry, and really just about how funny life can be. He gave me a copy of his book, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.” I opened the book and didn’t put it back down until the last page. I laughed, cried, found love, lost love. I had never experienced reading a book whose story was so similar to my own.

Knowing that there were books like this, I set out on a quest to find other books written about the queer Latinx experience. Knowing there must be others looking for similar books, I’m going to make life a little easier for you. Here’s my list of essential reading of queer Latinx books you have to read before you die.

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

At the top of any queer reading list, you’ll find “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”. One of the many reasons it’s at the top of mine is the book is written by El Pasoan and award-winning author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The coming-of-age story is set in El Paso and follows the lives of two Mexican-American boys and their unique friendship. The book is currently being adapted for the screen and being directed by Latinx filmmaker Henry Alberto.

2. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Gloria E. Anzaldúa is one of the most prolific and influential theorists in Chicano Studies. Redefining the Chicanx experience by giving a voice to its women, she spent her life documenting the Chicana experience. In her semi-autobiographic book, she writes about her experience growing up brown, queer and a woman in Texas. The book is written in both Spanish and English – many times living in the in-between of both languages.

3. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

If finding representation of the queer identity in literature is difficult, finding a character like Juliet is as close to a miracle as it gets. Juliet is getting ready to leave the Bronx and head to Oregon to pursue an internship with her favorite writer. Afraid of how her family might react to her being queer, she decides that because she’s leaving it’s the perfect time to come out to her family. One of the biggest takeaways is how the book tackles white feminism and the need for women of color to have a voice.

4. We the Animals by Justin Torres

There are few books that can capture what it’s like to grow up in an abusive home. Three brothers form a formidable bond as they navigate through their childhood. The narrator must follow a different path as he discovers his queerness. The dark and fragile story was recently released as a film last year and directed by Jeremiah Zagar.

5. America Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez by Gabby Rivera

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an openly queer superhero! This is the “book” for people who don’t like to read. Gabby Rivera does it again but this time partnering with Illustrator Joe Quinones and bringing America Chavez to life. America Chavez is the latest superhero to join the Marvel Universe. She’s not your average superhero and this isn’t your average comic.

6. Chulito by Carlos Rico-Gonzalez

Chulito is a 16-year-old boy growing up in the South Bronx who starts realizing he might have more than just friendly feelings towards his best friend Carlos. When Carlos is ostracized by the neighborhood for being gay, Chulito has to decide between his community and his best friend. “Chulito” is a work that challenges the idea of gender norms and what it means to be a “man.”

7. The Rain God by Arturo Islas

Another author El Paso can be proud to claim as their own is Arturo Islas. He was one of the first Chicanos to be signed by a major publishing house. The Rain God is one of only two books completed by the author before he died in 1999, due to complications brought on by AIDS. The book tells the story of a Mexican family struggling to adapt to the “American” and the immigrant experience.

8. More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera

Aaron Soto, a 16-year-old Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx struggles to find happiness. Aaron hears of the Leteo Institute – a company that promises to erase painful memories so people can move forward – and decides it would be best if he could forget he’s gay. What follows is an honest portrayal of struggling with depression and mental illness.

9. Gulf Dreams by Emma Perez

Published in 1996, “Gulf Dreams” is considered one of the first Chicana lesbian pieces of literature to be print. It tells the story of a young girl growing up in a rural and racist town in Texas. The narrator telling a gripping and heartbreaking story of her childhood and of the first girl she ever loved.


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Highway safety agency with dubious record in public information lawsuits ramps up denials

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 10:58am

By , FairWarning

After a Florida driver was killed in a crash in 2016 while his Tesla was in “Autopilot” mode,  regulators assured the public that Tesla’s autonomous driving system was safe. An investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that after a key component called Autosteer was added, crash rates in Tesla cars had dropped.

When a skeptical researcher filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the data behind the claim, NHTSA balked. He successfully sued the agency — extending NHTSA’s poor record in defending FOIA cases. NHTSA, a branch of the Department of Transportation, did not respond to interview requests nor answer written questions for this story.

FOIA litigation is time-consuming and often fruitless. While the law provides that the public is entitled to most government documents, federal agencies can employ broad exemptions to justify withholding records, such as the need to protect its deliberative process or a company’s trade secrets.

The government “typically wins a lot more than it loses, especially with FOIA,” said Anne Weismann, chief FOIA counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an advocacy group.

But NHTSA, which collects data as part of its mission to reduce traffic deaths, appears to be an exception.

Since 2007, there have been 12 lawsuits seeking records from NHTSA, according to a review of records from the Justice Department and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which collects federal data. Three cases are pending, but the other nine ended in court rulings or settlements requiring NHTSA to produce records for plaintiffs. None of the lawsuits ended in a judgment in NHTSA’s favor.

“They just plow forward with these cases for reasons that I don’t fully understand,” said David Sobel, an attorney with the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation who has represented plaintiffs in most of the cases.

Two people, in particular, have been thorns in NHTSA’s side — Randy Whitfield, a statistician with Quality Control Systems Corp., who filed the Tesla case; and Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, Inc.

A federal agency might reduce its workload when it digs in its heels and denies FOIA requests. Most requesters will give up, lacking the money, time or enough incentive to bring a lawsuit.

But Whitfield and Kane, who between them filed seven of the successful lawsuits, have personal and professional reasons to battle NHTSA in court. Both are safety consultants who have done work for plaintiff attorneys, although they told FairWarning that none of the lawsuits were funded by clients.

“As researchers and advocates we’re innately curious,” Kane wrote in an email. “We strongly believe that our government should be held accountable for the enforcement and policy decisions it makes.”

NHTSA suffered its latest setback last September, when a federal judge said she was not persuaded by its argument for denying Whitfield’s request for the Tesla data. Once he got the records, Whitfield challenged the agency’s findings, saying NHTSA had reviewed only a limited set of data. According to Whitfield, the comprehensive data indicated that the crash rate for Tesla vehicles was actually higher after they were equipped with Autosteer.

Federal agencies generally have limited staff to handle the large volume of FOIA requests that pour in, leading to long delays even when records are ultimately produced. Critics say that is especially troubling in NHTSA’s case because of its critical mission to reduce roadway deaths.

“It’s really outrageous because an agency like NHTSA is collecting data about things like unsafe, defective cars,” said Katherine Meyer, a FOIA specialist at the law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.

Kane said NHTSA’s recalcitrance is contributing to an unjustifiable drain of time and money, both for requesters and the government, because successful plaintiffs can make the government pay their legal fees. According to the Justice Department’s FOIA litigation and compliance reports, over the last decade Kane’s organization has collected $49,493.10 in attorney’s fees and costs in NHTSA cases.

“Not only are they short-changing the public on documents that need to be public,” Kane said, they’re also “spending money on Department of Justice lawyers to defend cases that are indefensible.”

The vast majority of NHTSA’s FOIA expenses go not for litigation but toward processing FOIA requests, according to Department of Transportation records. This has grown more challenging thanks to an uptick in requests and stagnant staffing. In the 2012 fiscal year, NHTSA had the equivalent of about five full-time staff available to work on 231 new FOIA requests as well as backlogged cases, according to DOT statistics. In fiscal 2017, the last year for which figures were available, it had six FOIA staff, but 337 new requests. The agency is also taking more time to process the backlog of so-called ”complex” requests. In 2012, such pending requests were 58 days old on average. In 2017, the average complex request was 440 days old.

As of the most recent data, NHTSA is also denying more requests than before. In 2012, NHTSA fully denied about 36 percent of requests and fully granted about 35 percent, according to DOT records. In 2017, NHTSA fully denied about 51 percent of FOIAs and fully granted 28 percent.

Sobel, who represented Whitfield in the Tesla case, said NHTSA’s lack of success in court raises questions about why the agency is withholding information.

“It puts more of a negative spin on the whole episode than if they had just initially released the information,” Sobel said. “I don’t see in that instance where they gain anything from the resistance and the delay.”

This story was produced by FairWarning (, a nonprofit news organization based in Southern California that focuses on public health, consumer and environmental issues.

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Hidden in plain sight, e-cigs complicate efforts to cut teen tobacco use

Sun, 03/03/2019 - 1:48pm

E-cigarettes that look like USB flash drives are making it harder for adults to crack down on their illegal use among minors – even in school hallways.

Shacel De La Vega, a 2018 graduate of Coronado High School in El Paso, said it wasn’t hard to get a nicotine boost almost any time on campus using Juuls, slim vaping devices that are the size of a data stick.

“Other than just letting us know that it was not allowed, there wasn’t really any sort of system that they had set up to stop us from using it,” De La Vega said.

While still in school, De La Vega missed the optional presentation educators gave to students about vaping. Students were told that underage possession of tobacco products is against the law and the school would be cracking down on campus use.

“We’re seeing e-cigs and vapors coming into students’ possession. We want to inform them that it is against the law for students under the age of 18 to possess these tobacco products,” said EPISD Police Officer Chris Rodriguez.

“We’re trying prevent them from getting into trouble and also letting them know that this can affect their health. We hope this gets students to say no to vaping or prevents a purchase.”

E-cigarettes have been the most popular tobacco product among middle and high school students since 2014 according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administrations’ (FDA) National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2017. Vaping among high school students increased “an astounding” 900 percent from 2011 to 2015 according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General.

Last June, the Centers for Disease Control reported that overall tobacco use was down among U.S. minors, but among the 3.6 million tobacco product teen users in 2017, a total of 2.1 million used e-cigarettes.

“We’re encouraged by the recent declines in overall youth tobacco use; however, we must do more to address the disturbingly high number of youth who are using e-cigarettes,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. in a press release for CDC Newsroom.

The appeal of the Juul among teenagers can be broken down to three main factors: design, emission and flavors.

Because its Juuls look like a USB flash drive and don’t emit a large amount of vapor, teens are easily able to hide it from parents and teachers. Juul pods of nicotine liquid come in a variety of appealing flavors like mango, cool mint, fruit medley, cool cucumber and crème brulee. Juul Labs also makes Virginia tobacco, classic tobacco and classic menthol flavored pods, but the sweet flavors that are the most popular among young people.

Not everyone gets away with it all the time on school campus. De La Vega remembers a number of instances where students were caught with Juuls. In one case, educators used Snapchat to track down students who were trying to discreetly sell Juul vapes and pods to classmates. The students used the “Our Story” feature of Snapchat, which made their videos viewable by anyone near their location.

“There was always some sort of Juul related story and anyone in or around Coronado could see it. Everyone had Snapchat, including teachers” De La Vega said. “It wasn’t hard to figure out who was selling by their usernames.”

Eddy Frayre works at a convenience store down the street from Franklin High School in El Paso. He has watched the growth in popularity in e-cigarettes and said he has regular customers that come in exclusively for Juul pods.

“I do see a lot of young people from 18-25 coming in and buying the Juuls. Cucumber is the one that sells the most out of all of them but we ALWAYS ask for ID,” Frayre said.

However, even if students who are 18 can legally purchase vape products, possession of them on campus could still lead to potential disciplinary action from the school.

While schools are on the front lines trying to limit e-cigarrette use, they’re getting some back up from allies who have been working to curtail all tobacco use in the El Paso, Juarez and Southern New Mexico.


A Smoke-free Paso del Norte is an initiative aimed at decreasing smoking rates among adults and adolescents in the Paso del Norte region. El Paso saw a dramatic decrease in smoking rates since it became the first city in Texas to adopt a Clean Air Ordinance in 2002. According to the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation, “when the ordinance was implemented, the adult smoking rate was 24 percent. As of 2015, this rate declined to 13.8 percent, well ahead of the national rate of 17.5 percent.”

Last year, the Smoke-free Paso del Norte program launched a series of public service messages targeting special population groups, including teens and e-cigarette users.

The FDA has also taken action to examine the youth appeal of the Juul and other e-cigarettes and announced in September a plan to make e-cigarettes less appealing to youth.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll take additional action under our Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to immediately address the youth access to, and the appeal of, these products,” said FDA Commissioner Gottlieb in a press release.

Actions could include limiting flavors and designs that appeal to young people as well as making sure that all products are properly labeled to prevent underage children from exposure to nicotine.

The FDA conducted an unannounced visit to the headquarters of Juul Labs in September, leaving with more than 1,000 documents related to the companies’ sales and marketing practices in order to determine whether or not Juul was specifically targeting teenagers in their marketing.

This month, Gottlieb shared letters he sent to Juul and its partner Altria, the maker of Marlborough cigarettes, questioning their commitment to prevent teen vaping. Gottlieb requested a meeting to discuss the implications of this new partnership with a major tobacco company.

“JUUL should be prepared to explain how this acquisition by Altria affects the commitments you made to the FDA about addressing the crisis of youth use ofJUUL products,” Gottlieb wrote.



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Texas moves to prohibit Tigua casino gambling in El Paso

Sat, 03/02/2019 - 11:16am

On the heels of a major victory in a decades-old dispute over gambling conducted by El Paso’s Tigua Indians, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is asking a federal judge for an injunction that would ban or greatly restrict the gaming now conducted at the tribe’s Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

Such an injunction could lead to the closure or major downsizing of the Tigua peoples’ Speaking Rock Entertainment Center, the border tribe’s most lucrative enterprise and the focal point of a legal dispute with the state that dates to 1993.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office on Friday recommended that U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez issue an injunction that prohibits the Tigua “from engaging in, permitting, promoting, or operating gambling activities on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo’s reservation that violate one or more of the following” Texas laws and regulations regarding gambling. “This includes, but is not limited to, the one-touch machines described in the (Feb. 14 order issued by Martinez) and the live-called bingo described in the order.”

The state’s latest lawsuit seeking to stop gambling on Tigua land was set to go to trial on March 4, but Martinez on Feb. 14 issued a summary judgment in favor of the state, a court order that essentially says the facts and legal arguments in a lawsuit are so one-sided that no trial is necessary.

In his summary judgment ruling, Martinez said he would issue a permanent injunction that would restrict gambling on Tigua tribal land, but he invited the state and tribe to submit suggested language for such an injunction by 5 p.m. Friday. The state submitted its suggested language through the attorney general, but the Tigua declined to do so.

“The pueblo defendants appreciate the court’s willingness to hear from the parties on this issue. Two reasons, however, have led the Pueblo Defendants to submit this response in lieu of proposed language for a permanent injunction: (1) the lack of need for a permanent injunction; and (2) the possibility that on appeal submission of proposed language could be interpreted as a waiver of objection to the injunction,” tribal attorney Randolph Barnhouse of Albuquerque said in a Friday filing with the court.

Martinez’s ruling did not give a timeline on when he might issue a permanent injunction after Friday’s deadline for the parties to submit ideas. If he adopts the state’s suggested language, an injunction would end all of the machine games at Speaking Rock and limit the tribe to no more than 12 hours of bingo games a week.

Barnhouse also filed a motion on Friday asking Martinez to reconsider his summary judgment ruling.

A Tigua statue greets visitors to Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso, which a federal judge has ruled is violating Texas gaming laws.

Reducing or eliminating gambling at Speaking Rock could have economic repercussions across El Paso. The Tigua have not released a recent employee count for Speaking Rock, but the tribe says it employs 1,200 people in its enterprises, one-third of whom are tribal members. The Tigua use revenue from Speaking Rock to fund health care, education and social welfare programs for 4,200 tribal members.

Speaking Rock also is a significant advertiser for El Paso media and a sponsor of the Thrifty Thursday promotion for the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball team, among other community promotional efforts.  

The Tigua and the state have engaged in numerous court battles over the past quarter century, with the state ultimately prevailing in two previous lawsuits. Speaking Rock operated for several years as a Las Vegas-style casino with slot machines, table games and bingo, but was shut down in 2002 after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial judge’s ruling that the casino violated state law.

The tribe reopened a scaled-down gambling operation offering different games over the years, often triggering new legal fights with the state. Speaking Rock currently offers round-the-clock bingo and more than 2,500 slot machine-style games that the tribe says are electronic bingo machines, Martinez said in his ruling.

In his ruling, Martinez agreed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office that the Tiguas’ 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week gambling operation far exceeds what is allowed by state law for charitable bingo or other forms of gaming.

Native American tribes across the country –including the Kickapoo in the Texas border city of Eagle Pass – legally operate casinos under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a 1988 federal law that pushed states to negotiate gaming compacts with Native American tribes.

But the Tigua of El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta of East Texas aren’t covered by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, federal courts have consistently ruled.

Instead, gambling on Tigua or Alabama-Coushatta land is limited by the Restoration Act, a 1987 federal law that for the first time gave them federal recognition as Native American tribes. The Restoration Act barred the two tribes from offering any gambling not authorized by state law.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin of Lufkin, Texas, last year ruled that the Alabama-Coushatta tribe was violating Texas law by offering gambling, but the tribe’s Naskila Gaming casino remains open while the tribe appeals his ruling. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case in January and is expected to issue a ruling in coming weeks.

If Martinez declines the Tigua request to reconsider his summary judgment order, the tribe almost certainly will appeal to the 5th Circuit, which has twice ruled that Tigua gambling operations violated state law. The Supreme Court has declined to take up prior Tigua appeals of 5th Circuit rulings.

Congress or the Texas Legislature could pass laws that would authorize gambling for the Tiguas and Alabama-Coushatta, though previous efforts have failed. In his ruling, Martinez encouraged the tribes to try again with Congress.

“The court is cognizant than an injunction will have a substantial impact on the pueblo community. Accordingly, the court joins the refrain of judges who have urged the tribes bound by the Restoration Act to petition Congress to modify or replace the Restoration Act if they would like to conduct gaming on the reservation,” he wrote.

The last significant Tigua attempt to get Congress to reform gambling laws came in 2002, when notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff convinced the tribe to pay him $4.2 million to slip gambling legalization into an unrelated voting reform measure.

At the same time, Abramoff and his associates were being paid by a Louisiana tribe to block expansion of Indian gambling in Texas because of fears it would reduce the number of Texans traveling to their Louisiana casino.

”I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I’d love us to get our mitts on that moolah!! Oh well, stupid folks get wiped out,”Abramoff wrote to a colleague in 2002, just before approaching the El Paso tribe with his lobbying offer.

Abramoff’s efforts to sneak Tigua gambling legalization through Congress failed. He was later convicted in federal court of swindling the Tigua and other Native American tribes and sentenced to six years in prison.

In the most recent congressional effort to allow gaming by the two tribes, Rep. Brian Babin, a Texas Republican whose district includes the Alabama-Coushatta reservation, introduced the “Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Settlement Act” in January. The bill has 20 co-sponsors, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has led the state’s latest lawsuit against the Tigua since 2017, opposed an identical bill when Babin introduced it last year.

“Over several decades, the state has invested an almost immeasurable amount of time and money to settle this question and establish a consistent and uniform rule of law over gambling in Texas,” Paxton wrote, without mentioning the separate gambling activity allowed for the Kickapoo. “The proposed congressional legislation seeks to undo those efforts. Importantly, if enacted, it will not fully resolve all questions of law surrounding what types of gambling would be allowed on lands owned by the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribes. In short, it would inject uncertainty into the legal clarity that has come at great cost to the taxpayers of Texas.”



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Meet the Empower Squad: Chica Chat launches supportive movement for El Paso’s next generation of women in entrepreneurship

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 10:39am

The El Paso business community is getting a fresh, feminine makeover thanks to the new organization Chica Chat.

“We’re here to empower each other, and to help each other, and to provide a safe space for women,” Chica Chat treasurer Ashley Valdez says.

The nonprofit organization brings together young women who are entrepreneurs to provide them with the tools and knowledge for success.

President Zoë Gemoets says she was reading the book “Work Party: How to Create and Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams” by Jaclyn Johnson when the idea for the group came to her.

“At the end of the book she asks, ‘what are you doing to help the women of your community?’” so I was like ‘damn, what am I doing?’ I could totally do this,” Gemoets explains.

She reached out to Valdez, Anais Chavira, now Chica Chat’s secretary and Lola Vaughn who serves as vice president of the group, and in just a few months they’ve taken Chica Chat from an idea to a fledging non-profit organization.

Chica Chat founders, clockwise from top left: Lola Vaughn, Zoë Gemoets, Anais Chavira and Ashley Valdez.

Their Instagram account @letschicachat started in December and has more than 800 followers. Gemoets estimates that the January 10th launch event drew close to 80 women and there were 30 people at the second meeting in February. The first two meetings in their monthly “Working the Net” series attracted a variety of women from business owners to accountants to bloggers.

“I think the point is to create a space monthly where girls know, on the first Thursday of every month I’m gonna be able to attend something that’s meant for me, that’s gonna help me grow as a person,” Vaughn says.

Chica Chat’s founders hope to connect business-minded women in El Paso in ways that are mutually beneficial, including linking small business owners with photographers and graphic designers who can help them market their businesses.

Meetings will occasionally feature business women from El Paso as guest speakers to share their knowledge with the budding entrepreneurs.

Barracuda Public Relations owner Marina Monsisvais, who was the guest speaker at the group’s February meeting, says she feels Chica Chat is filling a void that was missing in El Paso when she entered the business world.

“When I was starting out, I think that having something like this would have been tremendously helpful,” she says. “How neat would it be to outside of your personal circle to have that other group of young, empowered women who are doing something that you can bounce ideas off of,” Monsisvais said.

Chica Chat’s women are working to combat the idea that women need to compete against each other in order to succeed.

“We need to stop tearing each other down,” Valdez says. “We’re here to help each other.”

Chica Chat attendees stand together following the group’s February “Working the Net” event.

This supportive approach is especially apparent on the group’s social media, where they refer to their members as their “hustlin’ sisters” and their “chicas.” They put out calls for them to “be strong” and improve their community. They post words of affirmation in the form of colorful graphics that remind their followers that they’re made of “brains and beauty” and an “inspiration to someone else”.

“I think if we can push the message that we’re all sisters, that we’re all trying to prosper together, it’s really important to foster that environment because it trickles down,” Vaughn explains.

While women of all ages are welcomed at Chica Chat, millennials are the target audience. “Millennials are just a completely different generation. We’re constantly trying to push each other up the totem pole and help each other out,” Vaughn says.

In the future, the women behind Chica Chat hope to be able to fund a co-working space for their members through grants, complete with photography areas for women in the group who are social media influencers and a daycare area for working mothers.

Vaughn, a mother herself, says that ultimately, she wants Chica Chat to foster a supportive culture for future generations of El Paso women.

“The goal at the end of my day is to create an environment that trickles down so that when my little girl is 23, she’s in a loving sisterhood environment here in El Paso,” she says.

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Border life meme of the week: The burrito cooler

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 10:16pm

Get a taste of food culture on the border where Texas, New Mexico and Northern Mexico meet. Browse our food section here.

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A look at what’s on at the 2019 Chicago Feminist Film Festival this week

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 10:00pm

Five films with a Hispanic flavor will be screened at the Chicago Feminist Film Festival, which began February 27 and runs through Friday, March 1st.

The Film Row Cinema of Columbia College Chicago is hosting the fourth edition of the festival, which is free and open to the public. Three productions from Colombia, Spain and Cuba with local directors stand out, together with two productions from the United States directed by Latino filmmakers. In addition, migration, and refugees and racism are the protagonists of four other films, a feature film and three short films. Most screenings will be followed by a debate, in some cases with the presence of the directors.

Migrantes y refugiados son los protagonistas de cuatro filmes que se proyectarán en la cuarta edición del Festival de Cine Feminista de Chicago. Destaca el largometraje Crystal Swan, que cuenta la historia de una joven DJ bielorusa, que en la década de los 90 trata de llegar a Chicago persiguiendo el sueño americano, pero termina en un lugar muy distinto. También interesante es el cortometraje The European dream: Serbia, dirigido por el periodista español Jaime Alekos, que documenta las torturas de la policía húngara a los refugiados y migrantes que se quedaron atrapados en Serbia cuando, en 2016, intentaron cruzar la frontera entre Serbia y Hungría para entrar en la Unión Europea. Además, se proyectará un cortometraje que trata sobre racismo y otros cinco sobre temas varios están dirigidos por cineastas latinos, entre los cuales una historia que tiene lugar en Cuba y otra en Colombia. El evento, que es gratis y abierto a todo el público, tendrá lugar entre el 27 de febrero y el 1 de marzo en el Film Row Cinema del Columbia College Chicago.

Historias sobre migrantes y refugiados más cinco películas dirigidas por latinos protagonizan el Festival de Cine Feminista de Chicago 2019

Por Anna Bonet

La migración tiene muchas caras y todas las historias son tan diferentes y únicas como las personas que las han vivido. Por ello, cada uno de los cuatro filmes con esta temática que se proyectarán durante el Festival de Cine Feminista de Chicago lo hacen desde una perspectiva diferente.

En el caso del largometraje de ficción Crystal Swan, la historia nos lleva a la Bielorrusia de los años 90, cuando una joven DJ decide emigrar a los Estados Unidos en busca de su sueño americano, pero acaba en un sitio muy distinto al que se imaginaba. El filme, una coproducción de Bielorrusia, Alemania, Estados Unidos y Rusia, dirigido por Darya Zhuk, se proyectará por primera vez en Chicago, que es la ciudad donde precisamente quiere llegar la protagonista de la película.


Otra historia sobre migración, en este caso real, es la que nos cuenta Little Rebel, dirigida por Guido Ronge y Aimie Vallat. La protagonista es la extraordinaria Isatou Jallow, una mujer de Gambia que en 2012 llegó a Seattle pidiendo asilo. A la fecha, Isatou se ha graduado en la universidad y se ha convertido en abogada. Ahora lucha por los derechos de las mujeres, los refugiados y las personas con discapacidades. Su historia es la de una sola mujer, pero es también la de muchos otros migrantes que buscan un país de acogida huyendo de la pobreza, los desastres naturales, las persecuciones políticas o las guerras.

 También real es la de Strangers Ourselves, una producción canadiense protagonizada por una mujer de 86 años. La directora Lora Murray cuenta la historia de su abuela, Elizabeth Rapley, quien desde 1979 ha ayudado a 92 refugiados a establecerse en Canadá.

Por último, The European Dream: Serbia documenta las torturas que sufrieron en 2016 miles de refugiados y migrantes que quedaron atrapados en la frontera entre Serbia y Hungría, cuando intentaban entrar en la Unión Europea. La investigación, dirigida por el periodista español Jaime Alekos, incluye los testimonios de aquellos quienes sufrieron esa dura y humillante experiencia. Este es, además, uno de los cinco filmes dirigidos por cineastas hispanos, entre los cuales encontramos el cubano Damián Calvo que presenta Obini Batá: Women of the drums. Las protagonistas de este filme son un grupo de bailarinas que desafiaron la tradición al convertirse en las primeras mujeres cubanas en tocar los tambores.

También se proyectará en el festival el filme Mani Cura, película que fuera seleccionada para participar en el último Festival de Cannes y que cuenta las historias —basadas en hechos reales— que se esconden detrás de las manos las mujeres más ricas de Colombia. La dirección es obra de la colombiana Gisela Savdie. También de origen hispano es Rhonda Mitrani, de padres cubanos y argentinos, que presenta Supermarket, un corto de género fantástico protagonizado por una mujer quien en una visita al supermercado come una aceituna le cambia la vida. Finalmente, en Egg day, Grasie Mercedes, de origen dominicano, utiliza el humor negro para contar una experiencia autobiográfica: El periplo de lo que significa el proceso que ella y su pareja atraviesan para quedar embarazada a través de la fertilización in vitro.

Además, durante el festival se proyectará la producción holandesa Your Hair is Cute, obra de la directora Cíntia Taylor, que aborda en forma de monólogo poético las sutilezas del racismo en nuestras sociedades.

Durante los tres días que durará el Festival de Cine Feminista de Chicago 2019, se presentarán un total de tres largometrajes, 40 cortos y dos webseries provenientes de 15 países. El primer día abre con el largometraje Be Natural: The Untold Story de Alice Guy-Blaché, dirigida por Pamela B. Green. La película, narrada por Jodie Foster, muestra la travesía de Green en busca de archivos audiovisuales por todo el mundo. Los largamente olvidados clips de entrevistas ayudan a reconstruir la historia de Blaché, la primera directora estadounidense de cine, y, en consecuencia, a rescatar la historia de las mujeres en este arte. Be Natural es un testimonio de la continua desigualdad de género en la industria cinematogáfica.

El Festival de Cine Feminista de Chicago (Chicago Feminist Film Festival) presenta películas independientes e internacionales, predominantemente cortos, que abarcan géneros experimentales, documentales y de ficción, y tiene como objetivo abordar temas de género, sexualidad, raza y otras temáticas que a menudo faltan en los medios de comunicación tradicionales. A su vez, esto significa crear espacios públicos inclusivos para que los artistas con poca representación obtengan visibilidad en la industria cinematográfica general. Otro objetivo es forjar conexiones entre el cine local, nacional e internacional. El festival considera que el arte desempeña un papel vital al reunir a las personas y alentarlas a pensar en profundidad sobre temas de igualdad y justicia social.

Para obtener más información o ver la programación detallada, visiten


Categories: Local Blogs

Apply for the 2019 Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 8:53am

Journalism college instructors, please fill out the form below to apply for the 2019 Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy, which runs from May 31 to June 6.

Borderzine is now accepting applications from journalism instructors at Hispanic serving institutions for full scholarships to attend its  10th annual Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy on the UT El Paso campus.

The Dow Jones News Fund provides funding for full scholarships to 12 journalism instructors from across the country to attend this fast-paced, hands-on multimedia training academy. The fellowship covers airfare (up to $500) to and from El Paso, lodging at the Hilton Garden Inn near campus with breakfast every day, four lunches and two dinners during the workshop. 

The deadline to apply is midnight on Friday, March 22. For more information: Applications open for 2019 multimedia training academy for journalism professors at Hispanic-serving institutions

For questions about the Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy, please feel free to contact Program Coordinator, Paola Pacheco, at her cell number (915) 504-3094, and via email at, or Program Director, Kate Gannon, at via email at kagannon at

DJMTA Application 2019 Application form for Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy 2019
  • Name* First Last
  • Email*
  • Work Phone
  • Cell Phone
  • Twitter Handle
  • University or College Name*
  • Department or Program*
  • You are a*
    • Tenured or tenure-track professor
    • Professor of practice
    • Senior or full-time lecturer
    • Part-time lecturer
  • Supervisor's name and title*
  • Supervisor's email address*
  • Does your institution offer Journalism as a major or concentration?*
    • Yes
    • No
  • Does your institution provide instruction in Multimedia Journalism?*
    • Yes
    • No
  • List any form of student-organized media at your institution
  • Do you teach in a computer lab?*
    • Yes
    • No
  • What types of digital technology do your students have access to?*
  • Are your students able to publish their class-produced stories online?*
    • Yes
    • No
  • If yes, what is the url to publication's website?
  • What courses do you plan to teach during the 2018-2019 academic year?*
  • Video editing*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your level of experience in video editing programs like Adobe Premiere, Final Cut and iMovie
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Audio editing*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your level of experience in audio editing programs like Adobe Audition, Audacity, ProTools and Hindenburg
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Photo editing*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your level of experience in professional photo editing programs like Photoshop
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Content management systems (CMS)*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your level of experience in blogging or website content systems like Wordpress, Tumblr, Squarespace
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Mobile Reporting*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your level of experience in using mobile tools for reporting, such as livestreaming, audio recording apps, video apps and live coverage on social media.
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Social Media Tools*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your interest in learning more about using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. for journalism
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Data visualization*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your interest in learning more about creating graphics and interactives using tools like Google Maps, CartoDB and Tableau to go with digital stories.
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Digital media Entrepreneurship*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your interest in learning more about digital media innovation and new business models during this workshop
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • 360 video and photo*Using a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) rate your interest in learning more about 360 video and photo storytelling during this workshop
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • *What other software have you tried or are interested in learning more about? Please explain
  • *What apps or techniques have you tried or are interested in learning more about like Snapchat, Facebook Live, etc.? Please explain
  • *What are some non-technical challenges you currently face?
  • *What are your expectations of this year's multimedia training?
  • *What type of projects are you expecting to produce at the training?
  • *How do you plan on applying what you learn at the Multimedia Academy in your classroom?
  • *What is your motivation for applying to the Academy?
  • *Do you have any special requests or concerns regarding your attendance at the Multimedia Academy?
  • *Are you interested in co-publishing or publishing your students’ stories on Borderzine?
  • *Have you been to the El Paso border region before?
  • *Lastly, tell us about a difficult situation in a group setting and how you dealt with it:
  • Please upload your Resume*
  • Please upload your multimedia course syllabus
  • If chosen, can you commit to mentor two students from your school to apply for the Dow Jones internship next school year?*
    • Yes
    • No
  • EmailThis field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
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Categories: Local Blogs

Applications open for 2019 multimedia training academy for journalism professors at Hispanic-serving institutions

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 8:46am

Borderzine is now accepting applications from college journalism instructors for full scholarships to attend its 10th annual Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy at the University of Texas at El Paso.

For the past nine years, the workshop has trained more than 100 educators from Hispanic-serving institutions who brought back digital reporting skills to their classrooms. 

 “We asked previous participants to share with us some of the ways they have applied what they learned at the academy after returning to their institutions. It is incredibly rewarding to hear how much they are getting out of this training,” said Kate Gannon, Borderzine’s digital content manager, who is director of the academy.

 “Instructors tell us they are incorporating a lot of what they learned here in their courses. They are sharing their training with other faculty and, in some cases, have introduced new courses and changes to their schools’ curriculum.”

 The Dow Jones News Fund provides funding for full scholarships to 12 journalism instructors across the country to attend the academy at the University of Texas at El Paso, May 31 to June 6. The fellowship covers airfare (up to $500) to and from El Paso, lodging at the Hilton Garden Inn near campus with breakfast every day, four lunches and two dinners during the workshop. 

 The deadline to apply is midnight on Friday, March 22. You may click here to fill out the online application form.

The Academy teaches basic skills in multimedia reporting using a learning-by-doing model.  Participants in the academy go out on assignment in teams in the El Paso community to produce multimedia stories that are published in at the conclusion of the week. The workshop simulates a deadline-oriented, real world newsroom where instructors gain hands-on experience in how to use video, audio and digital photography in newsgathering and then how to use the latest editing software in story production. Trainers assign story topics and act as “fixers” for the teams, helping to set up interviews and providing transportation and coaching in the field. You may take a look at some of the most recent stories produced in past sessions under the Special Projects section of Borderzine.

This fast-paced, hands-on academy has a proven track record of helping journalism educators develop their skills and confidence in multimedia journalism production.

 “Instructors have told us how much they appreciate getting out into the community and doing real stories with the support of a dedicated trainer,” Gannon said. “They say it helps them have empathy for what their students are going through and gives them the confidence to make their courses challenging because they can draw from their own experience in the field.”

 The team of trainers includes nationally-known multimedia consultant and NPR Consultant Project Manager, Doug Mitchell; Borderzine Digital Content Editor and former Digital Content Manager for The Coloradoan Media Group, Kate Gannon; and radio journalist, Monica Ortiz Uribe. 

For questions about the Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy, please feel free to contact Program Coordinator, Paola Pacheco, at her cell number (915) 504-3094, and via email at, or Program Director, Kate Gannon via email at kagannon at

Borderzine is an innovative journalism education initiative and online publishing platform that prepares minority journalists for jobs in 21st century news media, addressing the urgent need for diverse newsrooms that reflect our nation’s complex identity. Since 2008, has published rich, relevant content about the borderlands produced by multicultural student journalists at UT El Paso and partner schools across the U.S. and Mexico.

 The Dow Jones News Fund is a national foundation supported by Dow Jones, Dow Jones Foundation and others within the news industry. The organization’s emphasis is on education for students and educators as part of its mission to promote careers in journalism.



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Categories: Local Blogs

Sexually transmitted disease rates reach 10 year high in El Paso

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 10:30am

Sexually transmitted disease rates in El Paso spiked to record highs in recent years, according to public health department data.

The El Paso Department of Public Health reported a 10-year high of 7,681 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in 2017 – an 11 percent increase from 2016 and a 62 percent increase from 2007.

STD Rates Reported By Year Using Data From El Paso Department of Public Health

“Nationwide it’s on the rise. STDs, the whole nine yards, the gonorrhea, the syphilis, the chlamydia, this is not unique for El Paso,” said Faduma Shegow, clinic services manager for the STD clinic of El Paso. “It’s happening nationwide.”

Sexually transmitted diseases covered in the report include curable diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, and chronic diseases such as HIV, hepatitis C, and AIDS. Herpes and HPV data was not available through the El Paso Department of Public Health.

Health officials and local advocacy groups are trying to combat the rising numbers through outreach and education, said Elias Gonzalez, the HIV prevention and education specialist for the City of El Paso’s HIV Prevention Program.

The city maintains an HIV prevention program and an STD preventative medicine program to provide education on everything from the biology of STDs, to how they are contracted, treated, and how to live with a positive diagnosis.

Through education, the city is hoping to help residents become more engaged in protecting their health and the community’s health.

“I think many see it as a stigma to come to the STD clinic, they think ‘no, it’s a bad place and only very promiscuous people go’ and that’s not true,” said Tabatha Olague, nursing program manager for the STD clinic of El Paso. ” People come in monogamous relationships, they come yearly just to get checked,”

Tabatha Olauge and Faduma Shegow of the STD clinic say it is important to educate El Pasoans on seeking care for their sexual health. Photo credit: Laneige Conde

Couples in a monogamous relationship should get tested once a year and single people should get tested every three to six months, if they are sexually active, Olague said.

She also recommended that people who use intravenous drugs get tested every three to six months. This can help to significantly decrease STD rates, Olague said.

More frequent testing is also helpful to detect certain STDs that have delayed, mild, or no symptoms. Symptoms can also very depending on the person.

“It’s individual, your body’s immunity, your strength and all that, and your health goes into it, some people show the symptoms, some people won’t show the symptoms but with the test we can tell,” Shegow said.

The STD clinic of El Paso also is turning to preventative measures. They have implemented partner therapy, in which they will give medication for the partner of someone diagnosed with an STD if they are too afraid to come to the clinic in person. If the person has multiple partners, then they will provide enough medication for each partner.

“This way that we do this is much more effective, because the person doesn’t even know that we know them, they are getting medication, they are getting treatment, so it’s a super plus and I think this is going to help our numbers too,” Shegow said.

The HIV Prevention Program is also striving to reduce infection rates and help citizens who are HIV or AIDS positive. The program partners with the M Factor, a local organization that works mainly with gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, however are open to anyone who wants more information on HIV, AIDS, and HEP C.

Elias Gonzalez, an HIV prevention specialist in El Paso, says rates of sexually transmitted diseases can be lowered through better community education. Photo credit: Laneige Conde

The two organizations promote the U=U campaign for people living with HIV. The campaign, which stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable, follows the premise that when people who have an HIV positive diagnosis are regularly taking medication and visiting a doctor, they can reach an undetectable status. The virus is suppressed enough that it does not show up on modern testing. The person still has HIV, however the chances of passing it on decrease significantly, Gonzalez said.

Routine testing is necessary for early detection, which can lead to HIV positive people achieving an undetectable viral status. This will help to decrease the spread of HIV and keep HIV positive people from contracting AIDS.

“That’s why we promote a U=U stand frame because stigma has a very big impact on the lives of people living with HIV. People living with HIV often have to deal with concerns that they’re diseased or unclean and the fact of the matter is as long as their in treatment, as long as their undetectable, they pose very little to no risk to people not living with HIV,” Gonzalez said.

El Pasoans can visit the Department of Public Health on El Paso Street for STD testing.

El Pasoans can begin getting tested at the age of 13. All testing centers in El Paso are confidential and non-discriminatory. They want everyone to feel comfortable seeking help.

“We don’t ask about citizenship status or anything like that because that’s not necessary for what we do and it’s more important that people understand their health at this point,” Gonzalez said.

El Paso clinics distribute preventative and bilingual literature to help educate patients on the importance of good sexual health. Photo credit: Laneige Conde

The STD clinic of El Paso tests for chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, HEP C, HIV and AIDS. They can also test for yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and trich in women, if requested. They suggest visiting an OBGYN to get tested for HPV. The test is $40, however they will never turn away a patient that cannot pay.

The HIV Prevention Program and M Factor provide free HIV, syphilis, and HEP C testing, and will refer patients to further care if needed. They also do off-site testing.

To view clinic hours of operation and after hours testing dates, visit The El Paso Department of Public Health website at








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Categories: Local Blogs

Please help us develop a story about feral cats in El Paso

Tue, 02/19/2019 - 6:39pm

Borderzine is working on a story about feral cats in El Paso, Texas, and the city’s program to Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR).  To help guide our reporting on the topic, we’d like to hear from you about what issues you’re concerned with regarding El Paso’s cat population. You can help by filling out the following form.


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Categories: Local Blogs

Gaspar del Alba’s latest book belongs in the Latinx literary canon

Sun, 02/17/2019 - 2:37pm

In 1999, the Mexican poet Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz began her transformation into becoming a Chicana.

The 17th century Hieronymite nun, one of Mexico’s best poets, was already dead by about three hundred years before the term Chicana came to be used, but nonetheless, with the publication of Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s ground-breaking novel, Sor Juan’s Second Dream, she became a Chicana feminist icon.

Today Chicana intellectual activists know who she is and how important she is to Chicana identity and resistance. She was too brilliant to want to get married to some “hombre necio.” She wanted to develop her mind and resist convention.

Gaspar de Alba’s novel may have been part of a late 20th century Zeitgeist that liberated feminine images from male historical narratives and redefined their socio-political significance, like Sandra Cisneros did for La Malinche, but it is certain that de Alba’s book influenced Chicana feminist interpretation of Sor Juana’s life. Her story became about self-determination, empowerment, the narrative of a mind so great she could not be held down by the confines of patriarchy.

Sor Juana became a Chicana.

In her latest novel, The Curse of the Gypsy: Ten Stories and a Novella, Gaspar de Alba may very well do the same thing for a relatively unknown historical figure, the Catholic Saint Liberata Wilgefortis, the bearded woman.

This novella within Gaspar del Alba’s new book has the epic title, “The True and Tragic Story of Liberata Wilgefortis Who, Having Consecrated Her Virginity to the Goddess Diana to Avoid Marriage, Grew a Beard and Was Crucified.”

It creatively takes place during the Roman empire, when Christianity was still emerging as a rebellious religion. The legend, as Gaspar de Alba tells it, starts with a rich and powerful woman, the Governor’s wife, who gives birth to nine daughters, all of them born with “birth defects;” for example, two of them without hands, one of them a hermaphrodite, and one with fur all over her body.

The hairy one is Liberata Wilgefortis, and she is the only child the Governor’s wife lets live. She orders her midwife to drown the other eight. She would have killed all nine of the girls, but the midwife, Basilia, pleads with her to let at least one of them live. Basilia then prays to the goddess Diana about the fate of the other eight, asking her for direction in making the fateful choice that will drive the story.

The goddess Diana is, of course, a Roman God, but she has remained a relevant deity for goddess worship even today, taking the role some indigenous women might give to Tonantizin, the Magna Mater, the Mother God.

The fact that the protagonist of the story, Basilia, a midwife –a profession that is itself an archetype of feminist spirituality – is close to the goddess Diana suggests that this is a story of female spirituality. There were many other Roman gods, masculine deities like Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, but they have little or no place in the story of Wilgefortis and Basilia.

In fact, Basilia feels close to a trinity of world goddesses, Bridget (Ireland), Isis (Egypt), and Minerva (Etruscan), which reflects her mystic strength in that she was not tied to a national or regional religion. Instead, she feels connected to goddesses that she believes rule and influence the various worlds, birth, love, and death. Well into the story, a man witnesses Basilia’s wisdom and charity, and he suggests that she should become a member of the new religion, Christianity, but she responds, “I shall never give up on my goddesses, sir.”

The governor’s wife orders the midwife to kill all nine of the girls, but Basilia convinces her to keep the most “normal,” the hairy baby, and she promises to drown the other eight in the river, which she does not do, even though she is commanded to do so by her spiritual leader, the MAGE, a patriarch. She finds families for the girls, who grow up to be happy young women. They will never marry, because of their deformities, but this does not seem to impede them from living full and meaningful lives. All is well, for a while.

I won’t tell what happens to the girls, but the story comes to an inevitabile, heartbreaking conclusion. The narrative of course is focused on Liberata Wilgefortis, whom the governor’s wife raises as her daughter, although she mostly hides her from the governor, who would kill the girl if he saw how hairy she is.

The midwife feels an affinity for little hairy Wilgefortis. But her Mage condemns her to isolation from other humans for letting the other girls live. The two are separated for 12 years.

During that time, Basilia lives in a cave. She eats nuts and berries and placenta from the birth of the nine girls, and studies mysticism and science and the occult, reads all night long, and takes walks in the forest during the days, sleeping on rocks.

To find wisdom in a cave is of course a powerful and oft-evoked symbol of great mystic narratives, like Moses de Leon, who in 1213 in Spain found the Zohar in a cave, the primary text of the Kabbalah, not to mention the cave of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

In fact, an important aspect of the book is its references to different mystical and spiritual incantations and rituals. The stories provide us with details that could only come from painstaking research, or like the writer Tim Z Hernandez tells me, “Geeking out on the research.” There are specific and accurate details about Roman and Gypsy spiritualty, customs, and language. 

 As Basilia was living like a mystic for twelve years in the cave, Wilgefortis grew up, and the hair on her body disappeared, but she was skinny and ugly, and for that the father hated her. He wanted to marry her off as soon as possible, but who would marry her? He finds the only man willing to do so – a decrepit old man, decades her senior, who just wanted a young woman with whom he could breed.

Like Sor Juana Ines, Wilgefortis does not want to get married. She may lack the intellectual vigor of Sor Juana, but she has an incredible insight into the spiritual world, and even communicates on a regular basis with the spirit of her dead brother. She, like her midwife, has access to the spirit world.

After 12 years, Basilia emerges from the cave and becomes the nurse for Wilgefortis. And they become very close. When the father tries to marry her to the old man, she resists, and the midwife cannot help but help her.

Through incantation or prayer to the goddesses or simply through fate itself, Wilgefortis grows a beard, so no man will ever want to marry her. The beautiful irony surfaces that in a time when women only wanted to get married, Wilgefortis only wants to NOT get married. Like Sor Juana, she wants to determine her own fate.

 What makes this book an important part of the Latinx literary canon is that it reinterprets this mythical Catholic figure through a Latinx feminist perspective. Wilgefortis becomes Chicana.

But perhaps even more important for the reader of fiction is that at the root of these stories, one can sense the love of the writer has for writing. Along with the story of Wilgefortis, Gaspar de Alba writes interconnected stories about a gypsy girl named Margarita, who is impregnated by the poet Garcia Lorca in Granada, Spain, a story which organically ends up years later in El Paso, TX.

Gaspar de Alba loves to tell stories. Every detail is packed with the desire to welcome the reader into this real world of the imagination, every detail bursting with the spirit of sharing:

“Once her house (Basilia’s) had been a free-standing dwelling, a round house in the Celtic style, the woven branches of the round walls daubed with clay and dung, and a high sloped roof touched with rye.”

And if a writer loves to tell a story, the reader is going to love to listen to this one.


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Categories: Local Blogs

Bees lead researchers to trailblazing ecological partnership with Texas city

Sat, 02/16/2019 - 4:42pm

SAN ELIZARIO, Texas – What started as a project by Auburn University to study ways to protect a unique ecosystem of bees in the Chihuahuan Desert has lead to a series of pioneering environmental renovation projects for this historic frontier city on the eastern edge of El Paso County.

While fewer than 10,000 people live in San Elizario, the area is special to researchers because it is home to one of the largest diversities of bee species and bee pollinated plants in North America. Auburn University researchers began working with the City of San Elizario in studying the bees in 2017. They soon realized there was more going on that deserved further study.

“We were very much bee-centric and now we actually think much more in terms of the ecological interactions between plants and insects. We think about it in a much more systematic way than we used to,” said Bashira Chowdhury, a pollination ecologist at Auburn University.

Sphaeralcea, a plant popular with bees, is protected in San Elizario by city ordinance. Photo by Laneige Conde,

The discoveries the researchers made lead the city council to pass an ordinance protecting three types of plants. The plants are baileya, which is a natural insecticide; sphaeralcea, a plant that feeds bees; and portulaca (purslane), a vegetable that can be domesticated to become edible. San Elizario is the first city in the United States to pass such a biodiversity ordinance, according to Chowdhury.

“The biggest part is educating people that all these things around us are beneficial to us,” said San Elizario Alderperson David Cantu. “And, if we recognize and know how to distinguish the difference between a plant that’s viable from a plant that’s just a nuisance, we can really do a lot.”

The three plants are excluded from a city nuisance ordinance aimed at reducing weed growth. This protection allows them to grow as they normally would. Violation of the ordinance by disturbing the plants is a misdemeanor offense, with a maximum penalty of $2,000 per occurrence.

In addition to passing the biodiversity ordinance, the city also has initiated several projects that it says will benefit both residents and the plant life in the area.

Raise beds at Parque De Los Ninos willl serve as research plots for Auburn researchers, farmers, and San Eli Wild students. Photo by Laneige Conde,

One such project is Wild San Eli, where middle school students engage in science and scientific research. They are shown and taught some of the scientific techniques that the Auburn scientists have been using to to conduct their research. Students also learn about new agricultural careers that they can go into.

“Agriculture has become so much more than what a lot of people think is the traditional farmer,” said Maya Sanchez, San Elizario city administrator. “It’s not just putting a seed in the ground and it grows. It’s utilizing the latest in technology, drone technology, GPS tracking. All of this is already a part of current-day agriculture and so our students are learning that indeed they are jobs that can start at $300,000 a year in this field.”

Parque De Los Ninos is being renovated to be a space for recreation, research and community gardening. Photo by Laneige Conde,

Another project will renovate a children’s playground, the Parque de Los Ninos, into a combination playground, research area and community garden. It will serve as a training space for the Wild San Eli students and the Homestead Science program, where families can learn to grown their own plants.

The research will begin by focusing on growing portulaca (purslane), a flowering succulent used as a decorative plant in desert landscaping. It is often considered to be just a weed in the wild and has a bitter taste. However, when cultivated correctly it can be made edible. The USDA has certified it as high demand crop and the National Institutes of Health reports it has high nutritional value.

“I can’t think of any other city that is thinking this scientifically forward in how to use science to drive economics and improve the economic outlook of San Elizario,” Chowdhury said.

By studying purslane cultivation, Auburn University researchers hope to learn more about growing high nutrition plants with less water. Purslane is ranked as a C4 plant, which has a different metabolism than most plants and has adapted to arid environment.

Auburn University researchers and San Elizario city officials working together on urban agriculture and environmental conservation. From left, Octavio Hernandez, David Cantu, Alan Jeon, Bashira Chowdhury and Maya Sanchez. Photo by Laneighe Conde,

This academic, municipal collaboration model puts San Elizario at the forefront of urban agriculture research.

“So it’s not just that we’re coming here and we’re bringing something, San Eli has actually brought a lot to us and sort of opened our eyes to we can do as scientists, and really opened up some new frontiers for us,” Chowdhury said.

The research plant beds in the Parque de los Ninos are expected to bring valuable data that can benefit city agriculture efforts far beyond San Elizario.

“This is a lesson that Phoenix is going to have, Tuscon, you know, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, everyone can use the research that we are doing here,” Chowdhury said.










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by Dr. Radut